update: our library staff have all been reassigned to do childcare for county workers

Remember the letter from the library worker whose county was forcibly assigning library workers to provide childcare for county employees? Here’s the update.

Before I get into anything else, I’ll note that due to information I was provided on the legality of initiatives like the one at my library within my particular state, I didn’t pursue legal action or contact state agencies. Such efforts would have been wasted when an executive order was passed explicitly allowing non-licensed center to provide supervision under parameters like my county is doing. It was disheartening, but I chose to devote my energy toward finding a new job instead of fretting. Basically, since I was told to buy in to the childcare initiative or consider a career change, I chose the latter option.

Thanks to years of reading your advice about resumes and interviews; the encouragement of my partner, friends, family, and former coworkers at my previous job; and heaps of submitted applications, I have received and accepted a job offer in a field I’m excited to work in. Even better, the job is close to my partner that lives about 2 hours away from where I’m currently located; its pay is also a slight upgrade from what I was earning at the library.

As for the library, some things about the camp – now officially called a Virtual Learning Center – have changed for the better in some ways. Whether that was from news about my letter to the blog getting out (which it did), from the Washington Post article, or from something else entirely, I don’t know. Whatever the cause, it was news that I was glad to hear, despite my skepticism. The county will be arranging for the school system in our area and for the parks and rec department to assist with programming and staffing.

Obviously, that doesn’t change the fact that myriad issues could still arise from this usage of the library. Staff will be at much greater risk of contracting COVID-19 at the library than before, and I don’t think there’s a way to sugarcoat that. Public staff will still be expected to provide childcare, which a 1-hour training webinar will not really be able to prepare library staff for. The library will also face much more difficulty in increasing services to the wider public while the VLC is underway, at least from my own limited perspective. But I am glad to know my former coworkers will not be in quite as desperate of a situation as far as their workloads are concerned.

I do want to say a huge, from-the-bottom-of-my-heart thank you to all of the supportive commenters here. Throughout the massive stress of this situation, your comments were a huge boost of morale for me. I am glad, despite the worry that I would face negative consequences for writing AAM and speaking with the Washington Post reporter, that I did those things anyway. They helped me maintain a healthy perspective that no, I’m not overreacting for being upset at this situation, and no, I’m not a bad worker for taking a massive morale hit from this situation.

Additionally, I hope that the discussions prompted by the letter and article(s) will increase awareness of the crisis of lacking affordable childcare options in the U.S., especially during this pandemic; as well as the ways in which female-dominated “caring” professions like public library workers (especially in youth services), teachers, and childcare providers are often assumed to be either so similar as to be interchangeable or simply devalued. I have the greatest respect for the work childcare providers and teachers do, and I will continue loudly advocating for y’alls work as well as the work of librarians and paraprofessional library workers.

{ 149 comments… read them below }

  1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Thank you for confirming the legalities portion. I had a feeling that there was an executive order involved that made this all legally acceptable [yet still morally bankrupt].

    Congratulations on finding a new job, I hope that encourages the folks around here who are struggling with their current employment issues and are scared that they’ll never find another alternative, due to the economic issues we’re all still facing. Along with those who are out of work and looking due to their furloughs and layoffs.

    I’m glad you’re safe but still very sad your former colleagues are in this situation.

    1. Beth*

      As Leonard Pitts recently quoted:
      “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal.’ ” — Martin Luther King

  2. Pippa K*

    “the ways in which female-dominated “caring” professions like public library workers (especially in youth services), teachers, and childcare providers are often assumed to be either so similar as to be interchangeable or simply devalued.”

    PREACH. I really hope that wider recognition of this is one of the things that comes out of the pandemic.

    1. HoHumDrum*

      YES! That line made me want to high five the OP.

      As someone who works in education and is a woman I get so, so frustrated by the endless assumptions about my gender within my job. Like the main qualification I have is that I possess a uterus and not, say, the f***ing master’s degree in education I have or the decade of teaching experience I’ve accumulated. Oh no, everything I do is instinctual, obviously, and I could be easily replaced with any vaguely maternal seeming female person. Never a man obviously, because a man who is nurturing and good with children is clearly a predator and obviously never someone non-binary or trans because that exposes children to dangerous ideas. So only cis women can care for children, and because that’s their instinct/natural role in life, surely they don’t deserve decent pay or recognition for it. GAH!

      Anyways, good luck LW in moving on. I respect what you do, and I’m so sorry your government doesn’t seem to feel the same.

      1. NW Mossy*

        This pandemic has only reinforced for me the extent to which educating the young is a deep professional discipline all its own and best performed by those who’ve put in the time and effort to develop expertise.

        I have a master’s degree myself but I’m in no way qualified to educate my kids (4 and 9) effectively. They’re getting a sloppy patchwork of whatever I can manage, which is a significant downgrade in quality from what they were getting pre-pandemic. Just because I baked them in my own uterus doesn’t make me any good at this.

        1. mayfly*

          IDK, I think this is really case-specific. We’re pandemic-homeschooling our kids (9 and 7). Neither my husband or myself have an academic background in education, but our kids are thriving with the independent work and it’s been a definite upgrade from public school. They’re already 25% of the way through math for the school year.

          1. HoHumDrum*

            As someone who teaches informal ed specifically because I have a lot of issues with how most schools operate, I would say that it’s a mistake to conflate homeschooling success with the idea that “any female can teach”. Your kids might be thriving with more individual attention, or the more flexible schedule that being at home might entail, or maybe your local school is just not serving them well for a variety of reasons, etc. You might be naturally gifted at teaching. But none of that means that teaching isn’t truly a deep professional discipline on it’s own.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            I think there’s a difference between teaching a couple of our own children and teaching a roomful of other people’s children.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Especially if “teaching a couple of our own children” involves using resources and planning from experienced educators, and “teaching a roomful of other people’s children” involves having to design, plan and execute a scheme of work all by yourself.

