Thursday, June 27, 2013

Reference: public vs academic

I wasn't always an academic librarian in collection development.. Before this job I spent 4 years as a public librarian in reference. I am very much a customer service oriented person having spent 4 years in retail and then a year in non-profit customer service and then 2 years as a GA in circulation. So that's 7 years of working with the public before I even became a librarian. Add another 4 years onto that and 11 years of public service in some capacity or another. But 4 years on the reference desk at 40 hours a week in a public library is hard and it is a lot and there are no breaks and I burned out. So a change to the technical services aspect of librarianship was a definite and needed change for me. But after a year or so of doing no reference service I was asked to hep out in the short staffed department. With my experience it was too good of an opportunity for them not to ask me to work the desk. And I enjoy customer service. To put aside modesty for a minute, I excel at working with the public and I am a good explainer. Not to mention being personable and approachable, all things necessary for working with public library patrons and great for working with students.

When I came to an academic library I was shocked that they only work approximately 3 hours a day if that on the desk. Granted there is more than one librarian in that department but the fact that they spend what felt to me like so little time on the desk was amazing to me. And, frankly, I feel like the questions are less challenging then at a public library where every Tom, Dick and Harry feels free to ask whatever random question pops into their head and who are very fond of reminding library workers that they "pay their salary" and so can be very demanding. Basically what I'm saying is that the more public the patrons are the more difficult reference work can be. Not to say that I've never been berated on the reference desk here. But it was unsurprisingly by an older male student who felt I was not working hard enough, assumed that by the sound of my voice (it was a phone question) that I was young and therefore inexperienced and expected me to know some specific U.S. employment statistics at the drop of a hat. Every job has its challenges though. But I've had a mostly positive experience in the academic reference library department. I don't know if I could ever go back to a public library reference department. Certainly my main focus has changed over these last 5 years and I've learned quite a bit about what I like and do like about working in a library and it has helped me focus on my specialization more than library school ever did. I guess 9 years in a career will do that though.

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