Thursday, 18 August 2011

Library Day in the Life, Round 7

The Library Day in the Life project is now in its seventh round. Twice a year (in January and July) librarians, library staff and library students from all over the world are invited to record what they do during their working day or week, using blogs, Twitter, audio or visual tools, or anything else they fancy. Round 7 took place between 25th and 31st July 2011.

I first heard about the project, via a Tweet from organiser Bobbi Newman, a couple of weeks before Round 7 kicked off. Since I was new to it I thought I would observe rather than participate this time. However, once Monday 25th July came round and the hashtag #libday7 began ticker-taping through my Twitter feed I couldn't resist jumping in and taking part myself.

Another reason I decided to take part is that Round 7 coincided with the final week of my existing job (before starting a new job in the same library on 1st August) so I thought it would be a nice idea to record this; then, when Round 8 takes place I can do the same for a week in my new job and see how the two compare.

I work as a library assistant in the Technical Services section of Newcastle University's Robinson Library. (My new job will be as a senior library assistant in the same section). Technical Services is the section of the library that deals with the acquisition, processing and organising of the library's collections and resources (both physical and digital).

There are three main parts to my job:
  • Checking and editing records of publications in the University's research management system, called MyImpact.
  • Working in an administrative capacity on the University's institutional repository. This involves checking the copyright conditions on files that academics have uploaded, to make sure we can make them available from our repository. Often this necessitates contacting publishers to request permission or ask for clarification of their policies. 
  • I'm also part of the periodicals and ejournals team, where we are responsible for making sure that the library's catalogue and e-journals list are up-to-date and accurately reflect our actual print holdings and electronic journal access.
Here are some examples of what I got up to during Round 7 of Library Day in the Life.

Monday to Friday mornings

Mornings are mainly devoted to MyImpact tasks. As well as checking and correcting the bibliographic details of publication records held in the database, this role involves a lot of email support to the users of the system (the University's academic staff) - we respond to emailed queries about the system, help users add records for new publications and flag any issues or bugs with the Development and IT teams. The summer months, when many users are on holiday, are often a bit quieter in this regard and so it was for most of this week. We usually get a deluge of queries at the end of the holidays and the start of the new academic year, particularly from new staff who need to add their publication lists to the system, so this is a bit of a "lull before the storm" scenario. I took advantage of this relative calm and celebrated with a biscuit.

Monday afternoon

I spent some time on a task I've been working on recently which involves removing from the library catalogue redundant ebook records (i.e. those that had not been borrowed by users during our trial subscription to various packages and will therefore not be added to our permanent collection). I was disappointed to note that nobody had borrowed The story of Judas Priest: defenders of the faith, and now never would. With thousands of records to check and delete this was quite a large job. As I had other things to work on, my line manager later decided to share the work among other staff, taking it off my hands. I celebrated with a biscuit.

 No love for the Priest? For shame, library patrons, for shame...
(Photo by opethpainter)

I also spent a couple of hours this afternoon shadowing two of my colleagues in the periodicals team, who were showing me and another colleague how to submit and record claims for missing/late journal issues with our journal suppliers. This is so in future we will be able to cover this task in case of staff holiday or absence. We managed to find some written instructions on how to do this, in a now-several-years-old staff manual, so although they were useful we will need to update them.

Tuesday morning 

On Tuesday morning my manager asked me to sit in on a meeting she was having about the University's repository. One of our assistant subject librarians is responsible for advocacy of the repository (encouraging academic staff to use it and deposit their publications, basically) and she is currently putting together a questionnaire to find out more about our academics' knowledge and take-up of open access options when publishing their research, and about their opinions of our repository. As part of my job involves adding material to the repository, or helping/advising academic staff who are doing so, my manager thought it would be useful for me to attend as well. We spent some time discussing what information we wanted to find out from our respondents and between the three of us we came up with an initial draft for the questionnaire. We also discussed when and how to disseminate it (we're going to use the Bristol Online Surveys platform). Overall, we made a good start on putting something together. I celebrated with a biscuit.

Tuesday and Thursday afternoon 

One of our tasks in the periodicals department is sending issues of print journals to the bindery to be bound together as single volumes (and then receiving them again when they are returned from the bindery). We are pretty lucky at Newcastle University in that we have an in-house bindery; as I understand it, many university libraries don't and have to send their binding away to be done off-site, which obviously takes more time, probably costs a lot more, and means any mistakes or omissions can't be corrected easily. 

