I sort of kept an activity log for Monday. My Monday resembled this:

8:20am: arrive at work

8:20-8:30am: talk to day supervisor about the morning and what was happening that day

8:30-10:00am: revised position descriptions, scheduled three meetings, updated gaming tournament, worked on poster for conference, read and responded to email.

10:00am-11:30am: met with department librarians for weekly meeting, worked on position descriptions, talked about activities, problems, planned services.

11:30-12:00: ran back and forth between office and circ desk to solve some patron problems and discuss strategy with circ/reserves supervisor.

12:00-1:00: continued working on position descriptions, conference poster, fielded staff issues, scheduled another meeting.

1:00-2:00: met with my supervisor to discuss issues, items, etc.

2:00-2:30: read and replied to email, met briefly with asst. dept. head and circ/reserves supervisor to address a problem with schedule.

2:30-3:30: met with colleague to discuss and arrange travel plans for ALA mid-winter, modified my hotel reservation, re-worked travel request form. Talked on phone with microform reader/scanner vendor and then with campus purchasing department. Phoned security supervisor about shuttle service and set up meeting.

3:30-5:30: finished first drafts of position descriptions, worked on committee charge, set up committee meeting, finished conference poster. Worked on statistics. Checked in with circ/reserve desk and ILL staff. Read and replied to email.

This was actually a pretty light day, as it was not back to back meetings. But, it was long and I got a lot accomplished. It was hard to capture all the informal, “in-between” meeting with various staff that takes place all day. If I listed every time I was asked a question or needed to make a decision, it would be a very long list.

I’ll probably do this again in a few weeks. I hope it was somewhat helpful.

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A Day In the Life

October 12, 2007

I was looking at my stats yesterday and saw that several people found this site when searching, “what does an access services librarian do.” I thought that was a good question and one I should answer. The short answer is anything and everything that needs to get taken care of. If that sounds like a pat answer its because it is. It is really hard to describe to other librarians, as well as non-librarians, exactly what it is I do all day, everyday. My job description gives some of the details. I “manage a department that encompasses several key public service areas: circulation, reserves, current periodicals, media/microforms, interlibrary loan and document delivery and stacks services.” I do all of those things, but I also do a lot of other stuff that doesn’t really fall into a neat category.

In my previous position (head of access services at another library) I spent an entire day tracking down a ten foot, 4 inch wide strip of wood that was mistakenly removed from the front entrance doors of the library making them unable to close properly. Depending on the size of the library I have either been fully responsible or heavily involved in the security of the building; being the liaison to campus police and the private security company. I’m one of the first people called when there is an emergency or problem (my staff are in the building all open hours).  I’ve cleaned bathrooms and picked up trash, at other libraries I make the phone calls to housekeeping and work with them and facilities staff to ensure that the building is clean and safe. I’ve moved furniture. I oversee a shuttle service. I pushed a golf cart down a ramp onto the back of a trailer last week. The daily activities vary greatly depending upon what is happening in and around the building, as well as with library staff and patrons.

There are some responsibilities that remain the same no matter the size of the library. I manage a staff who work the front line service desk(s) of the library. This requires a lot of coaching, training, problem-solving, motivation, and positive reinforcement. I troubleshoot and solve problems my staff are having with one another, the patrons, the automated system, a policy or procedure – anything that is happening. I oversee time off, sick leave, hiring, firing, disciplinary action. I attend lots of meetings- planning, updating, troubleshooting library services, events, issues, etc.

I write or respond to at least 200 email messages a day. I travel to conferences, write journal articles and book chapters, and mentor new librarians or those thinking about becoming one.

I laugh more days than I don’t. I have more really fun days than I don’t. I interact with almost every department and person who works in the library. I get to come up with wacky ideas for patron services and library events – sometimes we actually implement them. I serve on library and campus committees.

I guess the long answer is that an access services librarian is very busy. I personally feel that with all that activity and responsibility comes a lot of fun and excitement. If you bore easily, than this is definitely the job for you. No day is the same and it never seems to get old or stale.

Maybe Monday I will keep a real day in the life and actually do an hour by hour account of what I do all day.

I apologize for the hiatus. I was on vacation and then I was digging out from under the piles in my office. I was not kidnapped by the legions of cheerleaders that have descended en masse on the campus this last week (apparently we host cheer camp, who knew?!?!?).

