Earl Gregg Swem Library administrators were dismayed last week after reading comments from a Swem housekeeper claiming library staff were unwelcoming to custodians using the designated staff lounge.
Colette Roots’ comments, which appeared in the March 24 edition of The Flat Hat, were cause for concern among Swem’s librarians and support staff. Administrators said they were distressed when they read Roots’ complaints and felt her words did not accurately convey the real relationship between librarians and custodial staff.
“I think staff were a little upset and distressed by it,” Dean of University Libraries Connie McCarthy said. “We really feel that housekeepers — even though they’re not employed strictly by Swem Library — are a very important part of our staff. They are very loyal to the library and do an excellent job at keeping the library in good shape.”
McCarthy, along with Director of Special Collections Bea Hardy, said housekeepers routinely use the designated staff lounge, despite Roots’ claim that housekeepers are stared at and made uncomfortable by other staff members in the room.
Swem administrators, who often see custodians using the room during their mid-shift breaks, have never witnessed the unwelcoming atmosphere Roots described.
“I personally asked some of the housekeepers if they’ve ever been intimidated by using the room, and they said no,” McCarthy said. “I just don’t think it’s representative of a lot of the housekeepers.”
While the staff lounge is occasionally used for training, Swem Director of Research, Instruction and Outreach Services Pat Van Zandt said instances of housekeepers being denied access are rare. Since July, the room has been used once for a training class. Other events held in the room, like retirement parties and staff lunches, have been open to housekeepers.
“It’s not a great training room,” Van Zandt said. “We call it a training room, but it’s not equipped with internet connection or computers or anything like that. When we train in there, we gather for general meetings. Everything else, we’re in a classroom or in the learning center.”
The Flat Hat interviewed Swem housekeepers Monday who said they had no problem using the staff lounge. All declined to give their names.
“I go in there any time of the day and heat my lunch up,” one custodian said. “I like to eat outside, but I’ve never had any problems in the lounge.”
Another housekeeper echoed the same sentiments.
“I’ve never had a problem up there,” she said.
In addition to the break rooms, Roots highlighted other concerns with her working conditions. She said housekeepers’ safety was compromised because they were not allowed access to more than one building. She also asserted that management made hiring and promotion decisions based on personal reasons rather than the ability demonstrated by housekeepers.
Swem administrators admitted that many of Roots’ complaints were out of their control. Housekeepers in Swem are members of the Facilities Management team, and conditions like building access and overtime scheduling are handled by that department, not Swem administration. Every administrator interviewed said they would like to see housekeepers paid more, but were not able to execute that change given the current hierarchy.
“This is true everywhere I have worked: The custodial staff isn’t paid enough,” Hardy said. “That would be the biggest change, but Swem administration doesn’t control much of their working conditions.”
Van Zandt said safety is always a top priority for library administration, but policies affecting housekeepers are usually enacted by Facilities Management, rather than Swem.
“The housekeepers are as much a part of the library as they can be, but they’re not actually under us,” she said.