The Trouble with Tech Services, Part III

Every once in awhile I end up realizing how hard it is to talk about library technical services.  You can read about a few of those times here and here.  Well, today it happened again.

As the systems librarian, I handle – wait for it – the library’s systems.  And these systems all interface with each other in some capacity.  But of course, never quite seamlessly or fully.  And I have a rather decent grasp of how they all work together.  Maybe not every single piece of code, but I know how and what each system shares with the other systems.

book sorter
Book sorter, Ames Public Library, Rebecca Ciota, 2016.

However, all these systems and the myriad of ways they talk (or don’t) to each other proves confusing to most people.  Hell, it was confusing to me at the first get-go – and I came in with at least some knowledge of the monster I was dealing with.  People without a library or technical background (or both) find themselves mystified about our systems, what they do, how they work, how they function alongside our other systems, how they might work for constituents outside the library, etc.  And when faced with a room of library technical staff who all use differing jargon (but somehow we all understand each other), a lot of people get at best a little unsure – at worst, frustrated that we keep jabbering and they plain don’t get it and our jabbering doesn’t seem to help.

I understand completely and anticipate the variety of negative reactions people have to technical services chatter.  It’s why when most people try to get me to talk about work, I try to be as vague and nondescript as possible.  Launching into a tirade about discovery layers, Solr indexes, batch uploads, and a litany of other things…just doesn’t make good conversation.  (Ah, yes, the trouble with technical services.)

However – even though I try to avoid talking about the stuff to spare other people the pain of trying to decipher what I’m saying – I love talking about technical services.

Recently, one of my colleagues in the Art department asked me to explain all the moving parts of our systems to her.  I cannot describe how thrilled I was.  I drew charts on the board, explaining what each piece did and how it interacted with the others.  And I really hope I made sense.  I loved describing my systems to a lay person.  I got to challenge my own understanding of my systems when I talk about them to a lay person who wants to understand and therefore asks questions.

So, if you want to know about library technical services, set aside a good few hours and let we tech services librarians (try to) demystify parts of our job.

So, again, the trouble with technical services is that it’s hard to communicate about tech services.  But I like to try.

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Link: “Fear of the End of Reference”

Normally, I prefer to write my own content for my site.  But I came across John Hubbard’s blog post “Fear of the End of Reference” and knew I had to share it.

In Hubbard’s piece, he discusses how librarians (and patrons and faculty and a slew of other stakeholders) cling firmly to outdated information-seeking practices.  Like the professor who requires (physical) print sources when more and more and more information is electronic.  Or a patron who refuses to learn the new discovery interface.  Or the slew of librarians who would prefer to search in individual databases, rather than the more comprehensive vendor-provided search tool – which all the students use.

I loved reading this piece, so my advice is go and read it here.

Librarian Superpowers

At the Grinnell College Libraries, we are making trading cards (like Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh cards) for library faculty and staff – starting with the faculty.

With great research skill comes great responsibility
From the Florida Libraries, AskALibrarian.Org.

Well, it’s harder to think of superpowers than one might think.  Or at least, I had a tough time coming up with them.  But here are what are going on my cards – and a little bit of “why.”

  • Basement Dweller.
    • For the past 3 years (and for the foreseeable future), I have been working in a basement.  I think basements are just where libraries put tech services people. (Yes, there is a valid/good reason – but that’s for another post.)

      There was also this wonderful time when I was in a meeting with my supervisor during my time as a graduate assistantship.  My supervisor was telling me what a great time to get into librarianship it was.  “Librarianship isn’t sitting in a basement and not talking to anyone anymore,” she said.  I began laughing because I definitely was sitting in a basement and I definitely didn’t have to talk to anyone if I didn’t want to.  (My coworkers, though, were way too awesome to avoid, so I talked to them.)

      I am a proud Basement Dweller.

  • Technical Services Hierophant
    • A hierophant is a person who interprets esoteric principles and sacred mysteries – usually an Ancient Greek priestess or priest.

      I know tech services talk can be next to unintelligible to the un-initiated, so it probably sounds like I’m talking in tongues or something.  And when I’m trying to explain all the tech services stuff to non-tech services people, I’m definitely interpreting esoteric principles.  (I’d like to say they’re “sacred mysteries” but…that might be getting ahead of myself.)