What’s In A Job Title?

by Dean Duane Strojny

I collect job descriptions. It has been a hobby of sorts since I found myself on the hiring end beginning in the early 2000’s. As you can imagine, there is quite a variety of librarian titles out there and that is what I find very interesting. We continue to keep ours simple: reference librarian. Where I work, a reference librarian is expected to be on the cutting edge while still being able to provide traditional services. Not much has changed with that need over the past few decades.

The title is simple. People know the heart of what you do. You help others connect with information. Simplicity aside, there latest trend is to include some sort of technology related word in librarian job titles. I am not sure if it appears to legitimize the position more easily, but maybe depending on who is approving the position. Many positions have added faculty titles of some sort to them. This is more prestigious sounding, but at many institutions, even reference librarians had faculty status of some sort. It is just clearer with a more descriptive job title. I often abbreviate my job title to Associate Dean for Library. It is just easier. Most people know I deal with technology and if they do not, they usually do after interacting with me for a few minutes.

Hello my name is, blank name tag

from PDSGraphics.com

So, as you might expect, I am going to list some of the more recent job titles posted on listervs that most of us monitor. Actually, none of these titles have the word reference in them, but all have a number of reference related components in the job descriptions. Some of the terms used are a little vague. I will let you decide what some of these titles might mean.

  • Head of Special Collections/Legal Research Faculty
  • Emerging Legal Technology Specialist/Legal Research Faculty
  • Head of Cataloging & Acquisitions & Metadata Services
  • Research Librarian/Analyst
  • The Assistant Director for Outreach & Community Engagement
  • Faculty & Scholarly Services Librarian
  • Technology & Engagement Librarian
  • Librarian in Residence for Engagement and Inclusion
  • Subject Librarian for Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, Cybersecurity, and Criminal Justice
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program Manager

A number of years ago, we tried the “reference and something unique librarian” titles. The lines were blurred quickly, and people were always afraid of stepping on others’ areas of responsibility. If I am the reference and faculty support librarian, can I make collection development suggestions? Can I use new technology on a test basis if I am not the reference and electronic resources library? It was just easier to have a similar title across the board with each person handling a specialty area of some type. However, everyone is involved in reference, collection development, and teaching. Those are mainstays of what an academic law librarian does.

So what about the trends in job titles? I say it is a phase. In addition, some of these titles are just a waste of white space on a business card. We know what we do. Most often, faculty and administrators know what we do especially in these of more engagement with our patrons. If we need to define more specific areas of responsibility, then we should use our elevator talks to let others know of unique projects we are working on or skills we possess. Law librarianship is constantly evolving and in the past decade has likely done so more quickly than usual. This tends to make job titles even less valuable. How many business cards do you have from your current employer with different job titles? My practice has been that until three items on the business card become obsolete, the card, with a few additions or deletions, is still usable.

I will continue to collect job descriptions. It is a fun hobby. It is likely the next person who has my position will reorganize and give everyone a new title. I am not expecting that change to occur soon so the team that works with me will have to deal with more traditional job titles. Reference librarian is valuable as a job title. Maybe I should ask that it be added to my title. Sadly, the job title with Associate Dean of Library and Reference Librarian takes up more space than I want to use on the card! Anyway, a director of a library should already know how to do reference, right?

(Post note: Take a look at this interesting post about firm librarians that I found in my email this morning. There is a great paragraph about librarians needing new titles! More thoughts on law firm research and librarianship)

Posted in employment & reference librarians, Issues in Law Librarianship | Tagged | Leave a comment

Let Your Computer Do the Typing and Save Your Wrists for Lifting Your Drink

by Sarah Gotschall

According to computer scientist Andrew Ng, speech is the natural way that people communicate and “humanity was never designed to communicate by using our fingers to poke at little keyboards…” After years of user torment by Siri and the like, voice recognition has finally hit prime time. According to Ng’s recent study, mobile phone voice recognition translation of text is three times faster than typing, and equally accurate. Computer keyboard typing can’t be far behind!

So why do we continue to sit at our desks all day at work and manually type stuff? Dictation is hardly a new concept to field, yet seems to be rarely embraced, if my law library friends and coworkers are any indication. Perhaps this is unsurprising in light of the early clunkiness of Siri and the like. Or maybe people were put off by earlier attempts to utilize computer voice to text feature?

