We are really pleased to bring you a new guest post by Kate Sebby – @kate80 – about ways of making high visibility work for you. Kate is a cataloging librarian at the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not presented as those of the Congressional Research Service or the Library of Congress.
Though it is a branch of the Library of Congress, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) is not a traditional library. CRS is a think tank staffed mostly by analysts responding to the research requests of the U.S. Congress. Despite this, CRS does have some traditional library functions—such as acquisitions and cataloging—though those departments are very small.
While cataloging is already a fairly desk-bound job, being separated from other divisions by walls and cubicles and sprawling across several floors, makes reaching out to analysts and information professionals an even greater challenge to communication. So I spent my first year at CRS being a typical introverted cataloger; my work was always done competently and on time but I did very little to get away from my desk and interact with others.
With time came confidence and, in the past few months, I’ve been developing relationships with the reference librarians who support our research divisions. It started by responding to basic requests from a few of these librarians to update bibliographic records and holdings in the catalog. My rapid response to their concerns and repeated requests to send any mistakes or updates got their attention. After several months, one of the librarians approached me at a union coffee hour gathering. (I only attended because a more outgoing colleague asked me to attend with her. Still an introvert!) She stated that she had some ideas for working with me and wanted to gauge my interest. I immediately responded with a ‘YES!’ without even knowing what she had in mind.
We set up an arrangement that in return for my cataloging of some of their older, department-specific collections, they would train me in reference—answering requests, aiding analysts’ research, database familiarization, etc. Not only would I be solving a pertinent cataloging problem (getting my hands on all those uncataloged volumes), I would be gaining training and experience to enhance my skill set and resume. Though this is still early in the process, many people in the research division already know me personally and are excited that I can catalog and provide access to their personal office collections. After an email introduction sent to the division, several analysts immediately replied with cataloging requests. In addition, after my reference librarian colleagues provided me with information on a number of databases and introduced me to several training opportunities, I’m now working on my third Congressional request.
While the nature of my job specifically, and cataloging in general, can make it difficult to interact with colleagues frequently, there is still opportunity to do so. There are always ways to make your work more visible. It may start simply with exposure to a small group of people or with a minor project. Attending work events provides unique opportunities. Networking and introducing yourself (or having a more connected coworker introduce you) are great ways to get more exposure. Be quick and responsive when someone reaches out to you. Lastly, be prepared to create or suggest mutually beneficial relationships with others in your library or company.
This guest post is by Heather Jardine, talking about the fabulous high visibility initiatives she and her colleagues have implemented for the Bibliographical Services Section of the City of London Libraries. I this these are inspiring ideas, we’d love to hear anything you have to add:
If you are going to do a job at all, you should do it properly. So now that we have decided it is time to promote ourselves and what we do, we have thrown caution to the winds and we are trying almost everything.
We started with tours of the Bib Services Section, what we call “The Journey of the Book”, initially for new staff colleagues but now also for members of the public and for colleagues from other libraries (so now we have three “flavours” of tour – Staff Journey of the Book, Public Journey of the Book and Professional Journey of the Book). The content is essentially the same for all three, but the level of detail varies according to the audience. Fellow professionals always seem most interested in workflow and management issues, members of the public are always fascinated by the processing – all that stickyback plastic takes them back to Blue Peter and their younger days. Yes, it is a faff setting it all up, but we learn as much as our visitors do and almost always people are interested, engaged and persuaded that what we do is valuable and useful, which is enormously satisfying. And, you never know who is going to come through the door on a tour. It might be someone with influence to help us, or someone who will bring us work and income. We all need friends at the moment. We are beginning to think that marketing it as a “behind-the scenes” tour might get more custom – everyone likes to see what goes on out of public view, as the National Trust and many other heritage organisations realised long ago when they started opening kitchens and other below-stairs areas.
One thing leads to another, and because we were doing tours, we decided that we needed a leaflet to hand out both as publicity and as a souvenir in goody-bags.
And we thought that a big, bright, well-designed poster on the wall outside our office would tell people who we were and what we did (it helps that our office is across the lobby from the public toilets, so there are always people about).
After a while, we thought that having a video version of our “Journey of the Book” might bring it to a wider audience, so we made a film and put it up on YouTube. It’s doing OK for views, but we’d probably get more if we had included a skateboarding cat. Oh well, there’s always next time. (That’s one of the things you find out quite quickly – whatever publicity material you produce, you have to review and revise it surprisingly often.)
And we have a page “about” us within our catalogue, and on our Intranet too, of course.
But there is still more to do. Only the other day I was introduced by a colleague as, “This is Heather – she works in the basement”, as if that was the only interesting thing about me. So – what next? My own gut feeling is that Facebook is passé, but we might give it a try nonetheless. Then there is Twitter. I’ve got mixed feelings about Twitter, but I am slowly being persuaded that it can be a useful tool. “Bib Services: the musical”? Probably not.
Perhaps the most important thing to say, is that we started without any special skills or knowledge. We are not marketing professionals, or graphic designers. It’s been a huge learning curve. Maybe when we look back, we think of ways we could have done it better – but there is always next time. Meanwhile, we’ve got something out there. And if we can do it, so can you.
We’d like to hear what you think of what we’ve been doing and to learn from your experience too.
The blog: Work and expression
About us: The Bibliographical Services Section
Thanks very much to Rachel Playforth, of the British Library for Development Studies, for this guest post.
As demonstrated by the recent ‘anatomy of a cataloguer’ debate, the thing we most love about our job isn’t pinning down bibliographic details with merciless accuracy just to appease our uptight personalities, but the fact that what we do helps people find stuff. More than that, without us they may never find it at all. So I just wanted to share a recent experience that warmed my heart and shows how a catalogue record created in the UK can lead, in less than 72 hours, to a satisfied patron with an item on their desk in India.
At the British Library for Development Studies we catalogue (index) individual journal articles from about 160 journals, many of which aren’t indexed by any other A&I services. Once an article is added to our OPAC it is harvested by our ‘Updates’ service, which sends out subject-specific notifications of our new acquisitions to subscribers via email or RSS on a fortnightly basis.
Subscribers (who may be individual researchers, librarians or other staff working on sourcing information for research institutes, universities, NGOs etc) can then request any item in their Update via our document delivery service.
In this case, I catalogued an article from The Indian Journal of Economics on Wednesday, taking care to add relevant subject descriptors (from the catchily named OECD Macrothesaurus for Information Processing in the Field of Economic and Social Development). It was then harvested and sent as part of our ‘Governance, civil society and democratisation’ Update on Thursday. One of our email subscribers, who also has a document delivery account with us, requested it on Friday morning and I duly scanned and delivered the full text of the article to his email inbox on Friday afternoon.
I’d say that was pretty good customer service and an excellent use of the cataloguer’s art (or is it a science? or a craft?) And while it may be unusual for a cataloguer to also be involved with document supply and hence see both ends of the process, as it were, it’s definitely not unusual for us to go out of our way to make things findable, whether from India or anywhere else.