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.


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.

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.)

Scholarly Communication

So if you have the (mis)fortune of being a faculty librarian, you probably have some sort of scholarly communication requirements. I do. Peer-reviewed articles are the preferred mode of scholarly communication for my institution and position – but presentations and posters do count (if to a significantly lesser extent). I am working on articles, but presentations put one’s face out in front of people. And they’re a great way to put your name and specialties on editors’ radars.

So, I have had quite a bit of presenting this spring semester. So, on this lovely day at the end of the semester, I thought I would highlight my three presentations.

  • The Library Graduate Assistantship: A Crucial Supplement to an LIS Education
    • While undertaking their graduate studies, many library and information science (LIS) students seek pre-professional graduate assistantships. These assistantships can serve as excellent opportunities to complement student’s education and influence their future careers by providing them with relevant on-the-job education and skills. Graduate assistantships are a crucial to LIS education in helping new LIS professionals develop skills and experiences needed to attain gainful, professional employment.
    • Presented at ALISE 2017 in Atlanta, GA.
  • Setting a Course: Using Google Forms for Navigating Metadata for Digital Projects
    • Working with faculty and staff to create digital projects requires a complex group of skills and activities. Potential collaborators often jump to the end vision without fully grasping the need for proper description & metadata. Using Google Forms & Sheets is perceived as neutral and less frightening than working in a repository platform or using other proprietary productivity software.
    • Presented at ACRL 2017 in Baltimore, MD.
  • The Digital Potential: Making Digital Objects More Than a TIFF Image and a MODS Record
    • Many institutions digitize their physical collections. Unfortunately, once these items are digitized, they reside in a repository and act merely as digital representations of their physical counterparts. I discuss how libraries can make greater use of their homegrown electronic resources through collaborations between scholars, students, and the general community.
    • Presented at ER&L 2017 in Austin, TX.

The Trouble with Technical Services, Part II

I was contemplating a new blog post. It would be about analytics trackers for websites. The library is wrangling 3 analytics tools for various websites, all of which have their positives and negatives. I thought I would present briefs about each of the 3.

As I was thinking about this (at the moment) hypothetical blog post when I remembered an essay by one of my colleagues in Computer Science. His project is to write an essay per day. (He is rather prolific: he often writes more than one per day.) He writes about writing, about teaching, about information pertinent to incoming students, about information pertinent to faculty, and about computer science. Some of those computer science articles are for the strict layman – like why one should study computer science at a small liberal arts college. And then there are the much more heavily technical ones.

After writing a series of technical essays, he found that some of his more vocal readers called for him to return to less technical writing. He then wrote an essay about it.

And I find myself in a similar place. I like getting readership on my blog posts and, thanks to WordPress.com’s analytics, I can track that readership. I have found that certain topics get a lot of readership: the job-search and all it entails, as well as identity politics in the library world. Other topics can be hit or miss. But the more technical or nitty-gritty ones (my rare book stuff included) gets far fewer views than anything else.

So, would a blog post outlining Google Analytics, AWStats, and ClustrMaps get a lot of readers?

Probably not.

Which brings me to the question: do I write it? or do I hold off for something more popular with my readers?

I’m a tech services librarian, a systems librarian to be exact. I find a lot of these technical things interesting and relevant. The trouble with tech services is: it’s hard to write about it in an “exciting” way, in a way a general readership would like.

So, the next question is: who am I really writing for?

Make Work, Not Love

The National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate students at private universities are employees, just last month.  Now, graduate students – teaching assistants, research assistants, graduate assistants, etc. – have the ability to collectively bargain with their institutions.  The NLRB recognized higher education institutions as a place of labor.  Sara Matthiesen, writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, notes that this idea of universities as workplaces is rare in most discourses.  Higher education is often seen as a “labor of love,” and not just plain old labor.

I’m in academia, as a librarian-professor; and I must say that I hear the “labor of love” statement all the time.  Librarians are notorious for saying “You don’t become a librarian for the money.”

Every time I hear this, though, I want to say, But I did.

If I didn’t care about money, if I didn’t care about job security, if I didn’t care about (relative) career stability, if I didn’t care about healthcare and dental, if I didn’t care about a career that would support having a car and a nice apartment and a horse – then why the hell would I be working in a library?  Why the hell would I be working anywhere? If I didn’t care about those things, well, life might be a lot simpler – and I would take way more naps than I do currently.

The most recent time a fellow librarian said “You don’t become a librarian for the money,” I said:

“I wouldn’t be here if they weren’t paying me.”

And though I did not say it, I fully endorse saying “I wouldn’t be here if they weren’t paying me enough.

I love academia.  I love researching.  I love having access to all sorts of information, that my institution is paying for (not me).  I like the free gym membership.  I love knowing my colleagues are working on highly intellectual endeavors.  I love working with students (particularly undergraduates) as they stretch their fledgling intellectual wings and try to find themselves and scholarly resources.

But just because I love (or like) many aspects of my job doesn’t mean it’s not a job.  Just because I like my job doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be compensated fairly.  It’s nearly ridiculous to think that liking or disliking your job should affect your pay.  Do you pay someone more because they hate their job?  No.  If that was so, we should just find a cohort of really nasty and poor academics – then academia will pay better. (See, ridiculous.)  Whether or not we like our job should not be the criteria for how much we get paid.

(I’ve found put that even if the IT people like their jobs, a bigger pot of money can pretty easily lure them away.)

So, when someone tells you “You don’t become a librarian (a professor, an academic, etc) for the money,” perhaps think about telling them that since you are working, since you have a job – you are a librarian (or whatever) because it pays you.  Don’t let people devalue your career because it might be fun.

