Alright, you caught me with a triumphed up title–though not entirely.
My previous post didn’t mention AutoCat but part of the reason for writing it came from the listserv. There has been much talk, and some borderline catty posts the past couple of weeks about qualifications for a job posting. This week, the discussion turned into questioning some job postings to the listserv since some of the members believe that there was a lack of value to the job for what it was and was asking of applicants. Then today, posts poured out about if/should catalogers work the reference desk and why reference librarians weren’t in turn then expected to work hours in tech services.
Such huge issues that dared to turn sour at first actually mellowed and became quite fascinating and thought-provoking. Wanting to post to AutoCat but knowing I had much more to say than just a few lines, I jotted down notes at work–on the back of my sudoku calendar page today–to wait for a proper post tonight. Tomorrow morning, I’ll email the listserv a link to this post and we’ll see if anyone comes to visit and for a read. Here’s hoping! Please comment if you do and feel inclined to say something!
Should tech services librarians work reference? I tend to agree with those AutoCat posters who said each job type offers a lot of responsibilities, enough to not have people cross over. Unless it’s a really tiny library or branch that can run on less people with multiple hats, I believe public and tech services should not cross schedule librarians in departments. That being said, there is much to learn from each other.
I propose open communication between the different departments and librarians and paraprofessionals to explain to each other “this is how I do what I do and why”. Sounds like a huge undertaking? Not really. Informal talks, the briefest of presentations, work tours/demos, brown bag lunch discussions–any of these ideas could be used to stimulate and educate the staff about what goes on and why in all areas of the library. We are a team, after all, so why not understand each part of the process and have an overall picture of what everyone does? With a holistic view of the library, everyone will be valued and seen as valuable if their part and job is tied into the story of the workplace as a whole.
What would be discussed? There are highs and lows to every position, great challenges and rewards. At ALA in DC, NCSU explained their unique yet template-reliant course pages–how sweet and helpful would those be at the reference desk? Each English page can have standard content yet unique material related just to that course such as database links. And the University of Michigan’s library website added patron tagging abilities to pages, even record pages–how great would that be if students and staff and patrons were encouraged to really attempt to tag during each use, with relevant information. The possibilities for subject headings give me goosebumps, but that will be the topic of another post. The point is to get across to everyone on staff what is vital for each position, and in getting people to assess and explain their job will engage them to be more thoughtful and hopefully propel them into the future with more passion and drive to be a part of something greater, which everyone on the team values. (Perhaps I’m seeing too many business motivational and team building items lately–wanna know about difficult people and how to deal with them?!)
Why is this important and is there value in understanding all aspects of the library? Yes, a resounding yes. I know from personal experience. During undergrad, I worked in tech services during all four years doing numerous tasks that eventually lead to me being initiated into working with records and inserting closed author dates. Also, during the summers I worked the Circ Desk, then got a second job shelving during the year as well. At the Law Library, during grad school at UMich (GO BLUE!), I did citation research and database/website upkeep, interned for acquisitions, and cataloged. I had a sense of public and tech services from many aspects and I am so much better for it. First, I learned what I did and didn’t enjoy, as well as my strength and weakness, and perferences. Sure, I can work a Circ Desk but I get nervous and bored, to be honest, waiting for patrons, so I didn’t pursue jobs at reference desks. The tech services jobs reenforced that I was detail oriented and really cared about getting things right so that patrons could find just what it was they were looking for. Without having actually gotten experience cataloging, though, I wouldn’t have felt confident applying for full-time catalog positions; I was pretty sure that I’d be good at it but it wasn’t until I cataloged as a student job that I knew it would be something to keep me engaged and excited to go to work everyday. And it does–I love working for ProQuest as a Catalog Librarian.
While I’ve already set out how to work with current staff to create a shared knowledge about the inner (vital) workings about the library, there’s an even more effective way to ensure a brighter future for librarians and libraries…catch them in school and give them the taste and knowledge then. I made my own path and learned value and lessons from every position I had as a student, whether I liked the job or task, or not. Look, no one likes doing inventory with old shelf list cards–but I knew how to read a card and how to remove those poles from the trays (and I took a little fencing in college so don’t mess with me around a card catalog for sure!)
Why not give student workers a Tour of the Library by having them work hours in each aspect of the library? Maybe at a reference desk they can shadow experienced staff to get a sense for how different librarians interview then help a patron. If there’s no way for a student to even do copy cataloging, why not spend those hours going through the basics of a MARC record and the standards of cataloging your library uses? Hours on a Circ. Desk is a no-brainer (i.e. easy to train and let a student work the desk) and teaches customer service and prioritizing time with tasks and service. And who doesn’t love shelving? I did so much of it but I appreciate books in order and have an eye for, and pull now, books that aren’t You never know when you’ll find a missing or out-of-place book, or hidden movies–boy, do I have stories. The point is, having been in all these areas and seen what goes on, I have a genuine appreciation for everyone who has a part in making things work. Heck, I even did some scanning for a day one summer for ILL in undergrad but it was way too dull for me to pay attention–I value anyone who can get in a zone and do that right, since ILLs tend to be popular.
Perhaps it’s my natural disposition to find meaning and lessons in what I do, otherwise it’d be impossible for me to have gotten through some of the tasks and jobs I’ve done. Yet I believe a rotational position for students, either undergrads who are thinking about librarianship or just applying because they don’t want to work in dining services, and especially graduate students in library school, should be part of their learning. I gained and saw so much from my various experiences. Also, talking with other students who are doing the same is important too. While I never worked a reference desk, my husband Steve, now a reference librarian at the College of Wooster, did and he shared many of his insights with me. He was lucky to work at two very different desks with stark, contrasting patrons and needs, so he had a vast knowledge about what can occur and how to deal with things at a reference desk. I also shared my stories about work with him, which helped me digest and articulate things, while getting feedback and questions to engage me further. Dialogue, not just thinking, is important to understanding.
Reiterating a point from last week, we as librarians need to ban together as one, not just for the patrons and funding and support but for ourselves and the sakes of our libraries. We must understand and value each position and person in the library staff, seeing how all the pieces work together in order to make them run smoothly.