A day in the life of a Faculty Librarian

"Work from home" spelled out using Scrabble tilesWith the Library building closed under the Covid-19 lockdown, there may be some who are wondering what Library staff are doing.  The large majority of staff are working from home to ensure that as many resources and support as possible continue to be available to our students and other clients who are also now all working from home.

Others may yet tell their tales, but here is a fairly typical day for one of our Faculty Librarians…

I usually have (used to have) a commute of a little over an hour and was generally at my desk soon after 8 am.  During lockdown, this has turned into a longer lie-in while still being ‘at work’ at the same time.  Of course, I miss my daily reading time on the buses.

I’m fortunate to have a study, and recently bought a decent size monitor which makes things easier.  The internet connection isn’t as fast as that at the University, but it is usually sufficient.  The one thing I really struggle without is a decent office chair for long periods of sitting.

8 am

The first job of the day is to check a large spreadsheet of ebook titles which are being negotiated from various publishers.  A special Covid-19 offer of free ebook textbooks until the end of June means that we have temporary access to some titles that we’ve not previously had access to or been able to afford.  Unfortunately, not everything is available, so it is necessary to email staff and students who have requested ebooks and either give them the good news that the title is now online or can be purchased or the bad news that it cannot be supplied.

Once this task is done it’s time to look through my emails.  There has been a large uptick in email traffic as people try to stay connected, answer queries, offer lockdown deals, and much much more.  There may be emails requesting titles be made available as ebooks as above.  There may be enquiries which range from ‘can we get x print book from the Library?’ (unfortunately, no – none of us can get access to our printed stock while the building is closed) to ‘can you help with this tricky point of referencing?’ (yes, [although you can often get answers to referencing queries more quickly by chatting to our friendly enquiries team online Editor]).

There may well be emails from colleagues needing information, confirming details or sharing joint project work.  There’s probably an email or two telling me about a webinar I could attend virtually or a physical conference that hopes to run later in the year.   Databases may need their subscriptions renewing, meeting notes may be shared, and requests for new meetings often need to be arranged.  And there are the regular emails that contain spreadsheets of books that have been ordered, ebooks that have been dropped from a collection, books that are in high demand and we need more electronic copies of and so on.

By now, it’s most likely time for a break.  Tea for much of the day but mid-morning it’s a treat for a change.  I miss the Library’s café but fortunately received a coffee machine for Christmas fifteen months ago so I can have a latté and mini Kit Kat, despite the lockdown.

10.30 am

Fortified, it’s time for our daily team meeting.  We can’t meet in person, but meet via WebEx (very similar to Zoom or Google Meet) and six to nine of us gather on a grid of screens to plan what we’re going to do in the current situation, report on our experiences so far, and discuss problems and issues.  The technology usually works well but like everyone we’re learning not to sit with our backs to a brightly lit window so that we appear in silhouette, and to mute our microphones when coughing or shouting at the spouse/kids/dog.  It’s also a good opportunity to catch up on a social level and find out how everyone is.  Once a week or so, we’ve taken it in turns to lead a short tour of our homes to show off the house, the décor or the bookshelves.  It’s been a real treat to get a glimpse into others’ worlds when horizons are so limited.

11 am

Time for some (e)book ordering, some more email that requires urgent attention, or (exceptionally) today a shift on the virtual enquiry desk.  Working from home this means being on the end of the 24/7 online chat system.  Often questions are about referencing, but today there was one about accessing an ebook, another needing help with problems regarding logging into one of our resource platforms, as well as an interlude about synonyms and word meaning.  You never know quite what is going to pop up, which gives a certain thrill to clicking on the ‘accept chat’ button!  Thankfully, there is more than one of us on duty to help cover anything tricky we’re not sure about.

12 noon

Lunch feels very different.  Instead of sitting in the staff room surrounded by friendly colleagues, tackling a cryptic crossword or playing Scrabble, it’s a chance to see if there is any sun to sit in and read a book or an article.  I was privileged to have the Library’s reMarkable device in my bag at lockdown so reading electronic text, even in bright sun, doesn’t cause any eye-strain.  It’s a chance to get away from the brightly lit screens.

1 pm

After lunch, it might be time to tackle a project – perhaps the information literacy pages we hope to add to the Library site soon, prepare some teaching material for a live virtual class or for upload to Moodle, or to attend an online meeting.  The latter might be a Board of Studies meeting for a course, a student experience committee, or perhaps checking in, again via WebEx, with the Promotions Team I lead to discuss what currently needs promoting or what approaches we might take to giving a fresh slant on resources or support.  My two colleagues who do the work on the words and pictures involved are to be commended for keeping up such good work under different and difficult circumstances when it’s very easy to lose touch.

4 pm

By now the workday is coming to an end.  Although I might have normally finished a little after 4 pm and started looking for a couple of buses and a ferry home, there’s almost certainly some enquiries that have arrived via email that need answering or ‘just one more thing’ that can be done before supper and it’s all too easy to look up and find the six o’clock news is about to start.  Most days I will try and fit in a walk as well, although my step-count is significantly down.

Some time later

The evening is a time to spend with family, watch some television (the National Theatre plays on YouTube have been a real delight) or do some writing.  That’s assuming there’s not some kind of social Zoom meeting happening.  I’ve never been busier than during lockdown!

~ Timothy Collinson, Faculty Librarian (Technology)

Assistant Librarian (Promotions) at the University Library. An enthusiastic advocate of libraries, diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice for all, inside and outside the workplace.

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