Last week I had the experience we all dread: a bad-beyond-bad reference interaction. The problems were twofold:
- I did not know enough about the subject of the patron’s question to be very effective (at least right away).
- The patron was very disgruntled and clipped, shortly telling me to leave.
The bulk of my customer service experience comes from a job at a college bookstore where I was regularly yelled at and treated badly by customers who were angry about book prices, glitchy financial aid systems, and a variety of other problems. Therefore I can usually remain fairly unfazed in the face of hostility. But this particular patron got to me. I felt very deflated and upset after the interaction.
But with the space and time to heal, I have been able to pull two positive results from the fiasco:
- The subject of the patron’s query was our new scanner. I, unfortunately, had not been able to experiment much with the scanner, which led to my ineffectiveness during the reference interaction. The next day, I set out to remedy this oversight – I sat down at the scanning station, fleshed out a number of scenarios, and typed up more extensive instructions, with screen-grabs, to post at the station.
- In an attempt to figure out what had set the patron off on me so intensely, I brought the interaction up to a coworker, who happened to have worked with the patron before. He assured me that the patron is one of the most difficult he has ever encountered and that it took multiple interactions for a sense of positive feelings to emerge between them. He explained that most of this patron’s questions are about scanning, technology, and privacy. It was at this moment that a fuller, less caricatured portrait of this patron started to form in my mind. This patron was not a spiteful, heartless person (as I had come to view them in my mind), but a person who struggles with technology and library anxiety and, while short on patience with others, needs a certain amount of patience from others.
All of this is just to say: while I dreaded the return of this patron for a few days, I’ve now come full circle: I want this patron to come back. As soon as possible. While I’m on duty! Instead of flailing, becoming flustered, and ultimately walking away on the verge of tears, I want to assert that while I may not have the right answer immediately, I can be of service and we can figure out the new scanner – together.
Last week I had the interesting task of creating an inventory of books that were originally donated by a retired professor. Many of the books were historic textbooks from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. I couldn’t resist peeking inside a few, much to my fascination and dismay. Want to assure yourself that time travel would not, indeed, be fun? Read a medical textbook from the 1920s; we’ve come a long way since then.
But there were also a few amazing finds that I couldn’t resist sharing with my readers. First off, the opening image from The Modern Apothecary: A Compendium in Four Parts (1941), which is a drawing of the “prescription department of the Wade Drug Company, Cleveland, Ohio.”
And the other interesting finds, which were slightly harder to inventory as they were never actually published, were a set of day-books used by a doctor (or multiple different doctors) from the 1880s to the 1920s. They are fascinating primary documents that the donor must have picked up at auction or an estate sale somewhere. Each details the patients, number of visits, paid status, and sometimes specific ailments.
It’s always a pleasure when archives and special collections pop up in unexpected places. Though I did end up with red rot all over my hands and pants (from resting the spines on my legs as I typed the inventory). Learned my lesson on that one!
There are posts all over the internet (many on my beloved Hack Library School) about defending the LIS field and developing your elevator speech. And while being prepared to counter the arguments of “Isn’t the internet making you obsolete?” and “Oh, so I guess you don’t want to make any money…” is definitely important, I’ve found some other recent conversations to be more interesting/engaging.
These conversations were less attack/defense than some can be, and instead about engaging on a personal level with people about their ideas about information, the role of libraries and librarians, and the connections between LIS and other disciplines.
The first example is a humorous one that I detailed on my Tumblr: an auto parts store employee, upon learning that I am an LIS student, exclaimed something to the effect of, “Wow, that’s awesome! Librarians make so much money!” This came as a bit of a shock to me, as librarianship is widely (and for the most part, correctly) considered a “labor of love” profession – you probably won’t become rich doing it, but you will experience intellectual fulfillment and you will be able to help your community thrive and grow. Rather than brush him off or counter with “What…” we ended up having a conversation about the realities of being a present-day librarian and how many in the LIS field are undervalued and underpaid. It ended up being an eye-opener for both of us, to say the least.
The second and more recent example came on a weekend trip with friends when, over lunch, one of them inquired about my LIS degree: “But you guys are doing some cool stuff, right? Since books are kind of going away? What do you have in the works?” It was, again, refreshing not to have to start with “no, my field is not obsolete because of the internet.” I explained that not all paper books are going away, particularly in the cases of high circulation copies of new books and classics in public libraries and of special collections/unique original materials. And then we got into the fun new stuff – digital libraries, e-books and e-journals, data management, etc. And we ended with a discussion about stickers (as an engineering tech, he frequently has to de-sticker things, which also occurs in the library world).
