Written by Maryke Barber, Outreach and Arts Liaison Librarian at Hollins University.
I’ve been the outreach and arts liaison librarian at Wyndham Robertson Library since December of 2008. I love my job because it is so varied. Over the course of a day I might design a flyer for a library event, read through some publisher catalogs, teach a research class to theatre history majors and attend a meeting of our student advisory committee. My two-part title is pretty common in smaller libraries: shrinking budgets have shrunk our staff as well, and we all have multiple jobs. Liaison to the university’s arts departments means collection development, reference and instruction ; outreach means both programming and PR.
The latter two are easily my most deadline-driven, demanding responsibilities: there are always new programs people want to try, and new ways to get the word out about what the library is doing. It’s not easy to balance the demand and the potential with what is actually doable. As I write this, I am also getting close to the deadline for a newsletter, a few marketing pieces for an E-book program which we have organized together with our local public library, and a larger series of publications to get the word out about our annual research award. Then I need to figure out what our staff/faculty book club will read next. So I am rarely not busy, but I have not been bored in my job since, let me think: I was processing govdocs microfiche, sometime in 2003. That was boring – raise your hand if you’ve done it, you know what I mean! – and only listening to the Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me archive could get me through it.
I love my job because they gave me a budget to buy books about art, film, music, and theatre. That still leaves me somewhat slack-jawed. (Granted, I don’t get to keep them, but considering the size of my own collection that may be a good thing in any case.) Collection development is great when the topic is one that interests you and for me, selecting materials is an opportunity to learn more about dance, about photography, about performance art. Now, when I attend plays and concerts on campus, I strengthen connections with the same faculty and students I will work with in classes and at reference. They’re a good bunch, the faculty and students, plenty of whom are smart, engaged people with a broad range of experiences and interests. At a university library, you don’t just learn from the books – if you ask the right questions you learn plenty from the community as well.
Speaking of reference – I love that too. I get to enjoy the hunt nine hours per week. When someone brings me a good question we dive in and see what we can find, and when no one needs me I satisfy my need for ordering life’s chaos by cataloging some movies. That’s a part of my job I should have given up some time ago, but I enjoy having part of my week be about the challenge and focus of cataloging; there’s also something about knowing how things go into the catalog that I don’t want to relinquish. Reference librarians who also catalog, you know what I mean: you use subheadings in searches as a matter of course, and you’re as addicted as I am to that moment when coming up with “social life and customs” gets a patron exactly what they’re looking for.
I love my job because despite everything my friends and fellow students told me about how academic libraries only hire from the outside, I got to stay. I worked my way through graduate school with the support from a great bunch of coworkers, and I still work with them today. I have the good fortune to work under a director who believes in nurturing the strengths that staff bring to the table. Now I get to continue to learn more about how to make this place work, and work better, while continuing to renew my knowledge and my methods as a professional.
Of course there are times I don’t love my job. There are frustrations: too many requests and not enough time to respond to them all, students who ask questions but don’t allow enough time for an answer, professors who drop classes off for instruction when really they mean babysitting. There are days when I can’t believe that I worked all day, yet my to-do list is actually longer than it was when I started. But in the final tally love my job a lot more than I hate it, and I have never been sorry that I chose this profession. And that’s what feeds the soul.