I bet you’ve always asked yourself that question. It’s a fair question. Librarians have all the illusiveness of a CEO – you know they do stuff, but what, exactly, you can’t say. In fact, the YC library houses over 40,000 books, 100 periodicals, newspapers, and countless electronic sources and media. You might wonder how all of this is managed on a daily basis and how you are able to get what you want so quickly.
To help answer this question and more, YC Library News sat down this week with your librarian, Elena Heilman, to give you the inside story of how she, as do most librarians, spends her day. It might surprise you how much goes into getting materials on the shelf or what happens to them once they get there.
Q: Describe your broad work responsibilities.
Organizing, cataloguing, acquiring materials, providing instruction, researching, assisting faculty and students in research, and providing the usage data that ensures the continued accreditation of the entire school. Basically, a librarian’s job is to manage the flow of information.
Q: Let’s break this down some more. How do you select all those books in the library?
So, for instance, a faculty member might give me a list of materials to purchase for a class. I have to first research vendors to see which ones carry the items for the best price. After I purchase them and they arrive at the library, they are checked against the purchase list for accuracy (this is commonly called “receiving”). They have to be cataloged (that’s when a call number, like the Dewey Decimal Classification, and subject keywords are assigned and entered with other information into Polaris for your convenience) and then “processed” (all the stickers and stamps you see on there identifying the item) before they are finally placed on the shelf. Later, after they are used for a handful of years, they are evaluated again for effectiveness (or “weeded”) and then discarded to make room for more new materials.
And that’s how items get into the library. It’s a lengthy process that requires precision, detail, and good planning. Although a librarian typically does not perform receiving or processing duties, she/he must still supervise the work to ensure the accuracy of the information that is represented in the library. Without that, you wouldn’t be able to find a thing!
Q: Librarians always seem to know where to find things. What do you do to help patrons find just what they’re looking for?
I provide instruction to students on how to use library resources, both as part of formal class instruction or one-on-one upon request, and, as people come into the library throughout the day. Helping patrons find materials is the most fun and rewarding aspect about being a librarian. However, there is a lot of preparation that goes into it. For the more formal meetings, I have to carefully consider the question being asked, research some materials that would help answer the question and prepare a lesson plan. For the drop-in questions, I have to think quickly, and strategize a bit. Research is a skill like anything else. Finding materials isn’t some random act of luck, but rather results from a sound strategy of analyzing the question, choosing the correct keywords, and thoroughly knowing thousands of sources.
That’s why librarians are good at finding things for you and teaching you how to find things for yourself.
Q: Books and periodicals are sort of on their way out in favor of electronic sources. How does this change how you go about your work?
I am constantly looking for new materials and technologies that will help faculty and students access the information they need. I just finished converting the library catalog to Polaris and setting up and providing content for the new e-resources. And soon there will be other things to consider, such as accessing the catalog using mobile devices, tablets, e-readers, and other technologies as they come up. The library is in perpetual beta, if you think of it that way. As technology and people’s expectations evolve, so does the library.
Q: Accreditation sounds like a big deal. What’s your role in ensuring the school’s success?
Everything we do, from how many reference questions we answer, to how many books are checked out, to who uses what in the library, is recorded as data to use when the school’s accreditation is up for review, every few years. I have to prepare usage reports, subject bibliographies, and other materials to prove that the library’s resources are current and relevant and that all necessary subjects are adequately covered.
Again, these activities require vigilance towards detail, solid record-keeping, and researching and organizing skills.
Oh, the librarian also does “other duties as assigned,” the administrative type work that keeps the library running as smoothly as possible. All in a days work. But you, hopefully, get the gist of it. The library’s contents don’t get there so easily and, with evolving technology, connecting students, faculty, and community members to those materials poses another ongoing challenge. However, as most librarians will tell you, a library’s materials are there for one purpose: To be used! And the librarian is there for a good reason too: To help you use those materials! So, a librarian is like your silent Jedi knight, working hard to make sure you don’t have to. See if a CEO is willing to do that!