After two prior attempts to incorporate dictation software into my work routine, which failed due to constant computer freeze-ups, I abandoned the effort and focused on my phone. Fed up with my continually aching wrists from poking and swiping on my phone all day, I clicked on the little microphone next to my mini keyboard and never looked back. Soon my passion for dictating text messages spread to my personal e-mail and Google Keep notes until finally one fine day I decided to unleash it at work to speed up (or at least add some variety to) my email composition, student feedback, blog post production, and more. After failed experimentation with the Windows Voice Recognition feature due to the limited selection of cheapo headsets available at work, I worked around it by just dictating my stuff into Google Keep on my phone and then laboriously cutting and pasting the text into a Word document on my work computer. (Geez, people will endure all sorts of crazy inconvenience and come up with the stupidest and most inefficient workarounds to avoid investing 10 minutes into actually solving a problem, amirite….)

Finally, inspiration hit when I decided to write a blog post about dictation, and I took the required 10 minutes to resolve the problem by ordering a new wireless headset. And now the Windows Voice Recognition feature works just fine!

As one might guess, many folks on the Internet espouse the productivity superiority of dictation over typing! To name a few…

Speed = Productivity?

Obviously, we can talk faster than we can type, and doing thinks more quickly is considered an improvement in productivity.  Various estimates suggest that the average person speaks 150 words per minute yet types only 40. For those unused to dictation, surely many of the 150 words will be useless at first. We older folks became accustomed to thinking about what we were going to write before writing in longhand, and it took years to adjust to formulating sentences on the fly while typing on a computer. Thinking of what to write while dictating likely doesn’t come naturally for everyone, but will likely improve with practice.

Procrastination?

One need not be an accomplished procrastinator to occasionally put off starting on a writing project. I imagine that even accomplished and prolific writers occasionally have no idea where to start. It is relatively easy, simple in fact, to open a Word document and start blathering some sentences and ideas. 

Brainstorming/Free Writing?

Speaking of blathering, dictation is suited to brainstorming.  A lifetime of chitchat with our fellow humans has trained us to quickly word vomit a mountain of thoughts and ideas with literally no effort.  Due to the ease of rambling, we might even include ideas seemingly too useless to merit the exertion of writing them down, which may later be viewed as inspired.  Free writing, the prewriting technique of continuously writing for a limited period of time without regard to organization, spelling, grammar, or quality of writing or idea, can be a useful way to collect initial thoughts and ideas on a topic. What is even easier than free writing? Free speaking!

Thinking on One’s Feet?

A brief perusal of the news daily confirms the human tendency to stick our feet in our mouths. It is a rare and mysterious person who appears to consistently think before speaking. At least one person on the Internet has theorized that dictation trains people to think on our feet and improve our ability to quickly organize and convey complex thoughts.

Sitting is the New Smoking!?

There’s a lot written about how sitting is the new smoking. Even that trendy savior, the standing desk, may prove inadequate to save us. Perhaps you can avoid the specter of early death by taking your dictation show on the road? With a wireless headset you can walk around your office (as I am doing now with my new wireless headset!) while dictating to your computer. Or, you can stroll around work with your phone dictating into Google Keep or the like, simultaneously prolonging life while enjoying the added benefit of annoying your coworkers. Even better, since nature has been getting some good press lately, with many claims about its positive impact on mental health, you can work on living forever and improving your mental health simultaneously by going outside to take a walk.

Microsoft Speech Recognition Feature

Microsoft has been congratulating itself in recent years on its speech recognition technology and Internet reviewers agree that the Microsoft Speech Recognition feature has gotten a lot better! With an adequate headset or microphone, it is very easy to install and use for dictation.

If using the Windows 10 operation system, click on the Start icon (Windows logo key), then Windows Ease of Access, and then Windows Speech Recognition. A dialog box appears with options to get started.

After setting up your microphone, you can view the tutorial and train your computer to understand you by reading text on the screen. Then, you are ready (hopefully) to open a Word document and start speaking! With some luck it will work perfectly at first and you will be wonderfully satisfied with the quality of the transcription without having to fiddle with the settings, try multiple headsets, and then give up on the whole endeavor pending ordering a new one.