Check in and shelving staff remove issues that need to be bound from the library's shelves. Our job is to check that the parts or issues for each volume are there, are in the right order and are banded together. For some journals there may be a separate index, or maps or other supplements, so we need to make sure that these are included as well. We update the location for each volume on the library's holdings system and online catalogue to show that the items are currently at the bindery, so that users or library staff looking for missing issues on the shelves know where they are. Then we load them on to a trolley and once that's full (which takes about 50 or 60 volumes) we send it down to the bindery. 

When I first started in this job about 18 months ago, there was a large backlog of volumes (about 12 shelves' worth) waiting to go to the bindery. We (both me and my colleagues in the periodicals department and bindery staff at the other end) have gradually chipped away at these over a period of months (a bit of a Sisyphean task since, as fast as we can clear the shelves, new volumes are being added all the time). On Thursday afternoon I finally managed to catch up so that the shelves were entirely empty - woo, and indeed, hoo. I celebrated with a biscuit. 

Wednesday afternoon

An academic had emailed me 10 files (of the full text of some of her journal articles) for inclusion in our repository, so I spent some time this afternoon checking these. Most publishers will not allow the final published version of their articles to be deposited, but will allow some form of the author's original manuscript, so we have to check uploaded and emailed files carefully to make sure we have the permitted version. We use the very helpful RoMEO database to help us check the specific details of journals' and publishers' copyright and archiving policies. Happily, in this case the academic had sent usable versions of her articles and, after attaching cover sheets to give the citation and publisher details for each article, I was able to upload 8 of the 10 files immediately (one article had been published in a journal that didn't allow deposit at all and another specified an embargo period of 12 months before we can include it in our repository). I emailed the academic to thank her for the files and to let her know what we had been able to deposit. 

Friday afternoon
A large chunk of Friday was spent preparing for my new job by tidying up my drawers (er, my desk drawers, that is) and moving paperwork and files to my new desk (which is only a couple of metres away from my old desk). I'm quite an organised person so thankfully there wasn't too much rubbish to sift through. Unexpected finds included one box of herbal tea bags with a best before date of January 2007 (do not want) and one chunky Kit Kat I'd forgotten about (definitely do want). 
 No thanks
(Photo by clifico)
Yes please! 
(Photo by Aline Rebelo)

Later on Friday, ensconced at my new desk, I spent some more time checking full text files that had been uploaded to the repository. Most of these were book chapters or conference papers rather than journal articles so they necessitated a bout of emailing publishers and copyright holders to check permissions. As I bewailed on Twitter at the time, Friday afternoon is perhaps not the best time to have been doing this.

So that was my week. As I left the library I celebrated by, er, pulling the handle off the door as I was leaving the building. Then I got home and celebrated the beginning of the weekend with a biscuit.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Thing 11: Mentor as anything

Jack Donaghy: That's how you should dress for work by the way.
Liz Lemon [wearing a pink Chanel suit]: Yeah, if I was President of the Philippines.

Jack: Lemon, I'm impressed! You're beginning to think like a businessman.
Liz: A businesswoman.
Jack: I don't think that's a word.

Jack: Lemon, I would like to teach you something. I would like to be Michelle Pfeiffer to your angry black kid who learns that poetry is just another way to rap. 

I would totally be on board with the whole "getting a mentor" idea if, and only if, 30 Rock's Jack Donaghy could be that mentor. (Short-haired, salt-and-pepper version preferred over slicked-back, weird chestnut dye job version, ta). Failing this, I fear I may have to give this Thing a miss. 

It's not that I can't see the benefits of having a mentor: having someone willing to share their experience, knowledge and advice with you and take an interest in your professional development sounds great. And in fact there are people I have worked with in the past and that I currently work with who I admire and try to emulate (in what I hope is a non-creepy way), so I have certainly learned and taken advice from my colleagues and managers at various points in my career.

It's just that the hurdle of having to ask the question out loud is insurmountable: the very thought is making me cringe myself inside-out. I could no more utter the words "Will you be my mentor please?" than I could dunk my head in a bucket filled with those stringy black poo-bits you scrape out of raw prawns.
There's no way I'm searching for an image to illustrate that last sentence, so here's a picture of a hamster holding a cocktail umbrella instead.

