I’ve decided to approach several working librarians to write blog entries so that those of us still in the apprentice stage can get a better sense of the pie we’re getting ourselves into. The first of these guest blogs is from my friend, Michael Aldrich. Michael double majored in psychology and elementary education at Brigham Young University before earning an MLS at Louisiana State University and a Masters of Public Administration at University of West Georgia. He has worked at West Georgia State and is now University Librarian at BYU-Hawai’i. I asked Michael if he could write about lessons he has learned moving into library administration.
I started my library career 19 years ago as a student worker at the general reference desk of a large ARL library. I learned a lot there – how to answer a variety of questions, when to refer patrons to the professional librarians for in-depth help, how to deal with impolite patrons, and the other basics of front-line public service in an academic library. Since that time, I have worked in reference, government documents, instruction, academic administration, and most recently I serve as the University Librarian at a small, private university in Hawai’i.
One of the reasons I enjoy this profession is that service is inherent in the work. A few days ago we had our student worker orientation – an annual event where we bring in all who work in the library, including those who are not part of the library organization such as IT, and go over expectations and responsibilities. One of the main discussion points is the service aspect of their jobs. We work to help others with their information needs.
While that concept has remained constant, what I have noticed as I look back over time is that my concept of service has changed. Early on I focused on the individual, the one-on-one service that made up most of my daily interactions, and my expectations were built around that model. Meeting the needs of patrons at their individual point of need had priority – not only in my actions but my professional views as well.
Since I’ve moved into administration, my construct of this concept has evolved. I tend to look at service at a macro or aggregate level – not focused individually but rather collectively. I look at the overall information needs of large categories of patrons: students, faculty, departments, etc. While individual needs within these areas are still important, my goal as an administrator is to be able to provide a certain level of service to as many patrons as our resources allow.
That one example may be representative of what happens as we move into administration in our profession – the basic principles and values of the profession remain constant, but our application of these principles shifts from an individual level to a more group or collective level. While administrators still recognize that fulfilling the information needs of our patrons is ultimately an individual experience, we tend to focus on meeting the needs of broader categories rather than individual users.