For today, I say make work, not love.

Robots and Your Download Statistics

When I worked in acquisitions, download statistics were quite useful.  They let us know that our massive digital collections were being used.  They are one of the most useful tools acquisitions can provide bibliographers to help bibliographers choose what subscriptions to keep, and which to drop.  They also gave us a glimpse into how people were using the digital collections, and how they were accessing them.  For example, in a pilot program, we wanted to see if evidence-based acquisitions (EBA) or demand-driven acquisitions (DDA) were sustainable and useful to our library.  The download statistics were useful, because that was how we knew what we purchased (or would purchase) on those plans.  We could also see how users were discovering our offerings; some of the vendors are able to give data on how users were referred to a source (via Google Scholar, via our homegrown federated search, via the catalog, etc.)  Download stats are cool.

The University College Dublin Library (Leabharlann UCD) hosted guest blogger Joseph Greene (Research Repository UCD), who asked, “How accurate are our download statistics?”  I know how valuable the download statistics were in acquisitions, so I wanted to know if they were actually accurate.

Greene focuses on UCD Library’s institutional repository – rather than a vendor platform like, let’s say, JSTOR – but he provides interesting insight into where your stats might actually be coming from.


Many organizations use bots to crawl the web.  Think, for instance, Google.  Google uses bots to trawl the internet, which allows them to index information and make it searchable.  The Internet Archive does similar, or link checkers.  So do scammers, phishers, etc.  From what Greene says, it can be hard to distinguish actual human users from robots.

Greene and his colleagues found that 85% of their downloads were from robots.  (Wow.)  UCD Library was able to distinguish most of robots from human users.  Greene and his colleagues will be presenting at Open Repositories 2016 in Dublin, Ireland to present on further findings.

Although I’m unfortunately stuck in the United States until my institutional funding kicks in, it would be cool to go 1) to Ireland and 2) to find out how DSpace and EPrints filter out robots in their statistics.  (I wonder how WordPress or JSTOR or ProjectMUSE or any other platform does too.)

Gender in Library IT

In mid-May, I graduated from my library science program.  With my graduation, I had to leave my graduate assistantship in library acquisitions.  I am one of the fortunate graduates who have a job all lined up; I’ll start in July of the 2016-2017 fiscal year (just a few days away).  I am going to be a systems librarian.  Systems librarianship definitely falls under technical services (my seeming forte at this point in my life), but it also falls under library IT.

Knowing that I’ll be working in library IT (and with campus IT), I was interested when I saw that LITA (Library Information Technology Association) Blog had posted about gender in library IT.  “Let’s look at gender in library IT” sums up what you probably already know, but it also points out some interesting things that I wouldn’t have guessed.

So, let’s look at some highlights from the post:

  • ALA is 87% white, 81% female (as of 2015 data), but heads of IT positions are predominantly held by males.
  • In library IT, men outnumber women 2.5: 1.
  • Women author 65% of articles in non-technology library journals, but only 35% of articles in library IT journals.
  • A lot of IT positions in libraries aren’t labeled as librarian positions.
  • Library IT folks get paid more than their non-IT counterparts.
  • But women and men working in library IT get paid, for the most part, equally. (YES!)

For more, go check out the blog itself.

My Acquisitions Graduate Assistantship

wordcloud (2)When I left my Acquisitions Graduate Assistantship at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (because I graduated), my supervisor wanted me to write up a one-page summary of the work I did in the Acquisitions department.

This summary would help her recall what I had done, in case anyone ever called her up to ask about my credentials.  And this summary might help to remind me of all the aspects of library acquisitions that I have experience in.  This reminder could come in handy if I ever want to switch jobs in the future; if I want an acquisitions position, I have a nice list of everything I’ve already done.  (No need to struggle to remember in order to fill out applications, or answer interview questions.)

My supervisor recommended creating one of these summaries for each job I have, so I can always return back to them and say “Hey, I’ve done that and that.”

So, I wrote up that acquisitions summary and you can find it here – Acquisitions Graduate Assistant.

eBooks and Money

I recently discovered the blog Good e-Reader run by Michael Kozlowksi, which aggregates news related to ebooks.  As I was perusing the site, I came across posts dealing with ebooks and money.  Being in acquisitions, I’m all about money and electronic resources – so this information stood out.

chopped up money
“Money” by Tax Credits. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.

Here are all of the different rates publishers charge libraries” lists what the major publishers charge libraries for access to ebooks.  My institution has the money and the clout to buy academic ebooks outright, for the most part, but most libraries have to lease titles.  And popular titles become even harder to acquire, and usually only through a license (i.e. the library cannot buy the ebook).  And these licenses are pretty expensive – like Hachette’s three times the price of print.

So, while I know that publishers seem to be stealing money from libraries with their outrageous pricing, I found it interesting that publishers are reporting plummeting ebook revenues.

How is that happening?  I cannot say for sure, but I have a few ideas:

  • For people reading creative literature and for people who need to read deeply, print is preferred.  (We see that in my library.)  Perhaps more of the marketplace is reading creative literature or needs to engage in deep reading.
  • People are reading less in general, so all sales would go down.  Or a certain demographic is reading less, which affects ebook sales.  (For example, younger readers who would use ebooks are reading less, while older people continue to read but prefer print formats.)
  • eBook pricing is too high.  Though ebooks take the same amount of resources to produce and market as print books, many readers feel that they get less value with the ebook – thus, perhaps they are returning to print because they perceive that they get more value for the same money.

I don’t know for sure.  These are just conjectures.

But one thing is for sure: it’s always interesting in the land of electronic resources.