Wednesday, October 12, 2005

What I do as a librarian? Part Three

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. If not, go catch up on Parts One and Two of "What I do as a librarian?"

In addition to instruction and reference, I also work as a subject specialist and do collection development. My area of specialization is Arts and Humanities. For comparison, in a large institution, a specialist would likely focus on an area like Spanish Language and Literature or Performing Arts. I do those two and a few more. I was very lucky that I got the assignment. Sometimes collection development assignments boil down to giving the new guy or gal whatever is free or whatever no one else wants to do. I work in an area that gives me a lot of flexibility in terms of what I can order and promote for the collection. I mentioned ordering. One of the tasks of collection development is to buy the books for your collection. I happen to enjoy the idea very much of getting money to spend on buying stuff. Could I use more money? You bet, but I am not complaining. Every librarian can likely say the same thing. However, it is not just buying. You actually select materials to support your collection. In academia, it means supporting the academic programs. So, I have to get materials to support programs in Arts and Humanities. In addition, I do buy some stuff for more popular uses, such as some recreational reading items. For instance, I am working on expanding our Spanish language holdings. I purchase both academic monographs and some popular literature. Notice I said some. The types of popular literature a public library would acquire I probably would not buy. They do not support our programs and are not what our patrons want or expect. A librarian learns to order and develop their collection based on the needs of their community. However, the task also involves good judgment on the part of the librarian as they are entrusted with making good choices. In an academic setting, faculty often have a say on how to develop the collection. Some places have committees for subjects, others let faculty just place orders directly. Others the subject librarian does all the ordering. In my case, I do the ordering, but I do send CHOICE book review cards to faculty for them to review and make recommendations. When they return them, I look them over and place orders. Given budget is not infinite, they are asked to rank items by preference (get it right away, get it if there is money left, don't get it). I try to be fairly responsive. Unless they ask for something unreasonable, as in a book over one hundred dollars or more or some rare manuscript no one but them would use, I usually order what they ask for along with what I usually get. As I said, this process can vary from place to place. Some places are very structured, others more relaxed. Overall, if you become an academic librarian, odds may be good you may do some collection development. The likelihood is higher in a smaller campus. Large universities usually have specific specialists, often with doctorates in a subject. In fact, some librarians get hired to be subject specialists and may not do reference other than within their subject area. For instance, the philosophy specialist may do instruction for graduate philosophy classes and work with the faculty in that department, but they may or not be working at a general reference desk. This does vary from place to place. I am just giving a picture of what I do as a librarian who wears various hats, and use my experience from my time at a research university and some knowledge from colleagues to provide a balance.

In addition to ordering, I also do weeding. This is removing items from the collection, usually due to the items being out of date, no longer suited to the collection (for example, they supported a program we no longer have), or the condition is poor and need replacement. Furthermore, being the Arts and Humanities Librarian means I work with those faculty members. I am their library contact person. If they need a research consultation, I provide it. If they want a session in the library for their students, I provide it. I make myself available to their students.

Another part of my role, one not necessarily on my official job description, but one that is very slowly growing is the role of outreach to the campus. I have worked with various campus programs when a library presence may be useful. For instance, I have worked with parents of students from local schools. The kids come on campus for advanced classes in math and science. The program, known as the Saturday Academy, also has a component for the parents where parents can come and learn a variety of computer skills. Their level of knowledge varies from "how do I move the mouse?" to "warp speed ahead." What the coordinator of the program often requests is for me to provide information on relevant topics such as finding online about financial aid for their kids to go to college. I have done topics on health information as well. Often, one of these sessions becomes a consultation. They come in, bring questions, I answer them. This is basic library outreach. Again, some larger places will hire a librarian just to reach out to high schools or other parts of the campus like organizations. Where I came from, we had a multicultural outreach librarian. Her job, in part, was to be a liaison to the various multicultural organizations on campus as well as supporting and implementing diversity initiatives for the library. In my library, the librarians do some of this, but to a large extent, it does fall on the scope of the Instruction Librarian to coordinate some of these efforts. I think it is because I am so visible and so mobile. We often collaborate on outreach initiatives, another nice thing about a small place, you have to collaborate more.

Overall, these are some of the activities and tasks I do. Clearly, I don't do all of them every day; I am sure no librarian does every thing daily. So little skills like time management and organization are necessary. I think for me it is exciting at MPOW because there is growth potential. We recently launched a library blog, and the director, who is also one of the business librarians, just launched a subject blog for the area. In time I may well add a subject blog for my areas. That is another idea for me to work on. Then there is the library newsletter. Doing maintance to my areas of the library's Web page making sure resources we link to are up to date, adding new ones, removing old ones, etc. There are all sorts of things to keep me "off the streets" and a lot of possibilities to work on new things. Again, not all librarians in academia do this. I am sure some do less depending on their focus; others likely do a heck of a lot more. Just take these humble posts as the experience of one librarian. If you are thinking about going for an MLS and joining us, welcome but also ask other librarians as well about their experiences. If in contrast you are saying that there is no way you want to do all that and more, well, I suppose I am glad I helped you discover that as well. Librarianship can be exciting, but it requires flexibility, the ability to adapt and openness to change and new opportunities.


eruannie said...

hi! i'm a filipino librarian and i got here from von totanes' blog (FILIPINO LIBRARIAN). i've gathered so many insights, similarities and differences from your post on "what you do as a librarian".

current trends and the ever changing landscape in education forces us, librarians, to indeed take on more flexible roles. being a teacher is one of these roles.

keep writing! may i link your blog to mine?

UNIV 106 said...

Great writing and comments, Angel. I'm a newbie academic librarian myself, immersed in bibliographic instruction, reference services, collection development, liaison duties with four different departments (Modern Languages & Literature being one of them), and myriad other responsibilities, which I am thankful for. Your thoughts echo much of what I have experienced and will no doubt soon deal with. Keep up the great work.

Buena suerte!
Memo Cordova

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Greetings from Houston. I am glad you stopped by. We share in common reading the Filipino Librarian. I find his writing very insightful as well, and while I understand he writes to the Filipino community, he also manages to write great things the rest of us can learn from.

You are right. This is a profession that is constantly changing and asking itself what it is and where is it headed to next. I think that is one of the things that make it exciting. Teaching is one of the many roles we take, and I think that can apply to all librarians: public (they probably do more teaching than they think), academic (what I do), special, etc.

I would be humbled and honored if you did link to my blog. I said in the small note I sent you that I would link to yours, but I see from your profile you keep more than one blog. Hmm, choices, choices. You keep writing as well and best.

Ivan Chew said...

Hi Angel, seems that librarians all over the world have more things in common than differences, and I don't just mean the tasks that we do. Keep posting!

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Well, saludos a Idaho, and congratulations. I think some of my professors used to say that the new guys usually get the large load initially. Funny how it never quite shrinks. Not that I would have it any other way. I took a quick peek at your blog. I will have to go back as soon as I get a break. I like that of having a blog for a class. We don't have a credit course for information literacy skills, but I am toying with the idea of some kind of instruction blog for students.

I would love to read about some of your experiences some time, maybe compare notes. In the meantime, thank you for stopping by and best.


Angel, librarian and educator said...

Hello Ivan, nice to hear from you again. I could not agree more. Librarians all over seem to share so much in common, no matter where from or what type of librarian they are. And they are always showing me new things. Thanks for stopping by, and keep on blogging.