Friday 8 August 2014

A day in the life of a librarian… Vicky Bird, SOAS

This is the first in a series of posts that will examine the work that librarians in a variety of fields, and at different levels, undertake in the course of a typical day.

Victoria Bird, Politics, Economics, Finance and Management Subject Librarian, SOAS Library. Friday 4th July

I work for the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies, in London, which has about 8000 students, roughly 50-50 split between Undergraduate and Postgraduate level. I support about one fifth of the total students. My work is varied- no day is the same, but that's one of the things I really like about it. Sometimes I get to help the students with their research enquiries, sometimes I am selecting stock for addition to the Library. CILIP have an outline of the kind of thing that Subject Librarians do on their website. SOAS is a really special place to work: we have students studying the most fascinating topics and I feel very privileged to work here. The day I selected to write about was 4 July 2014:

Delays on the train mean that I get in about 10am- when I am supposed to be starting work at 9.30am! Commuting from Reading to London is something I never thought that I would do and can be very trying, but these delays are thankfully fairly rare, and SOAS is a unique place to work, which makes up for the aggravation caused by signalling problems. I won’t be able to make up the time today, but arrange with my line manager that I will stay later on Monday. First stop is the kettle: after that start, I need some tea!

I begin my day proper by sorting out some access questions for a research assistant who is hoping to obtain access one of our databases. Like all libraries, we are tied by our licencing restrictions, which can cause problems for this type of user. This enquiry came in yesterday and has necessitated speaking to a range of people within both the library and the department to resolve, as our access arrangements have changed recently. I reply with the relevant information on steps that are needed to gain access to the database.

I then tackle the range of emails that have built up, which doesn’t take long. One is from a departmental colleague, who is responding to my email about arranging information skills training for her students next academic year. This is one of my favourite bits of the job, and one I want to develop further in concert with the department, so the email is very welcome. We arrange to meet when we both return from leave for a coffee and to plan!

I email my colleagues in our E-services team to suggest that we should consider moving DataStream bookings online, using Google Calendar- something we already utilise for personal diary management. At the moment, we rely on a paper booking system, which is awkward when I’m trying to book sessions away from the enquiry desk. We agree that I will create a prototype and then see what happens over the summer.

Next up is my annual reports. All subject librarians at SOAS Library have to produce an annual synopsis of their activities over the year- including such topics as book acquisition, training sessions given and so on. I scurry the last few points down and then submit them. My lovely departmental administrator came through with exactly the information I needed!

Between 11am-12pm, I am on the enquiry desk, covering for a colleague who is doing my usual slot later on in the day in exchange. It’s fairly quiet on the desk, so in between enquiries, I examine the content of a few eBook packages as I have some money in the finance fund I’m hoping to use for this. Some of the titles in packages are usually less relevant here at SOAS, due to our specialised focus on the Asia, Middle East and Africa regions, but eBooks are increasingly popular with our students and staff, many of whom have to complete fieldwork abroad- or may just live a long way away.

After my desk duty, I return to my office and Kobir, a colleague who is working on the implementation of VuFind (our new discovery layer) comes to talk to me about our plans for user testing. We’re also getting a new Library Management System- called Kuali Ole- so it’s exciting times for us and I’m pleased to be able to contribute to this project.

There is just enough time before lunch to write the website introduction for our new database, GTA China, which we’ve just acquired. This database looks at stock market data for companies in China, and is really very in-depth and detailed. Our colleagues in Finance and Management will make good use of it in their research, and a Master’s student is already utilising it for their dissertation. I’m looking forward to learning more about this resource.

After lunch, I deal with my book requests. We welcome book purchase suggestions from library users, and I have two today. We already hold one, but I place an order for the other title- letting both requesters know my decisions via email. It’s important to double check these forms to ensure that we are making the best use of our funds, as sometimes items are available nearby and may not fall into our Collections Development Policy. It also helps me to keep in touch with what fields our researchers are moving into. A timely and measured response is vital, so that researchers know what is going on and are not held up in their work.

I then turn to working on the VuFind testing documents. I have to draft a consent form and also draft a test document for those taking part to record their impressions of the new system- together with identifying any problems, in addition to the (hoped-for!) positive feedback. I send a speculative email to a member of the university’s Ethics Committee asking if they will be willing to look at this to ensure that we conform to the guidance for such projects.

Then, it’s time to hop on a bus to my Pilates lesson, having just joined a new gym (as a result of commuting and lots of very nice treats brought in by colleagues, I’ve got a little rotund over the two years I’ve worked here). I’m currently trying out all of the various courses, and this is the first time I’ve done Pilates. I find it a soothing antidote to the chaos of the morning, which eases me into the weekend. Thankfully, for once, the commute home is smoother, and I use the time to relax with – what else – a good book.

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