JF is a law librarian working for a Scottish public sector organisation. She took up her current role in January 2015, working as the sole information professional in a subdivision of a larger 1,600 staff organisation. She’s worked for commercial law firms, public sector organisations, a university, and private membership law libraries. The edited post below was originally blogged on her Dumpling in a Hanky blog.
Sometimes, you find that you have so much to do, that you can’t see what you’ve actually done. I’ve been feeling very much that way at the moment, as it’s been a very long, hard year, so I thought I’d make a public list for myself of all the work and professional things I’ve done since taking up my role in mid January. Then maybe I’ll feel less like I’m just not very good at anything. It’s worth a try. Although for obvious reasons, I can’t publicly say much about the baddest/hardest stuff, but…it’s in there. Maybe it’s not explicit about how hard it’s been, but it’s there.
Effectively, I’ve had to review and relaunch the whole library service, myself, while also learning the librarian role, and helping the assistant librarian to learn their role.
So: what does that mean I’ve done?
Service management and development
- Replaced someone who ran the library for 21 years, who retired 3 months before I started, and gave me no handover information (but a lot of digital files instead).
- Got 6 weeks of company/training on the library from an assistant, who then retired, leaving me as the only person in the organisation who knew anything about how the library actually worked.
- Done the assistant librarian and librarian job simultaneously, while not really knowing very much about how to do either role, for a few weeks.
- Trained the assistant librarian (who is awesome) to do their job…which I didn’t really know how to do myself, due to it not actually being my job. So we figured it out together. Painfully.
- Trained the assistant librarian to do legal research, from the basics on to more complex work – again, luckily, they’re awesome!
- Learned about the workings of the organisation I work for, its history, and its coverage – I had only worked with civil law before, so I had to learn about criminal law from scratch.
- Learned how to use the current, clunky LMS for managing stock and circulation items.
- Realised our LMS contract was coming to an end and the product was too costly, so worked with suppliers and Procurement to implement a new LMS (this is a work in progress).
- Ensured that the new LMS will allow us to log the enquiries/research we undertake (which are currently unlogged), so we can extract information on our performance if required.
- Decided that the current catalogue data was too unreliable/inaccurate to import to the new LMS, and made the decision to recatalogue all stock from scratch on our new LMS (this is a work in progress).
- Chosen and adapted a new classification system to reclassify all our stock to (this is a work in progress).
- Reviewed my own job description, and the assistant librarian’s job description, and updated them to actually reflect what we do, rather than what was proposed they do, 30 years ago.
- Learned how to use the internal appraisal system, in order to manage the assistant’s development needs and create their professional development plan.
- Created a structure for the effective management of emails and materials coming into the communal library email account, and being stored there for access by both library staff.
- Contacted every supplier of any product or material for the library, to update the account manager details to me. Sometimes not very successfully (Bloomsbury Professional really, really like sending email to my predecessor, no matter how many times I contact them about it, and how often they assure me it’s now accurate).
- Supervised the assistant librarian in their review of where every looseleaf that we buy goes to – we’ve cut any surplus spending on unfiled/unused copies.
- Begun the process of asking for my job grading to be reassessed (this is a work in progress).
- Begun working my way through a datadump of 10 years worth/200 folders worth/800-1000 network files and documents, to learn about how the library was run prior to me starting there.
- Researched the history of the creation of the library to determine who my actual users are meant to be.
- Worked with other departments to determine what others thought the library did, and for who they thought we did it.
- Created a Service Description, to describe and define where the library (and the 3 satellite library locations) is located, what the library staff actually do, and who our users are.
- Made sure everyone I speak to knows that they are welcome to use the library, work in the library, and there are user desks/pcs available for them to use here (backed up by a variety of smaller, subtle marketing activities like making sure sweets are always available at the service desk).
- Managed access to users of a group-access subscription service, and attended user group meetings.
- Attended a disaster planning event, and a practical training workshop, and used the knowledge from these to partially draft a disaster plan (this is a work in progress).
- Attended an event in London on creating a digital strategy for the library, which gave me lots to think about regarding how to develop the service (this is a work in progress).
- Worked with other departments to start redeveloping the library space on one of the intranets available to certain users.
- Reviewed every subscription we take to assess usage/relevancy, and cancelled any inefficient/underused subscriptions.
- Attended induction training (local and corporate), attendance management training, change management training, criminal awareness training, and civil awareness training. And completed many hours of compulsory e-learning training. So much time I’ve had to spend away from working, in training!
- Created training materials and quizzes on library resources for internal staff who provide cover for the library staff, and provided day-long training to multiple members of staff from various departments.
- Begun plans to offer the local staff training on library resources which I developed, to staff across the wider organisation.
- Written (what certainly feels like) endless business cases, with the content ranging from internet filter proxy settings to professional organisation memberships.
- Maintained my part of the building – reporting and getting replaced lights that are out, broken/malfunctioning doors, splintering desks, spillages in the coffee area, splatters on the external windows etc.
- Established good working relationships with other professional libraries in the vicinity.
- Attended an introduction to bookbinding course, to get the skills to understand how to do basic book repairs on stock.
Oh, and of course, around all this, I’ve done my normal work of dealing with sourcing legal materials and doing legal research! Which, despite what people who come in think, actually takes up a large amount of the time the assistant librarian and I have available – we suffer from the traditional misapprehension that, if we’re not working for an individual at that point in time, we must not be working at all. If only!