          3. Pocketful of Promises*

            It will be interesting to see if they genuinely are making that much progress, or if your lack of pedagogical knowledge is leading you to assess inaccurately! Kids who “thrive on independent work” in my experience (22 years teaching) usually turn out to have been skipping over large chunks that they were not interested in or didn’t understand, and have significant gaps in their understanding when assessed rigorously against those taught in school. There are occasional outliers, of course, but I cannot tell you how many times I have seen this happen to the detriment of those kids. The parents, of course, didn’t want to hear that.

        2. HoHumDrum*

          Yeah, that’s another aspect to this gendered assumption re: teaching I hadn’t fully considered, that it might be putting undue pressure on parents, and specifically women, that managing homeschooling should just come easily to them. I’m sure you’re doing great, and I hope you’re able to be kind to yourself through all this.

        3. SpaceySteph*

          My mom has a degree in Chemical Engineering and I would ask for help with my Chemistry homework in high school and she struggled to help. I remember then being very annoyed like “shouldn’t you know this?”

          Now that I’m old I realize that a) just because you know something doesn’t mean you can teach it and b) just because you learned something doesn’t mean you remember it enough to teach it 20 years later.
          Sorry, mom!

          1. UKDancer*

            Absolutely. I can dance reasonably well in various dance forms but I am absolutely terrible at explaining how to dance. I don’t know how to explain in words what is involved. Also learning anything from a parent can be difficult because of the emotions involved. My father’s attempts at teaching me to drive ended with a lot of rows.

            Being able to teach is a skill and an art. I can tell quite easily which of my dance teachers have actually studied how to teach and which just stand in front of the class and expect people to copy their movements and it makes a huge difference. Society doesn’t give people who do it well enough credit and respect.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        One of the things I love about the school Mini-Orchestra is attending – the lead teacher in the three’s class is a guy! (It’s a fully licensed and accredited religious school, pre-k3 through 4th grade – to make it even more surprising.)

        From all indications he is excellent (Mini-Orchestra transferred into this school from another school in an upper grade), and dedicated to teaching and watching kids learn.

        Grrrr to baloney assumptions about men as teachers.

        1. HoHumDrum*

          Yeah, there are so many men I know who are wonderful, amazing educators, it’s so bananas how we’ve added gender nonsense to something as basic as child care or education. I mean, if men are so dangerous to be around children then why on earth do these people also insist that all children should be living in a two parent home with a male father??

          But for real, it’s awesome that your kiddo is at a school where they can see a positive male role model. It’s so crucial for kids to see and to know people of all genders, for so many reasons.

        2. KoiFeeder*

          Yeah, there was one male teacher in my elementary school (pre-k through 5th), and he got fired at the end of the year because some of the parents didn’t like him. Nevermind that he was competent and professional, or that his co-teacher was literally bullying her students. It was a private school and the parents didn’t think men should want to teach elementary students, so out he went.

      3. Jessen*

        Alternately, accepting AFAB non-binary individuals because that way you can get your progressive points in without actually challenging any of your gender norms. But only if they look feminine enough.

    2. Kristine*

      Absolutely. When most librarians (and secretaries) were men, they were not expected to watch other people’s children or do any nanny work on pain of “considering a career change.” I think people forget how those professions were once male-dominated.

        1. Paperwhite*

          These sexist expectations didn’t start with the COVID-19 pandemic and if we pretend they did then they definitely won’t end with it. There have been quite a few letters to AAM where workers, invariably female, are expected to watch superiors’ children as well as carry out their unrelated job duties.

      1. virago*

        I think that Kristine was referring to several aspects of pre-COVID existence: namely, children, and the demands that women secretaries, librarians, et al., tend to them.

    3. Alict*

      It’s not even just caring professions — I was listening to a journal editor talk about how the instant the quarantine stared academic article submissions from women plummeted with men’s *rose*. The belief from sociologists is that the pandemic is going to set woman researchers back maybe decades, because a woman academic isn’t assumed to be doing important work the way a man is, so she has to pick up all the household duties she was free from while she was working in an office, while a man can keep working.

      Unfortunately I don’t think this will result in a boost for woman-dominated professions. I think widespread unemployment driving down wages and a “see you did it all just fine” attitude will make things far worse.

      1. HoHumDrum*

        Also, women are often paid less than their male partners for a huge variety of reasons, and so even in a home where division of labor is egalitarian if say, someone needs to take a leave of absence from work to care for a child full time now, guess who that’s gonna be? Even if both partners agree that that isn’t the way they want to operate, at a certain point none of that matters. If the world we live in is fundamentally unfair, that seeps into the home, no matter what your principles are. That’s what is so infuriating about the “Lean In” type feminism.

        1. Alict*


          On a macro level, there’s been no pandemic response in the US because it affects immigrants, the poor, the sick, and women. It’s not a coincidence. There was a Hard Times (Onion?) article the other day that was like “cure for COVID produced as soon as researchers realize it causes erectile dysfunction” and… yeah.

          1. Lord Peter Wimsey*

            “cure for COVID produced as soon as researchers realize it causes erectile dysfunction”

            that is simultaneously so funny and so sad…. sigh

            1. Not So NewReader*

              It used to be that once a woman got beyond childbearing years, it was a waste of a doctor’s time to help her with any issues.

          2. Tired of Covid*

            Actually, men die at a higher rate than women of covid-19. I think the lack of response is more because it affects black, brown, and poor people disproportionately.

            1. MayLou*

              The disease itself may be affecting men more severely, but the wider consequences are affecting women more. Depends which way you look at it.

    4. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      I hate that people expect teachers to go the extra mile even now, without considering they may have a family of their own.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      It is phenomenally worded.

      I’m also tired of the ‘you’re a woman, therefore you have a natural skill for childcare’ I’ve seen so many times during this pandemic. Had to tell another person this week that I appreciate times are hard, but I really can’t watch their kids for a few hours. They never ask my husband…

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      Honestly, this is best part.
      “Get on board or get on out.”
      Ok, then.
      Hey, Karma. Good looking out for OP!