During my absence a white paper was released by the Association of Research Libraries all about ILL services. I tend to like anything and everything that gives ILL some well deserved attention.  I had and have the pleasure of supervising truly wonderful ILL staff.  If you want to find a group of people truly committed to providing outstanding customer service look no further than the ILL department.

The paper highlights current trends in ILL citing that ILL activity is up in the United States and that the majority of this increase is for returnable items (books, media, etc.) versus non-returnables (photocopies of journal articles, book chapters, etc.).  The paper points out that the ARL statistics do not distinguish between returnable and non-returnable items, something I regard as an important distinction that should be included.

The article states several reasons for the increase in ILL activity:

  • an increase in discovery tools, such as indices, searching the Web, and Google Books heightening people’s awareness of publications thus requesting the items
  • research and academic libraries making the ILL process simpler, improving delivery options, and decreasing turn around time
  • flat or decreasing collections budgets

I think these are all very valid reasons.  The paper does mention user-initiated borrowing in its discussion of simplifying the request process, which definitely has an impact on the number of requests patrons make.  However, I think the increase is due to mostly to a combination of the second and third points.  With collections budgets decreasing or remaining flat and the cost of serials increasing each year, libraries find themselves deciding to either purchase books or serials.  The serials tend to always win.

In order to continue to provide patrons with the necessary print resources many libraries are looking at collaborative collection development where the libraries purchase one or two copies for the entire system or consortia and allow universal borrowing.  More and more union catalogs are being created to facilitate this type of discovery and borrowing.  As libraries collectively purchase more journal subscriptions they find the uniqueness of each institution’s journal collection decreasing, which in turn leads to a decrease in non-returnable ILL requests.   The uniqueness of a library’s monograph collection also has an impact on returnable ILL requests.  If the institution has the only large collection of a certain discipline in the system or region, it will probably be a net Lender and vice versa.

I could wax on and on about ILL for hours, but the bottomline of this paper is that ILL activity is increasing and the trend will probably continue.   Now why do I find this significant and important?  I have worked for several libraries where the administration really wanted and expected ILL to generate revenue or at the very least cost-recovery.  I never agreed with this idea.  Partly because the libraries I worked at were typically net lenders and did very little borrowing so there was never an even equation.  Most of the lending was with libraries and institutions that we had reciprocal agreements with so we rarely charged for the service.  I always felt that expecting a profit sort of flew in the face of the spirit of the service.  It really isn’t about making money.  It’s about providing the patron with the resource and providing that resource as quickly as possible.

So why is this specific trend important?  Well, it comes down to processing and delivery time and allocating resources.  As several of my staff mentioned to me after reading this, this is vindication for all of the work and effort.  Processing a returnable request is more involved than a non-returnable because essentially it is a two sided process.  There is the sending and the receiving of the item as opposed to just the sending. The more of these requests that come in, the longer the time to process them.  I think it is a great testament to the staff that even with this increase our turnaround time is 24 hours or less.  That is quite a feat!

Needless to say if this trend continues decisions about staffing, delivery and workflows will need to be modified and changed.  This is definitely a library trend to watch.   It is nice to see ILL get the recognition it deserves.  It is the one unit and service that, in every library I have worked in, was constantly complimented and recognized by faculty and students as the wonderful service it is.

It really comes down to simple mathematics and bang for buck. When I started my current gig I joined ALA after not having been a member since I was a library school student 6 years ago. Since my career up until now was in medical and health sciences libraries I was an active member in MLA and my regional chapter. I didn’t really see a purpose or need to continue my ALA membership and honestly, when I renewed my membership in February, it was done so rather reluctantly. I am still far from convinced that the $90 (it may have been more) I paid to renew is worth what I can get from the organization.

I am at a point in my career right now where I am happy and where I want to be. What I am looking for from a professional organization goes beyond networking and focuses primarily on professional development. I want the opportunity to attend (virtually or physically) workshops and presentations that directly relate to what I do every day in my workplace. Unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of that coming from ALA. There really is not a lot of programming devoted to circulation, reserves, ILL, staff management and customer service and this influenced my decision not to attend the annual conference.

