Today I participated in the Job Shadowing program and visited the Legislative Library at the Ontario Legislative Assembly. After some initial scheduling difficulties, the day was finally planned. In the morning, I met with a total of 3 librarians and 1 researcher. Along with a tour of the library and an in-depth look at the resources, the people I met with were able to provide a lot of information about career development and the real intricacies of their own jobs. Overall, the experience was very worthwhile. However, I’m not sure that this type of work is as appealing as it once was.
Being a very specialized special library (their mandate is to provide information and research services to the MPPs), the librarians’ roles can be stressful, very deadline oriented and unpredictable. Information requests are all “asap”. and sometimes the library has to stay open until midnight and beyond if the house is sitting. You get the feeling that these librarians are regarded as personal assistants to the MPPs, rather than researchers in their own right. I’ve heard similar stories about legal librarians’ roles perceived to be secretary to hot-shot lawyer. The idea of doing someone’s bidding at the shout of “Go!” seems stressful and unrewarding.
But, isn’t this what librarianship is all about? Is there really a difference between “negotiating” a reference question from a patron with limited knowledge and understanding of their topic, and providing answers to someone arguably more demanding and aware of their needs? Someone who needs everything ASAP, is probably just as unaware of their true information needs as the confused student.
I feel that there is a discrepancy between the theoretical service ideals we claim to support and actual library practice. There is little doubt that those with the ability and authority to affect your credibility will receive better service than those deemed “problem patrons”. The librarians at the Legislative Library reiterated that they have the authority to stand up to MPPs, but it was also clear that their credibility, the credibility of the library’s services and even their jobs are dependent on timely services.
I’m unsure how I’d measure up in such a demanding environment. I am sure that no matter the setting, providing reference service will always be accompanied by ridiculous demands, urgent deadlines and unpredictable experiences. Part of the appeal, however, IS the likelihood of a challenging, stimulating environment and a never ending inflow of puzzles to figure out.