Following the path of one assistant into full librarianship
Currently I work as an assistant librarian. What’s the difference between an assistance librarian and a librarian?
A fair bit, although what I do as an assistant librarian is probably what most people envisage as the classic librarian.
1. Checking books in and out.
We have desks, and those desks are decorated with equipment for dealing with books, DVDs, CDs, and dissertations that people want to borrow from us. On the computer is the information software that we use, and on the desk are barcode scanners and RFID machines to read the tags of the items we have up for borrowing. People come up to the desk, hand over their student card which when the scan to bring up their account, and then we scan the books through the RFID reader which automatically sets the due date based on whether it’s a one week or three week loan. Returns and Renewals are done with the same equipment. It also tracks the fines for late books.
2. Behaviour Management
The rules of the library are three quite simple ones: No eating or drinking; Maintain appropriate noise levels for a working environment; and Respect the Equipment. However, quite a lot of students need reminding of these rules from time to time. Eating food is an absolute no, as are hot drinks, cans, and other open topped drinks. Bottled water is fine, and if it’s got a screw cap lid or similar, we’ll generally allow it. Our library has only one room that is a silent room (and we do mean silence, no whispering allowed) but otherwise we have to make sure that the level of noise in the other areas allows students to work. Quite often people who are being noisy get two warnings and then asked to leave. Respecting the equipment is all those little niggling things like sitting on tables, sitting backwards on chairs, feet on chairs, hitting the computers that we ask you not to do.
Rather self explanatory. When the books come back, we put them on a trolley. When the trolley is full, we take it back into the stacks and put the books back on the shelves in the right places. Although it can get more complicated than that. Sometimes students take books off shelves and don’t put them back, or misfile them in the wrong place, so quite often we have to go and check the shelves and make sure that everything is in the right order so items can easily be found. Some popular sections, like art and biology, get messed up almost every day, so we are almost constantly tidying up the shelves. We refer to this as fine tidying.
A number of display units are placed around the library. Every week or fortnight, we find something new to advertise, whether that be an event (such as International Book Giving Day) or a theme (like healthy eating) which we want to promote. We takes turns to choose what gets selected each time, find books and item appropriate to the theme, print off any promotional leaflets or posters that are needed, and then put together the displays around the library.
Being a library, we often get a lot of queries. Whether this be from borrowers enquiring about return dates, to getting online journals, to asking about printing and IT queries. Any queries that we can deal with, we help the students, otherwise we find the most appropriate department and refer them onwards. In the library quite a lot of our queries are about resources, whether we have particular books, or basic IT and equipment queries. Personally, I am rather IT literate, and good with computers in general, so I often find myself the first port of call for IT queries. If I can’t help them or fix the problem, then I call up the IT services and see if they can fix it. Other common ones involve helping people find a particular book in the library, getting them set up with an Athens account for ebooks and ejournals, requesting a book from another site to be sent to us, or looking up if they have any fines they need to pay.
6. Maintaining Equipment
We have a lot of equipment. From the PCs and printers, to the rooms and chairs. We make sure that printers are stocked with paper and toner, every computer has a chair, that the self service machine is working (it’s very sensitive), and above all that the rooms are kept to a reasonable level of cleanliness. One of the reasons we detest food so much is because students don’t tend to clean up after themselves, and so if they have had a sneaky chocolate bar, they leave a crumpled wrapper on the desk!
So what do librarians do that assistants don’t?
Librarians often has a degree in librarianship (or a masters, which is something I am currently considering undertaking). At my place of work, they are the people who help with referencing queries, and queries about resources and subject matter. Whilst I can look up particular books and direct students to subject areas, the librarians will know exactly what books, journals and other resources are good for their subjects area.
The librarians run classes on referencing for students, teaching them how their should find, use, and then list references when completing assignments.
They also run other classes, for a variety of age groups and learning abilities which can range from basic IT classes, to literacy classes for people with learning difficulties, to higher end lessons for people who want a bit of extra help with information in a one to one session.
They are also the people who decide which books to order. In my place of work, the subject areas are divided amongst the officers, so when tutors ask for new materials, or they spot a new book that has come out, they decide whether or not it should be added to the library, and if yes, they pass the request to the acquisitions person, who then orders the books in. He then adds the books to the system, and the officers get to point their students at the new books.
Of course, these difference are very much based on my current work situation. Some places won’t hire anyone without an information degree, whereas some places only have what I am calling an assistant. It really does depend on the place, and the institution in question. As an education library, we’ll do some things very differently to a public library, or a specialist collections library. But every library that you go into is all about getting the information that you need.