"A library doesn't need windows. A library is a window." – Stewart Brand

May 29, 2009

Reflection on my second week at BPL

My second week has come to an end. I became a lot more proactive at the reference desk this week -- having gotten my bearings with basic information about the library, I felt better about starting to take patron questions. In another week or so I start being one of two instead of a third observer of the two people "officially" on desk! I'm excited to get the "official" responsibility for reference, but I'm also very appreciative of the slow introduction my supervisor has provided for me. I was expecting to just get thrown in and have to sink or swim, but having a graduated experience where I could just observe first and then ease my way into practice really made me feel more confident.

Today was actually interesting because I took a patron question when the other two reference librarians were busy and ended up spending about 45 minutes with her (and we weren't done; it was just the end of my shift and I had realized that if I didn't leave then I wouldn't leave until the library closed). Afterward I learned she is a "regular." One of the librarians and I had a good talk about how to end a reference transaction when it is really going on for too long. I didn't mind spending a long time with this patron because we were finding things that were useful to her, but had I been one of two staff members on desk instead of one of three, I almost certainly couldn't have spent that kind of time with her -- the other librarian would have been swamped. On the one hand I'm a little disappointed that things have to be that way; I suppose I'm still clinging to the theoretical ideal and having a bit of trouble adjusting to the realities of practice.

Speaking of theory vs. practice -- I have to apologize to my wonderful professors, but I have definitely become a "pointer" in certain situations. When the patron seems competent and the desk is busy, there is just no way I can walk every person out to the stacks. I do always tell patrons to come back if they can't find what they need; I figure that this is a happy medium, and if someone can't find something, I definitely will help them go look for it.

This week I also continued with some shelf reading and shifting Government Documents materials. In addition, I learned how to use the CD/DVD buffer to clean scratched AV materials (it is kind of fun and surprisingly effective!) and I got started on another big project. The library has a manuscripts collection which is in some semblance of order, but there is no good finding aid available. Since I have an archives background, I've been asked to get the collection in usable shape. Right now I'm just familiarizing myself with what's there. Some of it is pretty interesting -- there are a lot of essays about and personal reminiscences of Brookline in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Parts of it are physically not in the greatest shape in the world, but it is mostly intact, and they've made some basic preservation efforts (putting everything in acid-free boxes and folders, and for the most part also encasing everything in Mylar covers, which is perhaps excessive but certainly not a bad thing). I'm probably going to reorganize it slightly, and I'm thinking about the best way to create a finding aid or finding aids. I probably will do a "traditional" archival finding aid by folder, but since this is for public library use I will also probably create some sort of subject-based finding aid. My supervisor said she was looking at Library of Congress finding aids and really liked those. I haven't seen them yet, but I'll also look at those for models.

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