Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Library Day in the Life- Tuesday

“Meetings and emails,” a colleague apologizes on Twitter. “Emails and meetings. I wish today were more glamorous.” I nod sympathetically as I take a look at my own agenda for this Tuesday- my Google Calendar entry for today is a patchwork of one-hour meetings, punctuated by hour long blocks of free time during which I will be making a frantic attempt to get everything else done… including answering the dreaded email, which I’m still behind on as a result of ALA Midwinter. Like yesterday I’ve gotten an early start to my day, neglecting my writing efforts for a second day in a row as I knock out some easy questions on the train ride in to work. It sounds funny, but I think the fact that we librarians have put ourselves under the microscope for the week has energized me in a way that is most unusual for a Tuesday morning.

I’d like to say that the emails in question were about matters so riveting that I just couldn’t wait until I got work to answer them, but in reality they were the day-in, day-out sorts of little problems that my inbox inevitably accumulates over time. I like to joke to my staff—no strangers to the challenges of time management themselves-- that library work is all about identifying the 10% of your workload that is truly important, but once you join the professional ranks you’ll quickly find that you have no choice but to distill that 10% down yet again. What remains is the essence of librarianship, which can so easily get lost in the background noise of any postmodern workplace. It is what makes our job not just another job, but a vocation. The rest is of course important, and as the boss you’re the one on the hook if the daily grind doesn’t get ground, but in reality it’s that quintessential one percent that gets us out of bed every morning.

Here are the fundamental questions of access to information, many of which we must wrestle with daily on behalf our patrons. “Err on the side of ‘yes,’” I always encourage my staff, mindful that behind the scenes we are an operation with a bottom line, obliged not only to satiate our users’ desire for information but to observe the limits of publisher licenses and copyright law. I think I actually laughed when someone first suggested that libraries should be run like a business, but as I walk through my ILL shop (yes, we call it a ‘shop’) I am ever mindful of the calculus of profit and loss. Are we scanning library materials as quickly as we could without sacrificing quality? Are we shipping our ILL loans in the most cost-efficient manner possible? Are we searching for our Borrowing requests against the right combination of lending libraries and purchase on demand vendors? These seem like questions more suited to a maker of widgets than a librarian, but if I do not take them seriously our ability to facilitate research—not just that of our own patrons but of students and scholars worldwide—is diminished.

And this, I realize, is the true bottom line: our ability to say “yes.” The fancy-pants term for what I do is called Resource Sharing, and my job is not only to share our resources now but to ensure that we will be able to go on sharing those resources long after my tenure. Every detail I sweat is another loan we can fill somewhere down the line- one more term paper finished, one more research grant approved, one more bibliography complete, one more happy patron. And this is worth all the meetings, all the emails... all the Tuesdays in the world.

(Thanks to Andy Woodworth for inspiring today's post!)

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