Saturday, October 14, 2006

Systems Librarianship - some lowbrow thoughts

...or how sometimes Systems Librarianship is like the Simpsons or Australian Idol.

First, an instant replay of a conversation in my household yesterday....

ME: "I thought I'd need to know more to be a Systems Librarian".
CO-PILOT: "No, you just need everyone else to know less".

I've been pondering about the skills I need to do my job.

Why? Well, I've come back from my holiday and MPOW is now actually paying me to spend a couple of days every week looking at blogging, podcasting, RSS feeds and other social software. (Yay, hooray, yippee!). Not exactly systems librarianship, but I'm not sure what you would call it.

Also Corey Wallis recently raised the issue on of "What exactly makes a Systems Librarian", referring to the excellent Dorothy Salo post on TechEssence about "Hiring a Systems Librarian".

When I left my Systems Librarians' job in 1997 to go off and have babies, I thought, "By the time I'm ready to return to the workforce, I'll have to be a childrens' librarian, because all the young graduates going though library school will just know all this technical stuff". But, even though more librarians have IT qualifications, it's still hard to find a good Systems Librarian.

Tentatively, I'm concluding that maybe I don't need to be able to code JavaScript while installing a printer driver and cobbling together a really hot mashup. Maybe I can stop being worried that one day my employers will find out I can't do all this stuff. Perhaps they already know and don't mind.

We'd both be delighted if I was technowonderwoman, but maybe it's also OK to pick things up quickly, be able to see gaps in our services that can be filled by technology, know which people in the library know what, and to communicate enthusiastically to other library staff.

Remember the Simpsons episode where the town gets lots of money and, at the meeting to decide how to spend it, a stranger in a candy striped suit bursts in and, via a song and dance routine, convinces the townsfolk to install a monorail ?. By the end, the whole town is chanting "monorail, monorail, monorail" - except Marge, who is rolling her eyes and wondering how she'll get them to see sense.

I've had moments at work where I've felt like the guy in the candy striped suit, singing and dancing about something that I only half understand, trying to drum up enthusiasm from people who trust me. I've also had those Marge moments where I've heard other staff chanting "mono-rail mono-rail", and tried to work out how to put the brakes on without seeming killjoy.

(If you're really keen, the episode has its own wikipedia entry for Marge vs. the Monorail, the Monrail lyrics are here, but it's really much more fun to listen to this 1 minute sound bite of the Monorail song . )

Just last week, however, I found comfort in another trash TV icon, Australian Idol. Ostensibly a singing contest, a contestant with perfect rhythm, pitch and a magnificent voice was voted off. Her technical skills were undisputably better than the other contestants, but the judges concluded that she just wasn't connecting with the public and there was no warmth to her.

Maybe, just maybe, it can be the same with Systems Librarianship. Maybe having perfect technical skills is a big asset, but perhaps if someone with less skill is connecting with people better, they are more suited to the job. Made me feel better, anyhow.


Anonymous said...

It's very easy to feel that your technical skills aren't as good as they could (should) be, I've felt like that for the last 12 years. But I gradually realised it is all relative. We'll never know as much as we want to, and always know more than many others - at least as long as we keep learning.

Kathryn Greenhill said...

Or, if we just get sick of learning, we can run a devious campaign of misinformation and ensure the gap of knowledge is maintained that way :) :)

Anonymous said...

One thing I've realised is that it's always easier to learn new tricks and whatnot with others. That's not to say that spending time exploring and pondering on your own is not useful (I do a lot of that) but it definitely helps to bounce ideas and play with others.

Kathryn Greenhill said...

CW - QED lint!