Thursday, 10 May 2012

What does a librarian do all day?

A few weeks ago, I was reading a report on open access. Part of the report discussed the work we do as librarians to promote and advocate it. This got me thinking - how many of my family and friends actually know what it is that I do all day? Sure, they know I'm a librarian, and some of them may even know I'm a Repository Manager - but do any of them have any idea what that means? So I posed the query on Facebook. Here are the responses I got, and the professions they came from:
Question: Just a musing... as a friend/ relative/ colleague do you have any idea what I do at work all day? If I tell you I'm an Assistant Librarian and a Repository Manager does that help? Just reading something on open access and it got me to wondering..

  • Researcher: Not really, I imagine there's some cataloging involved..... 
  • Banker: I know you're a librarian and I know you don't speak to people who want to borrow books. This leaves me confused.
  • Teacher: I thought on late night working days you were forced to communicate with book borrowers? 
  • Accountant: No-one seems to know what I do. And when I start telling them they stop listening! :-) 
  • Engineer: Not really. Going out on a limb, I'm guessing it involves some sort of split between sitting in front of a computer and going to meetings.
The responses, to be fair, were a little more positive than I was expecting. None of them were explicitly wrong, and they even came up with a few different things that I do between them. As with most jobs I imagine, the engineer, although being flippant, is right- I do basically split my time between meetings and sitting in front of a computer. The banker's comment is also fair, as I only started speaking to people who borrow books (as in, I didn't work on the Help Desk) 6 months ago - after being in my job for nearly 2 years.

So, they have some idea. But I thought it might be worth pointing out a few places where people can learn more about what a librarian actually does. Firstly, the 23 Things course that I did (which is where this blog all started) pointed me towards a good place that it's worth taking a look at if you want to know what a librarian does. Library Day in the Life goes in rounds, and gives librarians a chance to blog (or tweet, video, animate, take photos, or anything else you can think of) about their day or week at work. I contributed to this via Twitter in July 2011 - these were my tweets then.

July is an odd time for me work-wise though, as things usually quieten down significantly over the summer. So I had a think back over the things I had done at work today, and it seemed like a pretty representative day that gives a good flavour of all the kind of things that I'm involved in. Here's a run-down:

9-9.30am: Time to check my e-mails before the first meeting of the day. Significant ones included:
  • An e-mail from a librarian at Sheffield Hallam asking if I could provide more info the Research Data Management event some of my colleagues are organising in a fortnight's time. Our university library currently has funding for a pilot project to create a repository for researcher's research data (as opposed to their outputs, or publications), and I'm on the project team for this (because my day-to-day job is running the publications repository).
  • An e-mail from an IT colleague letting me know that the references on the outputs repository now conform to the university's referencing standard - something we were working on together last week to improve
  • Composing an e-mail explaining a plug-in for the repository which should enable it to store more data that it is relevant to the REF (Research Excellence Framework). The REF is the way the UK government currently assesses the quality of research in universities.
9.30-11am: Attended a team meeting. There are about 20 of us in this team at work, and today the focus was on the library budget and planning for the 2012/13 financial year. We did discuss some other things though, including:
  • The e-learning repository we are planning on setting up to store e-learning materials (such as videos explaining how the library works - something else I'm involved in creating). This is another project team I am involved in, as it will likely use the same software as the outputs repository.
  • How the library can work with the marketing team more effectively
  • How to use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to the best effect to promote the library
11.15am-12.15pm: Attended a planning meeting looking at what teaching we should offer in the autumn term. Although I won't be there to deliver the sessions this year, I did do so last year, and will be involved in the discussions and planning this year. In the autumn term we prepare and deliver a lot of library sessions for students which introduce them to the library and materials for their subject (both in print and, increasingly primarily, online). The meeting was to make some early decisions about when and how these teaching sessions should take place

1pm-2pm: Working on the Help Desk answering student's queries. Obviously the questions can vary a lot depending upon the time of year, but today most queries were around:
  • Helping students to find journal articles using specific databases
  • Helping students to find books that weren't where they should be on the shelves
  • Taking fines (it's that time of year!)
  • Explaning how the photocopying and printing system works
2-4pm: I answered researcher's queries about what publications they can add to our outputs repository, and how they go about doing this. I also catalogued some of the publications that have been added to the repository (mostly improving and tidying the data researchers have entered about their publications). This also involved looking up publisher's policies in relation to what we are and aren't allowed to add to the repository in terms of book chapters and journal articles, and contacting the publishers when I couldn't find an answer.

4pm-5pm: To finish the day, I arranged an appraisal meeting and got together all the appraisal documents I will need for the Senior Library Assistant's appraisal, who I line manage.

So the work I do is nothing if not varied! Maybe that's why librarians find it so hard to explain what they do- not because "all we do is stamp books and take fines", but because it's so varied we don't know where to begin. And if you're still not sure what we do, or don't believe me that it really is this varied, take a look at the CILIP Body of Professional Knowledge draft for consultation. It's currently being updated (and is already much improved from the old, incomprehensible version), so it is only in consultation form at the moment, but it gives a really good overview of the range of skills a librarian might have. Looking through it, I probably have somewhere between 50 and 75% of those skills.

As a final thought, maybe the comments above from my friends mean we should spare a thought for those working in other professions too. Do you know what an accountant does? Something to do with maths and money, right? Although in all fairness, they tend to get paid a lot more than us librarians to do it and people to not quite understand it... :)

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