Both experiences were great examples of the changing perceptions around the library science field. I relish conversations like this, as they serve to clarify and expand ideas around what librarians do/can do/will do. Plus, they make me happier than the ignorant alternatives. :)
I’m back in action with an extra gig! This summer I’ve taken on a new position as a grad hourly at the University of Illinois – Chicago Health Sciences Library in Urbana. Basically it is a branch library of the health sciences library at UIC in Chicago that serves the branch medical program located here in central Illinois. So far working here has been a great way to expand my experiences in science librarianship, as the patron base, subject material, and policies/work environment are all slightly different than my steady gig over at the Funk Library.
My first big project was to help with the recovery from a flood they had this past spring! The library is housed on the 1st and 2nd floors of the Medical Sciences building. A few months ago pipes burst on the 3rd floor where renovations have been ongoing for months, leaking gallons of water right onto the bookshelves! :(
Luckily this happened during business hours, so staff members leapt into action and moved hundreds of books out of the watery area. Unfortunately many books were damaged beyond easy/cheap repair; therefore, the library’s insurance will likely pay for the repurchasing of most of the damaged books that the library still wants.
Thus, one of my first projects this summer was creating an inventory of the damaged books, including current availability and price, to submit to the administration and insurance company. It was definitely a dirty job (with occasional mold; yuck!) but also very necessary for the library to eventually bounce back. In the meantime, the construction is still ongoing (but hopefully now with less book damage!) and I’m on to more projects, which I will detail later in the summer. If you’re in the area, feel free to stop by and visit!
Library of the Health Sciences – Urbana
102 Medical Sciences Building
506 S. Mathews
Urbana, Illinois, 61801
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:30AM-5PM
I don’t often lend a great deal of airtime to local and state-level libraries issues that aren’t in Illinois. While there are exceptions, I generally assume that there are many local factors at play and I try to defer to the judgement and statements of the affected local librarians. That being said, last week’s news from California definitely caught my eye…
California Governor Jerry Brown appointed Greg Lucas, a man with no library background or training, as the state librarian. Now, as an Illinoisan, I don’t really have much ground to stand on here. Our “state librarian” is lumped in with the title of Secretary of State. And while I, like everyone else, respect and admire Jesse White, our long-time Secretary of State, it is a bit of a bummer that we don’t have a dedicated state librarian. Thus, I really envy states that are, by law, required to appoint a “technically trained librarian” to the position, as is supposed to be the case in California. Brown is skirting around this issue by insisting that Lucas will be “pursuing additional technical training through San Jose State University’s library science program in the months ahead,” even though he has had no training at the time of his appointment.
While I don’t want to be too quick on the trigger, I do think that someone with librarian training and experience would bring background knowledge and a sense of purpose that would enhance the position. While Greg Lucas is a political blogger and writer and, thus, may very well do an excellent job advocating for libraries and librarians in California, it still does not sit well with me that the governor felt it appropriate to appoint Lucas. Why should the librarians of California be represented by someone that has never even walked a single day in their shoes, knows nothing firsthand of their struggles and realities, and has not even begun his study of the theoretical frameworks and issues surrounding modern librarianship? It frustrates me to see this happening to my coastal peers.
As mentioned above, I usually try to seek out local librarian viewpoints before making my own decisions. I leave you with the thoughts of a Sarah Houghton, a California librarian whose blog, Librarian in Black, is consistently fantastic and insightful:
I am disturbed by Brown’s appointment, but will reserve my final judgement until we know more about Lucas and hear directly from him. Hopefully that will happen before his confirmation hearing [...] As a librarian it’s my job to advocate for my community[...] I, for one, am not yet convinced that this appointee is good for my community. I sincerely hope that he is–that he’s the best damned State Librarian we’ve ever seen. But until he is confirmed, I encourage my colleagues in positions of power within the state association and state government to ask the questions that aren’t being asked. Our California communities deserve no less.
I will be interested to see what becomes of this appointment, as I think it represents one of the key struggles that librarians face today: asserting and justifying our importance and value as trained professionals in our communities.