On the other hand, I feel more comfortable with the notion of arranging a mentor for my CILIP Chartership. I think it's because the prospective mentors have volunteered to take on the role, and this, coupled with the fact that there are published guidelines for both mentors and mentees, serves to formalise the relationship, giving it a definite purpose and end-goal. And, happily, it also makes me feel considerably less self-conscious about asking. At least, that's what I'm hoping, since I intend to be doing just this when I register for Chartership in a few weeks' time.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Thing 10: Career, my dear

In Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, the main character, Rob, is asked by his exasperated girlfriend to compile a list of his ideal jobs. (Rob is currently the owner of an independent record shop, but is undergoing something of a personal and professional crisis.) The suggestions he comes up with - NME journalist 1976-1979, producer for Atlantic Records - are all completely impractical and/or temporally impossible, and he and his girlfriend decide he is probably better off staying where he is.

I feel much the same way about me and librarianship. If I had to choose my ideal job, it would be a dead heat between "roadie for Girlschool" and "taste tester for Fox's biscuits". (In my more ambitious moments I imagine combining the two: perhaps I could spend my days at the Fox's factory while moonlighting with Girlschool; or maybe I could take my biscuit samples on the road with me and get the rest of the crew to help me taste them.) However, vacancies for these roles do not come up very often - and anyway, I'm not sure the hours would suit. In their absence, I have always looked to working in libraries as the best option out of the choices available to me.

Dear Girlschool, further to your Job Centre advertisement (ref: MI/0002/1357) I enclose a recent CV...

This tendency began right at the start of my career, when I undertook my 6th form work experience placement at Northumberland County Library and very much enjoyed it. Fast forward three and a half years and I was engaged in the traditional pursuits of the aimless recent humanities graduate: a combination of signing on, desultorily applying for completely unsuitable roles from the Guardian's media section, voluntary work and a succession of minimum wage jobs in the service industry.

In desperation I threw myself at the mercy of Newcastle University's careers service. In the course of my research librarianship came up time and time again as the career most suited to my educational background, interests and aptitudes. I decided to bow to the inevitable, and applied to study for a one-year, full-time masters in library and information management (although I'm not sure I would have done this quite so readily had there not been a course - at Northumbria University - close to where I was already living and working). The Northumbria course was unusual in that it did not require students to undertake a year's traineeship before starting. Still, I decided I needed to gain some additional experience of working in libraries so, by the simple expedient of knocking on the door and asking, I got two part-time temporary jobs: one back at Northumberland County Library and one at Newcastle's Literary and Philosophical Society. These were in addition to my existing part-time job working in the book department of a branch of WH Smith.

For the ten months before I began my masters I was working 60-65 hours (not including travel time) spread over a seven-day working week. Looking back I'm amazed I managed to do that without becoming ratty and exhausted, but I did. It helped that I enjoyed all three of my jobs, but I think most of all I was powered along by the sense that I was finally working towards the job and career I was meant to have.  
The course at Northumbria was pretty good. Some modules turned out to be more useful than others in my subsequent career, but I met some lovely people and at the end of the year had the qualification I needed to progress. The cpd23 blogpost for this Thing says that 
It is becoming more and more necessary for holders of professional library positions in the UK to have or to be working towards a qualification in librarianship. 
I would say that the competition for jobs is so great that it is essential to have this qualification even for para-professional, library assistant-type posts, which is what all of my roles have been so far.  

I was very fortunate that, while I was completing my masters dissertation, a position became available at the Lit and Phil, and I was able to finish my masters and step straight into a full-time, permanent library job.

The Lit and Phil is a delightful place to work: it's charming and idiosyncratic, and houses a fantastic collection of books. Working on the issue desk you got to chat and exchange jokes daily with members who, collectively, were hugely knowledgeable and interesting and enthusiastic about their specialist subjects. In terms of staffing and organisation, staff numbers were small with quite a flat hierarchical structure. The advantage of this was that I got involved in a wide range of tasks; my main role was as an assistant on the issue desk, but I got to do a whole bunch of other stuff: cataloguing, working with rare and fragile books, giving tours, a bit of IT support, preparing displays and posters. The downside was that opportunities for promotion were rare (a vacancy might arise once a decade, if at all) and it was hard to find the time and money for formal training activities or courses.