  3. rageismycaffeine*

    I commented on your original post and I’m delighted that it got to the press (that was one of my suggestions though I pointed you to a different outlet). I also am very satisfied to have my curiosity about which county it was answered, lol.

    I didn’t realize, even though I live in NC, that this was something that was permitted under the executive order. Here I was thinking that Coop had been handling things pretty well. smh.

    Congrats on the new job, and thank you for your work in raising awareness about how undervalued female-dominated positions are. I wish you the best of luck in the future.

    1. Mama Bear*

      I saw the press, too. I’m glad that ultimately OP decided to leave that environment, to their own benefit.

    2. beanie gee*

      Definitely takes courage! Well done OP! It sounds like you raised a lot of awareness, and even though the library is still moving forward with the plan, there are at least some improvements over the original plan.

      And congrats on the new and improved gig!!!

  4. NQ*

    Phew! I was horrified at the thought of your original letter [although I work in a male-dominated, not public-focussed, corporate environment, the very idea scared me]. I honestly don’t think I have it in me to work with children for one hour. And that’s despite my being a mushy-wushy lady woman! I’m so happy for you :)

    1. emmelemm*

      Ah yes, us mushy-wushy lady women. I have many skills and talents and a decent emotional IQ. Nonetheless, wrangling children is not, and never will be, within my skillset. I consider those who do it to be both geniuses and miracle workers.

      1. UKDancer*

        Ditto. I have many talents but I am no good with children which is why I don’t have any.

        It really annoys me when people assume that being female makes you good with children, it really doesn’t. It’s hard enough when the neighbour’s small child tries to talk to me over the fence and I try and think of something appropriate to say. Give me the neighbour’s dog any day, no conversation required just a tummy rub.

        1. MayLou*

          I AM good with children, which is why I spend 9 hours a week working with them. But I would be furious if the other 35 hours of my working week suddenly turned into childcare. Part of the reason I enjoy both my careers is that they nicely balance each other. If I wanted to do full time childcare, I would… get a full time childcare job.

          1. Letter Writer*

            Yes, exactly this. Thank you. A commenter in another thread accused me of “whining” for having my duties reassigned, but I think that’s really ignoring the wider implications of this change and the idea that youth librarians/library workers do equivalent work to teachers.

  5. OrigCassandra*

    Librarianship can be very circle-the-wagons clannish, as well as passive-aggressive toward colleagues who speak up, which likely means you would have had a tough road if you’d stayed, OP. I’m glad you’re out, and sorry that’s a thing I’m glad about.

    Keep speaking up. Since I left the field, I have been. We can say things safely that those still in the field can’t.

    1. Librarian Manque'*

      Behind thescenes, mon=dernlibraries can be pretty awful places.

      When I was a teen I wanted to be a librarian in a public library I got a job shelving books in our small town libray and was encouraged to pursue it by the library director. I got a circulation desk job in the college library and was encouraged to pursue a masters degree in the field by the professionals I met there. Because I had to support myself, I got entry level job in another field but started on my masters at night and had a roommate full-time in the same program. It was mid-70s and the poor economic outlook meant that there were few library jobs; one professor actively discouraged entering the field. My roomie got her degree and could not find a stable library job to support her. I did not continue , got married and moved away.

      Thinking I would pick up my masters studies, I took a circulation job in a local public library system and came away thoroughly convinced that I could not survive the kind of working environment prevalant in suburban library sysytems at such abysmal pay The bitchiness quotient was off the scale, creative solutions to problems were punished, and diverging one iota from the leader’s groupthink mentality got one ostracized. Our branch manager’s preformance reviews regulary left senior staff in tears since a year of outstanding service would be sunk by one insubstantial slip. I have never looked back forty years later

      1. anon, 'cause its a library*

        40 years later, its still pretty much the same, at least where I am.
        creative solutions to problems were punished, and diverging one iota from the leader’s groupthink mentality got one ostracized
        It has taken a year of reading (studying) this blog to come to terms with this and the toxic side of one manager.
        The library manager says “I don’t believe in stay-in-your-lane,” but they forgot to tell the rest of the leadership and apparently you have to be buddies with someone to get any projects assigned to you.

      2. Coenobita*

        Yeah, I’m the daughter of a librarian and grew up in libraries. As an adult, I literally spent so long volunteering in my local library’s circ department that they started paying me. I love it (obviously) but I think that’s mostly because (1) I only work nights & weekends, when the fun staff are there and leadership isn’t, and (2) my immediate supervisor is a fierce employee-rights advocate. People ask me why I didn’t pursue libraries as a career and I’m like, maybe it’s because I value being respected and paid a living wage? It breaks my heart, honestly. Libraries are SO important but it seems like the field is just working against itself however it can.

    2. J.B.*

      I interviewed for a library job and they wanted a diversity statement and then pressed for answers on what it meant to be “in a male-dominated field”. I had thought that was a fairly obvious line and was not prepared to answer about sexual harrassment. Kind of hard to do that without badmouthing your former employers!!!

  6. IsItOverYet?*

    HEART to this: “Additionally, I hope that the discussions prompted by the letter and article(s) will increase awareness of the crisis of lacking affordable childcare options in the U.S., especially during this pandemic; as well as the ways in which female-dominated “caring” professions like public library workers (especially in youth services), teachers, and childcare providers are often assumed to be either so similar as to be interchangeable or simply devalued.”

    Best wishes to you and to your former colleagues and to all the caregivers out there.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Yeah, I figured it was an oversight on the journalist’s part. I asked her not to gender me in the article, but I guess it was overlooked.

  7. K*

    Thanks for mentioning that Washington Post article. I had no idea that this was happening so close to where I live.

  8. media coverage*

    Can you say anything more about how the Washington Post coverage came about? It could be useful for other people to know how to do.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In this case, the Wash Post reporter had contacted me about a story she was working on and I connected her with the letter writer. (When I do that, I send the reporter’s info to the LW with a note to contact them if they want to be interviewed — I wouldn’t give out LWs’ info without their permission.)

