When AutoCat gets catty…from tumbleweeds to torrents.

30 Aug

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.


Posted by on August 30, 2011 in Uncategorized


6 responses to “When AutoCat gets catty…from tumbleweeds to torrents.

  1. Kitty

    August 31, 2011 at 4:48 am

    Hi! I am a fellow AutoCater, so yes your link from there got my attention. (By-the-bye- Good title!)
    I do work at a library small enough to warrant cross scheduling, (Hey, I may even need to cross train for certain kinds of bibliographic instruction- yikes!) but I tend to believe that it isn’t the best plan for our students. I am not as good at choosing and searching our databases (even our limited selection) But the argument that catalogers need to be aware of how the public uses the catalog is very very true. Your post will give me impetus to work more closely with the librarians here who actually specialize in instruction and working with the public.
    Your post may also motivate me to work out a structured cataloger’s internship, and re-list it with the state MLS program.

    Welcome to librarianship and cataloging! I love cataloging because it is so Renaissance- we codify all knowledge!

    • ReadWriteLib

      September 1, 2011 at 10:23 am

      Thanks! I’m enjoying being a full-time cataloger. Glad you found inspiration in the post. Internships rock, if done right, so I’m glad to hear you’re thinking about putting one together.

  2. Leigh

    September 1, 2011 at 1:37 am

    I’m a cataloger who in the past has worked on the reference desk. I was amazed at how well my previous cataloging experience (specifically, my knowledge of subject headings and how to find the authorized forms of names) helped me on the desk; a number of my coworkers asked me how I knew to find such information, and were surprised when I showed them; they’d never even heard of that site before, and it is quite helpful when you don’t know the exact heading someone should be searching for. I was also surprised at how little the OPAC did to show helpful information (at least, information that I as a cataloger thought of as helpful) to the public. So I think that cross-training would definitely be helpful–as catalogers, we do need to have experience in how people search the catalog to improve or modify our records for our local population. Reference librarians could benefit from basic training as to what information exists in a record and how to find it using the staff *and* public interfaces. The big problem I think is when you get into larger libraries; people can easily get “stuck” in their silos, where communication between tech services and reference can be muddled, nonexistent, or hostile. If we each understood where the other was coming from, I think everyone would benefit. (We’d also all benefit from better ILSs that use MARC fully, but that’s another rant).

    But I think the point of the post was that oftentimes it is expected for someone in tech services to do some sort of reference work, and not vice versa. (A side note: is it easier to make an “introvert” sit at a desk four hours a week, whether they are good at it or not, than it is to make an “extrovert” focus on solitary tasks for that amount of time and create quality records?) This may be simply because of the view that “Everyone learns reference in library school, but only a few learn cataloging, so catalogers can easily take a shift at the reference desk”, but I think that we catalogers see it as a dismissal of the importance that we do, that reference is more important than tech services. That our time doing the “boring, tedious, etc.” work is somehow less important than time spent at the reference desk (that we can take that time on the desk away from our cataloging/systems duties and it won’t impact our work much). Catalogers often have the feeling that people don’t appreciate the work we do, or understand why we do it, and the ‘forcing’ upon of reference work merely enhances that resentment. It’s obviously a sore point, and I don’t think it will go away until both reference and tech services are equally respected/appreciated/understood by administration.

    That’s all. Also, I just wanted to say, what a small world! We’re here in Ann Arbor now, but my husband went to the College of Wooster (a while ago). Hooray for librarians of all kinds! 🙂

    • ReadWriteLib

      September 1, 2011 at 10:32 am

      You have many good points. There are a lot all types of librarians can learn from each other but it comes down to whether it is encouraged and seen as useful or not. Segregation comes naturally since the tasks the different librarians do differ greatly. As far as putting a reference librarian in tech services for some hours, I know my husband would stink at it because he’s not a detailed person in the way that I am, so he’d take little pleasure out of cataloging which in turn would mean his motivation would be lower than if he were at the reference desk helping someone find an article in a database which he’s passionate and talented in. If you are in A2, we should meet up!

  3. Darlene Townsend

    September 1, 2011 at 2:02 am

    Did you intend to write “triumphed up title”?

    • ReadWriteLib

      September 1, 2011 at 10:21 am

      You caught me! No, I didn’t. My spelling is terrible and sometimes even auto-correct doesn’t help if you click the wrong word.

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