Actually I broke down the expenses and compared it to the conference program. Here is what I was looking at:

  • 3 nights in a hotel ($199/night): $597 plus tax
  • conference registration (I wanted to see most of the program before registering so I waited): $200-$260.
  • travel (gas & tolls): $100
  • food/drinks/misc.: $100-$150

Grand Total: $1047 (this is using the low end of anything that had a range) plus tax

While it is true that my institution would reimbure me for some of the expenses I just don’t think that for me it is an efficient use of funds since after looking at the conference program, the sessions that I can say I would definitely attend are:

Saturday:

  • Leadership or Management:Which is it?
  • Diplomacy 101: Dealing with Difficult Customers

Sunday:

  • Transforming Your Staff
  • Moving Mountains: Exciting Trends in Library Delivery Services

Since these two are at the same time, I would have to decide one over the other.

Monday:

  • Access Services: It’s Not Just Circulation Any More!

This is one session that I am sad that I will miss as from what I have read it sounds very promising.

Now, before we all start arguing, I am not casting judgement on any of the other programming or assuming that it would not be interesting and informative. My point is that for me, these are the sessions that I find relevant to my daily work. I know I would find other sessions to round out my days and many of them would be interesting, however, for me, the expense is not worth it.   And yes, if I had started my job and joined ALA before the deadline for presentations I would have submitted something related to access services.  Unfortunately, I started around the same time as the conference deadline.

Instead of spending my money on the ALA annual conference, I have decided that the Brick & Click Libraries symposium is much better suited to my interests. This is a one day, academic library conference (they had me at one day!) happening at the Owens Library at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, MO this November. Since it is a smaller and one day event, the programming is broken down into concurrent sessions throughout the entire day. After reviewing the program I was able to find a presentation to attend during each session:

  • Are we having fun yet? Putting fun into the workplace!
  • The Impact of Usage Statistics
  • Wikis are Better: Transitioning from Static Research Guides to Wikis
  • Measure for Measure: Developing an Assessment Plan for Access Services
  • Digg This: Tagging and Social Collaboration on the Web
  • Enhancing Library Services through Support Staff Training: A Unique Approach

Cost of Attendance:

  • registration: $125
  • 2 nights in a hotel ($42/night): $84 plus tax
  • roundtrip airfare: $160 plus tax
  • care rental: $80
  • gas: $50
  • food/drink/misc.: $100

Grand Total: $599 plus tax

There are probably many sessions at the ALA conference that cover the 2.0 topics that I plan on attending at Brick & Click, but it is the sessions that are primarily about access services and staff training and development that make this conference valuable to me. And I can get what would take 3 days to see at ALA in one day at Brick & Click for less money.

My point in this post really has less to do with the cost of being an ALA member and attending the annual conference, and more to do with the fact that as a librarian who works in access services, I feel extremely underrepresented in my professional organization. Yes, before you even post it in the comments, I do plan on getting more involved in ALA, but I am not encouraged by what I see. I am a member of LAMA and of their Systems and Services (SASS) committee which encompasses access services, but I see little to no discussion happening. The other factor that I believe comes into play here is that most people who work in circulation, reserves, ILL and document delivery are paraprofessional staff who don’t belong to ALA or attend the annual conference. For some it may be the cost of membership, for others it may be that they don’t feel welcomed. Whatever the reason, I don’t think the number of ALA’s paraprofessional members are a true representation of the number of paraprofessionals in libraries.  We need some sort of group that is inviting to all professional and paraprofessional circ staff.  Something to rally all staff behind and to churn out more programming of our own. I want to be an involved and interested member of my professional organization, I just want more encouragement and interest from the organization’s end.

Wowzers!

January 31, 2007

So I guess I touched upon a good topic last week? Seriously, I want to thank everyone who has emailed me and left comments here for their support and comraderie. I especially want to thank my colleagues in the blogosphere who have pointed people in this direction. It means a lot.

Many people have asked me what prompted last week’s post. Two things influenced me: first I wrote it for my staff. They are a great group of hardworking people who, in the short time I have been at MPOW, have made me feel welcomed and respected. They provide excellent service and deserve a big pat on the back. (Aside to Jeff- Thanks for the blog name!)

Secondly, when I interviewed for my position I was asked where I thought access services fit in the library. I was delighted by the large number of heads nodding in agreement when I responded, “it is the most important department in the library.” As I met with administration and saw that my sentiments were echoed, I left my interview thinking, “I have to work here,” and quickly called a friend and fellow access services librarian to tell her all about my wonderful interview experience. At two weeks into the new job, I had another conversation with my friend detailing how happy I was with my position and we swapped ideas and talked about library stuff (y’all know how that goes). All was right in the library world.

