Evidence A: Job Shadow Report

                                                Job Shadowing Report by Susan Lee

Catherine Greene has worked as a librarian for 27 years after receiving her Master’s in Library Science from Columbia University. Her specialty is Reference and Collection Development but her path to a library career came about in a roundabout way. She received her undergraduate degree in Economics and worked on Wall Street for awhile before shifting to library work. She started working at the Central Library Downtown in the History and Literature Section before becoming Branch Manager and Reference Librarian at the La Jolla/Riford Branch.

Greene notes a shift in reference service, back from people relying on Google due to increase in dead or irrelevant hits, to relying on reference librarians or library services once again. The area surrounding the library branch is highly educated and upper middle to upper class. They rely on the librarians more in the community and also support the library a great deal through donations and volunteer efforts through the Friends of the Library group. The library has an extensive reference and periodical collection, along with a La Jolla History room.

I did my job shadowing with Green on October 6th from 9:30am to 12:30pm when it is usually busiest. [I tried to set up a time much earlier to digest the experience better, but had a hard time setting something up with a local public library branch. They would keep suggesting a different library or tell me to call back to speak to so-and-so only to be told that they do little reference, or were only a substitute that did reference for an hour a day, or were leaving the position soon or such.]

As I observed her answering directional or ready reference questions from patrons such as “Where do I return DVDs?” “Where is the lost and found” “Where can I find the fiction section?” and “Can you recommend any new fiction books?” I noted how she responded. She used information she already had rather than having to look it up using outside sources. She personally took the patrons to pertaining library areas as needed, to locate what they needed. I also noted the reference books she had on her desk and on the shelf to her right. She had two thick dictionaries, three movie guides, a New York Public Library Desk Reference (very interesting resource!), a local map guide, and an encyclopedia of classical music within reach. The larger reference section downstairs contains much more reference materials like the much used Population Directory, Official Museum Directory, Finder Binder and College Test Prep books. There is a shelf of Chilton Auto Repair books, Blue Books and Used Car Buying Guides that are also widely used. Quotation books, legal books and forms, Art and Coin Collection Books, books on Literary Criticism, genealogy books, Encyclopedia of Associations, Population Database and America’s top rated cities are not as popular but also used quite a bit.

Between other ready reference questions (“How do I use ILL?” “Do you have this movie?”), I observed Greene going through donations of books to see if the library could add them to the collection or if it should be sent to the Friends of the Library to sell. A patron telephoned for assistance in making a good impression for a job interview. Greene gave some pointers over the phone and suggested he come in to look at the career books in the reference section.

During the ‘downtime’, Greene goes through the New York Times’ book reviews, Book List, Journal for the Public Libraries, Publishers’ Weekly, New York Review of Books and the London Times Literary Supplement to keep up to date on books that should be added to the collection. She notes that many reference questions come from these sources, books on the Best Sellers list, and the newspapers so it is important to read for reference work. Often questions will come from programs on stations like PBS so watching television can be work-related.

As we chat, a patron greets us. He is looking for the “Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature,” a title that is only available at the Central Library. Greene uses her deductive skills in the reference interview to help him locate what he needs in another way. She learns that he needs articles on surveillance by corporations for a report on emerging issues or topics on the subject. She points him to the online databases Academic One File and General One File available from the articles and databases link from the public library website, showing him how to browse and discern which articles are the most relevant to his case. The patron asks a few more questions like how can he print articles and is there a fee to use them. Greene checks back a few moments after she is done assisting him to make sure he has had sufficient help.

After we return to the reference desk, another patron approaches to ask if the library has books on tape by a certain author. Greene looks the author up in the system and hands her the call number of that author after directing her to the upstairs area where the books on tape are shelved. Greene takes a moment to handle a complaint about an employee and speak briefly to a volunteer and a janitor. She oversees a staff of fifteen and handles issues that arise with the building and janitorial staff as a branch manager. She also helps create programming for the library and deals with budgetary concerns.

Due to the nature of her job and the location, no day is ever the same for Greene which she enjoys. Work is never tedious or repetitive. She assists a lot of students who come to the reference desk with their parents for help on homework assignments. She remarks that it is often best to speak directly to the student or ask to the see a copy of the assignment directly for faster assistance and to discern what sources would be best. Knowing the child’s grade, assignment length and how many or what type of sources the teacher is looking for is also helpful. Assignment due dates are important too. If it is due the next day, the librarian wouldn’t point them to sources that are accessible directly in the library or needed to be obtained through ILL.

To wrap up, I learned from this experience the qualities needed to be prepared for reference questions and how to handle them with good people skills. I was exposed to the different kinds of reference books (there are a lot of amazing ones in existence) that are at our disposal, learned about the duties expected of reference librarians, and witnessed the reference interview in person.

I was not surprised at the scope of knowledge that reference librarians are expected to have or if they did not have the answer, they had to know where they could find the answer easily. I didn’t think that reading and keeping up with current events would be so central to the job but I can see how it would be. Adapting the scope of knowledge needed to the local community is very helpful. Given the more affluent community, the patrons are more interested in art, business, and local history. A thorough knowledge isn’t needed but a general grasp is good to have.