In addition to dictating text, you can use your voice to edit the text with a list of commands available from the above pictured dialog box. For example, you can say “All caps XXXX” to capitalize XXXX or “Delete XXXX” to delete XXXX. I am not particularly proficient with these commands yet and have experienced some Siri-like frustration, but hopefully the commands and I will adjust to each other in the future.

Conclusion

If you haven’t tried dictation lately, maybe give it a try!  Even if it doesn’t produce productivity gains, it can still be fun to try something new after years of approaching the usual tasks in the usual way. And it is another way to get out of your chair!

Posted in Technology, Writing (generally) | Tagged | Leave a comment

Creating My First Librarianship Portfolio: A Mood

by Malikah Hall

As a requirement of my position, I recently submitted my first academic portfolio. If I were wearing a mood ring during this time, you would find the ring a different color everyday. The colors of a mood ring are: amber – nervous, unhappy, cool; green – calm; blue – emotions are charged, active, relaxed; violet – passionate, excited, very happy; black – tense, nervous; and gray – strained, anxious. 

Amber – nervous, unhappy, cool

A few months before the submission deadline, I received the call for portfolio submissions. There were a few basic instructions (include an updated CV, and reports on librarianship, service, and scholarship (if applicable)). But, for the most part, I could choose what to include. 

At this stage, my mood ring is Amber, for nervous. I know the deadline, and I have a brief outline of what is expected from this report – so that’s a start. But what do I include or exclude? How much information is too much information (no such thing in librarianship, ha!)? What’s the format? I have some research to do. Luckily, I’m a librarian so research is a piece of cake.

Green – Calm

So where do I start? What would I tell a student to use when researching unfamiliar subject matter? I know, a few finding tools and books on the subject will help. I found this research guide from Vanderbilt and this one from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln that were of some help. However, the book that I felt provided the best guidance is Academic Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Documenting Teaching, Research, and Service (ISBN: 9780470256992). This text provides several sample portfolios that helped me develop a more fleshed-out outline for my portfolio. Mood ring is now Green, for calm. Order and process spark joy.

Blue – Emotional Charged (Relaxed or Active)

Now that I have an outline, I need to compile my yearly accomplishments into a format that fits this outline. At the beginning of the academic year, I started creating Trello boards. Using Trello boards has been extremely helpful with my time and project management. Since all of my completed work is housed in my boards, I simply copied this information to a new board titled Academic Portfolio. Alright, I have an outline and information to fill that outline. It looks like my mood ring is Blue for emotionally charged (active). Organization, much like order and process, spark joy.

Violet – Passionate, Excited, Very Happy

Alright, it’s time to put it all together. Minimalism does not spark joy in me personally but definitely sparks joy in law school administration. To find a happy medium between my long-windedness and the valuable time of the administration, I decided to add everything at the onset, followed by a series of edits. I want be sure to convey the impact of my activities, not simply provide a listing of these activities. In the end, my academic portfolio lists: Librarianship with subsections on reference and instruction; scholarship with a link to the posted SSRN abstract; and service with subsections on outreach, volunteer work, committee work (internal and external), mentorship, student advisement, and training; and lastly my long and short-term goals. The finished work looked very similar to the outline in the Academic Portfolio, only with my work on the pages. Mood ring is now Violet, for happy. Getting it all out most definitely sparks joy.

Black – Tense, Nervous

The submission deadline was a few weeks away, so I sat down with my director to talk about what I included in my portfolio, and what further edits were needed. As the completed portfolio (including appendices) was 35 pages, I wanted to make sure that it was navigable by the university administrators. My director strongly encouraged the inclusion of a table of contents and a summary of activity (three pages maximum). Adding this information pushed the page total to 39 pages. Mood ring is black – for tense.

Gray – Strained Anxious

With steely nerves, I hit submit on the file. I hope I was able to convey my accomplishments, my strengths, my areas in need of improvement, and my goals. I now wait to hear from the administration. Mood ring is light gray – for slightly anxious. However, I hope to see it returned to violet (that’s happy) very soon.

Posted in Issues in Law Librarianship | Tagged | Leave a comment

Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the Metric Football

by Christine Anne George

Pixabay Image

I do not often compare myself to Charlie Brown, but when it comes to citation metrics, I am Charlie Brown with the football. Why is that? Because there is no perfect way to collect citation metrics. Honestly, I have sincere doubts whether traditional citation metrics should be the focus at all, but that’s not the football I’ll opine upon today. Tomorrow, maybe, but today it’s about the latest Lucy—Hein.

