Monday, January 25, 2010

Library Day in the Life- Monday

It's that time of the year again for Library Day in the Life, where librarians blog about what exactly it is that they do on the job with that mysterious MLS. Do we spend all day stamping books, collecting overdue fines, and shushing noisy kids, or is there something else to the profession beyond the stereotypes?

(SPOILER ALERT: This post is 100% shush-free)

My Monday starts with a question. Although I'm not even in the office yet, on my train ride into town I spy an email from my boss' boss about our document delivery service. Since launching it last April we've filled over 20,000 scanning requests for articles and book chapters for Harvard University Library patrons, but at the same time we are mindful that this is a service still very much in its infancy, with plenty of room for improvement as we learn more about what works and what does not. The question is about some of these potential improvements, which I've been actively thinking about since entertaining a colleague just before ALA Midwinter who offered his advice as to how we might make our operations more efficient, so despite my original plans to spend the morning commute on my own writing I spend the hour banging out a thoughtful response highlighting some easy upgrades that we could implement over the Spring and outlining a strategy for developing the "next generation" of the service.

Once I finally do make my way to the office (let's call it 9ish), it's time to do staff time approvals and request whatever adjustments are necessary for the next pay period. Many weeks this is a fairly straightforward affair, but owing to the three-day weekend from the previous week time entry is a little trickier than it normally is, so I spend some additional time sorting out everyone's timesheet so that there are no unpleasant surprises come payday. Many librarians fail to consider the possibility that they may find themselves in a supervisory or managerial role, especially if they end up following a public services track. I am responsible for five full-time support staffers, plus over a hundred hours per week of student help, which means that even during a good week I can rightly expect to spend a certain non-negligible portion of my day on human resource matters. Fortunately we've been successfully experimenting with students self-reporting their time worked in our online system, which means less paperwork and generally speaking more accuracy, as students have proven to be rather compulsive in adjusting their hours throughout the week to reflect actual hours worked (whereas written timesheets are invariably either incomplete or incorrect).

By ten o'clock I've dispatched all of my payroll problems, so I can finally set myself to triaging the mountain of email that has been accumulating since last week. Email is the bane of any office worker's existence, but librarians seem particularly vexed with this form of communication, which with each passing day feels just as archaic as faxes, snail mail, or-- dare I even say it?-- phone calls. There's nowhere near enough time in the day/week/month/year to craft a thoughtful response to every work email I receive, so I must prioritize the genuine emergencies and hope I have the opportunity to circle back later in the day to mop up some of the less urgent matters arising in my inbox. So what merits an immediate response? I need to coordinate an essential upgrade to our FedEx shipping capabilities, touch base with my student workers returning for the Spring semester (as for many of them this is their first day back from the holidays), and exchange email with a staff member at our central OIS as we try to troubleshoot some slow response time when patrons attempt to log in to our ILL and Document Delivery system. This doesn't seem like all that much, but before I know it it's a few minutes before noon and I am obliged to close my email and get some other work done.

Over the weekend I decided that I needed to adhere a little more closely to a regular schedule in order to make sure I dedicated enough time to recurring weekly, monthly, and quarterly responsibilities that could just as easily end up forgotten in the daily deluge of email, phone calls, questions from staff, and anything else that comes up that is capable of diverting my attention away from my best-laid plans. Take statistics, for instance. While all modern librarians deal with stats in one form or another, Interlibrary Loan librarians are expected to produce and analyze a truly bewildering array of data. Not only are there monthly stats to collate, but I am always working on several additional statistical queries-- some of them long-term projects to improve turnaround times or save our operations money, others of them quick questions from my higher-ups that can't be answered with the numbers that we regularly report.

To better address all of these needs, I've marked off every Monday afternoon as the exclusive domain for stats work, and as it turns out I'll need every minute I've set aside today, as a couple of my garden variety Microsoft Access queries are spitting out numbers that I know are way off just by looking at them. It takes me a couple of hours to figure out what the anomaly is and re-write the queries so as to account for the weirdness, and it makes for a pretty frustrating afternoon. Fortunately I'm able to punctuate this slog through the data by checking on my colleagues on Twitter while I copy long sets of numbers from the live Access database. Most of my friends on Twitter are fellow librarians, and I am able to make sense of their communications by using a program like TweetDeck to search for specific library or conference-related hashtags-- for example, #alamw10 for the recent ALA Midwinter Meeting here in Boston.

It's through Twitter and my online librarian colleagues that I realize it's Library Day in the Life, so I make a mental note to write up this post on my train ride home. After a long day of data-wrangling, indulging in this kind of summary is exactly what Melvil Dewey ordered. I leave work on Monday feeling exhausted but somewhat exhilarated, as I feel that my new weekly schedule blocks are going to be a huge help in getting things done. It's also nice to see students criss-crossing Harvard Yard again, soggy though it may be this rainy and unseasonably warm Monday. My chief Borrower remarked that calling it "Spring Term" is an extreme form of optimism in these parts, but as I pick my way through the puddles of melted snow and ice on my way back to the subway and my commuter train home I'm feeling a bit optimistic myself.

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