New Data Reveal the Future of Remote Work in Libraries

ACRL Benchmark offers a glimpse into the current and future state of WFH

In the aftermath of COVID, work-from-home policies have come under fire. Some employees see remote or hybrid work options as a major job perk; others experience them as isolating. Some employers like the cost-cutting benefits; others view them as an impediment to business. The debates make for easy fodder for opinion columnists seeking clicks from anxious workers and frustrated bosses, but the overall economic trend, according to Bloomberg, suggests that work-from-home policies are enduring across many industries.

But is this true for academic libraries? The Association for College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Benchmark gathered a massive amount of data across varying types of academic institutions—from community colleges to R1 universities—in its annual survey. With more than 1,000 institutions responding, this survey provides a wide lens for assessing current practices in libraries. 

This year, one set of questions asked libraries to report on their current remote work policies. The responses, of course, can’t tell us precisely what the future of remote work will be for libraries, but they do make clear that this future is not set in stone.

Library employees have the option to work flexibly and/or remotely

Pie graph showing that 75% of libraries have employees who can work flexibly or remotely and 24% do not.

We simplified the data set for this question, which allowed institutions to check multiple options to indicate different flexible work options employees had access to (e.g., a compressed [four-day] work week, flexible work hours, fully remote, hybrid, etc.). What we wanted to learn from this data, however, was simply what percentage of libraries had at least some employees with the option to work remotely and/or flexibly. 

The quick takeaway, which the following questions give nuance to, is that 75% of libraries have at least some employees with the option of hybrid/remote work or a flexible work schedule. Only 25% report no such arrangements. We don’t know how many of these hybrid or flexible arrangements predated COVID, but the data at least provide a snapshot of the current library workforce, which is partially hybrid and asynchronous.

If hybrid and/or remote work options are available, the percentage of eligible employees currently working in them is:

A bar graph about the percentage of employees with hybrid/remote options who use them. N/A is the tallest bar.

This question homes in on hybrid and remote work specifically. At first glance, the bar graph suggests that “not applicable” represents the largest segment of responding institutions. Contextually, we can take this to mean that hybrid and/or remote options are not available to employees at these institutions. However, another way to read these data is to group together the data showing some percentage of eligible employees currently engaged in hybrid work (i.e., 0–100%). These data tell a different story. This framing emphasizes that 60% of libraries have at least some portion of their staff working remotely, compared to the 34% of libraries that ostensibly do not have remote work policies or employees who take advantage of them.

This graph also sheds light on employees’ preference for hybrid/remote work environments. Around 29% of institutions report that less than half of their employees (0–49%) who have hybrid/remote options actually use them. In contrast, only 31% of institutions report that the majority of their employees (50–100%) with these options use them. In other words, it would seem that the workforce as a whole is divided on their preference for hybrid/remote or on-site work, where the option is available.

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If flexible work options are offered, are these options offered to all categories of full-time employees?

A pie chart showing that, at institutions where flexible work options are available, a plurality offer them to all full-time employees

This question provides some complexity to an obvious point: some employees have jobs that can be done more-or-less remotely or on a flexible schedule and others have jobs that must be done on site or during certain hours. The data show that 40% of institutions offer flexible work options to all full-time employees. But a sizable 27% of responding institutions report that not all full-time employees are eligible for these arrangements. This finding points to another division in the library workforce between employees who have flexible/remote work options (whether or not they actually use them) and those who simply do not.

If library employees have hybrid/remote options, will this information be included in library job postings?

A pie chart showing that libraries vary widely about whether to include hybrid/remote options in their job postings

This final data set provides a glimpse into the future of remote work, and it is… murky. Only 27% of institutions are willing to list hybrid/remote options in their job postings. In contrast, 16% won’t list this information—presumably to retain the right to remove or roll back this option in the future. The 24% that report “unknown” might reflect the views of respondents who cannot speak for the hiring decisions of the library, but might also include respondents who simply aren’t sure of the future of hybrid/remote work at their institutions. These latter two statistics hint that, though the pandemic may be behind us, the future of work-from-home is still very much up in the air and will continue to be a matter of caution and debate.

Findings at a glance

  • The library workforce is doubly divided on hybrid, remote, and flexible work between (1) employees with these options and employees without them and (2) employees with these options who use them and employees with these options who don’t.

  • A fair percentage of institutions (34%) have presumably rolled back COVID-era policies and do not report work-from-home options or employees who use them.

  • Institutions who offer hybrid/remote options seem hesitant about their future; only a minority of institutions (27%) are willing to list these options in their job postings.

📊 View all data at ACRL Benchmark

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