After six years at the Lit and Phil I felt it was time for a change of environment. I'm going to have to draw a discreet veil over my next job (it was an information-type role, but not in a library). Suffice it to say that when I came out of the other side 18 months later I'd learnt two valuable lessons: 

  1. Don't be a breadhead, man (I'm not, particularly - who really becomes a librarian for the massive amounts of wonga on offer? - but it did ram home the message that no salary increase is worth it if you're not enjoying your job); and
  2. I really, really like working in libraries and am not really comfortable anywhere else. I like being surrounded by books and journals and online resources and the pedantic, nit-picky side of me likes organising and sorting and cataloguing those resources and the sociable, interactive side of me likes helping other people by showing them how to find and use those resources.
Fortunately, it was not long before I managed to get a job at Newcastle University's Robinson Library. This was a six-month contract, cataloguing a number of collections that were moving to the soon-to-be opened Great North Museum. As that was coming to an end, I got another part-time contract job, this time editing records in the University's research management system. Then I got another part-time job working in the Library's Technical Services section. This experience, I would say, is increasingly a feature of the profession (maybe of every profession): full-time, permanent jobs are incredibly hard to come by and you may well have to juggle a combination of part-time and temporary roles for a large part of your career.

This week, after working at the Robinson Library since January 2009, I've started in a permanent role as a senior library assistant in Technical Services.  I hope to stay here for a good while yet. Apart from anything else the University and the Library offers lots of opportunities for training and development, and I want to be able to take advantage of these. Once I've completed cpd23 (ten Things down; only, erm, thirteen?!! to go) my next goal is to set off on chartership. 

However, I do still subscribe to Rock Chick Monthly and International Biscuit News and am regularly scanning their "situations vacant" pages. Just on the off-chance, like.
Surely everybody's ideal career involves copious quantities of biscuits?

 (Picture by Caro Wallis)

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Things 8 and 9: Organisation inspiration

I would describe myself as quite an organised person. I never turn up late for, and certainly never miss, appointments, and I never forget to do whatever it is I should be doing (at least, not the really important stuff anyway). I manage this by having a reasonable memory, supplemented by an elaborate system of notes and to-do lists, scrawled in various notebooks, on loose bits of paper and on wads of post-it notes stuck around my monitor and on my desk at work.

While this works perfectly well, it is not the most efficient system and I am definitely open to alternative methods which are more streamlined and generate less paper waste. Let's have a look at the contestants shall we?

Google Calendar

I have briefly tried Google Calendar for this Thing and, to be honest, I'm not sufficiently impressed to use it permanently. For one thing, I don't really like the look and feel of it compared to the calendar in Outlook (which may just be a question of unfamiliarity). For another, my Outlook calendar is shared with a number of colleagues and I don't want to keep two separate calendars (while I'm sure there is a way to sync a Google calendar with Outlook, I just can't be bothered to find out what it is). I can see how the ability to embed your Google Calendar into a web page is useful if you're an institution or group and want to display your calendar to lots of people but... I don't need to do this.

I also have concerns (this may be unnecessary paranoia on my part - although perhaps that's what they want me to think) about the amount of knowledge Google increasingly has about me and my comings and goings. I use Google Reader as my RSS feed aggregator, so Google knows all about my blog-reading habits; I use Google Blogger as the platform for this blog, so Google knows what I'm writing; I have a Gmail account, which, if I ever actually used it, would mean that Google knew all about my contacts and correspondence. And now I'm going to keep what is essentially an online diary, so Google knows what I'm doing and when and with whom? It's like: back the hell OFF Google, give a girl some space why dontcha?

So I'm afraid, sorry Google Calendar, but it's a no from me.


On the other hand... Evernote, you're through to the next round!

I hadn't heard of Evernote before this Thing, but after just a couple of weeks I've fallen for it, and fallen hard. Oh Evernote, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

1. You are brilliant simply as a means of creating and editing text documents. I much prefer using Evernote over Word as it saves regularly, syncs my documents so that everything is up to date on both my work and home computers, and is easily searchable. I also find Evernote's notebooks much more easy to organise and control than Windows folders. I've now started a notebook where I keep drafts of all my cpd23 posts and am increasingly using Evernote to create and store work documents as well.

My notebooks and tags in Evernote

2. You've helped me to create dynamic, workable to-do lists. Previously I wrote a daily to-do list by hand in a notebook and crossed items off as I went. Each day's list started on a new page. This worked ok, but was a bit cumbersome, particularly if I didn't finish (or indeed start) a task on the assigned day and then had to squeeze items on to later lists. Referring back to previous days' lists was also what is technically termed "a faff". In Evernote I keep a note called "To do list" that contains a week's worth of daily lists. I can therefore see much more clearly what I've got to do in any given week, and can add, cross-out or delete, and re-arrange items easily. And, again, as I use Evernote on both my home and work computers I have access to the most recent version of the list pretty much whenever I need it. (I don't have a smart phone, but if I did Evernote would be on there too.)