There is a lot to be said for the Hein Author Profiles. They provide metrics within the Hein universe. There’s no set standard of what number of citations is a “good” number, so it seems to work. The downside of the Profiles (beyond being limited to the Hein universe) is that the onus is on the author—or the author’s librarian—to do the necessary clean up. Name variations require multiple profiles to be combined. The unfortunate circumstance of authors having the same or similar names just mean that the author/librarian had to parse through the Profile to ensure that what was listed was accurate. Overall I thought that the Profiles were worthwhile to prepare for my faculty, and it was something that stayed on my to do list to get to…you know, one of these days. Then on February 13, 2019 my priorities list experienced a massive reshuffle when U.S. News announced that they were going to be evaluating scholarly impact using Hein. If we were in a Peanuts strip, there would have been a very abrupt record scratch at that moment.

Straightening up the Profiles seemed like a straightforward enough task. (Sidebar: I only dealt with Hein. I was not the point of contact for U.S. News.) Hein had a spreadsheet. I had to provide the name variations and a few other pieces of information (faculty profile links, twitter handles, etc.) to enhance the profile. I noticed that there were three separate name listings for my institution, so I asked Hein to take care of that as well.

Theoretically, that’s where it should have ended. I received confirmation from Hein that the profiles were updated and that they were all listed under a single institution. Done. Except that I wanted to be sure. Really, really sure. So I coordinated with the Dean’s Office to get updated CVs for all our faculty. Then my amazing research assistant, Johnny, took each of those CVs and went through the faculty’s newly enhanced Profiles. I asked him to let me know of any publications that appeared on Hein but not the CV, and any law review/journal articles that appeared on the CV but not the Profile. I hadn’t thought that there’d be many of the latter, so I asked him that if there was an article that was on the CV, but not the Profile, to check on Hein to see if it was available at all. And that, dear readers, is the first time the football was pulled away.

There were articles on Hein that weren’t linked to the faculty’s Profile because of a typo in either their first or last name on Hein. There were articles from symposia that didn’t have traditional bylines, and instead either listed the authors in a footnote or partway through the article. There were articles and book reviews that weren’t indexed by Hein at all, though they were available if you navigated to the starting page within the publication. We also found a few profiles that had been enhanced, but were empty of the articles and therefore cites.

There were emails back and forth to Hein and all of the edits, corrections, whatever you’d like to call them, were addressed. I have to give Hein credit for being extremely responsive to any issue that arose. All was right with the world. It was. Truly. Everything was fine. Except I decided that I needed to check one more time. Just to make sure. I probably wasn’t going to find anything—and that’s when I saw it. I was on one faculty member’s Profile and noticed that an article with 65 cites on Hein had just been added. But then, when I looked at her total citation count, I noticed that it was 27. That couldn’t be right. I chose a few other profiles that had been edited in the last go-around and saw that many had the same problem. I sent an email to Hein about the issue and then started yet another spreadsheet. This time, I compared the total number of citations from three places—the CSV file that can be downloaded for the entire institution, the Profile total listed at the top of the Profile, and the sum of all of the citations listed for each article within the Profile. The results were…troubling. In some instances, I had three different numbers for a faculty member. I heard back from Hein that ScholarCheck numbers are reprocessed each month so it could take a few weeks for them to reflect changes. When I asked about the three different numbers (because if there’s a delay in updating, then at least two of the numbers should be the same), I was told that Hein had been experimenting with updating the CSV more often. An update just went through the end of March, so, once again, I created another spreadsheet so I could make sure that this time the football really and truly was teed up and ready to go.

If I were a glass-half-full person, I would happily report that the update corrected 12 Profiles with inconsistencies. But my metaphorical glass was smashed on the floor because there were still 21 Profiles with inconsistencies, and I couldn’t understand why. I sent another email to Hein and received a response thanking me for pointing out the inconsistencies and explaining that they would work on it. That was last week. Since then, there has been a bit of a discussion on the ALL-SIS listserv talking about determining whether the citation counts themselves are correct. As I typed that last sentence, my eye began twitching as it is wont to do whenever discussion of the Profiles arises. Through the spasms, I see many, many more spreadsheets and emails to Hein in my future. More checking, double checking, and just-one-more-final checking in the hopes that any errors can be found and corrected before the numbers are pulled.

