For much of the country, we have entered snow season. We’re donning our hats and gloves, pulling out the shovels and snow blowers, and watching the weather forecast. These are the signs of winter, and with winter comes the prospect of the Snow Day!
However, for many this prospect does not bring the glee that accompanied Snow Daysof our youth. I’ve worked in ‘the Library system that never closed’ experiencing too many harrowing commutes home and living in fear of the weather. I’ve listened to my colleagues lament that their library was ‘out of sight and out of mind’ for their town administrator who made the closing decision.That person was safely home having left work several hours before the library’s closing time.
When I gained a position in which weather closing was solely my decision, I breathed a sigh of relief. That was until the first time I had to make the call. The weather is a fickle friend, and second guessing it is nearly impossible. The decisions if or when to open/close turned out to be much more complicated than I had anticipated.
This was not an issue I recall being discussed in library school, management classes or even any staff meetings. Snow day decisions were made by administrators passed down without explanation.. Any logic or rationale behind such decisions were, I realized, a complete mystery.Thus, when the decision came for me to make, I was making it alone in a vacuum.
Concerned that I did not make a decision willy-nilly or merely self-serving, I felt I needed criteria and to be able to justify whatever decision I made. My decision would be affecting a multitude of others (staff and patrons), in some cases quite seriously: pay or no pay.
The bottom-line I concluded was an issue of safety. In the face of snowy weather I ask myself, would I want my young child or my elderly grandmother driving in this? Would I consider them safe? If my answer is a clear, no, my closing decision is equally as clear.
Of course the weather does not always allow for such clear cut messages. In those cases I evaluate weather reports, area school closings, and first-hand accounts of those driving. While the decision is mine, and I own it, unlike my past experiences, I do not choose to keep tight control on this aspect of my job. I talk to my staff, assess their fears and listen to their loved ones in other locations that call in to report. In turn, I, too, express my thinking and allow them to evaluate it.
I do not viewlibraries as emergency personnel. We are not first responders, but I believe the second tier of such support systems. We are the place where people come after the initial trauma is over, when information, stability, and friendship are needed. To this end, I do not feel a need to stay open in the snow storm, but see more of a duty to protect those who might not otherwise stay off the roads.
It has taken me a long time to be comfortable with my snow day process. Each occasion is still unique and never is a decision made lightly. Have I made the wrong call? Certainly, in both directions! But I have a rationale that I stick with, a staff who are free to do their job without fear of the weather, and at least some patrons who understand my concern for their wellbeing.