From the catalogs of babes

Once upon a time, about 2 weeks ago, a friend of mine posted an interesting link on Facebook to a post from the Illinois Poison Control Center blog. It’s called “A Day in the Life of a Poison Center,” and the entry is simply a chronicle of every single call and inquiry the center received on a given day: February 10, 2010. The center received 282 calls and abbreviated each one to a 1-2 sentence anonymized summary which was listed in the blog as it occurred.

The day-in-the-life blogathon was motivated by state funding cuts to the poison control center (surprise, surprise). By listing tangible, concrete examples of the services they provide, the poison control center effectively demonstrates value and return on investment to the community–I mean, isn’t saving a life worth a little bit of state financial aid?

But whether or not they intended to, the poison control bloggers demonstrated more that just why the center needs funding–they also clearly demonstrated exactly what their staff do all day and why it’s important to have trained, specialty professionals handling those tasks.

Let’s say your child just drank some drain cleaner. Who do you want answering your questions: a professionally certified poison specialist with training in toxicology, or some random, minimum-wage worker hired off of Craig’s List?* Sure, we can save money by hiring less qualified staff–and we might need to after being subjected to drastic funding cuts. But is it worth it?

Reading through the summaries, I learned lots of things I never knew or realized about poison control centers before. I had no idea that EMTs and ER doctors and nurses consulted poison control centers for information and advice–or that such a high percentage of calls to the poison control center were from those sources. I guess I always just assumed poison control centers were designed for end-consumer, average individual use. It certainly makes sense, though–I can’t expect an EMT or ER staff or general physician to be familiar with highly detailed, in-depth specialty knowledge about the immense amounts and varieties of poisonous substances that exist in the world. It’s critical that they call someone with specialty knowledge of the subject–people’s lives depend on it.

Now, I might be biased and it might be a stretch to say that librarians save lives,** especially in the same direct ways and methods as poison control specialists. But the two situations seem to me to have much more similarities than differences: they both fulfill information needs from reliable sources.They both require specialized knowledge and training to perform this task. Their job duties are both often misunderstood by the general public and they both suffer from funding cuts–from tax money that comes from that same public. The Illinois Poison Control Center publically documented every single question they received in a given day in a direct attempt to  change the former in order to change the latter. What if we did the same thing with library reference questions? Could it help show exactly how we help unite people with the critical information they need and answer that annoying age-old question: “why do you need a master’s degree to be a librarian?”

*(Now, I realize that’s a bit blunter and more cut-and-dried than the real world, where often times people without degrees and certifications can still hold expert knowledge, and people who hold those qualification can still be ignorant. But in general, there’s a reason such degrees and qualifications and standards exist, and the poison control center is an excellent example.)

**Just for the record, I totally and utterly do believe that librarians save lives. It’s not as hands-on direct as doctors and EMTs, but getting the right information to people is just as critical and often has the power to affect life decisions of all levels of significance. If I didn’t truly believe that, I probably wouldn’t be a librarian.

{July 29, 2009}   a day in the life

I don’t do much in the way of memes, but I remember seeing a Library Day in the Life going around last year and made a mental note to myself to keep an eye out to participate this year. Which means, of course, I missed it–it was Monday, July 27. But the thing is–I don’t work Mondays. Librarianship isn’t a M-F, 9-5 job. Most of the time, I work Tuesday-Saturday, and I work the night shift.  So a typical day for me might go something like this:

circa 8:15 a.m.: Wake up after bizarre dream about children and pigs. Lay in bed for a bit while checking email on the iPhone.

8:30: Get out of bed, throw on a t-shirt and some comfy pants, brush teeth, poke at interwebs on real computer, respond to emails.

9:00: Look at whiteboard list of things to do. Decide which things to tackle today. Today will be laundry.

9:05: Poke at interwebs more.

9:52: Gather laundry this time. Take laundry to laundry room.

10:00: More interweb poking. Keyword some images for my freelance gig with Veer. Ponder the best keywords for an image of a woman in a public restroom stall with her panties around her ankles. Yes, I get paid to do that. It’s a good gig if you can get it.

10:45: Throw the laundry in the dryer.

10:55: Time for a breakfast snack and some juice. Decide to watch an episode of Mad Men before going to work. However, I have a personal rule that I can’t let myself watch TV unless I’m doing something else at the same time, so I work on knitting a sleeve for an upcoming pattern submission to Knitty.

11:30: Retrieve laundry. Fold while watching another episode of Mad Men.

12:00 p.m.: The episode isn’t over but I start to think about what to wear to work. It’s hot, so I want to wear something breathable and comfortable.

12:15: Episode ends; I decide to wear a cotton blue-green dress I made a while back from a 1947 pattern.

12:18: Stare at shoes in closet, trying to decide which pair to wear. The white open-toed ones match best, but gave me blisters when I wore them last week. red doesn’t match. Black is too stark and too high of a heel. Boots are too hot for this weather. I have cute black flats with embroidery but I have to wear socks or they rub my feet raw. Finally settle on a pair of cute brown pumps a co-worker gave to me. They match best, but feel tight, so I throw a pair of sandals into my bag just in case.

12:42: Crap. I’m running late.