      So this was a little different. But as someone who in past jobs had to pitch stories to reporters: Find someone who reports on local news in your area (so in a paper like the Wash Post, a Metro section reporter who seems to cover your area), and email them a short (SHORT!) note about the story and your role in it, and your contact info. Or you can leave a voicemail, but it’s easier to be concise and still get in the key details via email. Do not write a lengthy screed, no matter how impassioned you are. They hear from lots of cranks. You want to sound sane and easy to work with. You do not want to sound like you will talk their ear off without letting them get a word in if they call you.

      They often hear from lots of people so don’t put all your eggs in one basket and don’t be devastated if you don’t hear back, but this will give you a good shot.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Short means a few short-ish paragraphs, not just 2 sentences. You have to say enough to explain why it’s a good story, but not so much that it’s a slog to wade through.

      2. Chinook*

        As someone who worked on a small town newspaper, I whole heartedly agree with AAM about this approach. Good reporters are often looking for something with a local angle or human interest side to it. An email is best because they are often not in the office and can then reply when they have a moment. I have been surprised by the amount of times a local reporter has called up my community group because we have sent them a note about something we were doing and wondered if they wanted to cover it.

  9. J.E.*

    I also didn’t get why it’s ok to have kids at these childcare facilities often longer hours than they would be at school and exposed to just as many or mor people, but it’s still considered not safe enough to have the kids at school for their normal school day.

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      My state has a similar executive order. It is not safe for the kids but it is the only way we are still going to have people showing up to work in the essential fields where we can’t have women quitting in mass to stay home with their kids. I say women because unfortunately it’s usually the women.

      In my state, there is such a shortage of home health care workers, people are being discharged without it and told “good luck” even if they can’t independently walk to a bathroom. If you want your hospital to stay open, there has to be emergency child care available.

      Hence, the emergency pop up child care facilities. No one can force the regular child care facilities to stay open. If the staff feel it is too unsafe, they will close. That’s how we end up with a bunch of kids virtually learning in a hospital conference room. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

      1. Dahlia*

        “No one can force the regular child care facilities to stay open.”

        But we can force librarians to become child care facilities? Sorry, still fucked up.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          It matters where the money comes from. If government funds you, when they say march, you march.

          As a taxpayer, I would argue that when I go to a library, I expect… well… a library, not a daycare. I have never given a second thought to kids in the library except to say, “That’s terrific!”. But thinking about this, if I walked into use the library/day camp, I think I would leave immediately.

          1. Letter Writer*

            As of when I resigned, the library will remain closed to the public for the duration of the VLC – so at least until 2021. (The school board voted to keep schools closed through the end of the year, so the VLC will operate for at least that long.)

      2. J.E.*

        The whole situation is unfortunate and makes me so angry. The pandemic has just magnified what many of us already knew about the struggles to find childcare and the lack of options. And in addition to better childcare options, there would be more home health care workers if they were paid actual living wages.

      3. Cassidy*

        >It is not safe for the kids but it is the only way we are still going to have people showing up to work in the essential fields

        It is NOT the only way. Get rid of billionaire welfare; the 99% can then keep more of their own money and weather the pandemic storm more comfortably. Demand hourly wages be indexed to inflation. Expand Medicaid so more people can have access to health insurance and health care at lower cost. Give corporations who send their employees to school for real degrees get tax breaks for doing so.

        I continue to be amazed at the number of of people who shrug indifferently and willingly sacrifice themselves on behalf of those who never have to because they happen to have money.

        1. SpaceySteph*

          All of these are things that should be done but none of them really are the solution to the problem you’re responding to. Hospital employees, grocery workers, and other essential personnel NEED to work. Putting more money in their hands is a good thing, but it doesn’t change that they need to work to keep society running and they need childcare in order to do so.

      4. D'Arcy*

        The “desperate measure” that is called for in these times is for everyone they’re trying to force to provide unqualified child care to quit. The idea that library staff should be *forced* to become proxy health care providers *simply because they’re women* is deeply, deeply fucked up.

    2. Rachel in NYC*

      I know NYC is doing something along these lines (for online learning days) but I think it was going to be more focused on community centers. Libraries are listed but NYC libraries are for the most part so impractical I can’t imagine that many are involved.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      Right? How is it okay for them to be in “virtual learning centers” but the school can’t be a virtual learning center? I get that you would likely have a larger percent of students at school, but what I see locally is some families selected online only, which runs for a semester, or whatever-we-get-from-the district, which brings kids back into hybrid or full-time at school learning when the board says it’s approved. I support safety measures, but I feel like a lot of the moves are preventative theater. I’m not a doctor or in public health, so I’m not pretending to be an expert, but it just seems like it’s okay to expose people over here but not okay over there.

      1. PhysicsTeacher*

        Because the local government that is making the decision has direct control over the library, but not the school system. So they can’t make the schools decide to be open if the local BoE doesn’t want them to, but they do have absolute control over the library to briefly convert it into childcare. It’s still not okay, but that’s why.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Generally makes sense. What was weird in my district was that our state & county had more restrictions. Our BoE was the only major school district of 5 in the county to start the school year in hybrid (all grades). The state/county recommendations were for all remote only to start. So, the county was saying “no in-person school at all” and then turning around and opening the park & rec centers for virtual learning. The other 4 districts initially announced starting remotely, then allowed elementary hybrid, and then later moved to HS hybrid and elementary full-time. The county level is still for hybrid recommendations but the boards are getting a lot of parental pressure.

    4. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      Because the teachers have a union and the “learning pod facilitators” are often a) part-time hourly staff at nonprofits like the YMCA or Boys and Girls Clubs who make minimum wage or near it or b) nonunion public employees like OP.

      The national teacher’s union and local chapters in states that are unionized have gotten enough media attention to help bolster the case of teachers in states that are not unionized. The other people are “be lucky you have a job now there’s 10% unemployment.”

