Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Monday- the Kobayashi Maru of weekdays

(I'm a day behind already, so I'd better get cracking!)

Every day starts with my making the rounds in the ILL office. I supervise a staff of four full-time support staff members and a roster of between 120-140 hours per week of student labor, so unless I'm on a deadline or I have a 9 o'clock meeting-- by the way, don't do that-- I spent the first half hour or so of my day talking to everyone and getting a sense of how their day is shaping up. I make sure to spend a little extra time with my student coordinator, as she is responsible for the hour-to-hour deployment of our student workers and is my early warning system for any large-scale problems that might be brewing.

Fortunately resource sharing is a field of librarianship that lends itself very well to statistical analysis, so barring any truly unusual circumstances we do a reasonably good job of knowing how the request volume ebbs and flows over the course of the year. Not surprisingly the summer is a slow period for traditional ILL, but our electronic document delivery service (Scan & Deliver), now in its third year of operation, grows increasingly popular every summer with our faculty, students, and staff as a means of accessing the Harvard Library collections while traveling or doing research away from campus.

Part of this Monday involves making sure that we will have more than adequate student coverage through August, so as to anticipate any possible surge in Scan & Deliver requests prior to the start of the Fall semester. Last year we found ourselves somewhat overwhelmed by the volume of requests, and aftering analyzing the factors which lead to our being unprepared we adjusted our operations so that any potential bottlenecks or delays would be telegraphed to the stakeholders in our department long before actual service was impacted. So far this year the new system has been working marvelously, and I am happy to hear that we should have ample student labor this time around.

After talking to my staff, I always try to check in with my own supervisor, whose office is adjacent to the main ILL office. This way any critical issues that come up during my morning rounds can be communicated immediately, so he's in the loop as soon as I am and he can support me as needed. It's also a chance for him to check in on my progress with any action items or long-term projects he's tasked me with.

On to my least-favorite part of my week- time approvals for staff and students. But I suppose we all need to get paid, after all! Sometimes, however, this very simple-sounding task can literally take an hour or two as I try to square reported time with our student scheduling software (we use Shiftboard) and the daily sign-in sheets, and occasionally I need to communicate with Human Resources, the Student Employment Office, or our department Student Coordinator in case there are any major discrepancies I cannot account for.

Enough HR paperwork and I'm almost excited to answer some email! This will be my first major pass through the inbox, so unless something is absolutely on fire or can be easily dispatched in a three-sentence response or less I will do a lot of color coding at this stage of the day. Red is for action items, orange is for items requiring lengthy responses, blue is for FYIs that I'll probably end up deleting at the end of the week, yellow is for items I should bring up with my supervisor, and green is for any email related to ILL payments (more about that later).

By the time I've worked my way through the inbox in this manner I'll have a good sense of how my day is going to go, and depending on whether or not I have any meetings that afternoon I try to plan my work around those appointments. I am lucky in that I tend not to have many Monday meetings, so I'm looking forward to buckling down and getting a lot done this afternoon!

All the while I try to keep an eye on TweetDeck to see what my librarian colleagues are up to. As resource sharing is a very outward-looking discipline I am encouraged to use social media to interact with my peers and share information, best practices, and discuss common concerns (I do the same with Facebook). I also use Google Reader to follow hundreds of library-related RSS feeds, sharing articles with others or setting them aside for myself to read later, and occasionally I will take a look at the ILL and public services listservs that I follow and see if there are conversation worth following or contributing to. Although listserv traffic on the whole is just a shadow of what it was a few years ago, sometimes I will encounter a colleague in need whom I can actually help, which really makes my day.

Okay, time for lunch. When I was first started this job I had a tendency to work through lunch, but it's almost never worth it. Would-be librarians take heed! You need that hour to yourself more than you think, so unless you really have to short it do yourself a favor and get out of the office (even if you are a good little doobie and you brought your lunch!). The reason for this is obvious- as librarians, "kindness is our chief export", and if you aren't mindful of your own needs you will inevitably be less prepared to meet the needs of others. Librarianship is a wonderful thing, but even when you're doing it right it takes a lot out of you. Be sure to stop every once in a while and allow yourself to recharge.

The afternoon is a blur. The major actions items of the day are statistics-related, so I spend a good hour or so designing the queries I need before I message our resident Access guru and set the reporting wheels into motion. All the while I am dealing with emails requiring personal responses, answering staff and student questions about how to handle specific requests, and speaking to patrons or colleagues who walk in with questions or who call on the phone or instant message me. It's amazing how much instant messaging goes on in our library nowadays, a marked increase from even a year or two ago. Since everyone had a veritable deluge of email and dreads the ringing of their phone, IM is an effective way to swoop in and get the answer you need without having to command the undivided attention of the person you're talking to.

I'm also paying invoices and making other important purchasing decisions regarding our ILL borrowing activity. While most of the items our patrons need can be found on OCLC and paid for via electronic funds transfer, many of them require more creative solutions. If a patron can discover it-- and trust me, this generation of born-digital scholars can find anything!-- they will expect us to make every reasonable effort to acquire it. And so we do. It can be exciting to go to the ends of the earth, but when it comes to paying for the timely delivery of these items things can get a little complicated, as financial settlement practices can vary widely... not just from country to country, but from library to library within each country!

Needless to say, I'm always extremely happy when a library will accept IFLA vouchers:

Is it 5 o'clock already? No, it's actually after 5pm! But that's how Mondays work in the Big Library. There's always so much going on that you simply have to accept that it's not all going to get done by the end of the day. Every Monday is its own Kobayashi Maru: a test of character under impossible odds. As the workweek progresses we will have fewer and fewer action items left over at the end of each day, and some days we will even manage to run out of work before we close up shop for the night, but right now it's about keeping spirits high and making sure that we keep the week as a whole on a steady course to completion.

When my staff and student assistants leave, I try to make sure I say goodbye and thank each and every one of them for their work. We'll all be at it again soon enough on Tuesday morning!


Jessica Olin said...

#1: Nice post title, espesh considering my current #nerdquest.

#2: Nice post in general. My librarydayinthelife post will go up tomorrow, and this one puts what I've drafted to shame. Revisions start first thing in the morning.

Tom said...

Thanks! Yesterday was actually so busy that I was afraid I'd never get around to writing this.

Now I'm very happy that I took the time. :)