3. Your web clipping tool is fun to use and is an elegant way to save, refer to and search snippets of web sites.

4. Tagging! I love me some tagging - that's why I have over 200 tags in my library and wept hot bitter tears the day they withdrew their tag radio stations. I have been diligently tagging all of my Evernote notes because a) tagging is F.U.N. y'all and b) it makes my notes easily findable and sortable (infinitely more so than the mountains of paper notes I previously used).

And there are many Evernote features that I haven't begun to explore yet - you can use it to save photos and scanned images, or audio notes, and you can set it up so that your email is forwarded into Evernote, and you can integrate it with your Twitter account and use it to capture tweets. There are some handy "how to use Evernote" posts here and here, but just Google "I use Evernote to..." for lots more.

Finally, you can even buy Evernote T-shirts! Is it totally sad that I really, really want one? (Actually, I think I know the answer to this already.)

Me in my lovely Evernote T-shirt (NB: may not actually be me)

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Thing 7: Join the professionals

Following Thing 6's discussion of online networking, we now turn to in-person networking and membership of professional groups and organisations.

Professional membership
I am a member of CILIP and have been continuously since I was studying for my library and information MA 11 years ago. I was a student rep for the North East branch of the Career Development Group, then continued to serve on the committee for some time after completing my masters. I edited a couple of issues of the newsletter, took part in sponsored walks, attended the CDG's annual meeting one year, and helped to organise the NE branch's AGM for a couple of years (I sorted out the venue, solely because my then place of work had a suitable meeting room and was handy for train and transport links).

I enjoyed doing it all. I felt like I was making an active contribution to my new profession and got warm fuzzies from the feeling that I was making a difference, however minor. In return I was able to develop and gather practical evidence of a variety of soft skills (organisational nous, communication skills, ability to meet deadlines). I had something to put on my CV that beefed up my day-to-day work experience and evinced a commitment to professional development.

And then my involvement slowly began to wane. For no good reason at all, really. It was quite difficult to get to meetings: the only evening that everybody else on the committee could attend was also an evening that I worked late, and it became a bit of a faff having to leave work 15 minutes early and hoof it across town. I gave up my committee position, but with the vague intention of continuing to take part in one-off activities like the AGM and the charity events, determining that I would reignite my involvement when my work circumstances changed.

That was in 2006.


I really would like to become more professionally active once again. I know it's a cliché - indeed I'm wincing a bit even as I type this - but the benefits you derive from professional membership are commensurate with the effort and commitment you put into your involvement. I am hoping to begin chartership later this year (it's next on my professional development to-do list once I've completed cpd23) and obviously taking an active role will be an important part of that.

Handshakefulness: a vital character trait for the aspiring networker

Special interest networking
I occasionally do a spot of networking in the form of attending conferences, training courses and suchlike. At the moment, part of my job involves the day-to-day administration of my institution's open access repository. There are quite a lot of networks and groups developing around repositories and the open access movement in general, perhaps because it's a relatively new, relatively specialised area and we are all learning the landscape together. A lot of networking takes place online, via Twitter and mailing lists. I am a member of UKCoRR, principally so I have access to their very useful discussion list. But there are also regular opportunities for face-to-face meeting. I went to the Repositories Support Project conference Doing It Differently last year and would like to go to some more of their events in the future (time and staff training budget permitting). There is also a group for repository staff at North East universities which meets regularly, and I'll be going to my first meeting in a couple of weeks. I find this sort of contact with other repository practitioners immensely helpful; apart from anything else it is reassuring to hear others' experiences and know that you are not the only person slamming your head onto your desk on an hourly basis as you try to decipher the convoluted legalese that comprises most publishers' copyright and archiving policies.

Going to the pub
Aaah - my preferred method of networking. A couple of weeks ago I went to the north east cpd23 meet-up, organised by Shannon Robalino, to coincide with this cpd Thing. Although I know some other regions' meet-ups were centred around formal activities such as lectures and presentations, ours was a bit more informal and basically involved meeting in a room in a pub. Hence, it was great. I swapped news with a recent colleague who's now working elsewhere, met a bunch of totally new people, and generally had a lovely time. There's talk of doing it again in the future (especially as not everybody who wanted to could make the last one) in which case I will be there bagging a table and providing the pub salad (bag of crisps, bag of nuts, shake together and then tear open bag to facilitate communal consumption).

The sign of a successful networking event