Saturday, February 15, 2014

Day in the life of a librarian - An academic librarian in Singapore 2014

Even though the Day in the life of a librarian project by by Bobbi Newman has ended, I have decided to continue this tradition to post about my day to day work every January.

I've was told that my blog posts are useful as a snapshot of the type of work academic librarians do in Singapore. While you can find information on what academic librarians do on the web, people interested in academic librarianship in Singapore, might be wondering if it applies here as well and the answer is as far as I can tell comparing notes with international colleagues, yes, our job scopes and tasks are mostly similar (barring differences as we are not faculty like some but then again not all of the US academic librarians are that either).

Here are past editions.
As usual, I am reconstructing a lot of it from my emails, calender etc.

Jan 20, Monday

My standard routine every morning hasn't changed much. Below is from the 2013 edition.

"As per my normal practice, I spend the first 10-20 minutes each day looking at search queries made in our FAQ system (on LibAnswers platform) , looking at Google Analytics to see which pages are most popular in various systems like our guides, faq, portal etc (particularly important this period so we can react quickly to developing situations) or to see the response to our marketing via email of certain pages .

Also for the past 6 months, I added an additional routine of trying out sample queries done by our users on our new discovery system to ensure nothing strange is happening. "

By now though, we have more than a year of official use of our discovery system Summon, so I pretty much have a system in place for noticing out of the ordinary searches that indicate a user is having problems with a query and this time I noticed abnormally high number of queries (or rather refinements) for searches related to Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) and Early English books online (EEBO) databases.

And when I checked I realized the problem wasn't that users couldn't find the entry in Summon (occasionally results might be buried and I need to create best bet or recommendation), but that rather the link displayed was broken.

So I email our eresources management team to updated the broken links in 360core (The default URL needed to be changed slightly).

I also spent some time via email arranging & confirming schedules for

  • A meetup with a new research staff - he wanted a quick session on EndNote
  • Confirming a meeting at the NUS Bukit Timah Campus to meet up with 2 new tutors and to give a lecture/briefing on Summon 2.0 which we just soft launched.
Answered a request to attend a meeting on evaluation of a new electronic tool.

Officially amended a popular FAQ on wireless access.

Today, I was also scheduled to do chat duty, which is one of my most favorite activities. There was the typical mix of questions about eresource access issues, passwords and the odd question from non-nus community people (including librarians and library students).


Jan 21, Tuesday

Received an email that I would be reappointed to the "Bibliometric Team". In a way this is nothing really new, I was a member of the previously named "Cited Reference team" since 2009, holding workshops on use of Scopus, Web of Science and recently Google Scholar to obtain citation metrics. More interesting, was the announcement of a big umbrella "Scholarly Communication Committee" under which Bibliometrics would be placed under.

Most of the pieces were already there, eg Team on Institutional Repositories, promotions etc, this just pulls it together. 

This morning, I also visited the NUS Bukit Timah Campus to meet up with 2 tutors and then give a talk on Summon 2.0 to students. Pretty productive meeting.

Produced statistics on demand for a project.


Jan 22, Wednesday

Struggling with the fact that the new lexis-academic interface accidentally broke our one-click 360 linking link resolver from Summon. Of course, we reported it the moment we found out to Serialsolutions (Now known as Proquest - see press release) because it affected linking to Straits Times (the national daily here) and was drawing some questions.

Of course, Serialssolutions acknowledged the problem, when we reported but based on past experience, it would take months for the linker to be updated. I tried to mitigate this by changing the database order in 360link to go to Factiva instead which had the same paper.

But today I got smart and tested Factiva, and it was broken too. Hmm. (See what I did on Friday)

Today is the day for information advisories, where I was scheduled for 2 face to face meetings with a student and a research staff.

First up in the morning was with a Phd student who wanted to trace a particular idea and terminology that spanned two different domains. The person wanted to see if there was any writings in the literature that mentioned explicitly that link. 

Incidentally, this resulted from a chat query we received last week after which the person requested for a face to face meeting as this obviously wasn't something to settle over chat.

I am not a subject expert by any means and knew zero about one domain and had a small amount of knowledge of the other due to some past personal interest. I of course did a quick read over a few days of the phd student's topic.

One of the things I've started to realize over the years is that assisting a patron is not always a matter of
  • asking for keywords
  • selecting a suitable database , tossing in different keywords & all the fancy search syntax
  • sending the resulting query to the user
This is not to say that this procedure has no value , tons of students are searching in obviously the wrong places so the moment you give them a search string in the right source, they get tons of exactly what they want and will just go "Oh Thanks great!" and disappear (especially via chat)

That's usually fine if you are talking about essay writing assignments .

The problem is when you are helping someone at a higher level and they are searching the obviously right places but can't find anything that is along the lines of "This paper PROVES exactly what I want to say".

