Newsletter of the Medical Library Group of Southern California and Arizona

August’s Coffee Chat – Just say ‘No’

Posted on August 11, 2023 by Angela Murrell | No Comments

Today’s coffee chat on “How to say ‘No’, or what to eliminate when there’s too much to do,” was a wonderful discussion among 11 colleagues at a variety of different institutions and library types.

We discussed many situations where we felt the need to say “no” to too many requests, interruptions, and sometimes patrons and colleagues.

We discussed ways to deal with excessive requests for systematic review and literature search requests. University of Colorado uses a Professional Literature Search Service ( request form and charges a fee for Systematic review services (not to students) of $300 for a full search strategy. Plus librarians must be co-authors. They also include a notice of a waiting period when they get backed up right  on the website.

Managing your time and how many tasks or services you volunteer for can be difficult. Remembering the time commitment and setting aside enough time for each activity is challenging. Several participants discussed using tools to help manage their time. Excel can be used as a simplified project manager. Some librarians use their calendar to track weekly tasks associated with assigned duties. Blocking out time on the calendar and coloring coding different types of tasks allows you to track you time and prevent others from schedule meetings when you need to focus on important work. You can use these tricks later for annual reviews, instead of having to wade through emails. One participant mentioned a LinkedIn Learning course on time management by Dave Crenshaw as a good resource.

We also discussed ways to deal with interruptions, especially the little ones at your desk when you are in an online meeting or working on something that needs your focus. Some of us work in open offices or at desks with direct access to the public and find it hard to have blocks of time that is not interrupted with directional or questions unrelated to libraries. Some suggestions included getting a sign that has “in a meeting”, “feel free to knock”, “do not disturb”, tec. However, some participants have experienced patrons who ignore such signs. It was suggested that we look for a conference room or study room we can reserve for important meetings or blocks of time that we need to work uninterrupted.

Other times when it is important to say “No” is when a request is made for something the library does not provide, like proctoring exams, grading assignments, or paying for parking. It is important to say no and offer alternatives if we can. Sometimes the patron still seems unsatisfied with the answer, but is not always our responsibility to solve their problem.

Other pressures can come from colleagues who may not understand when we say  “no.” In the end, we are doing our best with the time and resources we have. We are all very different individuals, in different situations. We also have different life circumstances and on top of work demands, must maintain a work-life balance.

Here are some resources about saying “No,” understanding our value and dealing with the guilt of doing your best and knowing you are enough.

Saying “No”: A Librarian’s Struggle, Erin Grimes. RIPS Law Librarian Blog. Feb. 1, 2022

Learning to Say “No”, Rebecca Cruz. Public Librarians Online.  May 17, 2013

Blog: The Guilty Librarian: Grappling with Job Related Guilt, Chelsea Price. Programming Librarian. Dec, 18, 2020

The Librarians are Not Okay, Anne Helen Petersen. Culture Study. May 1, 2022

How to Professionally Say No at Work (+ Examples), Hannah Sheehan. July 6, 2023


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