A week in the Library

From time to time people ask me what I do all day. Sometimes it’s school students spending a week with us on work experience who do the asking, sometimes it’s my boss at my annual appraisal, sometimes it’s just random people I meet. Sometimes I wonder myself, especially when my to-do list seems just as long at the end of a day as it was when I started in the morning.

Library Day in the Life (Libday) is a global attempt by librarians to let the world know what we do. Librarians around the world blog or tweet about their daily activities for one week. I participated in Libday a couple of years back, using Twitter. This time, Libday7, I decided to write a daily post on Google plus. What follows is a digest of my posts during the week, to give you an idea of what I did last week. See the links at the bottom for the original daily posts.

Some major strands of activity emerged: things to do with journals (dealing with subscriptions, licences and open access); things to do with books (weeding our physical book stock, cataloguing print books and ebooks, ordering books); things to do with writing and editing (news items for the website, historical overviews, essays); things to do with news dissemination (daily research policy and news feed, blogging and tweeting, weekly internal newsletter); some events and meetings.

It is the season for renewing journal subscriptions for next year and publishers are starting to set their pricing, or to fire the first salvos across our bows. I have to respond, notify colleagues, look at usage stats and consult with my boss to make a decision on renewal, also deal with any paperwork relating to licences and payments.

One major publisher has proposed an increase of 8% for 2012, making it likely we will have to cancel some of their titles. This paled into insignificance when I had an email telling me about an increase of 130% from another publisher, which left me frothing and speechless. Happily that publisher relented, after a robust response from me and some other librarians, though we are still waiting to learn what their new pricing will be. We are also still waiting for the biggest publishers to announce their deals. I am expecting this renewal season to be bloody.

Another aspect is open access – now tied up with subscriptions. I provide advice to our scientists on compliance with the MRC OA mandate, and also follow developments and liaise with with MRC head office and some publishers. The release of the Select Committee report on Peer Review was a key event last week.

For the past year I have been working methodically through our book shelves, deciding which books to keep in the main library and which to send to our store. I have almost finished the main collection now. As well as much hand washing (the books are remarkably dirty when you handle a lot of them) this also involves an enormous effort of catalogue updating- changing locations and creating new entries for books that were previously only in our old card catalogue.

I have also started creating entries for many of the book series volumes that we subscribe to in electronic form. I also did a bit of the routine business of selecting, ordering and cataloguing new books. It is frustrating when systems let you down. Our bookseller is not performing well just now, taking weeks instead of days to supply, and our internal procurement systems are also troublesome. I have to find a way round these problems beyond just stamping my foot in exasperation.

Writing and editing
I produce short news items about key research papers from the Institute, to go on our website. I will either write a draft for the scientist to amend, or they write something that I edit. Just now there is a bit of a spike of interesting papers and I had three or four on the go last week, plus another half dozen on the horizon. I enjoy the contact with the scientists and with the science this provides, though the latter can be challenging.

I was quite involved with the news activity around one big paper, even though the authors didn’t give me much notice of it coming out. That was a good experience but time-consuming to liaise with all parties involved and get all the content ready for our internal and external websites.

I also manage production of our Annual Report and the Mill Hill Essays booklet. I edit the text and, more importantly, persuade people to write it! I had a couple of conversations last week with authors, to confirm what they are going to write.

I spent some time editing text for some posters for an internal exhibition about a former Director. This was my idea so I have myself to blame. I checked with our Photographics department (who will layout and print the posters) and our present Director, so they know what is happening.

News dissemination
Most days I check an assortment of sources, looking for interesting news items about research and science policy. I share these internally and externally via an RSS feed, and sometimes via Twitter. Checking for interesting news requires self-control; it would be too easy to spend hours reading things that look interesting. I see good things appearing on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and now GooglePlus, as well as my core RSS feeds and regular websites.

A weekly selection of the best items goes into communicate, our weekly internal newsletter. My colleague puts this together, with some help from me and under the watchful eye of our web manager. We also highlight the key papers published here, along with an informal “60 second interview” with one of the authors of the paper. It is a good means of internal communication, with an attractive design and a mixture of items.

Events and meetings
Much of what the Library provides as an information service comes from outside, or depends on other agencies, so it is important to keep in touch with them. Recently I have cut back a bit but often find myself attending this or that event, or small meeting. This week I didn’t have any external meetings, which was a nice change, but I am pondering whether to attend the JISC Collections meeting in November and the Library Camp in October.

On Thursday evening I joined a guided walk around the Kings Cross St Pancras area, with some fellow information professionals from LIKE (London Information and Knowledge Exchange). It was a very entertaining and informative walk. Can you identify where this photo was taken? It was taken 43 years ago to the day that we did the walk.

Almost the final activity of the week was to attend and take minutes at the Heads of Divisions meeting. It was a very short meeting this month, so it was easy to write up.

Overall, I felt I made some good progress with some projects this week. I need to push on half a dozen other projects too, though. Being involved across a spectrum of activity is rewarding, but it is hard to keep a balance and keep all those plates spinning.


About Frank Norman

I am a retired librarian. I spent 40 years working in biomedical research libraries.
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  1. Pingback: Library Day in the Life – weekly round up | Trading Knowledge

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