I work in a library without any books. Yes, that’s right…no books.
What we do as librarians is difficult enough to explain to people outside our field as it is (misconceptions about shushing and horn-rimmed glasses abound) but add a non-traditional job description into the mix and most people just can’t contextualize you at all. They short circuit and tune out while you ramble into the void about your daily existence.
I am an Assistant Research Commons Librarian, which means that support the daily operations of a Research Commons, a flexible library workspace that was created to support the changing needs of researchers on my campus. We occupy one floor of one wing of a much larger academic library (and yes, it has many, many books) but within the confines of the Commons we do things a little differently.
Sometimes I worry about the difficulty of explaining what I do here to my next prospective employer. Many of the typical duties of an academic librarian are absent from my job description. For instance, I don’t develop, acquire, or manage any print or electronic material collection. In fact, there is no collection associated with my library unit. Likewise, library instruction is not a part of my job description, and my reference duties are limited.
So what DO I do all day? I know that I’m constantly busy, but the answer is complex. The Research Commons was designed as a collaborative study space for students. But we provide more than just space. We are, as my boss likes to say “a library as salon,” which creates and implements innovative programming to foster interdisciplinary collaboration between students and faculty.
We also provide support for all aspects of the research process; writing, publishing, securing funding, and finding presentation opportunities. Managing the daily operations of one of the most heavily used library spaces on campus is a big task, as is the design and implementation of original programming.
Does my position represent the future of library jobs? I’m not sure. Certainly it tells us some things about the direction that libraries are headed; away from monolithic service models, unbound from responsibilities to house print collections, towards flexible space design and rich programming models. But I have significant moments of doubt about my own ability to embody a “librarian of the future” ideal. Although it doesn’t impact my ability to do my job, I often feel that I am personally sympathetic to the more individual and contemplative modes of scholarship that are associated with traditional library models. I’m committed to the idea that library models like mine can supplement; not supplant, the tried and true models that many of my colleagues inhabit. When I reach the next stage in my career, wherever that may be, that’s the philosophy that I’ll try to express: I may not contain multitudes, but I sure am trying.
(Editor’s Note: A version of this article was originally published on ACRLog. Article image courtesy of the UW Research Commons Instagram account.)
Hey Chloe! Unique post and unique position. I’d be proud of holding it. But I’m curious if you are, or if you would prefer to be surrounded by books . . .