Last September, I did an online presentation through OPAL (Open Program for All). The topic was “Web Services for Underfunded and Understaffed Libraries.” After the presentation, I uploaded my slides on SlideShare and then completely forgot about it. A few days ago, I got an email from SlideShare that notified me the number of views of these slides. How interesting! Anyhow, so I remembered. Right, I did that presentation, and what was I thinking back then?
I felt funny realizing that what was a burning question to me only about four months ago seemed already close to some distant memory. The presentation was part of my efforts to make sense of the challenges and difficulties I have encountered at my work as a new solo web librarian at a small academic library. I was feeling overwhelmed because I was fully aware of many innovative things I wanted to try, but also there was a very clear limit to what I could do in reality. Also I was somewhat depressed by the fact that some really awesome things other libraries were doing couldn’t be done for various reasons related to limited resources, funding, staff, etc.
Does the fact that I almost forgot about the presentation mean that I came to some kind of conclusion on that topic? Well, probably not. I think it would be more accurate to say that I have rather gotten used to my environment.
However, now that I look back, I think I learned something about patience in getting things done. Trying new things requires dealing with some procedures and forming a teamwork whether it is with some university offices or within one’s organization. Inevitably, it takes time and efforts – sometimes in a seemingly inexplicably large sum. Unfortunately, there is no real shortcut in dealing with all the steps whether it is bureaucracy or paperwork. So what becomes quite important is, more often than not, persistence.
Persistence is also an important virtue and one of the most valuable weapon in a solo web-services librarian’s arsenal. I mentioned in the presentation that almost everything technology-related becomes the responsibilities of web-services librarian in a small library. So, it is unavoidable that things that need to be done pile up while one solo web-services librarian tries to get all the technology-related things requested as well as other things s/he deems to be important done. Some of them cannot be done in the time frame desired and/or requested. Some of them have to go down on the priority list, so that more important things, which keep popping up anew, can be taken care of. But if there are things that need to be done whether it is next month or next season, they have to stay on the list and a solo web-services librarian needs to find time for those. This sometimes requires persuading others and enlisting their help.
Oh, and resourcefulness. That probably would make another blog post. So I won’t talk about it here.
Another thing that I have learned since the presentation is that one library can’t do all and each library’s environment is unique. This seems quite an obvious thing to say. But still many times, libraries waste a lot of time trying to replicate what has been done successfully at other libraries without realizing that there are very different dynamics at work. Particularly for small libraries, it only makes sense to focus a small number of things that they can excel at rather than spreading thin their resources and staff in many different things.
From time to time, I think I should remind myself of these new lessons I have learned, so that I won’t get unproductively frustrated or disappointed and stay positive and efficient at the same time.
The question which still remains in my mind as an unanswered question is how a solo web-services librarian should deal with necessary R&D. Unlike at larger libraries where there are multiple programmers and a large IT staff for example, it is extremely difficult for a solo web-services librarian to engage in any productive and meaningful R&D activities because there are so many daily tasks to be handled that come before R&D. (Also remember many of these librarians are trained first as librarians and not necessarily magical in programming and writing codes?) On the other hand, without R&D, a solo web-services librarian is likely to be burned out and get outdated at the same time. Sadly, I don’t see any systematic support for R&D in small libraries.
This is probably not an issue that can be solved by a lay librarian nor at the scale of individual small libraries. My hope is to see some larger agencies that support continuing education/R&D for library technology staff – maybe funded by multiple libraries – and those libraries again committing themselves to allowing time for such continuing education for their technology staff. Oh, well, wouldn’t that be nice?
For what it’s worth, here is my past presentation at OPAL. I am glad SlideShare sent me the notice. Otherwise I would have completely forgotten about all these questions.
OPAL Program Archive: http://www.opal-online.org/archivelis.htm (Sep. 17, 29009)