I've been thinking quite a lot about the issues raised by part-time work recently. I work part-time (three days a week spread over four), in a professional post. I didn't start out intending to work part-time at all, but it has happened several times: as I've already said here, once to accommodate voluntary work as a lay assistant in a parish church in London, once because I wanted to move back to Wales and had no luck at all finding a full-time job in order to do so, and now because of family commitments.
I am fully qualified with fairly wide experience and an unbroken if unconventional work record, and I consider myself professional in what I do. I try to keep up to date (which is getting increasingly difficult with the rapid pace of change!) and I try to complete what I can in the time which I have. It is never enough, and because of the family I cannot do what many of my colleagues do and stay on late to finish things. I'm limited in what I can take home with me too, although I have been known to do book ordering at midnight. What I cannot do is actually be in the building at midnight!
After a merciful lull in January (people wind down around Christmas and things don't always get going again straight away) we recently hit a patch of meeting frenzy at work. I had a meeting every day for nearly three weeks. Each meeting takes up proportionally more of your time if you are part-time. If your working day is a half day, and a meeting lasts for two hours, you probably have one hour left in which to get everything else done, whereas your full-time colleagues still have the whole afternoon. You cannot fill in only 50% or 60% of the many forms, surveys, and reports back to working groups which come your way. This eats into the time available for everything else: yet with the long opening hours which many libraries have there are raised expectations that service will match those hours. With academic libraries now open until midnight, or even all night, other solutions are found for staffing. Even in the public library in which I worked, there was no question of anyone (even the full-time staff) working all the hours the library was open (nearly 50 hours a week).
The image of the part-timer is generally negative: "never there", not committed, only doing it for pin money, I've heard it all (lots of times). I cannot imagine how any public library service could cope without part-time staff to cover those awkward evening and weekend slots as well as daytime hours (something anyone thinking it can be done on a voluntary basis will need to consider carefully). Lots of professional library posts are in fact part-time: there may be some historical reason for individual examples, but very often these days it is simply a matter of finance. Part-time/full-time posts can distort the job market for anyone who is looking for work. If you are unemployed and looking for a full-time post, the most interesting opportunities always seem to be part-time (which is certainly no good if a move is involved, as they will probably not pay enough to make a move worthwhile): whereas if you cannot work full-time you can be sure that the perfect full-time post will be advertised just when you are not available to do it. Swings and roundabouts - all I can say is that I am grateful that in libraries at least interesting part-time posts exist!
I'm only too well aware that it must be frustrating seeing your part-time colleagues rushing off in the middle of the day to reach the school gate or the nursery. The criticism that you should not be at work at all with such distractions and limitations on your work time lurks beneath the surface (most of the time). It's not a new argument. I'm not going to go into all the issues it raises here, except to point out that, long as it may seem, the period when you are raising young children is actually quite a small proportion of your whole working life (especially now that retirement age seems to be receding up to and beyond the allotted span), and stepping out of the profession s/he (but it's usually she) is educated and trained for may be an irrevocable step, as my own mother discovered to her cost.
Here is a comment from a blog in which a member of the public is, in passing, complaining about his local library service in East Anglia:
"An instance: I was pretty shocked to find that nearly all the staff were part-time, for instance. You can easily see how that is convenient for the staff — and if no-one says no, if no-one is really looking at whether the service is doing what it should, then why not? But you can’t do that, because it means that no-one is actually taking responsibility (as I found out). It’s a splendid way to spend exactly the same money as for a staff of professionals, but get much less good service."
Note how he takes for granted that part-time does not equal professional. I wonder how widespread that opinion is? I'm not endorsing the views of Roger Pearse - most of what he says seems to spring from a personal gripe - but that doesn't mean he is alone in them, and it is a depressing thought for someone like me. I know I could do my job better if I had more time for it, and I expect to have more time as my child grows up. We do, after all, rather depend on there being a next generation coming along in a university!