Emotional Labour

20Nov08

I think it’s really important to keep up with my professional reading. As a member of CLA and SLA, I receive Feliciter and Information Outlook, respectively. There are many interesting articles published in both of these journals, so I keep them by my desk so I can browse them whenever I have some spare time. Unfortunately, they tend to get covered up by more urgent tasks, and I can get a little behind.

Nevertheless, I recently uncovered the current issue of Feliciter, which has as its theme, Employer/Employee Relations. Kathryn Arbuckle’s article, Emotion and Knowledge : Partners in Library Service? raised some very interesting points on an unexpected result of increasing technology in the library. By automating more of the routine tasks, like implementing self-checkout machines for circulation, it can reduce employee satisfaction by taking away some of the positive interactions with clients. Since these “easy” transactions can be done by machines, employees are left with the “harder” and potentially negative interactions, thus reducing their positive feedback in the course of a shift.

Several years ago, I worked as a teller at a credit union. Automated banking has been part of financial institutions since the 1980s, but it took longer to be implemented in credit unions. When I worked there in the late 1990’s, credit unions increased their technology budgets and started competing with the banks.  One thing I discovered was that even with automation, the lines for the tellers never got shorter, because the transactions we were asked to do were things that you couldn’t do at a machine, like making change, or depositing coin and currency, or fixing errors made electronically. The work was more challenging, but there was less opportunity for positive interactions. Members were upset or angry when they had to come in to the branch and stand in line to get a mistake fixed. Even if you got the satisfaction of resolving their problem, it would not outweigh the increased stress of dealing with their anger.

In my current library, I am trying to implement as much technology as I can. Using an integrated library system (ILS) I can make the resources of my library more visible to my firm. Providing subscription databases allows individuals to do most of their own research. The tasks I’m left with are both more routine (like looseleaf filing or simple caselaw searches) and more challenging (more advanced research that the lawyers are struggling with). In my library I have a very high satisfaction level, due to my firm’s corporate culture as well as my own personal fit. Still, I will be paying close attention to the idea of “emotional labour” as I implement more and more technological changes.

~ Karen

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