A foot in each: jobs and careers

On the coattails of a science librarians’ conference in Upstate NY, I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between my job and my career. Sure, they inform each other, but they’re discrete. They have different goals and different circles of influence.

In one sense, I’m the Physics-Optics-Astronomy Librarian at the University of Rochester. I select monographs for one, two, or three libraries, depending on how you count. I analyze publisher packages. I do consultations and reference for every sort of academic. I talk with building managers about asbestos abatement. I move furniture. I talk with students about their goals. I serve on library committees. All of these things are centered on U of R, on making our Libraries (and my branch library) the best they can be. And that’s valuable.

But I’m also a librarian with independent interests. I’m fascinated by how students become acculturated into academia. I have opinions on how scholarly communication is changing (and how in some ways it isn’t). I serve in various functions in ALA. I’m interested in management and leadership, even though I don’t know what I want that to look like in 30 years. I see librarianship changing around me and I want to catch the wave. I try my best to pull my weight for my profession at large. And that’s valuable.

The line between those things isn’t super clear to me most days. I mean, I get that I’m paid to do things for my University, but part of that work is being an informed librarian who participates in the international conversation about we do and how we can do it better. Part of that work is inhaling and exhaling the profession. And as far as my external service is concerned, I wouldn’t have much to contribute without my 9-to-5. Theory only goes so far.

Navelgazing acknowledged, I have only been doing this for five months. I’m sure that things will become clearer over time. In the meantime, I’m just jumping in.

Adding by subtracting

Weeding is controversial. So I’m told, at least.

One of the first things I was asked to do in my new job was to trim down my collection. Space needs were a part of the reason, but more importantly, we were trying to clarify what was on the shelf: do we have what we need? Do we need what we have? Can people find what they need?

That said, weeding always comes with resistance. A library is for books, and look, you have all these books; why would you get rid of anything? Well, there are reasons, happily described elsewhere, but I want to key in on a particular objection: if we weed based on past use, how do we avoid getting rid of the very thing someone might need next month? Just-in-case is a pretty important argument. About 40 percent of the books in my library have never been checked out, according to our best records, and I’m certainly not going to discard 3 out of 5 books just because no one has stumbled on them.

With such a debate on the tip of every tongue, I decided to start with a much easier battle: duplication. Admittedly, there are good historical reasons for most of it: formerly-huge reserve collections, branch libraries consolidating into central collections, or donation-grasping. But now that we have reliable ILL and the Internet, I feel pretty comfortable putting an ultimatum on my collections: we only need more than one copy of something in two cases:

  1. More than one person is likely to want the book at the same time.
  2. The book has serious historical significance, so a copy should be kept for historical purposes, plus one more for circulation.

That’s it. If neither of those things apply, we only need one copy.

But how much of a problem could duplication really be? A really big problem. After a bunch of Excel-based ado, I have some pretty good estimates on duplication in my library’s QBs and QCs (my liaison areas), and it’s not a pretty picture. Out of around 48,000 items, there are about 5,000 twin (or triplet, or dodecatuplet…) items. More than one in ten.

Thence came a project. Since September, my staff and I have been withdrawing dupes left and right. By February when (I really hope) we’ll be done, I think we will have gotten rid of around 2,000 duplicate items.

Then, yeah, I’ll have to do proper getting-rid-of-the-last-copy weeding. But until then, I’ll happily focus on the easy stuff.

A week in and running

The first week at this new job has certainly been something. After a typical HR orientation (“We know that this isn’t terribly interesting, but someone has to tell you about MSDSs sometime, so grab some coffee and settle in.”), my first three days actually in the library were filled with meetings and initial training.

Oh, and the requisite technical difficulties. For a while there, I didn’t have a calendar associated with my Exchange account, or I did but couldn’t get to it through Outlook, or maybe it was server gnomes. Probably gnomes.

In any case, I’m surprised at how autonomous my schedule has become so quickly. The first couple of days were booked solid with the get-to-know-you sort of meeting, but after that, I’m getting to prioritize the list of to-dos and goals given to me. I’m getting to schedule these things on my own.

And I guess that isn’t earthshattering—I am a professional, after all, and I’m not sure what else I was expecting. I suppose I’m a librarian. I’m just not sure what to make of that.

Friday brought my first big project. I’ve been asked to work with a team of mathematicians on framing a metadata structure for a sizable set of homework problems used in a nationally-deployed online homework system. Woo! Metadata! I wasn’t expecting to be moving on such a big project so soon. I mean, I haven’t even been a librarian proper for a week. When I think about it rationally, I’ve definitely got all the tools and skills I need to work on this. It just feels odd to break ground on a long-term consultation when I’ve only just broken ground on my career.

Speaking of career, one of the reasons I started this blog was to have an outlet for the things I’d’ve wanted to be told as a new librarian. For example, the job search process: how does it work and how can you make it work to your advantage? I was lucky enough to receive a great deal of mentoring about that, but not all library students are that lucky. I think the student/graduate community is making great strides in harnessing the web for peer mentoring/advice, as with I Need a Library Job and Hiring Librarians. As part of that community, I want to return the favor with some stories of my own. Expect to see a bunch of posts over the next few weeks about what that process looked like for me, and what other soon-to-be librarians might learn from my foibles and successes.

Where’s the line?

You won’t believe how I struggled to come up with a name for this blog.

Well, perhaps you will, but I sure didn’t expect to have such a hard time. The title needed to express something about my transition from not-librarian to librarian—whatever that means—with a reference to something just obscure enough to make me seem well-read but still relatable. Tall order, that.

After banging my head against several bad ideas, I got to thinking about what this transition was, anyway. It all centers around my new job. Tomorrow, May 29th, I begin as the Physics-Optics-Astronomy Librarian at the University of Rochester. Over a year out of library school, I’m finally starting the job I’ve wanted all along. I’m thrilled and terrified all at once.

The natural question is when, precisely, that change happens. I’ve been calling myself a librarian since I finished my MLS, but I won’t be able to put it on a business card until tomorrow morning. What’s the difference? A paycheck? That seems like a lame way to define it. Isn’t someone with a J.D. a lawyer, regardless of how they pay the bills?

I know that I’m totally competent for the job I start tomorrow—more than competent—but I’ll be more competent in a few weeks or months. The common wisdom is that one never really arrives, never finishes becoming. I’ll be more of a librarian tomorrow than I was today.

So there’s the title. I plan to use this space to chronicle the journey.

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