      That’s why it’s safe to send your kid to a learning pod, but not school. The people at the learning pod aren’t “important enough” to be able to stand up for themselves.

    5. Thursday Next*

      It’s a numbers game. A day care/camp/whatever could have a max of 14 kids in a room, take place in a rec center etc, but a school can be classrooms of 25-40 kids in a building built in the 1920s. If you are only providing services for a subset of the population, not any student in the district, it’s easier to manage the logistics and it’s a smaller group of people being exposed. The spouse of one of my coworkers is an assistant principal at a public school. They spent a ton of time making plans for hybrid learning but most of the classrooms at the school aren’t big enough for social distancing, even at 50% capacity.

      1. some dude*

        I think it is a combination of the numbers and the union saying, “Yeah, no.” I’m in california, and the norm here is that half the school is in portables with zero ventilation, and the other half is in a building built sometime before the carter administration, so not much better. I’m hopeful my kids school will do a hybrid schedule at some point so she can do some in person, but given that her school bathroom ran out of soap last fall (!), I don’t have a ton of faith that they have the resources to go back safely in person. But I do think that were the union not pushing back so hard, we’d have gone back to in-person in fall. The district had a plan and then nuked it after the unions chimed in, although California also had a massive spike in cases so maybe that was more the driver.

        1. Thursday Next*

          Not to mention that even some miracle school district with infinite space would need to greatly increase staffing levels to do any sort of hybrid/smaller class size thing. I don’t have kids but I was looking at what my local school district was doing after reading about NYCs problem, and their biggest hurdle to doing some sort of in-person instruction is needing to hire an additional 1200 staff, especially when they probably can only hire for 9 months.

          1. J.E.*

            My state has one of the lowest teacher salaries in the nation, so we already had a difficult time finding enough teachers. Either last fall or the year before, a record number of emergency certifications were issued because there were not enough teachers. If that was “normal” times, I imagine it’s so much worse now, unless people are just desperate enough that they’d take the low salary my state pays.

          2. Kyrielle*

            A lot of the kids where I am went to an online-only program that is a commitment not to go back to in-person teaching this school year. The rest are distance learning because schools are not (yet) allowed to open. Many of “the rest” have at least one parent working at home (or a stay-at-home parent), and some of the others in both categories have an agreement with 1-3 other families where someone is watching the kids distance learn while others work. The local “after-school” program IS providing care for distance-learning kiddos during school hours. However, they are doing it in smaller numbers and larger spaces, with more restrictions and fewer interactions. Instead of 26-ish kids who move between rooms and cafeterias, go to music and gym in person, pass each other in the halls, interact with the library books one class after another, etc., they are in sub-groups of 10 that never leave one space except on arrival / departure, have to limit who can go to the bathroom and where and when (I have no idea how they’re doing that!), etc., etc.

            That care is expensive (and for essential workers, I think subsidized by the state? I’m not sure!) and there is space for less than 10% of the elementary kids and none of the middle or high schoolers.

        2. fhgwhgads*

          That’s true in general but in OP’s case I believe they said they were in NC, which specifically does not have teacher’s unions. So there’s no teachers union factor there.

    6. Anon for this*

      It’s not always about the kids. My area’s schools were planning a hybrid system – two teams, with each having two days per week in, the rest online. Parents loved the idea. Something like 40% of the teachers indicated they were not willing to come back as it wasn’t safe. As a good percentage of them are retirement eligible, and would have retired, the schools decided to be on-line for the fall semester so as not to lose something like 25% of their teachers overnight.

      A friend of mine in a different school district did retire when she was told she had to return to work – and several of her friends followed suit. You can’t have a school if you don’t have teachers.

      1. Chinook*

        As one of those qualified teachers who has competed against hundreds for one position, I have to admit that I was excited about that aspect. I have waited over a decade for the retirements to start and changed careers as a result. I even applied as a local sub for the first time in 7 years. Of course, I was offered a job teaching adults a month before my application was even reviewed, but it was nice to know that the doors are starting to reopen (and the threat of teachers retiring may not be the threat that they think it is).

        1. J.E.*

          Same with libraries. For years MLS programs were talking about this huge wave of retirements that was supposed to happen and there were going to be all these vacant positions. That might actually be true for once.

          1. CorruptedbyCoffee*

            Sort of. We lost quite a few, but we also instituted a hiring freeze. So, maybe in a few years?

  10. A Bit Witchy*

    We are losing a LOT of people in the library field during this. They are all realizing that towns, admin, even their communities don’t value the work they put in and the salary we get doesn’t make up for the very hard emotional labor we often have to do. I’m sticking it out, mostly because my library is handling it ok-ish, but I am thinking about what I would do if library word doesn’t end up panning out for me. It’s a little heartbreaking.

    1. J.E.*

      I’m hoping that there is reform in the field. The issues you bring up have been discussed by those in libraries for years, but I have yet to see very much change. From years of new MLS grads unable to find full time jobs to salaries that are below market rate in most places, my wish is that finally some things change.

      1. Cassidy*

        Yep. The ALA really needs to get more honest about the field and its prospects. One problem is that library schools either are online only or have an online component, which means many more students than jobs. Adding to this are fewer retirees than projected 20 years ago.

        1. J.E.*

          ALA and MLIS programs have been talking about this mythical wave of retirements for years. I’m wondering if now it might actually be true. Still, that would mean libraries would have to fill the vacated positions and often they don’t or they replace one full time librarian with a couple of part timers.

          1. Slinky*

            There may be a massive retirement wave, but IME positions often go unfilled. Retirements do not equal job openings.

            1. Letter Writer*

              Yeah, I wasn’t in the library field super long (and never went for an MLIS/MLS) but I often observed positions being dissolved after people retired rather than new folks being hired for them.

          2. AcademiaNut*

            I was told this about faculty jobs for literally decades – that the big wave of hires from the 60s would be retiring opening up lots of jobs.

