The Jolly Librarian Ponders Absences

When the Jolly Librarian took the job as Dean of Learning Resources, she knew several things:

  • She would never get rich.
  • She’d have a staff often described as “eccentric” by other departments on campus.
  • She would now have to put in more hours on campus than when she was a faculty member.
  • She’d occasionally be yelled at by irate students.

But the positives more than compensated:

  • Getting to work with books everyday
  • Working with students more individually.
  • Making decisions that would help students when faced with academic troubles.
  • And did I mention getting to work with books everyday?

Besides, I was from the English department; I was used to the eccentric, quirky, and just plain weird. (You know who you are!)

And for the most part, the great parts of my job have been what I imagined, and bad parts don’t come up that often. But there was one thing for which I had not prepared myself: dealing with sick leave and time off.

Back when I was coordinator in the English department and made out schedules, a friend warned me that this would be the hardest part of the job. “Your job is to make sure the classes all have teachers. But for faculty, that individual schedule is their life for four months. And they’re not going to be happy to have you play with it.”  And she was right. But in the library, I couldn’t imagine it would be much of an issue. After all, we all worked the same number of hours per week, and virtual hours were not a part of the schedule. But just to be safe, I developed a series of guidelines about vacation time.

But I soon learned that an eccentric staff was also eccentric about things like office hours and leave time. It’s not that they ignored the rules; it’s just they often simply forgot that I had made any.

So things like this would happen:

I’d approve two people vacation time. Talking to a third, I mentioned that she might need to be available to cover the desk.

Wide-eyed, she said, “Don’t you remember that I’m away at a conference the whole week?”

Standing by the office calendar, I look at it. “You’re not on here.”

She agreed, “No, I’m not.”

“Why not?”

Gently, she says, “Well, you signed the approval form a month or so back.”

“But,” I sputtered, “you’re still supposed to put it on the calendar. You can’t depend on my memory of everyone’s schedule.”

Smiling (she never stops smiling), she agrees.

Then there is the indecisive person. I always feel that this person has taken more vacation days than she has because we seem to be in constant discussion about them. 

Two weeks ago, she was going out of state and couldn’t decide whether to take two days off, or take one day off and then work on following Friday. After hand-wringing and much thought, she decided to do the latter. I planned the schedule around that. On Thursday night, at 8 p.m. as we were closing, she appeared at my door. “I really don’t want to come in tomorrow. I think I’ll take the day after all.”

Then there are the TMI folks. I have a no details policy when it comes to calling in sick.  And some folks  have that down to a science. Charles, for example. Whether he has a cold, stomach virus, or broken leg, his sick-leave call is the same, “It’s Charles. I’m sick. Bye bye.” And that works just fine.

But others go into such graphic detail that I too feel sick after hearing the message. And one sends emails to the entire staff throughout the day, so we can suffer vicariously with her through stomach cramps and mucous issues.

Of course, I suppose there is the other end of the spectrum. When Sally was hit by a car while riding her bicycle home on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we found out she’d broken her leg by a laconic email several days later after she was let out of the hospital.  

What I have not admitted until now, though, is that there is some justice in my suffering through these eccentric views of absences because I too am a little wishy-washy when it comes to time off. More than once, I’ve asked my boss for a week off and then added that I might come in if “there are rainy days, or the gym is closed, or I get bored or . . .” 

So I suppose it’s only justice that the eccentric boss gets an eccentric staff. And I’m sure every time I point to an empty date on the calendar and wearily ask, “Why didn’t  you write it down?”, somewhere every boss I’ve ever had suddenly has an odd sense of retribution.

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