- Visited multiple professional libraries in London and Edinburgh, including the equivalent library service in London.
- Hosted the meeting of a local professional group, and given a group tour of the workplace.
- Been involved in a multitude of relevant professional groups, and attended meetings at a variety of locations, from the National Library of Scotland to the Royal Botanic Gardens, and remotely via teleconference.
- Given individual hour-long tours of my workplace to at least 20 professional contacts.
- Undertaken an Institute of Leadership and Management qualification (this is a work in progress).
- Registered for Fellowship with CILIP, and begun compiling my portfolio for that (this is a work in progress).
- Successfully revalidated my Chartership.
- Seen one Chartership candidate successfully submit their Chartership portfolio, and taken on another Chartership mentee.
- Co-managed the Informed website, and written information-issue articles.
- Maintained my own blog (it’s been a little bit neglected, as a lot of my writing/focus has been on Informed instead).
- Cleared 30 bin bags of rubbish out of my office.
- Cleared 70 shipping crates of unwanted/damaged old books out of storage in a basement room, where they’d been for 20 years. I did it twice, as various people then wanted some books I’d discarded to be retrieved, so they needed unpacked, shelved, then the remnants repacked. Oh my, that left me so bruised and battered!
- Cleared 20 shipping crates (and still going!) of rubbish from the library office, and main library shelves.
- Relocated 10 book trolleys that had been holding surplus materials out of the library.
- Created two full surplus sets of 100 year+ runs of a series of law reports from a jumble of hundreds of volumes, shelved them, stored them, and then moved them. Nor for me/my library – for other people.
- Reshelved thousands of books in one of the satellite libraries, myself.
- Visited the Aberdeen library once, the Glasgow library twice, and visited the other Edinburgh library monthly.
- Drafted recommendations for another part of the organisation on where they need to recruit another librarian (plus two site visits to assess their current setup, and attending meetings to discuss this proposal).
- Giving virtual and in person support to staff partially providing an element of library service elsewhere (this is not actually my job, but…)
- Given support where requested re the stocking with appropriate materials of a newly-created part of the organisation.
- Written a report re the feasibility of a potentially significant enlargement of certain librarian responsibilities (this is a work in progress).
When I look back on this, I can see a few things:
- I’ve been doing far more, physically, than I should have. I possibly could have put that on sort of work on hold…but I needed the various spaces cleared of a backlog of clutter, so I could see what needed to be done next. I can’t work within physical clutter, and neither can the assistant librarian, so we both needed these clearouts done to enable us to properly focus on our work.
- I’ve been juggling a lot of tricky projects simultaneously, which is mentally very demanding, and accounts for how worn out I’ve felt. There have been days I literally couldn’t find the words to explain things when the assistant librarian asked me a question: my brain just shut down. I couldn’t have changed this (due to contract expiry dates/deadlines for certain activities), but I now have a better understanding of how hard this is on me. If I did something like this again, I’d try and schedule more regular time off for myself, to try and give myself a mental break from it, so I could come back refreshed.
- Some of the projects I’ve been doing are interdependent, so progress can only be made when everything ties in together properly, which, again, makes them very mentally demanding and draining for me to manage alone. I’ve tried to manage this by making sure that the assistant librarian knows as much as I do about these plans. This has meant I’ve been able to discuss the projects with them, and they’ve really helped
- I’ve had to learn about being a good manager of both a service, and of staff, at the same time. Ideally, I’d have had a chance to learn how to do each separately, and with a mentor to support me. Instead, I’ve had to make my own path, although I have had some impressive examples of how not to manage people to learn from. In some ways, this mentorless process has been useful, as I’ve been able to be very open with the assistant librarian about my lack of experience, and we’ve developed an excellent working relationship, with good communication between us as a result.
- I’ve also had to learn (slowly, but I’m getting there) how to delegate work – I’m letting go of the feeling of “I should do this, because I can”, and moving more towards “the assistant librarian can also do this, which then frees me up to do something else”. Not that I don’t still feel a bit guilty about not doing everything, but I just have to remind myself of the impossibility of me doing everything, and how very competent the assistant librarian is – it really helps me to know that the assistant librarian is so good, and will do everything asked to an incredibly high standard. I know if I pass work to them, they’ll do it perfectly.
- I’ve had to take some things about the service back to basics, like defining what we do, and who the library staff work for. To me, a document that says what you do, where you do it, and who you do it for is core to being able to tailor your service to meet those requirements. It frustrates me that this sort of documentation didn’t exist before, but I feel proud that I’ve been able to create something that we can use as the foundation for the service to build on.
- I’m doing a job where I’m many things: service manager, building manager, budget manager, line manager, stock selector and purchaser, cataloguer, contract manager, project manager, internal user trainer, legal researcher, enquiry desk staff, and the person that others in related bodies ask for assistance on library matters, simultaneously. In many organisations, these roles would be being performed by multiple staff. In my workplace, it’s down to my colleague and I to do every role. Again, this has been quite a lot of pressure on a small team, but we’ve coped really well.
So, thinking about it, I’m actually pretty happy with how I’ve coped with this last year, and I think I have enough evidence to show that I’ve earned that satisfaction with myself. I’ve been spinning a lot of plates, and so far….none of them has dropped. Either this is some sort of miracle, or…I’ve actually done a lot better with dealing with the challenges thrown at me this year than I’d thought I had. Or realised I would. Turns out, I’m actually far more competent than I give myself credit for!
So: one year down, roll on the next! I can do this!