Friday, February 10, 2012

Day in the life of a librarian - An academic librarian in Singapore 2012

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While the world wide library meme/project "Library day in a life" which was started by Bobbi Newman  occurs twice a year, it seems for some reason I only take part in the Jan/Feb ones, having done it early 2010 and 2011. So here's the 2012 edition. As usual I am reconstructing this from looking at my emails and online calender.

Monday 30 Jan 2012

People always say Monday are busy days, I usually don't see why this is so, but today it really was!
Just after I came in I found a email from the EndNote Team requesting that I repeat a webex webinar on EndNote I conducted last year (as it was surprisingly successful). I happily agreed of course. Followed by continued discussions via email about FourSquare promotions we are currently doing and plan to do in Feb.

But first order of day at 9am, Information desk duty! Haven't done many recently, but the term just started so it was quite busy. 

I had also arranged a advisory session last week with an undergraduate who needed assistance for a paper writing competition he was in, but he cancelled on me and didn't turn up on Monday. This monday was also special as I had to shoot a video to showcase what I do in the library so with the assistance of my colleague we did a couple of quick recordings.

One of the things I like to though it's not quite official duty is to walk around the OPAC terminals to observe users search and offer help if they seem confused. I find it particularly effective at the start of the term. 

I am not sure why but when comparing users who approach me at the desk and ask for help vs those I approach while they are searching, it seems for the former group when I help them search they seem less interested , ask less questions and I generally learn less about what they were thinking etc as compared to when I approach them while they are at the point of searching to offering help. Logic tells me it should be the opposite, that the ones who actually *do* approach me at the desk are the self-selected ones who are more passionate about learning, yet the opposite seems to be happening.

One possibility is that when you "pounce" on them at the point of searching, their frame of mind is still in terms of searching, so their minds are more active, they are be able to express what they are thinking and are curious to compare it with the technique I am showing them.

On the other hand, if they do walk to the desk, by the time they reach the desk, they pretty much forgotten what they tried and they become very passive when I show them how to search. Obviously, I very much prefer the later type of interactions.

Today, I had two really good interactions. One of the users was really curious when I showed her how to find a relevant book and then use LC subject headings to browse and I explained the concept of subject browsing. It's really enlightening to remember that in this day of Google, many of our users have no concept of subject browse, to them using keywords to search is the only technique they have in their own tool-kit. After explaining to her the reason for controlled vocabulary, she curiously asked me who were the librarians who sat around all day, assigning subject headings? :) They are called catalogers....

It's the beginning of the year, so everyone was busy with planning new performance targets, new teams were being formed, so quite a bit of time was spent in discussions with superiors on team formations, targets etc. This was on-going a lot throughout the week.

Afternoon was spent in a meeting with the cited reference team. I am beginning my 3rd year in this team, so I am fairly comfortable by now with finding citation counts, h-index etc, though there was a new Web of Science interface to deal with and minor Scopus changes.

Evening was spent late in office trying to do a quick and dirty edit of the video I shot in the morning, adding voice-overs , and because I am relatively bad at such things, it took me a long time to do it, even with assistance from my colleague.

Tuesday 31 Jan 2012

Another busy day! Today I am on Ask a librarian duty which means I am answering the library's main email help account for the day and manning the corresponding Chat reference duty in the afternoon.

To make matters interesting, I was also conducting a class to about a dozen librarians on how to do chat duty in the afternoon! This is the 2nd run of four sessions I would eventually do this month. 

Chat training is really tough as we have limited time to train, though it helps that this is about the 7th time I have done a training class and I have about 2 years doing chat duty so by now I could anticipate what tends to confuse our librarians and share experiences on the type of queries they would get, common pitfalls when answering such questions.

This does not mean I am a very good trainer, not by the long shot! Though this year, I got smart and divided classes into classes with librarians who had Instant Messenging experience (if only on a personal basis) and those who did not and were unsure even about the concept of IM, hence needed more hand-holding.

While training is hard and investment of manpower is huge, chat reference is a project very near and dear to my heart, as I think it's something that our users take to very easily with little promotion (in fact we did almost none) and is one of the easiest ways to ensure we remain relevant and ensure we can reach our users who don't like or need to come to the physical library. It helps that our users love it too.

