British Library Day Six: Science Reference and Office Work


When I got in this morning there was a note on my desk saying the schedule had changed and I was now working in the social sciences team, and that Claire would take me across. The plan changed again just as I was ready to go down, and I ended up in the science reading room again. The team was a bit understaffed today, so there was the thought I might be able to answer some queries myself – a bit exciting, and a bit nerve-wracking.

Lynn was to meet me at lunch and go over a revised schedule with me.

Claire introduced me to a woman on the desk, but Paul came out a moment later and took me under his wing for afternoon. The original plan was to look at SharePoint after doing the regular morning email check and any Question Point queries which were outstanding (there were none); however, there were a steady stream of patrons in the morning, and Paul also decided to talk about some other things with me instead.

Paul was saying the types of queries we were getting provided a really good taste of what is usual for the reference services, which is good to know. Some of the things we handled (well mostly Paul) were: walking a new reader through several processes, including upgrading their account so they could order items, and print/copy; directing someone to the appropriate place for subject information/specific journals via use of a shelf-mark index and Paul’s knowledge of collection layout; finding and ordering specific items for patrons (most knew what they wanted); chasing up missing items or waylaid orders (which generally consists of checking all we can on this end and then passing the task along to someone else); and handling requests to use the carrels (private cubicles).

I got to answer 2 (maybe 3, my memory is a bit off) queries myself, though I did need help at points in each. The first query I answered came from a gentleman who wanted to know where he could find information on food labelling. Having seen Paul use the shelf mark index earlier, I picked it up and under supervision looked up the subject. There was no direct entry for food labelling, so I suggested to the patron that FOOD-packaging may be the closest to what he was after. I also glimpsed FOOD-legislation and asked the patron if he wanted the information for that as well, not knowing which direction his research was going, but having an inkling that it may contain what he was after – he said yes please. Paul instructed me to put the dewey number for the books with (B) in front, and to put the shelf marks for the journals as well, with (P) for periodicals. He also told me that if the gentleman wanted to look at electronic resources, what the most appropriate database was. I wrote this down as well. While I was writing, Paul was briefly called over to answer another question so we had to wait for him to return to help with the few things I couldn’t answer (about ordering journals from storage, and limits there-of, and about the actual physical locations of the areas I had indicated) for the gentleman.

The second query came from a young woman who had had her post-it notes confiscated from her at the entrance, and while Paul was tracking those down for her, wanted to know about printing. I asked whether she had upgraded her account already, and when informed she had, gave her the options, though I’d forgotten the step from payment to print so asked Paul when he returned.

I also opened the carrel for the patron who was upset about noise, and asked her to let us know when she was leaving so we could lock it again. As often happens in retail, technically we weren’t supposed to put her in there, but could see she would make a fuss. She said she’d be in there for 2 hours and then have lunch, and could she go back in afterwards. I said she’d have to ask then, and when asked if she could leave her belongings in there while out said ‘probably not’ as I imagined the library wouldn’t want to accept any liability for stolen goods (in fact, I think I remember seeing signs up somewhere to that effect).

Paul said he could see I was pretty suited to reference work, which was nice.

Between patrons, Paul told me about his work with the library consortium M25 (which organises training and events, among other things), and in particular his work with a sub-group CPD25 which deals with standards and legal frameworks. In particular, Paul deals with the issue of disability, and making the library accessible. Recently he has begun work/ gained interest in the area of study support for those with dyslexia, and printed out some info for me to read when I get a chance. Basically, you want to treat everyone as an individual and meet their needs based on that, not on what you might think they want.

We also talked a bit about England’s professional body, CILIP, and the opportunities it gives for new professionals to be mentored. Currently, Paul is assisting two people with gaining their chartership, which I still don’t fully understand but requires a lot of reflective writing about the participant’s career.

I asked whether, with the British Library being a working library, staff were expected to research and publish their findings. Paul said at the reference level, no, but many of those working in the curatorial aspects of the library do have that expectation on them (and also a bigger paycheck).

After lunch, I helped Lynn with a few of her end of the month jobs, creating spreadsheets listing the subjects of enquires in person, and on QuestionPoint. I then went through checking invoices and matching items to their catalogue records, making sure they were listed as being held at the reference desks, not in general circulation. This type of work was pretty familiar to me, having done many a stocktake and invoice – especially when I was stock controller at work. Each book having an individual slip meant there was a lot more paper shuffling, and there were a few errors I had to note down, but it went pretty smoothly until it came time to print out the catalogue records. There is a printer on my desk but the computer isn’t registering it, and when we tried someone else’s computer that didn’t work either, so I just saved the documents for Lynn to print at a later date.

Then I tallied the type of queries being sent through QuestionPoint, and found most of them were about existing reader orders, or asking for orders to be made on their behalf. It was an easy end to the day though, and I’ve stayed back a bit to write this journal entry, but am about to head off.

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