What does a librarian do all day? – revisited


Some months ago, I wrote about what I actually get up to at work.  Since then, I have had a major change of job, though still within the world of higher education librarianship, so I thought it was about time I updated this to reflect my new role.  My job function is known by many different names in many different universities, but essentially I am a subject librarian, with my particular subject specialism being health.  This is a surprisingly broad area at my place of work, encompassing various branches of nursing, along with medical imaging, dental practice, occupational therapy, midwifery, speech and language therapy, cardiology, operating department practice, paramedic science and (soon) minimally invasive surgery as well as health administration and other areas of professional practice.

The role of a subject librarian is not to know everything there is to know about their subject (that, after all, is the realm of the tutors, professors and readers in the academic departments), but rather to know a great deal about how to find information for that subject area.  So I am the first port of call for users struggling to track down evidence about the efficacy of a particular drug or therapy, and also the person who helps student midwives to carry out a literature review.  I am supposed to keep informed about new publications, and to follow developments in on-line information storage and retrieval.  If the government comes up with yet another new way of delivering health information on the web, I need to get to grips with it in order to guide students in its use, or in order to tell them that there are other, better, sources for what they are looking for.

I am responsible for the library purse strings for each of the departments I am attached to, ensuring that their book budgets get spent in ways that will be of most benefit to the students.  This can mean difficult decisions, as academic books are surprisingly expensive and there isn’t necessarily a huge amount of money to go around.  So do we order 6 extra copies of that book the students are always fighting over, or do we instead order 1 copy each of 6 books we don’t have in stock at all?  Sometimes it gets to be “both”, but when it isn’t, I am the one who has to choose. I am also the liaison point for health students and staff on all other library matters, including being the person who has to deal with any issues relating to fines and the like.

One of the best aspects of my role is that I get to be an educator.  I have written before about the educative role of all library staff, but for the higher education subject librarian, this aspect of work is more clearly defined.  I run workshops and deliver the occasional lecture in various programmes.  Whether it is training students on finding evidence for (or against) the use of particular treatments, teaching about referencing or lecturing on optimal search strategies for on-line information, I get invited to be a part of the student curriculum.  This is exhausting, but highly rewarding.  Much has been written about the “lightbulb” moment, but it truly is a joy to be part of the process whereby students understand something for the first time.  I am lucky to support a very varied bunch of students in terms of age, academic experience, cultural background and so on, which means that no two enquiries or user education sessions are ever the same.

I love my job.  It is not without its stresses, but it’s varied, fun, challenging and interesting.  I get to have a real influence on the student experience and to be directly involved in the education process.  My role is valued by staff and students and I frequently have a genuine sense of job satisfaction.  So I do all sorts of things all day (enquiry help, book ordering, teaching, classification and more), and I’m very glad about it.

    • Trish
    • April 29th, 2011

    I think it is impressive how you seem to manage to get yourself in the right frame of mind to carry out (and enjoy) all the very different roles in your life.

    There is a world of difference between the thinking involved,- mustering the patience to do detailed cataloguing and classifying, working out how best to entertain an audience, acting as a manager, singing on stage, planning a budget etc. It makes me feel tired just thinking about it 🙂

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