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We all talk about our jobs--obliquely at times, clearly at others--but too often we have no clue what we all do every day. What do you do? In more than a three sentence summary, with as little unexplained jargon as possible.

For my dayjob, I work in an academic research library. There's about 90 full-time staffers in my building, which is one of many library buildings on a campus of 40,000 or more, in a Midwestern college town. There are 17-ish libraries total in our system on campus, and many more libraries outside our system. It's nothing compared to Harvard's hundred libraries, but on the other hand, Harvard has a lot of dups. (She says, with a straight face.) There are about 400ish? library employees, and 700 student workers, maybe more now.

My department is both a production unit and a knowledge-work unit. One of our functions is for interlibrary loan, which means we coordinate the lending and borrowing of books (and other things; we call these "returnables") and also the receipt and delivery of articles and chapters (non-returnables). Our department is responsible also for an on-campus document delivery service, which means if a faculty member can't make it to the library, or needs something scanned from our collection for a course, we scan it for them. We also have a fee-based information service, which serves folks without a library affiliation (like law firms doing research for a case, for example).

I have worked every lower level position in this unit, either full-time or as a longer-term back-up, but I've mostly been a supervisor. Currently, my job has a nebulous title: I'm the "processing supervisor." Since everything has a process, and there are many thing I'm not involved with (which of course have a process), you can see the nebulosity. In brief, I coordinate ILL book circulation, which is something much less simple than circulation of our own collection; I oversee the shipping department; I manage 5 7 full-timers and about 60 hours of students. I also do anything else they throw at me, which goes from space planning to flow-charting to web design to random committee memberships.

ILL is something frequently ignored by librarians and library schools, which is one reason I hated the semester of library school I attended. I daily have to negotiate the preservation of books versus the access of patrons issue. I argue with shipping vendors constantly, have a ridiculous number of old Union List codes memorized (because they are the basis of the modern OCLC code list), know many arcane things about journal abbreviations, and have been to every library on campus many times. I spend a lot of my time interpreting policies and intentions for a wide audience, including my bosses and employees, as well as patrons.

Mostly, we facilitate academic research. Books come in, books come out like a tide; articles flow like a river. People get excited when we find rare or difficult stuff. SOME people. Others take us for granted, give us crappy citations and expect us to find their article, when there are actually some dozen journals with the title "Bulletin," and yes, the year something is published DOES matter. It's like working in a giant warehouse and being expected to find brake pads when someone told you they wanted a "a part of a car, nearish the tire" sometimes.

I don't worry about my job going away, as we have had major increases in some of our services over the past few years. Libraries make do with fewer dollars, and you may be able to get enough copies of articles on ILL to satisfy your patrons, for less money than it costs to get a subscription to said journal.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 8th, 2010 08:34 pm (UTC)

Also, I totally owe you a drink.

Edited at 2010-07-08 08:34 pm (UTC)
Jul. 8th, 2010 08:41 pm (UTC)
ILL is hands-down my favorite thing to tell students about. It's like library MAGIC.
Jul. 8th, 2010 08:45 pm (UTC)
It's totally freaking magical. We even have the cantrips to prove it (IFM! IFLA! Reciprocity!)
Jul. 8th, 2010 08:53 pm (UTC)
And of course, I know there are librarians who know, love, understand, and support ILL and such. :)
Jul. 8th, 2010 10:28 pm (UTC)
Well, I had a proper librarianly upbringing, so naturally I appreciate it. :)
Jul. 8th, 2010 08:45 pm (UTC)
I've never had to use ILL, but I love being able to "order" any book from any UM library and have it waiting for me to pick up at my library of choice.
Jul. 8th, 2010 08:49 pm (UTC)
That's not actually my department, but yes, that's a fantastic service, and I adore it!
Jul. 8th, 2010 09:07 pm (UTC)
I figured. That's why I mentioned I've never used ILL.

I'm an old-time Mirlyn user back when it was text only through a telnet connection. I just love doing the research at home, and the current web-UI version is fairly nice.
Jul. 9th, 2010 12:43 am (UTC)
I love you. Interlibrary loan made my childhood magical. MAGICAL.
Jul. 9th, 2010 03:04 am (UTC)
I worked in an ILL office years ago when they still used teletype. I liked seeing such a variety of materials pass over my desk. Fun!
Jul. 9th, 2010 01:47 pm (UTC)
Oh, man! My grandmother was a florist, and we had a teletype florist thingie well into the 80s. It was kinda magical, and I think spending time in the flower shop made me understand ILL!

Jul. 9th, 2010 01:54 pm (UTC)
I worked there in 1985-86. I remember my coworker was very protective of that machine. She hated when I used it. That is also when our office got our first computer to send the ILL requests. I think she was resentful of the new technology!
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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