            Some universities replaced retiring tenured faculty with adjunct staff, or didn’t hire anyone. But I think the biggest issue was that a lot more people were getting PhDs in the field, which meant that there was more competition for jobs. The number of temporary jobs (adjuncts, postdocs) increased more than the number of available tenure track jobs. As a result people were spending longer in postdoc positions while trying to get faculty jobs. In the 60s, it was common for a scientist to spend a couple of years in one postdoc before getting a tenure track position – now two is basically required, and I know people on their third or fourth term-limited position.

            So for MLIS jobs, even if a ton of people retired right now, you’d still have way more people applying for jobs than there were available positions, because the number of people getting the training has skyrocketed. And when you have that, you can offer low wages and crappy benefits and people will still leap at the jobs, hoping to work their way up to something better.

        2. J.B.*

          I just graduted with an MSIS because I really love the human side of software development, but the school I attended totally coasts on their reputation and doesn’t have nearly as effective outreach to industries as an adjacent program that is under the business school umbrella. I liked the the things I learned, but a professional degree is supposed to prepare you for a profession!

    2. AnonInTheCity*

      I have a friend who is seriously considering leaving the absolute dream library job that she thought she’d stay at for the rest of her working life. She loves her job but right now she’s the mask police and it’s not what she signed up for.

      1. Middle Aged Lady*

        Yeah, it was hard enough policing the undergrads who wanted to eat, sleep, and be amorous in the stacks, and the unfortunate who wanted to bathe and look at pron. I can’t imagine being the mask police or providjng childcare…

      2. Thankful for AAM*

        Mask Police. I think of it as possibly “save my life police.”
        We have very few patrons coming in and I still wind up saying every 30 minutes, “oh, your nose is uncovered.” I say it in the same tone as I might say, oh, your dick/breast is showing, of course you will cover it up. And they do tend to cover it up.

        The other day a patron could not hear me so she pulled her mask down,
        Me: your nose is uncovered . . .
        patron: i’m trying to hear you.
        Me: (honestly confused) you can hear through your nose?
        patron: waves hands, walks away

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Speaking as a person whose hearing has experienced a sudden down turn, I have caught myself doing this. I am so frustrated by saying, “what?” all the time and being told “what?” all the time.

          I DO understand what we are doing and why we are doing it. What I do not understand is why people have not figured out by now that they need to speak up. It’s pretty straightforward, if a person has a mask on they know they have to speak up. I have seen people walk out of meetings because they can’t hear anything. There’s one group I belong to where I can’t hear more than 50% of what is being said. I have asked them to speak up so many times, I think I am done asking. (Other people have already left the group for this reason.)

    3. CircleBack*

      My local library system has also been in upheaval over disparate treatment of black employees, which was already “not great” and became far worse once furloughs started, let alone health concerns and again disparate impact on minority communities and workers. It will be… interested to see who makes it through and sticks it out.

      1. anon, 'cause its a library*

        Your library has black employees? For some, apparently unknowable reason, we lose any we hire. No one knows why. smh.

        1. Karia*

          I’m guessing there’s a manager or senior employee where observation of their behaviour will easily answer that question, anon.

      2. J.E.*

        Attracting and retaining librarians of color has been an issue in the library field for many years. The pandemic is one more thing compounding this issue.

  11. 3DogNight*

    I’m very disappointed in our country, in general, for things like this. It seems that the pandemic has given everyone carte blanche to rearrange pay scales in a way that does not benefit employees, change job duties, and more, and we are just supposed to be grateful to have a job, because pandemic!
    Yes, I believe the pandemic is real. Yes, I believe that the way we work is going to change, and that will be a permanent change. And, yes, because of the pandemic jobs have been cut. Most of those jobs will come back, some won’t. But, a library shouldn’t have to be a day care or school, and suck it up buttercup. It’s infuriating to me.
    I’m one of the “lucky” ones. I still have a job, and most of my role has remained as it was.

  12. Paris Geller*

    I’m happy for you, OP! Congrats on the new job! Disappointing that they’re still going in that direction, though. Sounds like it’s not as bad as it could have been but still not great. And yes, as a youth services librarian, it is very discouraging to constantly feel like so many people see librarians/daycare workers/young education teachers as interchangeable. Those jobs might have some overlap, but they all involve specialized education/training and different skills!

    Also, interesting note, apparently I interviewed with your now-previous employer after I graduated with my MLIS a few years ago. Now glad I went in a different direction. . .

    1. Mad Hatter*

      I actually worked as a children’s librarian for several years in that NC county library over 40 years ago and the administration then was as wacky as it appears to be today. I moved to another city/state and continued to work in a public library for another 30 years. There were certainly a lot of changes during those years, many of them disheartening. I’m sorry to see the current state of the profession.

  13. Solitary Daughter*

    I really appreciate what you said, here, Letter Writer: “Additionally, I hope that the discussions prompted by the letter and article(s) will increase awareness of the crisis of lacking affordable childcare options in the U.S., especially during this pandemic; as well as the ways in which female-dominated “caring” professions like public library workers (especially in youth services), teachers, and childcare providers are often assumed to be either so similar as to be interchangeable or simply devalued.”

    I feel that big time. I’m a YS librarian, and the microaggressions we face even in our own profession often lead to that devalued feeling. The idea that these things are just interchangeable (to use your word) and we should be happy to do it are really harmful. I’m really glad you were brave enough to speak up, and happy for you that you’ve found something that’s a better fit for you right now.

    1. a sound engineer*

      That devaluing mentality of you should be happy to be here, you’re easily replaceable (and probably by someone who will work for less), etc is something that I hope a lot of industries are having conversations about while paused or otherwise disrupted by COVID-19. My industry suffers from the same thing I can’t imagine returning to “normal” without addressing the harm that it causes.

      1. a sound engineer*

        “It” being the mentality we have, not the work that we do. This is what I get for trying to edit two sentences into one..

