A Librarian in Numbers
Debbie Chaves is a science and research librarian at Wilfred Laurier University and was interested in understanding her job and the various demands placed on her time. Using methods she employed previously she set about tracking different aspects of her work. The data she gathered allowed her to advocate for new changes and policies within her library. In this video, Debbie explains her tracking, what she found, and what she was able to accomplish.
Google | pen and paper
Hi, I’m Debbie and I’m going to talk to you a little bit different kind of story today for my session, and it’s a little bit Quantify Self in a work environment, and less a Quantified Self in that sort of personalized environment. So I’m really looking at the aspect of what is the nature of work and its specific relevance to me and the job that I do as an academic librarian.
I think the nature of work is changing over time and we see a lot of influence from technology itself. And so what is digital work and how does that relate to the type and nature of work that we see. And because of new technologies and digital work because that’s actually what we’re doing, and what that means that told jobs, the perception of the jobs that we have had or have done in the past.
So this is the librarians from the movie Deskset in the 1950, and you see they’re all women and all standing in front of a giant computer in the background. And this is sort of the impression of what librarians are. You might not know that when you enter a library, the library is filled with lots of other people not just librarians. We just assume everybody in the building is a librarian.
This is my university. This is Wilfrid Laurier, which is in southern Ontario and it’s a mid-sized university. So I work there as an academic librarian, but there are three aspects of my job, which are professional practice, community service, and scholarly and professional activity. so I compartmentalized only professional aspects of my job and I wanted to quantify them.
One of the things that you do see when you enter a library and one of the things that we did do as librarians is work at the information desk. You sit behind a desk. People come up and ask you questions. They can ask you anything. A lot of the time we refer to this as reference because the type of work and looking this up.
So I wanted to quantify all aspects of the type of job I do so we are going to get into a little bit of a laundry list, but most of the numbers come from different aspects of the job and the work that I do whether that’s the registers office or from Google.
I looked at data only for one year. This was actually the second time I had done this so this wasn’t something that was just unique to this one year, I had done it in the past, so I had learned lessons and continue to do this as a sort of a yearly mechanism, and I also had changed other function of who I was tabulating data across the library itself.
So you know there are 15,000 students at my university and I have about 22% of them in my six departments where I am the science librarian. And so this was just sort of the numbers themselves, but this is really what my job is; I connect people to resources and resources to people, so it goes both ways. So some of my jobs deal with interacting directly with people and other parts of my job deals with the sort of idea of resource management or resource collection.
So when I was tabulating my numbers you can see I have about 6,000 of these things that I may look at in a year, and they’re just sort of references about a particular book and then I will choose to purchase that book or not. So you know I have about a half a million dollar kind of budget, so I’m spending quite a bit of money but not just on boks themselves but other aspects.
One of the big things I spend my time doing which I didn’t know until I began to really quantify it was this aspect of spending time at this information service desk. And for our contract which is 35 hours a week, I spent 26% of my time at that desk. And that was separating the distinct from the type of service which we we’re offering which was almost identical of the service in my office. That type of service is usually much more particular; students have much more harder types of questions. At the information desk you can have directional questions like where is the bathroom and those are the types of questions that we’re answering.
But other other aspects of my job deals with specifically instruction, where I teach many different class across all of the different departments that I am actually dealing with. And there are quite a bit of assigned library administrative and committee work and you can see there is 9% of my time is spent on meetings, which unfortunately you’ll see I was able to make changes on the information desk, but I don’t think anyone can get rid of the aspect of having meetings in a workplace.
This is sort of another sort of side of my work which is this keeping current and looking at what’s happening in the community. So it’s a laundry list of emails that I’m looking at, which are so important and vital.
So you see there’s lots of work that’s happening, and when you’re overworked you begin to look at and that’s why quantitating things is really helpful because I can look at aspects of the job I do and determine if I want to do new things or different things and what do I need to get rid of.
And so the whole concept of self-tracking kind of filtered into my consciousness in trying to look at these things in a very systematic way, but I only look at the professional practice side, so it’s unfortunate that I can’t have this lovely diagram that looks at all of the type of work I do.
So we’re already doing this assessment at the information desk, meaning we were assessing the types of questions that were happening. And we were finding that the majority of the questions, 70 or 80% of the questions we these sort of directional and low end typr questions that can be answered by someone else and didn’t need my expertise.
And through that assessment and also through conversations with other institutions, the new projects that we needed to do there was a library policy change and that meant that the libraries themselves would no longer man that information desk. I wouldn’t spend 26% of my time waiting at a desk passively for the questions to come.
The desk’s still there, it just supported by library support staff and library associated, so we still offer that type of functionality it’s just not par ton my job load that i actually do.
So there are lots of implications that come off of this. The assessing job activity is not an indication of job quality. This was still a necessary requirement for the library to do, it just meant that it wasn’t work that I or other librarians was necessarily needed to do.
I think that assessment can be meaningless if there is no appropriate change in behavior of policy. And it can be different if you’re looking at a work environment perhaps even personal. I think quantified self, when you’re talking about personal aspects you know doesn’t have to have some sort of overreaching thing. It can be just about yourself.
But in a work environment, the data alone does not influence changes. Tis was only one aspect of what we had happen when we were trying to make the changes and the type of work that the librarians were doing.
And that this takes quite a bit of time, so I change how we were doing the statistics of calculating what type of questions were coming to the desk six years ago, that didn’t influence change for that desk organization for another two years. I did this four years ago and then I had to wait another four years before I saw changes on the librarians on it.
So there’s the aspect of you know, I’m only one person that can say that this makes a statement about all these librarians on all of their types of activities. Andin fact I think if we look closely enough and narrowly enough of the information desk it would be actually pretty good to look at other libraries as well.
And what happens when you have quantified self in a work environment is I’m doing it for myself in changes I would like to see happening. But what happens when it’s reversed and the employer looks at the employee wants to monitor what they’re doing all of the time. So we really see how future technology will change the nature of work, if those types of things want to be implemented by employers, and that data is best served as visualization.
I t would be nice when I look at my work see it sort of critically; I’d like to try and get better visualization there.
I’d just like to leave you with this aspect of a librarian and not as the desk sat image but as the superhero.