While I do think that using Hein for citation counting is an improvement over other methods, the panic I felt at the U.S. News announcement wasn’t unfounded. Having had some previous experience with the Profiles, I knew that there was going to be work involved in ensuring their accuracy. I had no idea how much work, but I went into it with that expectation. I don’t know that every other law school did, particularly those who just followed the instructions from U.S. News. No rollout of a system—or forced opt-in of an existing product (as was the case in this instance)—is without slight hiccups. The important thing is to address the hiccups and keep moving forward. Some of these fixes appear to be ad hoc. Only if you notice the error will it be addressed.

Previous paragraph aside, not all the fault for this lies with Hein. There are other Lucys. Faculty publishing under name variations and not communicating new publication information (e.g. listing it on a CV or however it is communicated in an institution) complicates the process. Law reviews and journals not properly listing authorship and being less than exact with footnotes also throws a wrench into the mix. I haven’t addressed it here, but after having spent a summer manually counting citations I. Have. Thoughts. about the consequences of a misspelled name in a footnote and what it can do to citation counts.

Moving forward it would be great to see Hein incorporate more online companions to law review and journals (it’s a bit hit or miss right now) and online publications like blogs, beyond JOTWELL. If the Author Profiles could be expanded to allow for a full CV listing of publications—books, chapters, and all—it could give a more accurate citation count. While Hein may never be able to pull citation counts from books themselves, surely those books may be cited within articles within the Hein universe. It’s not perfect, but it would be an improvement. The precedent is set because there are publications that Hein lists in the Profiles that users can’t access, but still have citations counts listed.

Alas it’s time for me to get back into the thick of it. Hein’s got the football, telling me that there was another round of updates and I should check to see if there are any more inconsistencies. Here’s hoping that, as I’m going for my next attempted kick, they hold the ball steady this time. Charlie Brown prevails in the end, right?

Posted in Faculty services, Issues in Law Librarianship, Law Reviews | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Summer Associate Season

by Caren Luckie

This post is somewhat of a reprise of my fall associate post, regarding new fall associates.  Many of the same things hold true, but there are differences between summer associates and new fall associates.  And not just the seasonal name difference.

Summer associates want to put their best foot/face forward and impress the attorneys and the firm in the hopes of receiving a job offer.  The firm expects all of our attorneys to do their best work, regardless of whether it’s a summer associate, a new fall associate, or an attorney in their third or twentieth year.  The clients expect it, and, if they don’t receive good work from their law firm, they’ll take their business to another firm.  As a result, all firms want to hire the best, the brightest students.  The quality of their work during their tenure with the firm is one of the criteria.

So, what should a summer associate come to the firm prepared to do?  Of course, a summer associate (“Summer(s)”) should come prepared to work.  Most Summers split their time between 2, sometimes 3, positions over the summer.  So their time at a firm to make an impression is short.  I think that most firms have cut back on the number of parties and extra-curricular activities that they offer, recognizing that there is not enough time for everything.    Just like during the school year, the library staff can be a great ally – we can point a Summer to the proper source, assist with a research query, etc.   The possibilities are endless.

Just like fall associates, Summers are used to having unlimited access to online resources.  At the mid-sized firms, even the large mid-sized like mine, while we have a great many resources, we don’t have everything and we try to allocate costs to clients.  Summer associates need to be mindful of incurring online expenses – there’s always one who does everything on Lexis or Westlaw and runs up large bills (they frequently don’t get an offer).  That’s not to say they shouldn’t use the online resources, just to use them judiciously.  Ask the assigning attorney if online research is allowed, then ask the library for the best way to go about performing the research.  At worst, we’ll refer a Summer to the 800-number for whatever service the firm uses.  Which means they’ll end up running one search instead of possibly 4 or 5, and incurring less charges.   Yes, we have flat rate contracts, but we bill back to clients what we can, and Summers need to realize that partners don’t like to write off large amounts.  Remember, questions are never out of place.