  14. Mimi*

    LW, I agree with my fellow commenters about how proud I am of you, and how happy I am that you were able to find something else.

    I also want to thank you for including “paraprofessional library workers”. We often feel undervalued in our already undervalued institutions.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Oh yeah, for sure! I’ve only ever worked as a parapro library worker, and at my job before this one I just resigned, I was responsible for a MASSIVE amount of programming. Like, 4 baby classes a week, multiple toddler and preschool programs, bigger one-off events, and recurring programs like process art buffets or yoga storytimes. And reference. And professional development. All for 14 dollars an hour.

  15. Karia*

    I’m glad things have worked out for letter writer. Still, what a sexist, short sighted, waste of qualified professionals this is – in every way, given that teachers who are stocking shelves are not using their skills as education professionals, and masters graduates with information science degrees are being used as simultaneously over and under qualified babysitters.

    Way to waste the expert skills of two important professions, and I still can’t help but think it’s because the Western world still thinks woman = mommy.

  16. TiredMama*

    Thank you for the update! I am glad they made changes and even more happy to hear you have other employment lined up now. Congrats!

  17. Exhausted Trope*

    OP, so happy for you! (And very relieved as well.)
    I highly appreciate your point “ways in which female-dominated “caring” professions like public library workers (especially in youth services), teachers, and childcare providers are often assumed to be either so similar as to be interchangeable or simply devalued.”
    This is a HUGE issue that desperately needs to be resolved. And the reason I left education after 18 years in the field.

  18. MissDisplaced*

    I’m sorry you had such a lousy choice to suck it up or leave the library. It’s not right.
    But I’m glad you found another job, and rather quickly it sounds like too!

  19. Bookworm*

    Thanks for the update, OP. I am sorry you had to leave, but I hope this new job works out for you. Good luck!!

  20. hoggilywog*

    I understand why this person was upset in the first letter, but as someone who works in Emergency Management it frankly irritates me that she was so shocked and taken aback of being asked to do this. it is INCREDIBLY common in multiple states and municipalities for any government worker to be considered essential in an emergency and for workload to be re-assigned to other undefined activities to assist with emergency response activities. Many employees somehow seem to miss this when reading their contracts (or just don’t consider that it may actually happen). Yes, it literally is something you signed up for. If you don’t want to serve your community in its time of need, don’t work in the public sector. Great, you didn’t like it and got a new job and I’m happy you’re happy, but I find it ridiculous to complain about.

    1. Lostnformed*

      I’m a public librarian and I agree. It sucks, but ultimately we are government employees and in an emergency the job is whatever they say they the job is.

      All this talk of gendered work is accurate to some extent, but I’ve noticed a tendency among some librarians to think that the MLS makes us better than the rest of the government drones.

    2. virago*

      “It is incredibly common … for any government worker to be considered essential in an emergency and for workload to be reassigned … . Many employees somehow seem to miss this when reading their contracts (or just don’t consider that it might happen).”

      If this prospect of reassignment during an emergency keeps being overlooked and/or downplayed by employees — even by workers who read contracts carefully (i.e., not just for how vacation is accrued) — then maybe the onboarding process needs to be changed so that this aspect of the job is better emphasized.

      Or maybe the *supervisors* of employees like the OP should be better trained so that they (the boss persons) alert their direct reports to the possibility of having to fill different shoes during an emergency.

      I don’t think that 2020 is going to be our nation’s only rodeo, COVID-wise (and if it’s not COVID, it’ll be something else). So government workers need to know that flexibility during an emergency is part of the job description.

      1. hoggilywog*

        yes, that is definitely true. And I know a lot of agencies don’t do a great job during onboarding of mentioning it (although it’s typically mentioned somewhere in the contact and other paperwork, there should be at least a minimum training and session during onboarding about it). However, I can tell you that even when agencies do a good job of this (I literally sat in on a ton of HR onboarding sessions at my last county job where they had 30 minute trainings for all new staff over this), employees either 1) ignore it or 2) don’t take into consideration that there is a good chance of this actually happening. I can’t tell you the number of times where we activated for emergencies at my last job where employees who I had seen be onboarded and were explicitly told about this clause and signed a paper about it claimed they had no idea and that it was not their job to help staff a cooling/warming center, serve as a nurse in a shelter, or to work in an administrative role in their department’s emergency operations center. We started putting it as an interview question for county employees because it became so ridiculous. It’s a combination of both onboarding and people just seeing emergencies as some far off hypothetical thing that never happens, so they ignore anything they’re told about it.

        1. anon_lab_worker*

          “that it was not their job”

          Early in the pandemic our organization (doing covid testing) was being helped by the National Guard to help collect samples from nursing homes. Literally just entering patient info into a spreadsheet was the bottleneck and we asked the NG to help with that as part of the effort.

          “We’re fighters, not secretaries” is what a high ranking person at the NG told our org when we asked. (heard through the grapevine as my own duties were being reassigned from scientific testing to manual data entry).

          Our whole lab’s respect for the NG took a huge nosedive after that and hasn’t recovered. We’re scientists, not “secretaries” either, NG. We’re all doing our part to help American society which is what I thought the point of military service was, not playing point and shoot with brown people.

      2. soon 2be former fed*

        No contracts in the US Federal service, thirty year Fed here. We are not expected to be asked to do anything in case of emergency. I do know that in Federal prisons, all staff must qualify at the gun range and respond to body alarms, including office staff that does not work directly with the prison population (my ex worked in a Fed prison). Otherwise, librarians would not be commanded to be child care workers.

        1. hoggilywog*

          I have worked for the federal government too. OPM has put out guidance about this that you should look at, because it is likely your agency could reassign you if needed (it is very rarely needed at the federal level, occasionally (like now) at the state, and regularly at the county level (depending on how often small scale emergencies occur in that county). I am primarily referring to state and local employees, which typically will have a blanket statement for all government employees (see something like the California Disaster Service Worker Program), or it will be on an agency by agency basis. Many agencies will put it as part of the job description.