This semester I have been afforded an opportunity to work a few hours a week at my library system’s Virtual Reference Desk. While my normal job entails logging in to the library’s IM chat system (as referenced in my “Chat Reference” post), we at the Funk Library serve as back-up for the IM chat system. We usually only hop in and help when the volume of questions is very high or when we are referred questions about agriculture, biology, etc.
But the Virtual Reference Desk is the main hub for the library’s IM chat service. They receive and answer most of the incoming chats and transfer chats to subject specialists as needed. It has definitely been an interesting experience so far; being on the front line for virtual reference is very akin to working a physical reference desk: no matter the question, you need to figure out at least some way to try to answer it, even if that means referring it to someone who has more/different knowledge.
The Virtual Reference Desk is set up so that two people are always working, side by side. Each team is supposed to have at least one person who has done virtual reference for at least a year. I’ve found this extremely helpful, as I share my shifts with veteran graduate assistants and faculty librarians who I can turn to if I need help with a question.
So far my experience has been challenging, but very positive. The library where I work a reference desk is located near undergraduate dorms, so I’m used to a variety of questions. But working the Virtual Reference Desk has exposed me to all new kinds of questions, including everything from market data for cosmetic companies to digitized historical map access.
The other interesting/challenging part of extensive virtual reference is adapting my reference interview techniques to the IM chat medium, which is an ongoing process. It can be difficult to provide reference and instruction via IM chat because: you don’t know if the patron is successfully following along with your guidance; you cannot read the patron’s facial expressions and body language; you cannot point to specific links/buttons/areas on their screen, but rather have to describe such things and hope the patron finds them effectively. These issues seem trivial, but they definitely affect how you interact with patrons. And while I’ve been doing chat reference in a support/supplementary role at my current job for over a year, it is another animal when working shifts that are entirely devoted to virtual reference.
Overall, I’m extremely glad I have the opportunity to get more virtual reference experience and have relished the new challenges and experiences. While I may not be able to see my patrons in person, it doesn’t stop me from feeling like I’ve done some good and helped them find what they’re looking for.
I spent last week in Barcelona, Spain for a library conference! The conference was fantastic and my presentation went well. I was also able to do a number of tourist-y things throughout the city, including visiting a few libraries! So here are the top 10 reasons to visit the National Library of Catalonia, or Biblioteca de Catalunya:
- It is located just off La Rambla, a popular walking district in the city with lots of shops, food, and fun times.
- With roughly 3 million items, the National Library of Catalonia is the place for Catalan linguistic and historical research.
- The library hosts a number of temporary and travelling exhibits, so there is always something new to see and learn about!
- The library is housed in a former hospital building and the inside is truly gorgeous:
- The library still owns its original card catalog (which stopped being updated in the 1990s when the catalog became digital), complete with handwritten cards dating back to 1914!
- The library owns one of the oldest documents written in Catalan: the Homilies d’ Organyà, a collection of six sermons written in 1204.
- The library’s courtyard has its own orange trees! Maybe this is more common in Spain, but I found it to be pretty charming…
- The National Library contains the Frederic Marès Book Museum, a privately-donated collection that illustrates the history of the book from medieval times through today. Definitely a must-see for bibliophiles.
- Along with four other libraries in Catalonia, the National Library has partnered with Google to digitize and add books in Spanish and Catalan to the Google Books Library Project. Definitely a great access initiative that will open up Catalonia to the rest of the world!
- A local public library is housed in the same building; so if you’re in the mood for something lighter or less academic, it’s just a stroll across the courtyard!
To visit the National Library of Catalonia:
08001 Barcelona, Spain
+34-93-270-23-00 (ext. 3155)
Hours: Monday-Friday, 9AM-8PM; Saturday, 9AM-2PM; Sunday, closed
As mentioned in a previous post, next week I will be travelling to Barcelona, Spain for BOBCATSSS. I will be co-presenting a paper written with my advisor on marketing in library & information science education. There are actually a handful of University of Illinois students presenting papers and posters at BOBCATSSS this year, as detailed in this news piece.
Very excited to be going to my first conference; also, still very much in preparations mode, hence the lack of a real post. But(!), some things on the horizons for this winter/spring:
- Designing the table banner I have a marketing grant for
- My new second job at my library system’s Virtual Reference Desk
- The ever-evolving database instruction sessions at my main job
- My personal thoughts/take on e-readers
- And, obviously, pictures from libraries in Spain!
In the meantime, you’ll have to excuse my week-long absence, as I will be here: