Email Habits of Library Workers

August 18, 2008 at 10:03 pm 6 comments

About a month ago I posted a simple poll using Doodle to get a quick snapshot of the email habits of librarians and those who work in libraries. I am finally finding a few moments to summarize the results. This is not a very scientific study at all, but it does give an indication that many of us in libraryland seem to feel compelled to check our work email even on weekends and holidays. I wonder if this is the same in other industries or are we just a hyper-connected profession of overachievers that must know at all times what is happening in our libraries even when we are not there?

As of August 15th 2008 there were 160 responses (many more than I expected) and the most popular option chosen was “Yes on weekends” with 119 people (74%) indicating that they needed to know what was going even when they were not at work.

Even though we seem to have a burning desire to check our work email on weekends, there is some indication that at least a small portion of the profession knows the meaning of the word vacation — 51 people (32%) indicated that they do not check work email while on vacation. Conversely, though, that means that more than two-thirds check work email when they should be sipping margaritas or relaxing on the beach.

Here is a quick summary of all the responses (results do not equal 100 as it was multiple choice):

Although the numbers in and of themselves are interesting, what I found most fascinating was the long list of comments. Here are a few sample comments:

Comment by Eileen. (Monday, July 14, 2008 3:11:27 PM CEST) Less so at night but definitely on weekends and vacation. I’d rather spend a few minutes a day keeping up with it than deal with it when I get back. When I’m on vacations I will hit the delete key more quickly — especially with list mail. Anytime I’m at home or on vacation I tend to respond to only what I need to. I almost never check work-related blogs though.

Comment by Anonymous. (Monday, July 14, 2008 9:55:35 PM CEST) Though I don’ t check e-mail from home. I have been known to come to work for a meeting while on vacation, do check my voicemail sometimes, and have taken home work that I knew would require too much time during my work day.

Comment by Patty. (Monday, July 14, 2008 3:48:31 PM CEST) I’ll check it occasionally at night through the week and usually every weekend at least once or twice, but I rarely act on anything unless it is dire. It can usually wait until I get to work but I am curious to see what is going on.

And, perhaps most wise of all:

Comment by Becky. (Tuesday, July 29, 2008 11:57:32 PM CEST) follow up – I have a friend who says no one ever died of a Library emergency, and I try to remember that, even as I’m checking.

I have been trying to check my email less frequently when I am not at the library with some measure of success and I think my life is better for it. Still, I mostly fall in the camp of wanting to know what is going on (even if I don’t respond to the message) and being able to delete anything unimportant over the weekend to make re-entry on Monday easier. It seems as if curiosity is a trait of many who are constant email checkers.

I used to check less frequently from home on weeknights, but since I took over as PPL’s program coordinator I find that it often puts my mind at ease to check email quickly after 9 pm to get the update on how the evening went at the library. We have programs almost nightly and when someone else is covering the program I want to know if things went smoothly. I know that I can do nothing about it from home if things went wrong, but still I seem to need to know.

Perhaps library workers need to follow the popular trend of having a Technology Sabbath — ditching email, all online communication and our cell phones for one day each weekend. It would be tough for many, myself included, but it is something worth considering.

Please take a few moments to scroll way down and read the rest of the comments left on the poll. Also feel free to leave comments on this post about your email habits — and if you plan to change them in the future based upon this unscientific research.


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  • 1. Karen  |  August 19, 2008 at 8:28 am

    This is painful to read. I would like to think that I have good work-life balance. But I too, check my email away from work. Maybe this is just a sign of the times. Not a phenomenon restricted to librarians. Or maybe we are checking email while also looking at our Facebook pages.

  • 2. Robin  |  August 19, 2008 at 8:32 am

    Hmmm… I’ve been known to check my work email while on vacation AND sipping on margaritas, but I wouldn’t suggest it as a all-the-time kinda thing. You never know what you’ll type under the influence of tequila!! 😉 Great post!!

  • 3. datamuse  |  August 19, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    Hmm. Personally, I never check my work e-mail when I’m away from work, PARTICULARLY when I’m on vacation. (It helps that I vacation in places with low or expensive connectivity, don’t bring a laptop, etc.)

    It’s definitely not a phenomenon restricted to librarians, but I did the always-on 24-7 thing during the dot-boom. Never again. There’s more to life than work, and the best way to experience it is to leave work at work.

  • 4. Janie L. Hermann  |  August 19, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    Karen: Yes, I think you are on to something… I often log on during the weekends for personal reasons (Facebook, Gmail, etc) and then find myself just “popping on” to check the work account. I rarely log on during the weekends to solely check my work email.

  • 5. ChristyKoch  |  August 20, 2008 at 9:34 am

    I don’t check my work email when I’m not at work unless I’m expecting a rare non-work related email coming to my work email account. When I leave work, I leave it.

  • 6. Emily I  |  August 23, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    I don’t check work email while at home or on vacation (usually). It helps keep things in perspective so I’m a bit more emotionally balanced when I am at work.

    Also, I live to give my mousing arm a break … and force myself to do something a little more natural with my body, like go for a walk or work in the garden.

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