What do librarians do and how do libraries work?
Ok, I do realize that there is no way this post can live up to its title, but this is in response to some friendfeed threads (example
). I suppose I can't keep giving people crap for not knowing what librarians do and how libraries work if I'm not willing to explain. I know quite a bit about how public libraries work, next to nothing about school libraries, so I'm really going to talk mostly about research libraries because that's where I live and the people asking the question are researchers. Most research libraries are in universities, but there are other research organizations like federal and corporate labs, hospitals, etc. I guess I lean toward how universities do things, because I was only in a government library for 4 months and both they and company libraries have some unique restrictions.
So where to start? Libraries connect people to information. Librarians touch every bit of this by:
- selecting information sources (books, journals, protocols, spectra/data collections) based on balancing
- subject (and relationship of subj to organization's research mission, vision, etc)
- customer requests, discussions with customers, interlibrary loan requests
- cost considerations
- measures or indicators of quality
- usage (global, local)
- packages, special deals, consortial agreements, existing contracts that can't be reduced
- global statements from management on what you're doing with electronic vs print or trying to build capacity or whatever
- our professional expertise
- government documents are just a class of their own
- getting things customers need, but that we don't have from other libraries or document delivery services and finding, copying scanning and sending things that other libraries need for their customers
- deselecting things (if only to send to off site storage)
- selecting finding tools like research databases - which ones, and then also which platform (for example, you can get Inspec on maybe 10 different platforms like Web of Knowledge, EbscoHost, FirstSearch, Ovid, EngineeringVillage2), once again balancing
- consortial agreements
- how far back it goes
- if it's standards compliant
- if it can be searched using z39.50, if it's open URL compliant, if it can be proxied -- if it will talk to machines
- negotiating access, negotiating licenses - here librarians are between corporate lawyers from the vendors and university lawyers, and also incorporating what they know about how the end users/customers actually need to use the stuff (like in course web sites or whatever), and ideological statements, and pressure from the selection folks to just get it done
- picking the companies that distribute and help us manage journal subscriptions (did you know we don't go directly to most journal publishers, but use a third party? we also use big distributors for books most of the time)
- paying the bills and accounting for things, managing the acquisitions process
- organizing information so that it can be found
- cataloging books, journals - this is very complicated, also standards-based, and takes a lot to make sure that things can be found by people who need them
- entering things into several content management systems - one that runs an open url referer (links you from a citation through to the full text), one that runs the web site, one that helps you track the licenses (some people manage to combine these things)
- changing all of the urls all of the time when the #$%^ vendor updates their system or the @#$% publisher moves to a different vendor
- see Catalogablog for some insight into being a cataloger at a research organization (small and not a university)
- building tools to connect people to information
- the online catalog, you know how it comes out of the box, right, needs lots of work
- the open url referer SFX thing? oh, yeah, that needs to be customized
- the web site? yep
- the federated search? yep
- who maintains the servers? do we pay the IT department, or do we have librarians with masters degrees swapping out broken drives - you'd be surprised!
- usability testing
- reviewing usage statistics, etc.
- refer to Bibliographic Wilderness for some more on some of this category
- teaching people how to help themselves
- quick 30 minute classes on databases
- teaching 1-3 credit "intro to" or "cheminformatics" or other classes
- teaching a session of every section of every engineering 101 class in the university
- consulting with individual students, faculty, staff, researchers on how to get what they need, keep what they find, and use it
- creating screencast tutorials, handouts, self-paced online instruction
- creating finding guides/pathfinders
- managing the circulation of materials - including putting stuff on reserve for classes
- collecting and preserving rare, special, or historical materials - everything from rebinding to specifying climate controls and security, to actually picking and using DRM, to licensing out materials
- collecting, organizing, and providing access to the organizations knowledge - doing knowledge management and archiving
- institutional repositories, well, see Caveat Lector
- sitting at the reference desk and answering questions and generally dealing with the public - unjamming the copier, refilling the printer, fixing the public access computers, keeping track of the stapler, getting the roof leak fixed....
- working as a consultant to departments and labs and groups and individual faculty on new projects, classes they might offer, assignments they might give
- working with vendors to improve their offerings, and to learn about their new stuff
- getting grants and working their own research projects to study how people use information, presenting to other librarians
- management, hr, strategic planning, development
- committees, lots of committees!
That stuff is university libraries - my job differs a bit because we all do quite a few things that would be handled by 5 different people at a big library. Also, I'm "embedded" and I do in-depth literature searching, and I'm involved in enterprise-wide initiatives regarding collaboration, enterprise search, and knowledge sharing.
Embedded means I'm actually part of the team. There might be a chemist, a mechanical engineer, a mathematician, and me. Whenever something comes up that requires finding or organizing or presenting information, I take the lead. In depth literature searching might be someone presenting a problem, and asking me to compile and organize and sort of summarize the literature in that area. They get the annotated bibliography I provide, and then see what they want in full text, I fork that over, and then they make the world a better place. I provide value because I'm an expert searcher and I understand a lot about the context of the organization and our sponsors. The scientists are so busy that anything they can offload to me helps. Once I grok what they need, I'm more efficient at finding things, too. And I charge my time back to the sponsor.
So, if you're a librarian, please fix what I screwed up (or, oh dear, tell me what i missed)... if you are a library user (or SHOULD be but aren't), tell me what more you need to know.
Update: I forgot ILL! Holy cow... added above