Gavia Libraria

The dumpster job

The Loon has created a tiny unprofitable cottage industry in the explication of patterns of poor job design and staff management in libraries:

Recently the Loon answered a colleague’s (private) question in a fashion that gave her to think on another hiring anti-pattern, one that can overlap with Coordinator Syndrome as well as hybrid jobs but has its own characteristics worth discussing also: the “dumpster job.”

Dumpster jobs come about when a library tallies all the jobs no one currently on staff wants to do and dumps them haphazardly into a single position description, whether they make sense together or not. “Emerging Technology Librarian” positions are quite commonly dumpster jobs, as are “full-stack web” jobs, but dumpster jobs are certainly not limited to professional novelties. The Loon has seen public-service dumpster jobs, preservation dumpster jobs, and dumpster jobs so thoroughly muddled as to be impossible to characterize.

As the Loon rereads one of her Coordinator Syndrome posts, she believes that she noticed the overlap between Coordinator Syndrome and dumpster jobs without quite understanding what she was noticing. Consider that post modified accordingly: “Coordinator” is an easy meaningless title to give to a dumpster job’s utterly logic- and reason-free assortment of tasks. As for hybrid jobs—well, if the library respected or understood the work it’s dumpstering, would it dumpster that work at all? That lack of respect and understanding commonly leads to adding so-called “real work” into the position as well.

What that means, of course, is that the warning signs for Coordinator Syndrome and hybrid jobs also tend to point out dumpster jobs. (Similarly, the hybrid-job test of whether hybrid jobs are unique or the library-wide norm also applies to dumpster jobs.) Other warning signs include:

  • The position title is “X and Y Librarian” where X and Y have no or only a glancing relationship to one another.
  • The position reports to multiple individuals.
  • The list of skills or tasks betrays that the library has no earthly idea what the tasks involve, or what (staff, budget, equipment, materials, software, etc) is necessary to do them well. (This is sadly common, not just in dumpster jobs.)
  • The position description lists three or more committees that the job holder will be added to. Extra points if the job holder must lead, or worse, form any of them. More extra points if the committees are wholly unrelated to one another.
  • The position is specifically called out as entry-level. (This is a sign that the library has a new-hire-messianism problem.) Extra points if the variety of skills required/desired for this supposedly entry-level position resembles a roleplaying character sheet for a demigod.
  • The job is sui generis: a glance through related position descriptions yields no other job with more or less the same constellation of skills, or combination of tasks. Extra points if you can cluster the tasks from the dumpster ad into two to four actually-extant types of jobs. As above, more extra points if the job ad impels one to mutter “who in the world knows all those things?”—the more experienced and knowledgeable you are and the more high-quality, high-skills people you know, the more points you may add for this solecism.

At an interview, should anyone have the temerity to apply to a suspected dumpster job, an important question to ask the search committee is “How did you decide what this job would entail?” Not uncommonly, the story behind dumpster jobs is that someone retired or left—perhaps someone not terribly productive, at that—and rather than a thoughtful rethink of priorities, the library rapidly brainstormed a dumpster job. Asking how the job fits into library strategy may also be indicative: the answer “uhhhhh…” and any answer full of new-hire messianism are poor answers. Finally, a bright inquisitive “Who else on staff works on {oddest job responsibility}?” is worthwhile. The chief trait of the dumpster job, after all, is that no one else on staff does, or is capable of doing, any of it.

Libraries… the Loon does not know what to tell you, except “don’t do this.”

One thought on “The dumpster job

  1. Christina Pikas

    I wonder if some of these might be filling the position for someone who left who was either unwilling or unable to delegate or not be in control of things (cough like me cough)?