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So what is a web services librarian, anyway?

One of the things that really interested me about this job, when I was interviewing for it, was that a lot of the job description would be up to me to determine—in consultation with my department head, the other librarians, our dean, and possibly some external stakeholders. Certain things were not up for discussion: I chair the Web Development Team—which has historically been kind of an advisory panel, setting agendas and making [many] decisions about what changes the Web Services Librarian(s) would make to the site, but which I’m hoping, over time, to empower to actually do some simple development and maintenance of our web pages. I do a lot of our web development, database maintenance, and things like that. I staff the reference desk. I work as a liaison to at least one department. I have faculty duties. But that leaves a lot of details up in the air.

It all makes a certain kind of sense, though: I didn’t know the whole history when I started (and still don’t), but my library has been through a lot of changes over the last few years, including (or perhaps especially) within our Systems department. I don’t know a whole lot about the first Web Services Librarian, just that he sat in Instruction & Reference Services, instead of Systems. Then, for a while, there were two Web Services Librarians—my predecessor and my department head—and they split the job in a kind of ad hoc way, maintaining our intranet, the electronic resources, website, and probably “other duties as assigned.” Then the previous department head left, and my department head was promoted. Then my predecessor left. So…. a lot of flux. The Systems department was technically down two positions for the year and a half before I was hired, since they didn’t hire a new Web Services Librarian when our department head got promoted. So there were a lot of different pieces of the job to choose from—and a bigger gulf than one person could fill.

Honestly, though, it’s not like our department head forgot how to do his previous job, or like administration takes up all his time, so it’s not really like I’m doing multiple people’s jobs or anything. He still maintains the intranet, pretty much exclusively. While I have the bulk of the responsibility for a couple of our internal web applications—a reference stats tracking tool (that I reinstalled this summer, with, I admit, significant help) and a scheduling application—he is able to step in on them if I’m swamped. Or confused. He maintains the help desk ticket tracking system. He did all of the coding to make our mobile website work (except for the front page, it’s pretty much just a reskinning, with CSS, of the existing site—genius!). He and another Systems librarian and, of course, Technical Services, make the catalog work.

Meanwhile, I do most of the development on the external site. Sites, actually: Archives & Special Collections and the medical library have their own sites, which, though they sit on the same server, have very different code bases. I do most of the negotiations with/education of the library staff and faculty when big changes to our site are happening, and, for now, I do all of the little changes to the site that are needed throughout the year, such as updating hours and policies, fixing wording and grammar, and things like that. (Archives and the medical folks do a lot of that kind of thing for their own sites—I only get called in when they need bigger guns: forms updated, headers fixed, CSS tweaked, things like that.) Reference and I have been working on a big chunk of the site—all of the “how to do research” information, mostly—kind of in tandem. I help people with LibGuides and administer those accounts. I have done some work on a pretty cool repository that Archives maintains. In short, it’s a lot of what you’d expect from the job title.

I also make sure our electronic resources work. We are talking about hiring an eresources librarian, but until that happens, we have a serials librarian who deals with metadata on our eresources, while I add them to the proxy server, to our A-Z lists, etc. (Because we break nothing up totally cleanly, the head of Systems does the same thing for ebooks. :)) When our link resolver breaks, or something isn’t working with one of the databases, I’m usually the person in charge of figuring out what’s going wrong and emailing the vendors, if needed. When someone doesn’t like the colors in a database, or they want the facets reordered, or anything like that, I’m the one who tries to fix it in the various administration panels. (Before that, ideally, I run a sanity check to make sure it’s not a change everybody else in the organization will oppose, or our users will hate, or anything like that.) In practice, I still have to ask for help, both with diagnosing problems and with finding where to make individual settings changes for all of our databases, more often than I’d like. But I’ve improved an awful lot since starting. And, anyway, one day soon(ish?), that won’t really be my job anymore. :)

Because I make a habit of making work for myself, wherever I go, I pushed the library into the social media scene. I’m kidding, of course; I really do think it’s important to engage with the users in a place where even the shy ones know it’s safe to approach us. The management team had me write a business plan, so it was all very formal and planned out—not a bad thing. Knowing that one person alone does not a social media presence make, I formed something we call (creatively enough) the Social Media Team, a group of six of us who populate the library’s Facebook and Twitter accounts with fun and informative updates. I watch our Facebook Wall for posts or comments from patrons; I watch the local Twitter noise for discussion of “research” and a few other terms, looking proactively for reference questions we can answer; and I retweet a few local organizations’ news when it seems relevant—I’m still working on getting the Team at large to start doing these things. I’m also hoping to get us on YouTube this semester—there’s a tiny technical problem in my way, but I’m confident I can overcome it—so our video tutorials will be Apple compatible. Also, I like the idea of having our library tour, which is currently available in audio, have a video component, as well. Archives has a Flip Mino (OK, well, the head of Archives does), and I’ve heard rumors about Circulation getting one—so we could put some really cool stuff up, if we had a place to put it! …

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. The “What’s my job” post was not supposed to intersect too hard with the “What are my cool projects?” post. ;) Getting the social media stuff working in what appears to be a sustainable way is probably the thing I’m most proud of, from my first year here.

So, I run the Web Development Team. I run the Social Media Team (though the chair position for that team doesn’t have to belong to the Web Services Librarian). I do webby and codey stuff, plus a fair bit of interpersonal stuff in support of those goals—for instance, holding big meetings, when needed, to make decisions about our web presence, or to find out what people need from our internal applications. I do eresources stuff. I’m a liaison (albeit not a very good one, yet) to three Engineering departments and soon, I hear, Women’s Studies. I spend two to four hours a week at the reference desk. I’m on one library and one university committee, plus the various ALA, AkLA, and other outside committee work I do. … That’s my job in a paragraph.

The job will morph, over time, I’m sure—my hope is to keep my fingers in our outreach and marketing efforts, throughout all the morphing, and to build some of that (such as the social media) into people’s view of what the Web Services Librarian’s job is. (I should do a post, sometime soon, about how I think my perception of my job and others’ perception of my job are different.) Because, in many ways, my job is every bit as customer-facing as that of the most referency and instructiony librarian here; the decisions I make affect everybody who comes to our website, and I have to make those decisions with as much awareness and knowledge of our users as possible.

Anyway, it’s a good job. I like it. :)

Published inlibrarianshipnew librariantechnologyweb 2.0

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