          1. The vulture*

            I don’t think this is fair statement at all, at all. I work for the county government, doing a specific job they pay me for and I don’t think there is such a clause or, if there is, it’s not that likely ( and why on earth do you think it makes sense that people not take a job that’s a good fit for their skills and serves the public because there’s a chance they might ask them to do something unrelated they don’t want to do??) and it’s NOT good management. I did actually volunteer to do some EM stuff related to the pandemic which was 1. Totally voluntary and paid with hazard pay and 2. Wasn’t actually implemented that way because I’m not a public health employee and it just doesn’t make sense nor is it safe to make any available body do specialized care or health work.

            1. virago*

              I work for the county government, doing a specific job they pay me for, and I don’t think there is such a clause …

              @The vulture
              It would be a good idea for you (and your co-workers) to check your contract and see whether or not there are any provisions that allow for you (“you” as county employees, not “you” specifically) to be reassigned in the event of an emergency.

              I am not saying that I agree with reassignment provisions! But if your contract does have one, it’s better to know about it so you can set some limits on it, rather than being surprised by it in real time — that is, during a flood or a pandemic, when an executive order is in place and/or everyone is running around like their hair is on fire.

    3. Thankful for AAM*

      I think there is a big difference between being reassigned in an emergency and having to provide care that did not sou d possible to do safely.

      I did not think the OP was whining about being reassigned but about the conditions for the children as they were being set up originally.

      Also, I’m a city employee with the same set up, can be reassigned in am emergency, and I have no contract and no information beyond, can be reassigned. If I were reassigned to do something I did not think I could safely do and that put others in harms way, I’d be saying something about it too.

      1. Letter Writer*

        Yeah, I…don’t have much to say to this person. I think this commenter interpreted my letter in the worst possible light because it hit home to some sore points of their own personal views/experiences. I also would rather not be gendered as “she.”

    4. Yes Anastasia*

      Librarian here. I am a government employee and I understand that I can be reassigned. That doesn’t mean that I should be reassigned to childcare during a pandemic, in a facility unsuited for this service, and my core responsibilities to my community put on hold indefinitely, simply because I’m in an underpaid, undervalued, female-dominated profession.

      This was an irresponsible decision on the part of county management and OP was right to push back.

    5. Letter Writer*

      I will respond to your comment with the same tone you used – condescension and dismissal.

      My main gripe was not that I was reassigned. I was already *voluntarily* working part of my weeks in another department to assist with COVID-19 related phone calls and to help the public register for testing. I literally said that in my original letter.

      My problem, as I think I detailed fairly thoroughly, was that this venture was done in a manner I considered to be unsafe, both for the children and library staff, and that we would not receive commensurate compensation for being asked to perform extra duties in addition to the duties we already had.

      I cannot convince you otherwise, as it sounds like you are firm in the conviction that I am a misguided whiner, but I don’t think it was ridiculous to “complain” about, and I find the dismissal of workers’ concerns to be both insidious and tiresome.

  21. Not So NewReader*

    OP, I just want to say that you KNOW how to put your thoughts down on paper. I hope you can get to do something with this gift, because you are gifted. Your update was an impressive read to me.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Thank you so much! You’re very kind to say that. I have to write a lot at the moment since I’m currently seeking my bachelor’s degree, so I guess I’m just in the habit. :)

  22. Waving not Drowning (no longer Drowning not Waving)*

    Oh I get so so SO angry about only someone with a uterus can be a carer!! My son is on the Spectrum, and has support workers to take him out into the community help him understand social interactions (we are very very very fortunate to live in an area with no active COVID-19 cases for the last month, and while our borders are closed – the joys of being on an island – we have only minimal COVID-19 restrictions)

    We have had three absolutely amazing young men be his support workers over the last 18 months. They have achieved wonderful results. I was giving his new support worker some tips yesterday, they were going to a public park, and we were talking about toileting, and I remarked that he will need reminding, but can go on his own, but if he could be nearby, and we made a joke that wasn’t really a joke unless he was being started at for hanging around male toilets. We’ve received raised eyebrows from people when we’ve said the names of the support workers, and they have realised that they are male. Its awful! There is this massive stigma around male carers, and it needs to stop.

  23. Nita*

    OP, I’m glad you found a new job! And glad that there were changes to the program. I guess that’s the best that can be expected, under the circumstances…

  24. Yes Anastasia*

    Congratulations, OP! I’m so pleased that you found a new job, and that the situation at your old workplace is changing for the better. As a fellow librarian I still have issues with your county’s plan, but the partnerships with schools/parks & rec will make it slightly less of a trainwreck.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Thank you! I’m very relieved to have found employment, and not just any job, but one that I’m excited to do and that my skills will transfer to well.

  25. Clare*

    This is so good to hear. I have a family member in the exact same situation (librarian being asked to do childcare), and I think I’m going to send her these articles.

  26. LemonLime*

    Uggh– this just gave me a flashback to a University building I worked in that had a scientific library attached to the science wing. When the Librarian was out to lunch/sick someone had to sit behind the desk to answer phones etc. Guess who was on the list to do the rotations? ALL the FEMALE lab staff. Not one MALE lab staff was put on rotation. I complained loudly about that because it seemed that by being female, not only was I miraculously a trained librarian/receptionist but then my hour of lost work was not as important a loss as it was for my male colleagues?
    This attitude of mine was given an eye roll and brushed aside and I was made to cover but I think I was loud enough about my displeasure that I eventually fell off the roster and never corrected the ‘error’.

  27. Attack sheep*

    Ughhhh…. NEVER hire back someone you were glad to be rid of. We have the same problem (seasonal work, so sometimes hard to hire, sometimes people come back). Every time we hire someone back under those circumstances we regret it. Every time we try to “ explain away “ a concern, it comes back and bites us. People don’t just magically change because they didn’t work for you for a few months. You don’t know that someone else won’t trigger the same behaviours in them. Just no. Learn from others’ mistakes!

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