I can not accurately describe the dismay I felt last week when the same friend and colleague called to tell me that she was leaving access services. She had not been enjoying the work environment for the past several months and the situation came to a head last week. She described feelings of isolation, unimportance, and a general sense that her work and her department were not of value to the organization.

This is a person who worked in access services throughout library school and really has a wonderful personality and customer service ethic that make her an ideal head of access services. Now she no longer wants to work in the department. That made me sad. And angry. And slightly depressed. And very grateful that I don’t work someplace like that.

So that was the impetus and judging from the responses I have received, a lot of people are grateful that we are finally talking about these types of issues. I also want to publically give a shout out to all of my colleagues who work in all other library departments. We in access services do recognize that without the work you do (selecting, purchasing, cataloging materials, reference, etc) that we would have nothing to reshelve, check out, or use to fill requests and no one to answer the patron reference questions we refer. The library would be pretty boring if none of us showed up for work!

While other librarians are busy teaching BI, answering reference questions over IM, or building the interactive content that will sit on the front end of the library’s website, we in access services are checking books in and out, reshelving the current periodicals, scanning articles for e-reserves, and searching OCLC to locate that article you requested this morning.

Sounds exciting, right? Makes you want to run straight out of library school and find the first job in access services. What’s that you say? Oh…You’ve never even heard the department mentioned in library school.

It wasn’t mentioned in my library school experience, either- and I have heard similar tales from other graduates. We didn’t even take a trip to the campus library to look at the ILS in action, or even learn what an ILS was. We get absolutely no love in the library literature. Sure Journal of Access Services exists, but have you ever looked at how many titles are devoted to all flavors of reference, education, collection management and digital collection development?!

Making us feel even more like red-headed stepchildren is the fact that our national association doesn’t even have a committee or special interest group devoted to access services. Yes, there is a discussion group that can meet (if there is any interest) at the annual meeting, but there is nothing formal. I have lived in three different states and none of the chapters have had a circulation/reserves committee. I will give some credit however to the fact that ILL/document delivery does seem to get more love in being recognized as “resource sharing” and committees, task forces, and special interest groups devoted to the concept do exist.

 

Taking all of this into consideration, some in access services can’t help but wonder sometimes if what they do matters. Is it important? Do other librarians think it is important? Are we not “real” librarians, just like those working in any other part of the library?

I call this our professional self-esteem issue. It has been known to poke its head out during conferences when we are surrounded by people with really snazzy job titles, who sound like they do really exciting things with technology.

An interesting phenomenon I have noticed at several libraries is that the staff in access services often feels this way about how their work is perceived. Worse, the perception is sometimes taken seriously by others, leading to those in access services being treated differently, thus reinforcing the problem

All right, so we don’t get to play with sexy technology all day, nor do we spend the bulk of our time in a classroom with students, and as a department we often have the highest concentration of non-professionals. So what? Here’s a sampling of what would happen if we all went away for just a little while:

  • Books would not be checked in or out
  • Books would not be reshelved
  • Current periodicals would not be shelved
  • Fines would not be collected
  • Articles or books from other libraries would not be acquired
  • Other libraries would not get materials from our collection
  • The stacks would be a mess
  • Reserve materials would never get processed
  • Alarms would not be reset
  • Signs would not be updated, removed, or replaced
  • New patrons would not be registered
  • Microforms would not be reshelved
  • That leak in the bathroom would not get called in
  • That book you put on hold would not be retrieved from the stacks

Okay so maybe this is somewhat snarky, but it makes a point. What we do matters and is important. We are as essential to the functions of the library as any other service. The library couldn’t function without us. We’re the “go-to guys.” New service? No problem, we can make it happen. We say “yes,” a lot because we care about serving our patrons and assisting them in any way can.

I am extremely fortunate to work in a library that is dedicated to creating and sustaining a culture where every individual (and every service) has value. My job is to make sure that message makes its way down to the staff in the trenches. I don’t get to spend the bulk of my time using virtual reference tools, or create library Flickr sites (valuable tools in their own rights), but I do spend much of my day running around putting out fires, answering questions, listening to complaints, making improvements, creating and implementing new services, and making sure that my staff feel proud of themselves and the work they do. That pride translates into the right kind of customer service, too. When patrons compliment the library for the fast, friendly service they got? That was (more than likely) us.

So this access services self-esteem problem has got to end. Soon. Now would be good.

Access Services 2.0

January 12, 2007

You knew it was coming….

