01 June 2015

Systems librarianship as a happy accident

Last year's #blogjune was a great experience for me: I read more, wrote more and felt more engaged with library colleagues. You might think then that I would have used that as inspiration to keep writing more on my blog, but you would be wrong!

Part of the explanation for the lack of activity on my blog and also on Twitter is that I started a new job in October last year, as the Manager Content and Discovery Services at Griffith University. This was a big change for me and not one that I had been expecting to make. In their book, The Accidental Systems Librarian, Engard and Singer report on the results of a survey that found the majority of systems librarians have 'accidentally' ended up in their roles: "Given the variety of ways a person can become a systems librarian, we come to the role with different combinations of skill sets, knowledge, and comfort with technology." Basically I saw a great opportunity to work for someone I really admired as a leader and decided to go for it.

While I don't regret the decision for a moment, it has been very challenging. Overnight I went from being located outside of traditional library structures (in an eResearch Services team) and working as a project-focused semi-specialist in an emerging area (research data management) to managing a team of mostly librarians. I've had to learn a lot of generic management-y things (budgets, reporting, HR, health and safety, enterprise architecture, activity-based costing); project work has prepared me for some of these, but not all. I've also had to get up to speed on a number of technologies I knew little about, not having worked with commercial library systems since managing projects involving Endeavor's Encompass around ten years ago. I'm fortunate in having a highly knowledgable and patient team, who have guided me through not just our integrated library system and discovery layer, but also interlibrary loans, proxy services, link resolvers, e-resource management tools, library stats packages, subject guides, course reading list solutions and open access journal publishing. (Thankfully, responsibility for self-checkout machines is not on this list!)

On top of this, I'm project managing two projects in areas that are more familiar to me: the upgrade of one repository with new functionality for storing and streaming multimedia collections; and a complete overhaul of another repository for institutional publications. And then there's juggling any number of other new initiatives (hello ORCID identifiers) and still trying to help out when I can with the evolution of research data services at Griffith.

Perhaps more important than all of these technical developments, for the first time I've had to think about longer term strategies for helping a team of experienced library professionals stay motivated and resilient in the face of some big changes to the kind of work they do and the systems they work with now. Singer and Gordon put this quite nicely: "Our primary goal is to facilitate those changes that help our institution carry out its mission. A secondary role is to help our fellow librarians adapt to these inevitable changes."

It's no wonder then that my own professional activities have taken a bit of a backseat over the past eight months. There is no more room in my brain! So, this year's #blogjune for me will be, hopefully, a chance for some much-needed reflection on my new work life and the things that I am learning.

Thanks to Con Weibrands (@flexnib) for getting the ball rolling, and to Peta Hopkins (@petahopkins) for providing an easy way to see what all the other participants (just download the OPML file and add it to your reader).

Engard, Nicole C., and Rachel Singer Gordon. 2012. Accidental Systems Librarian (2nd Edition). Medford, NJ, USA: Information Today, Inc.