Teaching and Learning

Publications and Presentations

In my classroom...

What does a reference & instruction librarian do all day?

I remember wondering what a reference librarian did all day back when I was interviewing for reference librarian jobs. I’d been an on-call/fill-in librarian at a public library, and I’d been a part time librarian at a small university, but I still couldn’t quite imagine what these jobs would be like in their full-time versions. Would I get bored waiting for people to ask me things? Or would I be swamped with reference questions and never get to do anything else? I was actually kind of worried…

Every so often I get interviewed by library school students, and usually one of the questions amounts to “What do you actually DO all day?” Since I just wrote this down for one such student yesterday, I thought I’d post my response here as well. It’s a pretty brief and general response, but if you’re curious, here’s a sketch of what I do all day.

Typically, my work divides up into 4 categories. First and foremost, there’s the liaison work, which involves meeting with faculty and students about their research needs, teaching classes, creating research guides, helping to staff the reference desk, and doing my best to keep up with both the pedagogical and the research trends in my departments. As one of a team of liaisons, another component of this work is to help steer people to their liaison when issues around library support and information literacy (practice or pedagogy) come up in random conversation. We’re always advocating each other’s work in this way.

Then there’s the work I do as part of the library as an organization. This involves participating in committees, task forces, and collaborations having to do with the running of the library or our work with St Olaf (we’re in a highly collaborative consortium together). For me, this work often revolves around areas like digital humanities support infrastructure, public service coordination between the various public services in the library, and coordination around the publicly available technology in the library. Other librarians have their own areas of expertise, but we all have work of this nature which is more internal to the library.

Then there is the work that I do as a member of our campus community in general. For me this involves working on the campus’ copyright committee, helping to coordinate the various support entities on campus that support digital humanities, collaborating closely with the Writing Center and the campus’ Academic Technologists, and (currently) serving on an implementation team for the college’s transition from locally hosted email and file storage to gmail and dropbox. Other librarians here have their own versions of this list, but we all get drafted into roles like these where our knowledge of information literacy and our relationships with the faculty, staff, and students on campus are called upon in service of a non-library project or function.

And finally, squeezed in as there’s time, there are professional activities that stretch beyond our campus and consortium. For me, this includes participating in an active online librarian society called the Library Society of the World, participating in local library networks, helping to edit an OA library journal called the Journal of Creative Library Practice, blogging here and there, and the occasional presentation or publication.

So there’s a sketch of my work. I like that at a small college I get to do more than one thing, and I like that the main theme of my work is working with people to help them solve problems and get around barriers. Most of my work, most of the time, is about enabling discovery and trying to find the best solutions to messy problems. And most of the time I get to do this work with engaged, inquisitive, smart people. Not a bad way to spend a career, I say.

Most fun instruction sessions ever

This is my wheel, plus the "lazy kate" to hold the bobbins for plying.

This is my wheel, plus the “lazy kate” to hold the bobbins for plying.

Last week and this week I got to expand my repertoire of class sessions into very new territory. I got invited to a class on early Anglo-Saxon material culture to demonstrate making yarn using a drop spindle and to talk about using that homespun yarn for weaving. And later I got invited to another class studying 18th Century English Workhouses (where the residents did a lot of spinning), to demonstrate making yarn with a treadle spinning wheel and then talk about knitting and weaving with that yarn.

Such fun! I got to use words I’ve never used at work before, like “lazy kate” and “niddy noddy.” Students got to try their hands at spinning with the wheel and the drop spindle. And the one down-side was that I hadn’t oiled my fly wheel recently so there was an annoying squeak. Oh, and that my nephew has hidden my orifice hook, so I had to use a crochet hook to thread the wheel. (Somebody needs to think of a better name for the orifice hook.)

I also got to tell them about sitting with an angora rabbit on my lap and spinning directly from his coat. (And also the other rabbit that hated me and would NEVER sit still for such a thing.) Such a different set of things from the things I normally tell students, and they were soooo much more interested in what I had to say. Database searching is never this fun!

One student in the Workhouses class is building a game scenario in which the gamer “spins” using the space bar as a treadle and some other keys as the hands working with the wool. He needed to know about treadle technique and timing, and he also timed me spinning so that he knew how many inches of yard I can produce per minute.

Next week I’ll rejoin the Anglo-Saxon class to do my demonstrations as part of their end-of-term project: a sort of pre-renaissance fair with demonstrations of all kinds of early Anglo-Saxon material culture. I might even get my very own apprentice.

Example of drop spindles

Example of drop spindles

There was a lot to love about being involved in these classes, but one of my favorite things was that these were heavily digital classes, working with 3D modeling and game design, and here I was doing the farthest thing from digital work I can imagine — making yarn from sheep’s wool. The juxtaposition was delicious.