It’s not just about the work.  As a firm, we want to make sure that any attorney we hire will fit in with our culture.  Work is important, but so are social skills.   A summer associate should be confident enough to ask questions if they don’t understand an assignment (or anything else).  They should attend firm functions, whether during the work day or after hours.  Learn to balance work and social, and come prepared to do so.

We try to treat our Summers as we treat our attorneys.  And we expect them to act like an attorney.  I can’t wait for our Summers to start, they’ll get the thorny research questions, and I’ll get a break!

Posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Legal Research | Tagged | Leave a comment

Conference Notes from SEAALL 2019 in Hot Springs, VA

by Cassie DuBay

Are you feeling conference fatigue from going to the same local conference year, after year? Maybe it’s been awhile since you’ve gotten to attend any conference at all. Or perhaps you’re tasked with planning a conference in the near future. Well, I urge you to attend something new, something less obvious.

As a librarian at SMU, I am a member of the Southwestern Association of Law Libraries (SWALL). But this year, I decided to see what SEAALL and all the seersucker-wearing crazies are about. Actually, I love seersucker and SEAALL friends who wear seersucker. I had so much fun, I learned a lot, and I met fabulous people. Let me tell you about it…

361AD2FF-C124-4025-B0AB-DE794332D3C5.JPGThe opening reception set the tone for the weekend with an all-star cast of dining options and an open bar. I appreciate any dish that serves as a vessel for blue cheese so if you saw me at SEAALL as a stage-five clinger to the wedge salad bar, you know why. But the opening reception also served pasta three ways, beef and vegetarian sliders, and an assortment of desserts including cactus cupcakes. Personally, the main attraction was Louis Rosen’s display of magic card tricks (each table had playing cards or Uno sets as an ice-breaker – so smart!). Breakfast the next day was the talk of the hotel. The reason for these dining details? Lunch service the next day was a typical sandwich-apple-chips-cookie boxed lunch. For future conference planners: a box lunch is 100% worth it for an opening reception SEAALL style.

IMG_7931.JPGMy other favorite part of SEAALL? The vendor-sponsored activity choices. Upon registering for SEAALL this year you had the choice of a mixology class, wine tasting, or a waterfall walk. I have been saying for years that we need more physical activity at the AALL annual meeting. I mean really, what could be more fun than a step challenge in Washington D.C. this year?! Andrew Weber at the Library of Congress would probably win because he literally runs at least a mile every single day, but I bet second place would be loads of fun to achieve and just think of all the pride and applause you’d receive…

Ok, yes, the Fastcase suite is more fun than a step challenge, but that’s not the point.

I chose the waterfall walk activity and got to explore 1.5 miles and 13 waterfalls in rural Virginia. Also, I willingly ate a stick. True story. The walk was such a unique way to meet new friends. As for the other activities, I heard all positive reviews. Dine-arounds are fun, but additional activities take a conference to the next level.

SEAALL also had four programs run concurrently for each time slot and I learned that about 50% of the program proposals had to be turned away. If you attended SEAALL, this wouldn’t be a surprise: all of the programming was fantastic. But it should be pointed out that good programming can only come from good proposals. If you want more material in an area that interests you, you must propose something. At the very least, you must encourage others to present. So, thank you to each of you at SEAALL who did.

I personally walked away with a new professional interest. At least two programs focused on storytelling and data visualization. I am 100% willing to admit that my home has decorative items that my fiancé is not allowed to touch (form over function, my friends). So, when I saw what UGA, BU, Illinois and other schools’ law libraries are doing with data – visually – I was hooked. I immediately had the library order Good Charts: The HBR Guide to Making Smarter, More Persuasive Data Visualizations. I learned that while I love Canva and others do, too, I should be exploring Tableau. I learned that while library annual reports can share library data, they can also publicize the work and achievements of the library staff. Really, I just cannot wait to learn where data visualization can take both the law library and the law school.

From check-in to programming, everything ran smoothly at SEAALL. Major props to the meetings’ organizers and the local arrangements team. Those tasked with planning a meeting in the near future should take note of the fun SEAALL created in Virginia this year.

Thanks for a great weekend!

P.S. No, I didn’t get a grant or some other bribe to write this review (just a blue cheese salad). I just really had a good time.

