Children's books by, on Flickr Shared under a CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0 license

shuffling stuff

Children's books by, on Flickr Shared under a CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0 license

Children’s books by, on Flickr Shared under a CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0 license

The second in a short series of posts where I talk about what exactly I do in my new job as a Children’s and Youth Librarian.

My least favourite part of my job is figuring out where to put books. Our library system has a floating collection across dozens of branches, which means that when a member returns a book to a branch in the system it stays where it was returned and doesn’t have to get trucked back to some other branch where it nominally belongs. What it means in practice is that we get these huge gluts of books on our shelves based on who the last requester was. It also makes getting all of the volumes in a series together on the shelf tricky.

So a big part of my job is dealing with stock rotation. I’m responsible for the Children’s/YA collections in our library and our 5 other small branches in the zone. I get a box of unwanted books from one small branch and go through it to see if we already have copies at our branch; if we do I check which branches in my zone don’t have a copy, then I label it and get it ready to get on the truck so it can be delivered to a small branch where they curse the arrival of new books because their shelves are packed. So they go through their shelves and send unwanted books back to me and it keeps on going. If we have copies in all our branches I have to go and beg and cry on the email lists to get some other library outside our zone to please take some books, and no one wants the stuff I have 18 copies of because they’ve just gotten down to 6. I send books to them and they send books to me in this endless dance of keeping the shelves interesting/relevant without overloading any one branch.

Stock rotation haunts my fucking dreams. I hate it so much.

Weeding, though, weeding I like. That consists of going through the collection and seeing what’s old, beat-up or just not being used and removing it so the stuff people are interested in doesn’t get cluttered out by the rest. One of my favourite things to do is check dinosaur books to make sure there’s at least mention of feathers, and the space books to ensure Pluto isn’t still being called a planet. Weeding is the main way I have a say in our collection development, because the way our system works there’s no librarian selecting material for the system. In order to get new books in our system we rely on our members making suggestions (awesome!) and on the vendor to tell us what we want (umm… less awesome). I get to keep the good books even if they’re old and try winnowing out the less-good ones.

In any case, this stuff I have to deal with collection-wise is in a lot of ways just part of being part of a biggish library system. If I worked in a one-branch system and was in charge of the children’s and youth stuff there, I’d probably be griping about how I have to go through catalogues and pick everything myself even if I didn’t feel qualified. Because the collection is shared among all these branches and there are shelf-space issues everywhere and boxes of books keep on showing up, this feels like the part of my job where I have the least control over anything. And that kind of sucks.

I was at one of our local high schools this week. I loved the fact that I could do a couple of mini-booktalks on China Miéville books and the librarian, who hadn’t heard of him before that, could be really impressed and order them for the library. Just like that. In a larger system that doesn’t happen. Or at least I don’t feel like I can do that.

But my next post in this series will be happier again because it’ll be about something I do have power over. I shall leave you in suspense about what that may be.

the matter of experience

I see training in Koha as one of my most marketable things I do at Prosentient. It also feels weird to be thinking about how things will look on a resume, but whatever, the job market I’m going into is competitive. If I want a job some day thinking about this stuff is probably going to be a good idea. I’ve been terrible at selling myself in the past, and while there’s a kind of bravado in saying “they didn’t hire me because I was honest” it’s probably good to be honest in positive-about-my-abilities ways along with my standard self-deprecation.

So last week I went out to the Gippsland region in Victoria to train a couple of librarians in using Koha. This is another one of those instances where working for a small company is fun. I was given a lot of trust, some accommodations and a breakdown of how long to spend on each section of the software.

The librarians I was training are attached to hospitals, and very much in the special libraries are a one-person show kind of mould. They knew each other and were very good at asking detailed questions, which was great for me, since I’m more of a responsive teacher than a dictator of holy writ. We pushed the edges of what Koha is capable so they knew what was possible and what wasn’t. I hit the limits of my knowledge several times and brought back questions to answer later.

After our two days, which felt pretty intense on my end, they’ll be going live with their new systems this month. They seemed happy with what I could teach them. It was really fun to be a field agent for a few days. I find that hanging around the office doing so much on the computer is a touch painful. I feel nerves pinching from all the sitting, so it was good to get out into the world and crouch next to some folks who don’t like MARC records but have to use them, and show them how we can make their lives easier.

I do like how directly a couple of my SLAIS courses I took impact my work here (those courses would be Cataloguing and my Instructional Role of the Information Professional). The Instructional one is kind of obvious when I’m talking about going out and running a two day workshop, but even though I’m not hardcore cataloguing, knowing that lingo and how the rules work is really goddamn useful when you’re trying to teach someone how to use the software to do it. I do find that my knowledge of the Acquisitions module of Koha is less extensive since I haven’t had the experience with acquisitions (beyond troubleshooting Koha) that I have with Circulation and Cataloguing.

So yes, I join the chorus of people who say library school students both need to get experience and need to take a fucking cataloguing course. Use. Ful.