Monday, January 10, 2011

Balancing Micro level vs Macro level work in the library

I've being thinking of the nature of the work I do for my institution and it hit me that one way to classify my work is to divide it into 2 groups. The first is what I call "macro level work".

Macro level work generally consists of work I do that has great impact across the university as decisions I make or help make will generally affect more than one person. They also tend to be fairly technical, seldom involving direct contact with a user (barring usability testing).

This currently includes the following

  • Being part of the web portal redesign committee (including mobile and OPAC)
  • Co-ordinating policy for LibGuides (Subject Guide) and LibAnswers (FAQ) platforms
  • Piloting chat reference, facebook fan pages etc
  • Running Twitter account
  • Basically anything else involving me trying to see the "big picture" and trying to see if there is a better way of doing things...
Macro-level work is extremely tricky, because anything you do..such as the decision to place a link to login on the right hand side rather than the left hand side of your library homepage, or to remove a certain link from the frontpage is likely to impact usage by thousands of users everyday.

Such decisions are also sometimes very hard to reverse for example the decision to go for LibGuides for Subject Guides rather than say wikis, so while it is an honour to be asked to help make such decisions, it can be pretty scary as well.

Feedback from macro level work also tends to be less immediate, and often you study the effects of the decisions you have made in aggregate, for example peering at Google analytics a month after a change to  see if there is any significant effect in page views. In some cases, that involve launching of new initiatives, you won't see any payoff until months after the project is launched and you have had new data to evaluate.

On the other hand, I also do "micro-level" work
  • Helping users at the desk
  • Conducting advisory sessions for honours year, graduate students, helping research staff with aspects of their research, 
  • Conducting classes to teach students and staff from basic orientation lessons to EndNote to Cited Reference
Micro level work tends to be personal, more individual. It's hard to say that the impact is less, though in terms of number of people you can affect it tends to be smaller then macro level work per unit time. That said, any impact you have when you help a member of your library is likely to be more immediate, more personal. 

Like most librarians, I enjoy the challenge of working my reference skills (woefully under-developed though) and derive a lot of pleasure from finally find the answer or data the user was looking for, but  I also feel wonderful when someone I have helped shows their appreciation either personally to me or even surprises me by kindly writing to my superiors to praise my efforts.

I'm at the stage of my career where I am blessed to be able to be involved in both micro level and macro level work. While some librarians seem to prefer one type of work compared to another, I confess I would be hard pressed to say which aspect of the work I prefer.

While the ability to make large scale impactful changes to the library appeals to the ambitious librarian in me who wants to move and shake the library, the personal human satisfaction of assisting users on the ground calls strongly to me as well.

As I remarked on my Facebook recently, "Best cure to keeping the blues away. Help someone.",  I really enjoy sitting at the information desk, and sometimes I extend my session just because I feel like interacting more. I love lecturing and presenting to users almost as much. The same goes for why I'm pushing hard for chat, twitter and Facebook accounts, why I venture out to forums, blogs beyond our libraries so it allows me to have more avenues to interact with our users. (Is there some psychological defect in me that craves to be helpful?)

It's clear to me though that as professionals it is important to do enough micro-level work, so we can remain in touch with the ground which will help guide macro-level work. Often I find that my judgement on macro-level work is a lot surer even without polling users due to an increased understanding of how our users think, and behave, thanks to doing a lot of micro-level work.

I suspect as most librarians climb the ladder of advancement, more and more of their work falls under the "macro" partly because their judgement has become better and are hence trusted to do more of such leadership and visionary roles and partly because they are too valuable to do most "micro" work. 

Balancing these two types of work is tricky and currently I'm unsure what, if any balance/ratio is ideal for a librarian like myself (3 years in). What do you guys, my seniors and peers in the library world think? I have a feeling though I'm currently doing a bit too much macro level stuff partly because I like to try new ideas....

Apologies for readers who read this blog for cool tech ideas/summaries of state of art in libraries and not for me waxing philosophical about librarian career development issues. New beginnings tend to make me reflective. I promise regular service will resume next week!
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