Posted in Continuing Education, Regional meetings | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

“Other Duties as Assigned”

by Bret Christensen

Have you ever wondered what it is you do?  Yeah, yeah, you’re an omnipotent Librarian: Master of knowledge and all that is knowable.  But, who are you?  Did you ever stop to think about what it is you do or have become?

Once upon a time, before I became an omnipotent Librarian, I lived the Life of Riley.  I traveled around, went to the beach, did some legal work for area attorneys, and played golf at 3:00pm on Thursdays.  Loved that life, I did.

hatsOne day, a Librarian friend of mine suggested I get a life and go be a Librarian.  “Go out and apply what you’ve learned” she said, “Stop wasting your life and be a Librarian,” she said.  So, I did.  I went to “library school,” graduated annnnnnd POOF!  I became a Librarian.  Master of knowledge and all that is knowable.  The question, though, is what is a Librarian?  What do Librarians do?

When I was a little(r) kid, the Librarian at my public library sat at a big desk and pointed to books we asked her about.  She never got up from that desk.  Just sat and pointed.

Shortly before I graduated from “library school,” I got drafted to a professional gig as a Reference Librarian.  The day I was hired, I was given two edicts from the boss:

  1. I don’t ever want to tell you what to do
  2. I want a newsletter

You know, looking back, that was pretty vague.  “Don’t ever want to tell you what to do.”  What does that even mean?  What I took it to mean was that she didn’t want to see me just sitting around.  So, I started doing “things.”  First, I consolidated all our library brochures (at the time we had 8; when I was finished, we had two), then there was the Library Week celebration in April, then there was the award winning newsletter, then there was the website, then there was the research classes, then there was…well, everything else!

Thing is, I do not have any particularized training on how to create web pages.  Heck, I was not specially trained on how to to market library programs and services, or writing newsletters, or bouncing people out of the library, but I learned how because it became part of my job as a Librarian.

I suspect there are Librarians all around the world who don’t have any particularized training to do what they are doing, but they do it because they’ve had to.  Remember that job ad you responded to years back?  There is always that one line that reads, “Other duties as assigned.”  What did you think that meant?  If you didn’t know, it meant that you’re going to be doing every thing that “we” don’t want to do.

So, what things do front line Librarians do that no one else wants to do?  A little over a year ago, our Library nationalized the parking lot next the library making it a private lot.  What that means is that anyone that wanted to park in our lot had to pay a monthly fee.  If they did not pay, they got towed and it’s $300/day at the impound lot.  Aggravated a whole lot of people, it did.

Of course, as a “professional” Librarian, it fell to me to be the enforcer.  We had people top of their lungs screaming at me when they got towed.  CIA, FBI, DOJ, NEA, URL – you name it, we had them yelling at me because they got towed.  You ever had a 6’5″ 300 pound biker dude scream at you and threaten your life?  Multiply that by 10 and that was my life (as a Librarian).  It’s not so bad now, but for a while, hoo wee baby!

How about the time I wore my bouncer hat to tell a guy that watching porn on the library computer wasn’t cool and he took a swing at my head?  Yeah, that was an exciting day.

Or about about the time I had to wear my Priest hat when a lady wanted to confess the intricate (and messy) details of her life of crime to me.  For the record, there is no librarian/patron privilege.

Or how about the time I wore my janitor’s hat because the toilet backed up and facilities management said it couldn’t come until the next day?

Or how about the time I wore my animal control hat when a “service animal” flipped out and I was called upon to help catch and remove the thing?

Or how about the time I wore my scrivener’s hat when the boss “asked” me to type up a lady’s letter because she had never used a computer before?

Or how about the time I wore my educator’s hat when I got into a heated discussion with a group of law students on the difference between a Table of Contents and Index?

Or how about the times I wore my everything else hat when I had to confront people because they were sleeping or fighting or drinking or chewing tobacco or walking around with barely any clothes or smoking or soliciting business or corralling wild children or abusing children or bathing or washing clothes, or for just being general dinks in the library?

Yep, Librarians wear all kinds of hats to fit all kinds of jobs that need to be done day in and day out.  Thing is, as the needs of library users change, so will the hats Librarians wear.

In fact, there may soon be a time when an IT degree is more helpful than an degree in library science or programmers will be in higher demand than catalogers.  Of course, the IT folks won’t get paid any more with their advanced degrees and skills but, at least, they’ll all get a nice hat to wear.

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