The Residency Diaries: Sara Arnold-Garza’s Reflection on Technical Services

As the 2011-2013 Residency Librarian at Towson University’s Cook Library, I get the privilege of rotating through the library’s three main departments during my first year: Technical Services, Research & Instruction, and Special Collections and Archives.
This post will provide a glimpse into my experience while working in Technical Services. I’ll post updates about my other two rotations later this spring and summer.

Going into my first rotation, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After all, I wasn’t just learning what it means to be a technical services librarian, I was starting at a brand new job, in a brand new city!
I began by sitting down with our Assistant University Librarian for Content Management, who oversees the technical services operations. She was interested in getting my input about what I wanted to do and she shared her ideas about what projects were coming up and what might be good experiences for a Residency Librarian. During my graduate school career, I had little experience in this area, so I was very open to suggestions.

My first project was to evaluate a number of older print journal titles that needed to be weeded from the stacks. In most instances, the journals were discarded, but some were deemed appropriate to be added to our special collections. This project was a great way to immerse myself in the library systems at Cook. I had to use our local catalog, our ILS, our consortial catalog, a handful of spreadsheets, and a few online databases to check for coverage in our subscriptions and across our consortium. This project helped me learn where to find serials information, how to navigate the systems, and also how intertwined and dependent these things can be. For instance, if a title is covered by an electronic subscription, but not guaranteed in perpetuity, and can also be found partially covered by other institutions within our consortium in print, should it be kept or tossed? These were the questions keeping me up at night. Just kidding. I wasn’t the one making the final decisions anyway.

After warming up a bit with routine work like the weeding project, I moved on to catalog and process a couple of rare book collections. The items I was handling were often very rare or unique and provided plenty of challenges in choosing or creating MARC records. Especially since many of them were in languages I do not read, like German, Russian, and Hebrew. I got to see the differences in cataloging monographs vs. serials, and I learned what happens when you catalog and label 100 donated books with the donor’s name misspelled!

Working with journals and electronic resources got me interested in the challenges that changing formats are bringing to academic libraries. As an increasing number of our resources are electronic, old ways of counting the collection just don’t fit. Licensing materials and giving access to our users in the ways they demand is trickier and sometimes impossible. Keeping track of what we subscribe to, and putting it into the paths of our users requires artfully blended human/technology solutions.

So was it all a wonderland of technical services bliss and positive learning? Nearly. I did miss the student interaction that reference and instruction activities provided in my grad school library jobs. I also did a small bit of library committee work outside the rotation that reminded me how energizing collaborative work can be. Technical services can definitely be collaborative, but a lot of it is solitary, and fewer technical services librarians are needed to do higher level work due to well-trained paraprofessionals, better technology, and automation.

The purpose of these rotations is to provide me with an introduction to academic librarianship, support my professional exploration, and help me decide on a specialization for the second year. You might be asking, do I feel introduced? allowed to explore? ready to specialize? Well, I definitely got a taste of technical services and I explored enough to know I’m not going to become a cataloging librarian. But there are a lot of things I just didn’t get to do, or didn’t get to do enough of. How do you wrap your head around the changing nature of collections and access in less than six months? I look forward to finding a way in my future career to explore the issues of acquisition, identification, cataloging, classification, and preservation more deeply.

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