Library Day in the Life – What Exactly Do I Do?

by Elizabeth on July 27, 2011 · 4 comments

in librarianship, libraries, medical libraries

Yes, it’s that time again.  Time for Library Day in the Life, when librarians get together and blog, tweet, and share all about their days.  You can see my other posts on Library Day in the Life here and here.

This round, instead of sharing what I did during a certain day, I thought I would share a little bit about what I actually do.  A lot of people find my job fascinating, others find it incredulous, and most find it boring.  I find it all of those things, usually all in the same day.  🙂

Besides actually maintaining the physical space of the library and overseeing a part-time library assistant, my job can be divided into three categories.

1. Collection Development
2. Cataloging
3. Reference

Collection development is one of the more fun aspects of my job.  I love picking out new books for the library and making decisions about what journals to subscribe to.  I use several resources to help me determine which books to order, but I also depend on my users to tell me what they would like to see.  I would estimate that about 25% of the books I’ve ordered in the 14 months I’ve been working this job have come from a recommendation or a suggestion from a library user.

I would also categorize buying electronic resources (individual journals accessible online, journal packages, ebooks, and databases) as part of collection development.  This is harder as I have to depend a lot on my gut and (somewhat inaccurate) usage statistics to make decisions on what we need and what we don’t.  It can get tricky and sometimes I make mistakes.

Cataloging is my least favorite part of my job.  Mostly cataloging requires a lot of time and energy, but not a lot of real knowledge.  I do copy cataloging almost exclusively, but occasionally, I have to change records to fit our collection andOPAC.  I also maintain the catalog to keep it up to date and make sure all the links to electronic resources are working.  This is tedious, boring work, but it has to be done so that access is never limited.

Reference makes up the bulk of my work.  Reference (in my job at least) can include anything from simple directional questions from patients in the hospital to requests for specific articles to extensive literature searches.

So what sort of questions do I get that require a good bit of searching?  Here are some examples of questions I have received this month:

  • Is IVIG safe to use in patients with end-stage renal failure?  What are the potential side effects?
  • Case reports and literature reviews on a pericardial effusion causing acute renal failure.
  • The role of the clinical nurse leader
  • Protocols for non-ventilated post-operative patients or pulmonary fragile patients

I answer these questions by first going to PubMed, the government-run database of almost every medical, vetetinary, biomedical article published.  There are over 21 million citations in PubMed.  (As as side note: PubMed is designed for health professionals, scientists, and researches.  This is NOT the place to go for general medical information.  Check outthis post for some good sites for that.)  After I search PubMed, I generally also check Google Scholar for things that I may have missed in PubMed – often times the way citations are indexed in PubMed makes them difficult to retrieve, so Google Scholar often yields excellent results.  After that, depending on the search, I may also check our nursing, psych, business databases or I may even (gasp!) Google the question to look for out-of-the-ordinary information.

So, in a nutshell, that is what I do.  Pretty boring, right?  😉

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lauren Dodd July 27, 2011 at 6:36 pm

I think your job sounds great – but you already knew that! 🙂 I would love the reference part of your job the most.

I enjoyed the format of the post, too – it held my attention more than the minute-by-minute play-by-play some people are doing.


2 Elizabeth July 28, 2011 at 9:48 am

I enjoy the reference part of my job the most too. Except when I can’t find the answer to the question – I’m still struggling with that last reference Q I used as an example. 🙁

Glad you like this format…I was tired when I wrote this and didn’t want to do a play-by-play!


3 Julie July 28, 2011 at 8:23 am

I actually like cataloging. I’m in a similar situation as you in that I am a solo health sciences librarian, but I work for a small graduate university with programs in physical and occupational therapy. I also do mostly copy cataloging. But for some reason, I really enjoy entering the books in and processing them. Maybe it’s just all that handling of brand new books. I don’t know. If I ever leave here and work in a library where I actually only have one job, I don’t think I’d mind being a cataloger, as long as I don’t need to be a super MARC expert (or RDA or whatever). Thanks for sharing some of what you do. My blog is mostly a book blog and I didn’t know about this Library Day in the Life project, but I think I’ll post tomorrow about my day today. Thanks for the inspiration!


4 Elizabeth July 28, 2011 at 9:49 am

You’re job sounds very interesting! I like I would like working solo in academia. I would love to hear more about it, so drop me an email (lifelovelibrarian [at] gmail [dot] com) if you have a minute!

I do like handling all the brand new books; I get a thrill every time I open a box! 🙂 I just don’t like the tedium of it. It can get so very repetitive.


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