In the entry for Library 2.0 the Wikipedia states:

“With Library 2.0, library services are frequently evaluated and updated to meet the changing needs of library users. Library 2.0 also calls for libraries to encourage user participation and feedback in the development and maintaining of library services. The active and empowered library user is a significant component of Library 2.0. With information and ideas flowing in both directions – from the library to the user and from the user to the library – library services have the ability to evolve and improve on a constant and rapid basis. The user is participant, co-creator, builder and consultant – whether the product is virtual or physical.”

Call me crazy, but this sounds a lot like what we do in access services every day. I admit, I am completely biased in my opinion for I truly love working in access services, so my feelings may seem extremely strong. I believe that the access services department is the public face of the library. We are sitting right there at that big desk when you walk in the doors. We are usually the first library staff you notice and typically answer a patron’s first round of questions.

So can access services be included in Library 2.0? This is an interesting question that I have thought about for a long time. 99% of our interactions with patrons are transactional or directional. We check books in and out, we get LL materials, we direct patrons to the bathrooms, photocopiers or reference desk. The remaining .1% is slightly more involved than a transaction – we instruct patrons in how to lookup reserve materials or a book’s call number in the OPAC, we’ll show patrons how to access electronic reserves materials, we answer questions about authenticating into the library network, etc. Those types of interactions take a bit longer than a simple checking out of materials, but unlike reference interactions that can continue over lengthy periods of time (whether it is a term paper, or a research project over a semester), there seems to be a definitive start and end to our experiences.

To simplify it, we are a customer service desk. We handle questions and complaints all day and all night. If something goes wrong it is usually immediately apparent. In a lot of ways, how well we are doing our jobs can be gauged very simply. Go up into the stacks – is there a huge backlog of shelving? Is the director receiving complaints of rudeness? Is it taking three months for you to get that book you ordered through ILL? Sure we collect all sorts of fun statistics to illustrate what we do and how well we are doing it, but really, if a patron has a complaint it will get voiced.

So how does this fit into the 2.0 concept? Well, I can’t think of a better place where user feedback and participation is used to improve library services. We hear about all sorts of problems at the circ/reserves desk. The ones we can fix, we do. The ones that require a little more effort or another department, we pass along or work together for change and improvement. The reward is that a lot of times the improvement or change in service is immediately apparent and we get instant feedback. Since we’re the public face we have a built-in feedback loop. People have no problem expressing their anger or disapointment with a service or policy. One of the nice things I have discovered in working in access services is that most people also don’t have a problem expressing gratitude or happiness with an improvement or change.

I think a lot about the tools of Library 2.0 (IM, wikis, blogs, podcasts) and I try to think of ways that we could integrate them into our work. It is hard to find a way to utilize web-based tools when so much of our work requires us to physically be on the move. We run around shelving books, retrieving them from book drops and then checking them in, checking materials out, processing ILL materials. It is hard to find chunks of time where we can sit in front of a computer and play with the technology. Don’t get me wrong, we have our down times when the desk is quiet, but usually when that happens we catch up on shelving, scanning reserve materials, or repairing damaged books.

At a recent meeting, some of my staff expressed an interest in using IM internally to help answer questions at the desk. For example if someone comes to the circulation desk with a question about their ILLiad profile, the circulation clerk could IM someone downstairs in the ILL office and get a quick answer for the patron. This sounds like a great idea, yet I wonder if picking up the phone and calling would be quicker? I do see the advantage to having an internal department wiki where we can house all of the knowledge that our large staff posesses, but how could we benefit from one that is open to the public?  Isn’t it easier to just call, walk-in or email a complaint?

So if Library 2.0 is built mainly upon the idea of building community through positive and meaningful interactions with users, then I think we have been doing this in access services forever. We may not need all the spanky tools, but I think we are masters at the concept.

Obligatory Explanation Post

January 12, 2007

Why another library blog? To be honest, I don’t think the world needs another library blog, but I certainly think there needs to be a library blog that focuses primarily on access services. This blog will not contain moaning and groaning about patrons, interactions with other library staff, or just grumpiness in general. My purpose in starting this blog was to discuss the “real life” issues that we deal with at the circ/reserves desk everyday and the views about everything from technology to team building that impact the access services department.

I manage a very large staff and department. I would like to share what works, what doesn’t work, the major issues and ideas that are happening in my library in the hopes that othes will benefit and share as well.