A Day in the Life of a Systems Librarian

In the words of the Beatles’ song “A Day in the Life,” I “Woke up/fell out of bed/dragged a comb across my head…”

Back in 2015, I told you about A Day in the Life of an Acquisitions Graduate Assistant.  If you have been following this blog, you know that I am no longer an acquisitions graduate assistant.  I graduated from library school and started my first professional job as a systems librarian in July of 2016.  Well, now that I’ve been in my current position more than a year, I thought it was time for a description of what a day in the life of a systems librarian looks like.

server room
Server room at Royal Institute of Technology Parallel Computer Center. John Frederiksson, CC By-SA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

So, after waking up, falling out of bed, and brushing my hair, I either walk or drive to work.  And then it’s checking emails from the coworkers who get to work earlier than I do.  On Fridays, I run server updates first thing – before any library instruction sessions start.  That includes snapshotting them, running the updates, and then rebooting them.

After that, I have at least one meeting with one of my direct reports.  I have plenty of days where I am inundated with meetings.  Today, though, I was able to focus most of my morning on crafting an information literacy session on robotics.  Sometimes developing lesson plans are quick; other times they are slow.  The robotics one ended up going slowly because I found myself fascinated by the literature surrounding robots, androids, and cyborgs.

Then, I go to lunch with other faculty – a program designed by our dean of faculty to help build community and cooperation.  I like the free food and hanging with my colleagues outside of the library.

After lunch, I have another meeting with another direct report.  And then an hour to do data cleanup.  At 3, there’s a meeting with the library director.  By 4, I’m slowing down with scholarly publication, scholarly reading, more data cleanup, or finishing up various communications to my coworkers.

At 5, I try to “skip town” (leave work) and go take care of my horse and home.

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Things I Didn’t Go to School For

As I librarian, I start to wonder what the rest of the world thinks I do.

Yes, there are the people who say, “Ah, you must like books a lot!”  To whom I say, with a dead look in my eye, “I don’t work with books.  I don’t even touch books.”  There are others who marvel that I need a Masters degree to “help people find books.”  Others swear I must really like the quiet, and that I will like to shush people.

Those comments come from only understanding media-presented stereotypes about librarians.  We’re just (matronly) ladies (because men aren’t librarians) that sit around with books.  At most, many people only sometimes go through the public library and see someone sitting at a desk.  (At the public library I worked, it wasn’t even librarians at those desks but clerks.)  The “book-loving” and “shushing” stereotype comes from people with perhaps the shallowest knowledge of libraries.

And then there are people who I swear should know a bit more about libraries.  Namely, academic faculty, staff, and students.  These constituents are around the libraries all the time (particularly the faculty) and yet I have many a time marveled at their requests for the libraries.  Many times, I sit with the question (most often in email format) and wonder what my colleagues think I went to grad school for.

So, what are things I didn’t go to school for?

  • Extensive and authoritative knowledge of citation style and format.
    • First, I come from a generation who simply uses citation generators to create my citations, rather than knowing how to do it.
    • And where in “library and information science” does it suggest that we study APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, AMA, ASA, etc. citation styles?  These are scholarly publication/communication schematics.  So…maybe ask someone who works for those style guide creators.
    • Does anyone else in academia spend their time memorizing style guides?  Why would your colleagues in another department do it?
  • Knowledge of citation management software.  (I think this is somewhat related to the above.)
    • I know that oftentimes libraries will subscribe to citation management software.  Probably because everyone expects us to.  And we are one of the few departments actually considering how difficult it is to create and manage all these resources.
    • But librarians have integrated library systems (ILS) and a variety of other databases to organize information.  We don’t have any real desire to organize one individual’s collection of resources that they found pertinent.  (Unless we’re in an archive, but that still would have nothing to do with citation management software.)
    • I definitely did not go to school to learn how to “demonstrate” Mendeley, Refworks, Zotero, etc.  I did not go to school to even know how the things work.  So, when I am asked to give an instruction session on it, I don’t really know if I am all that knowledgeable about the topic.
  • Copyright law.
    • Librarians have to deal with copyright law all the time – from buying or licensing resources to digitizing for preservation or accessibility to circulating materials.  So, our work is very much influenced by the law.
    • No matter that our work is influenced by copyright law, we are not copyright lawyers.  And yet librarians get asked all the time to clarify what violates copyright, etc.  I oftentimes want to say, “Ask a JD.”
  • Teaching databases.
    • This is probably the closest one on the list to something I ought to have learned at library school.  Some library school classes go over database construction and whatnot.  And many of us would prefer less dreadful course topics.  But I have some training in databases.
    • Still, teaching databases is not something I went to school for.  I learned about acquiring databases and managing electronic resources in school.  And I took a pedagogy course, with a focus on information literacy standards (like the ACRL Framework).  But never did the pedagogy and databases meet.  So, asking me to teach databases is a little odd.  I didn’t go to school for that.