My strategy in such situations is to try to leverage on the person's expertise (this phd student has given a talk on this very topic!) and try to ask questions - how did you come up with this idea of this linkage? Were you inspired by a certain book or article? (These may actually provide good starting points) etc to understand where the person is coming from and to suggest less direct approaches to give support to what the person is trying to say.

By serving as a non-threatening source to bounce ideas off, hopefully the beginning researcher benefits. 

At the end of the session after trying various techniques I knew of to try to find cross-disciplinary research and coming up with very little, we agreed that the idea of the link between the two domains seems obvious but as far as we could tell it has never being explored directly and probably would have to look at it more indirectly (e.g Literature on the idea of how terms and ideas are transferred from one domain to another definitely exist just not it seems in the 2 domains she was studying). 

It's somewhat touching to see some graduate students think we librarians have some super power and if they fail to find something it is because they are doing it wrong, so they feel assured when they are told that's not always true (this particular person has had help from other librarians as well before so she was definitely searching the usual suspects). Of course, it may be possible the exact thing the person one does exist  but I would wager probably not in a direct manner. 

In the afternoon, was another session with a researcher just hired by our institution,  turned out he wanted to learn mostly about EndNote.

Sent an email, informing about the upcoming changes made to Google Scholar, Proxy bookmarklet and Pidgin (the chat client we use).


Jan 23, Thursday

This morning received mail officially announcing the promotions of our new Deputy Director and the resulting promotions of 2 new heads of libraries. Already knew it was coming but it was good to make it official.

Today, I am doing something new! I spent the day helping to man the loan counter. While many of our libraries here have gone with the one combined desk approach combining circulation and reference, the library I am at Central Library is still the traditional 2 separate desk approach with the information/reference desk that I usually man, on a separate floor from the loans counter.

As a result, despite having close to 7 years of experience, I have never actually manned the circulation counter or checkout a book. As such, I've been asking for the opportunity to do so to gain experience for quite a while and this year I got my opportunity to do.

Today is just my second time, but what I experienced, just confirms what I already surmised - The idea of a combined desk makes so much sense! I guess, that's why most academic libraries have made the shift in the last few years.

Besides learning more about the intralibrary loan process, claiming of fines, membership issues etc, I got the opportunity to observe the types of questions people ask at the loans counter. 

This is of great interest to me, as I lead the team on Library FAQs/Knowledge base and am rated on how well the FAQs perform on answering queries.

As I expected, the queries were often a mixture of loans related and reference related. The library staff at the loans desk are extremely experienced with membership and loan related queries, however they were understandably not as familiar when asked about other aspects of library services.

Add the often long lines that appear (the semester just began), the staff at the loans desk just don't have the time to answer complicated or even relatively simple questions that take time to answer such as "I am a new student can you show me what services the library offers?"

As I was helping to shadow the existing library staff at the loans counter, I could help with such queries - essentially creating the combined desk approach, given that the counter had a spare PC as well to use.

I often suspected that a lot of interesting questions and opportunities for interaction was happening at the loans desk. Many new staff or student would automatically approach the loans counter (which was on the entrance level) to sort out teething issues when they start, so the very first person they encounter from the library would be the staff there.

This was proven so where I had the good fortunate to talk to a 3rd year student who informed me of a course that I wasn't aware of that just started this year.

While at the desk, I also received a query from another librarian about assisting with a benchmarking study to be conducted by a faculty.

Also confirmed a talk I was giving at another library in Singapore about implementing chat services. 


Jan 24, Friday

First off,  the whole morning was spent at a department meeting, talking about strategic plans etc. Happy to hear about one impending change.  As for myself, as usual I wonder if I have planned to do too much. We shall see.

After the meeting, had to rush to do a report meant for University administration, this meant pulling out statistics again.

Created a couple of draft faqs. 

Remember the linking issue I mentioned about lexisnexis academic earlier? Finally recalled that about a year ago, support at Serialssolutions once offered the option to turn off one-click on a provder basis. Requested they do so for Lexisnexis to fix the problem. Not ideal, since users will send on the 360link page and still have to click on "read article" link, but better than current situation where they just see a blank iframe.



Conclusion

My yearly blog posts are extremely disjointed. I suspect even some full fledged academic librarians might not be able to follow 100% of what I was writing about, much less people not yet in the profession.

Still, I believe it does give you a taste of what academic librarians do, though the mix of activities might differ.

If you are not a librarian, you might be wondering if the diversity of tasks I do are normal.  

I suspect I am more "generalist" than many librarians, but from what I understand after I attended an exchange program with the other 2 University Libraries in Singapore, most academic librarians in Singapore these days are structured along a system where one has some core area of specialty relating to librarianship (Circulations, Faculties management, Electronic resource management, Cataloguing, Reference, Bibliometrics, Library IT, Acquisitions etc) plus serving as a liaison to a specific department which usually carries some outreach, orientation and teaching duties.

In short, you need to be able to learn new things quickly, and expect lots of changes. This isn't the job for people who want to do the same things day in day out! 


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