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A day in the life of a science librarian

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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When I tell people I am a librarian, they automatically think they understand how I spend my day: they imagine a lot of book stamps, telling people to be quiet, and having time to read.

In reality, librarians in academic institutions do a wide variety of things related to making information available to folks. From 2008 to 2012, the Librarian Day in the Life project encouraged librarians to document their daily work in an effort to help students, faculty, members of the public, taxpayers and anyone else interested in libraries understand what librarians do. Although the project has ceased, I thought I would bring back the idea today for this blog.  You can read my other posts for the project on my other blog here.

8:30am – Arrive at work. Lament the 10 degree temperatures as I walk from my car.

8:30am to 9:00am – Check email, check my calendar, check twitter. Post a few things to my library’s twitter feed and re-tweet a few things for my personal twitter feed. Get excited about the live streaming of some ScienceOnline events. Look at the notes for a webinar I will be watching this afternoon and double check the lesson plan for a class I am teaching at 10am (and 1pm) today.

9:00am to 10:00am – Start writing this blog post. Work on the manuscript for a paper I am writing with a colleague about our recent project to assess (and improve) student learning during reference transactions. Struggle with how to present our data in the paper and just how much detail is necessary.

10:00am to 11:15am – Teach a library session for a first-year writing and critical thinking course. The course is using The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as a starting point for essays on a variety of topics.  In the session, I wanted students to be able to do three main things:

  • Distinguish between the scholarly and not-scholarly material they find on the web and through library databases.
  • Find scholarly articles through a library database and get their hands on the full text (sometimes via interlibrary loan)
  • Find books in our library and in other libraries that they can request via interlibrary loan.

The first part of the class in a simple exercise asking students to classify a variety of sources as scholarly or not-scholarly. One of the biggest issues for students is the idea that a source can be reliable, but not necessarily scholarly (e.g. Scientific American, The Wall Street Journal, etc.).

The class was pretty talkative, especially after asking the first question: what does it mean for a source to be scholarly.  The students came up with a brief list:

Scholarly characteristics: Reputable, peer-reviewed, authors as scholars, use of jargon, audience of scholars

We talked about whether a reference list automatically means a source is scholarly (no) and how they can still use sources that aren’t scholarly (even if their assignment calls for only scholarly sources).

11:15am to 12pm – Eat lunch at my desk. Check email, Check twitter. Chat with a colleague about a reference question and make a brief recommendation.

12pm to 1pm – Reference desk shift.

  • Send an email to an alumni with advice about how to format an article citation on his resume (APA style should work)
  • Answer a quick IM chat asking if the library offers lamination services (not anymore)
  • Schedule a few tweets for the library account and read a few blog posts/articles

1pm to 2:15pm – Teach another section of the same library session I taught this morning. The students in this class were much quieter than the morning class and getting answers to even simple questions (would a children’s book be considered a scholarly source?) was difficult. In the end they were able to find a few articles related to their topic, and learn a bit about selecting an appropriate database.

2:15pm to 3pm – Jump into a webinar a few minutes late to learn more about data available from the National Climatic Data Center. The webinar didn’t go into too much detail, but was a great overview of the data products and services available from the NCDC. I wish I had been able to be there at the beginning. The webinar ended before 3pm, so I was able to spend a few minutes answering some emails and deleting some junk mail.

3pm to 4:30pm – Make sure our library subject guides link to the NCDC where appropriate. Work on this blog post. Start writing an article (or at least the outline of an article) for the semi-annual library newsletter outlining some of the new publishing initiatives at my library. We just completed adding a section to our website about the books, journals and digital projects we are supporting. We also clarified the types of services that we provide for faculty in relation to their publishing efforts. Because my institution is an undergraduate institution, faculty are sometimes surprised that we are willing (and able) to help them with some aspects of their publishing efforts.

4:30pm – Head home.


On other days I can be found in meetings with faculty about how to help students and faculty with data related issues, chatting with library colleagues about our recent publication efforts, meeting one-on-one with students to help them with their research, or making plans for an upcoming upgrade to the system that helps us create our subject guides. The diversity of projects, classes and research subjects keep me interested and engaged.

Bonnie Swoger About the Author: Bonnie J. M. Swoger is a Science and Technology Librarian at a small public undergraduate institution in upstate New York, SUNY Geneseo. She teaches students about the science literature, helps faculty and students with library research questions and leads library assessment efforts. She has a BS in Geology from St. Lawrence University, an MS in Geology from Kent State University and an MLS from the University at Buffalo. She would love to have some free time in which to indulge in hobbies. She blogs at the Undergraduate Science Librarian. Follow on Twitter @bonnieswoger.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. QRIUS1 7:06 pm 02/27/2014

    Teaching students, particularly STE students, about science literature is a very important task. They need to be skilled in critical reading but also in the history of their chosen scientific fields. Even non STE students ought to be introduced to some of the fascinating and beautiful writing of scientists like Francis Bacon (The New Atlantis), Joseph Needham (Science and Civilization in China), Rachel Carson (Silent Spring, The Sea Around Us, Under the Sea Wind), Carl Sagan (Cosmos, The Dragons of Eden), Robert Pirsig (Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), Paul Ehrlich (The Population Bomb), Loren Eiseley (The Night Country, The Unexpected Universe), and Jacques Cousteau (World Without Sun). One of Cousteau’s countrymen whom many students may not have heard of, one who has excelled in blending science fiction and non-fiction, Antoine de St. Exupery, wrote three of the best books that I’ve read in my life (The Little Prince, Wind, Sand, and Stars, and Night Flight). Keep up the good work.

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