I was trying it on and off myself since early 2010 and only managed to gain a foothold with some passionate colleagues helping me in Aug 2010 where we embeded chat boxes on our FAQ systems. It eventually expanded to all staff in my department, and then to selected librarians in other libraries by 2011, but it was only in 2012 we finally started training almost all full-time librarians and a number of associates to staff the chat. Looking at the 60 or so chat accounts that exist now, I can't help but feel a sense of pride. Of course, there will be some resistance and uncertainty but I have no doubt this can be overcome, and this is not the final step by far.....

As we are gearing up to eventually launch our Unified Discovery index service, I shared this very interesting article with members of the team. 

Also discovered a new FAQ was added by one of the law librarians on the FAQ team and I helped to make it more consistent with the other FAQs and added keywords to help increase findability in the LibAnswers System.

Stayed back late again to create chat accounts for the dozen or so new "Graduates" of the class.

Wed 1 Feb 2012

Today, some of the new "graduates" of my chat class began doing chat duty. I checked-in with those doing duty today to make sure they were ready, helped the ones who needed who hand-holding to install pidgin, briefed the old hands at chat via email who were assisting etc. Much of the day was spent, observing in the background how the staff new to chat was handling chat and assisting when I could. Pretty much the rest of the week, I was spending a significant portion of my time each day doing this.

As it was the beginning of the week, I also did monthly maintenance tasks including archiving of chat logs from Libraryh3lp, statistics from LibAnswers/LibGuides etc. This was when I discovered a bug in Libraryh3lp logs and reported it.

I also planned a joint session on statistical sources with two other librarians to be done via webinar which would be a first.

Lunch time, I was kindly invited to a celebration lunch by another department. 

After lunch, discussed with EndNote team leader on how the webinar for EndNote would be done, I would basically still do it but team members from EndNote would understudy me and hopefully eventually learn to do webinars using webex in the future. After finalizing dates for the webinar and practice sessions, spent some time preparing the online registration details etc.

Got an email from a researcher I helped during orientation on some point about library policy and yet another from a professor needing help with access to a database.

In the afternoon I attended a small meeting to discuss the IT projects that were targeted to be launched this year and the budget available. I was also briefed on the team I would be leading this year and the possible projects I could target (the team I lead has fairly broad terms of reference).

Thurs 2 Feb 2012

I was on leave today. Basically because I committed myself to present for 15 minutes on some of the techniques we use to scan Twitter for mentions of libraries at Handheld Librarian IV. Compared to the longer webinar I gave in Nov last year, this one was less theoretical and more practical and I planned to demo the actual techniques. Unfortunately, I did not have as much time to practice as I hoped and I prefer much fumbled everything from the controls to what I wanted to say. Pretty embarrassing.  A reminder that you should take even short presentations very seriously indeed. In fact shorter presentations might even be harder!

Though I was not at work, I continued to receive emails of course. Had to handle some minor incident on our social media channels, got some comments from team members on the link-resolver page etc.

Fri 3 Feb 2012

More chat training today in the morning. By the time I finished I was really tired out, this being my second session in a week. The Foursquare promotions we were planning for in Feb was coming really close, so was spending a lot of time on logistics and promotion. I am more comfortable with online marketing modes so I was handling the online channels, while other members of my team was working on print posters which just arrived today etc. Also created a couple of FAQs in our Library FAQ system about FourSquare (most were just links to the official FAQ on FourSquare) just in case our staff were asked about it and searched there. Our pilots with FourSquare Special on smaller libraries already tipped us off on some of the most common questions e.g "Why isn't the badge unlocked even though I checked-in?" (Answer is usually, they checked-in too far away.)

Had a bit of a shock when I logged-into our Foursquare account and saw one of our claimed venues was missing. Further adding to the pain was getting an email, assigning almost all of my team members and myself to a course, on the day we planned to do our Foursquare promotion! Checked with the team whether we should postpone the promotion (but posters was printed already!). 

And today, the team members of the teams that I was leading including the social media team was finalised! 


As I always said in the past there is no typical academic librarian job and even for me no typical librarian week as I am called upon to do very varied tasks. If this recording was done just one week later, the tasks I would have done would have seemed very different.

This year I seem to be doing more training and coordination type jobs which I guess reflects my increased seniority? I must admit while I enjoy training, co-ordination of events isn't an area where I have comparative advantage usually but I suppose it is good to stretch a little.

There seems to be a very high "tech" component to my job this week (e.g Chat training, webinars, social media, Discovery search), admittedly I have gravitated towards such areas due to my interests but I seriously doubt many academic librarians would say tech isn't a big part of their jobs.

 I'll end by quoting myself from last year again :)

"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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