While other librarians are busy teaching BI, answering reference questions over IM, or building the interactive content that will sit on the front end of the library’s website, we in access services are checking books in and out, reshelving the current periodicals, scanning articles for e-reserves, and searching OCLC to locate that article you requested this morning.
Sounds exciting, right? Makes you want to run straight out of library school and find the first job in access services. What’s that you say? Oh…You’ve never even heard the department mentioned in library school.
It wasn’t mentioned in my library school experience, either- and I have heard similar tales from other graduates. We didn’t even take a trip to the campus library to look at the ILS in action, or even learn what an ILS was. We get absolutely no love in the library literature. Sure Journal of Access Services exists, but have you ever looked at how many titles are devoted to all flavors of reference, education, collection management and digital collection development?!
Making us feel even more like red-headed stepchildren is the fact that our national association doesn’t even have a committee or special interest group devoted to access services. Yes, there is a discussion group that can meet (if there is any interest) at the annual meeting, but there is nothing formal. I have lived in three different states and none of the chapters have had a circulation/reserves committee. I will give some credit however to the fact that ILL/document delivery does seem to get more love in being recognized as “resource sharing” and committees, task forces, and special interest groups devoted to the concept do exist.
Taking all of this into consideration, some in access services can’t help but wonder sometimes if what they do matters. Is it important? Do other librarians think it is important? Are we not “real” librarians, just like those working in any other part of the library?
I call this our professional self-esteem issue. It has been known to poke its head out during conferences when we are surrounded by people with really snazzy job titles, who sound like they do really exciting things with technology.
An interesting phenomenon I have noticed at several libraries is that the staff in access services often feels this way about how their work is perceived. Worse, the perception is sometimes taken seriously by others, leading to those in access services being treated differently, thus reinforcing the problem
All right, so we don’t get to play with sexy technology all day, nor do we spend the bulk of our time in a classroom with students, and as a department we often have the highest concentration of non-professionals. So what? Here’s a sampling of what would happen if we all went away for just a little while:
- Books would not be checked in or out
- Books would not be reshelved
- Current periodicals would not be shelved
- Fines would not be collected
- Articles or books from other libraries would not be acquired
- Other libraries would not get materials from our collection
- The stacks would be a mess
- Reserve materials would never get processed
- Alarms would not be reset
- Signs would not be updated, removed, or replaced
- New patrons would not be registered
- Microforms would not be reshelved
- That leak in the bathroom would not get called in
- That book you put on hold would not be retrieved from the stacks
Okay so maybe this is somewhat snarky, but it makes a point. What we do matters and is important. We are as essential to the functions of the library as any other service. The library couldn’t function without us. We’re the “go-to guys.” New service? No problem, we can make it happen. We say “yes,” a lot because we care about serving our patrons and assisting them in any way can.
I am extremely fortunate to work in a library that is dedicated to creating and sustaining a culture where every individual (and every service) has value. My job is to make sure that message makes its way down to the staff in the trenches. I don’t get to spend the bulk of my time using virtual reference tools, or create library Flickr sites (valuable tools in their own rights), but I do spend much of my day running around putting out fires, answering questions, listening to complaints, making improvements, creating and implementing new services, and making sure that my staff feel proud of themselves and the work they do. That pride translates into the right kind of customer service, too. When patrons compliment the library for the fast, friendly service they got? That was (more than likely) us.
So this access services self-esteem problem has got to end. Soon. Now would be good.