12:45: Get stuck at train crossing waiting for the Metrolink to go by.

1:02: Pull into parking garage at work. (Still very happy about recently moving so much closer to work.)

1:06: Walk into library and head for the workroom.

1:10: Turn on computer and log in to email. Notice a voicemail on the phone from the San Diego campus librarian. She’s having problems with downloading some DVD records. Look at to-do list. I write one every day the night before on old book pocket cards.

1:15: Check email; skim listservs, then delete. Delete strange and bizarre emails from library director that have nothing to do with me and probably shouldn’t have been sent to me in the first place.

1:25: Process two trend reports left on my desk by a co-worker. One is a subscription we already have, so I add it to the collection. The other is a new acquisition for which we don’t have a record, so I put it in a pile for original cataloging.

1:35: Check my mailbox. There’s my reimbursement check for ALA! Woot! That’s the fastest turnaround I’ve ever had for a reimbursement. This makes me very happy.

1:40: Copy-catalog about 25 new books.

2:10: Try to return call from SD librarian, leave voicemail.

2:15: Pastry time. My boss and I go to the new Danish bakery for a treat. I change my shoes. On our way, we decide to check out the new exhibit in the museum downstairs.

2:45: Back to the workroom. Begin to tackle the pile of “problem books” stacked on my cart. Some need original cataloging. Some are in foreign languages. A lot of problem books are “in-between” copy- and original cataloging; maybe there’s a record but it’s not quite correct or sufficient enough for our library’s needs. Sometimes they are books attached to the incorrect record (we have a lot of problems with different editions of textbooks). Some are incorrect call numbers, some are books with accompanying materials (CDs, DVDs, patterns, etc.). Stuff like that. Basically anything cataloging-related that needs to be done.

3:15: Interrupted by the collections librarian who asks for advice of the librarians in the workroom about a reference question she recieved earlier in the day about tracking the influence of magazine advertising on fashion sales.

3:23: Conversation segways into discussion of the upcoming Open House, a quarterly event for prospective students which includes large numbers of tours coming through the library. We bandy about suggestions and decide we might pitch the idea of displaying  highlighted resources in the library conference room. We like this idea becuase it’s less of a disruptive impact on the current students working in the library, and it also has the added bonus of being able to display some of our online services on the large projection screen. It might also reduce the number of extra staff needed to come in on their day off for the event.

3:30 Back to cataloging.

3:55: Co-worker on reference shift comes into the workroom asking if anyone can do a last minute presentation for a class that’s supposed to start at 4 p.m., because the staff memeber assigned to it seems to be MIA. We all look down at the floor and try to avoid volunteering. The special collections librarian volunteers, but the missing staff member ends up showing up in time.

4:05: More cataloging.

4:30: Coffee time.*

5:00 Time for my reference shift. Check the library’s email inbox. Empty.

5:20: I get an interesting question from a student looking for the average life expectancy of garments. The catalog’s got zilch, but teh almighty Google turns up some good results, including one originally from the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute. I also refer her to the textile specialist on staff, in the textile workroom, for information about life expectancy of specific textiles.

6:02: I get a student asking me for trend forecasting books for “daywear.” Ask for clarification and more specifics, since “daywear” pretty much means anything worn during the day. Students responds, “you know, daywear.” Try again, a few different ways. Get nowhere. Start to lose patience and just pull out 9 or 10 books and let her flip through them until she finds one she’s happy with. She works with the book for about 15 minutes, comes back, and the whole cycle begins again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

7:00: End of reference shift. Time for lunch/dinner break. Realize that I got so caught up in TV and laundry that I forgot to make myself the sandwich I’d planned. Doh. Crave a cheeseburger but try to resist. Debate for a while with a co-worker about suggestions for what to eat.

7:15: End up walking over to the Ralph’s across the street for a deli meal.

7:30: Eat. Work on some knitting. Log into Google reader and read the posts that catch my interest. Skim the library ones.

8:30: More cataloging. Work a little bit on chapter about cataloging for upcoming book about for art and design school libraries.

9:15: Short attention span syndrome strikes and I go hang out in the Media Lounge for a few minutes. A former student and library regular is in there watching a movie and we chat for a bit.

9:30: Go back to desk. Write up to-do list for the next day. Move things not completed today to tomorrow’s list, making sure to include reference shifts and meetings and their times.

9:45: Pack up bag, including brown shoes that I never put back on after Pastry Time. Head out to the reading room to help shut down computers and clean up library.

9:55: Give evil looks to remining student working on computer in Cyber Room.

10:00: Close the library and head home.

10:15: Pull into parking lot, annoyed that the shady spaces are all taken. Make sure to put up windshield shade in car. Check mailbox. One junk mail, one bill.

10:18: Check email. Poke internets.

10:25: Decide it would be a good idea to write up a ‘day in the life’ blog entry before I forgot what all I did today and when.

11:43: Get to end of blog entry and reflect that, of all days in the past week or so that were full of meetings with vendors, presentations, discussion groups, research, writing, and reviewing, this was probably the most boring one to write about and the one that makes me look the least accomplished.

11:47: Decide ‘to hell with it,’ post it anyway, and go to bed.



*This is unusually late for us. Usually we have coffee time around 2:30.

et cetera