Sunday, January 30, 2011

Day in the life of a librarian - An academic librarian in Singapore

Curious about in academic librarianship in Singapore as a career? Try So you want to be a academic librarian in Singapore?

This is the second time, I'm taking part in this world wide library meme/project "Library day in a life"  started by Bobbi Newman. I really don't know if what I write is that interesting, but I suppose some people considering the profession here in Singapore might be curious what academic librarians do in Singapore, so I guess this is for them.

For some context, I'm a relatively junior librarian with slightly over 3 years of experience working in the Information Services (formerly Reference) department.

But as I said last year, what I write below may not be typical of what academic librarians here do, because there is no such thing as a "typical librarian" and even if such manner of a beast exists there is no such thing as a "typical day or week" anyway.


Came into office and ran through my normal routine of checking through the prior night's LibAnswers queries, environment scans for mentions of my library in Twitter, Facebook etc. Today I'm on duty manning the beta chat service up to 130pm.

Incidentally, I am also finishing up a presentation on the results of the beta chat service from Aug-Dec 2010 to be presented to the senior management on Wednesday. I already finished most of it except the hardest part, estimating the manpower requirements based on various scenarios (number of chat points), but I was helped by the LSW Friendfeed people who generously shared data about chat traffic statistics.

I also answered two emails from users. I am happy to note that a Honours year student got the dataset he requested, while another research staff asked about three databases, of which we had one already.

This morning, I also had two meetings, the first was a presentation of new features in our University's courseware software. Some new interesting features there. This was followed by yet another meeting, this time on some long term reorganizing of the library with regards to how communication is structured.

An email also arrived from a colleague with regards to this idea I read and sent during the weekend about embeding Google analytics into the library's OPAC from this paper.

By now I had answered five chats, all of which were fairly basic. Then it was off to lunch.

After lunch, a collegue also consulted me about getting a iPhone app for the OPAC and we tried to find information with regards to Zoombo, the newly announced III iPhone app. I continued with preparing for the presentation. Midway, Tweetdeck noted a negative comment tweeted about the library, followed promptly by a retweet, I monitored this to see if more retweets would follow fortunately none did, but engaged in some service recovery anyway (See this post for details about the real time scanning I do).

This week is also crunch time and the library is preparing to beta-test the new totally 100% revamped library portal and instructions were shooting back and forth to test the new library portal before releasing to first batch of users, I was assigned to test Firefox (though Chrome is now my favourite). This is the accumulation of work the committee has done going back to 2009, so I'm very excited to finally have a working prototype but today I'm really busy with preparing the chat reference report, so can't get to it yet.

I'm pretty much finished with my presentation slides and am about to go home at 6pm  when I get a chat by a user complaining about the OPAC being down. I checked and oops, it really is! Within a couple of minutes a similar complaint popped up as picked up by my real-time twitter scan. Fortunately, the classic catalogue was still functional so I directed the users there. Decided to stay back a bit to monitor the situation.

I sent a quick IM to the library information technology department, my amazing colleague there checked it immediately and within minutes informed me it was fixed! Talk about amazing response time. Through the use of chat channels and real time twitter scan, the library was able to quickly spot and resolve fast developing situations! All in all the response time was so quick, here in Central, there was time only for one chat complain and one tweet about issue.


Was on leave. Didn't do much official library work, beyond my usual reading and scanning. Did a couple of personal things including taking pictures to replace my old profile picture (not uploaded yet here). May submit an abstract for a upcoming local conference here.


Crazy day. First I was trying to test the new library portal prototype. I was assigned to test using Firefox, running through some functional tasks to make sure everything works okay as a first cut.

I also spent some time verifying the steps to put Google analytics into the catalogue and evaluating a database resource for possible subscription.

In the afternoon it was usability testing time where I observed two users go through a couple of common tasks on the new prototype. Very enlightening.. It's not so much how fast they do it, or whether they can complete the task, but what you learn by watching them, followed by questioning later.

I won't say much about what I learnt, but let me say that it confirms quite a bit of my suspicions of how people are using library sites these days. Will see if this holds with more testing. Immediately after that, there was this big meeting on the portal with the vendors and the management.

All of it went pretty smoothly, but at the tail end it was my turn to "perform". I was presenting the results of the library's beta chat project that I ran since Aug 2010. It's one of the project that is nearest and dearest to my heart, basically because the response to it has being amazing so far. Users loved it! I knew they would but not at this level.

I know chat reference is nothing new for academic libraries in the US, but it's a big commitment of manpower and the uncertainty makes it difficult to commit. What exactly are you signing up for when you launch this?

I presented some analysis estimating the projected chat traffic increase the more chat points the library adds. The analysis is pretty crude but it was the best I could do based on statistics from studies plus whatever statistics I could get by asking around.


In the morning, I finished off a number of small tasks, followed by yet another round of usability testing. Pretty much same reaction by the user as the first few I observed, most seeing the same problems. I'm starting to understand why they say for usability testing you often don't need a big sample to spot most of the obvious problems.

Took sometime to create performance goals for myself and the team I'm leading for 2011. During lunch a push notification from EndNote's Twitter account, alerted me that new version of Endnote X4 was out,    besides improved peformance for the "Import PDF" function   (it now pulls metadata from Pubmed, maybe they read my testing here that showed EndNote was behind here?) , but more importantly it supports Office 2010, 64 bit. I knew a user who was waiting impatiently for this feature, so I notified him via Facebook (more on that in a future post) and email.

Was on desk duty this afternoon, was fairly run of the mill with one interesting research question but I still love it. Maybe one day I will get tired of it but not today.... I also took the time to write out a long rambling email about the things I noticed so far while testing the new portal.


It's the end of the month, and I like to take a quick look of the Google analytics statistics for LibGuides and Libanswers (can't wait until when I can look at portal and catalogue statistics as well). Statistics are up this month, as students are returning, noted a new guide created for a specific course is doing very well indeed. One of the pages I created, a resource page for statistics and papers on income inequality in Singapore is doing well also, drawing many hits from Google searches. Got to remember to create more resources like that.

Yet another two more usability tests to observe, by now it was getting routine, and I was seeing few new things to report. Emails cleared including colleagues asking for help with Libguides, and a user asking for help on how to find a newspaper article. Also checked out how one library was using Olark for IM/Chat reference.

But the bulk of the day was spent studying/evaluating Ebsco Discovery Service vs Summon vs Encore Synergy. This is going to be a killer task, I have made a point to be kept update on this issue as much as possible but I can see it's going to be a big task to evaluate this properly. Again, It was nice getting advise from librarian peers around the world on various channels who have already done this or are doing this.


This week is hardly typical , since obviously I don't get to do usability testing of new library portals all the time! But then again, it's hard to say what is a typical day for me. Some days or weeks (say Aug or starting in Feb) it's all about holding orientations and teaching classes (what i call micro level work), while this week was mostly macro level work focusing on higher level initiatives that impact the library as a whole punctuated by desk duties and email inquires from users who know me.

Another thing you might notice is that a lot of my tasks seem to be very IT related.

Some of it is a quirk due to the period this recording takes place, and some of it is due to my interests & job scope, but I think this is just a matter of degree and all librarians need to be comfortable with computers and the internet.

I'm definitely not saying every librarian should be a programmer, or even everyone should be on Twitter/Facebook/Social Media and own a smartphone and I probably suffer a bit from technolust (but I try to keep it in check at work) but libraries are essentially about information , and in this day and age  the primary way to handle & organize information today is through computers and the internet.

But that's hardly a earth-shaking insight and anyone looking to get into libraries probably knew that already.

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