So, one opportunity I thought I could make from the Fieldwork Placement module was a chance to explore a possible future direction for my career.  I am very interested in the technical side of librarianship, and am considering Systems Librarianship as a (long-term) next step.  As background, and as part of the course, I have gathered various job descriptions to get a picture of the typical responsibilities and skills involved, but I thought it would also be useful to “shadow” our Systems Librarian, Laurence, and find out more from him about what his work involves.

He spent a bit of time describing the way the role has developed since he started at the library, as he had kindly found a copy of his job description as it was when he started.  Initially, the role was quite focused on running the routine aspects of the LMS such as printing, but as print notices were replaced with email, this reduced, and the role developed to cover a broader range of library IT functions.

Laurence outlined some of the major projects and responsibilities which have become part of his role.  In some areas, he has been able to take advantage of solutions being developed in other parts of the university or elsewhere, while other developments which started in the library have been adopted more widely.  Major projects have included introducing a managed print system, which has since been adopted as a campus-wide system, as has the building access management system, which is based on the library cards.  The cards themselves have become the de facto university identity card.  In return, the library has been able to use systems such as the wiki, run by BUCS, to replace the old Intranet and EZproxy to improve the e-journal access management systems.

Laurence sees the role as having developed into a largely project-based one, which is exciting, but also requires him to be a champion for innovative ideas.  While the benefits of some systems changes are obvious to all, others require more persuasion.  It is also important for him to attend conferences and keep up to date with developments to ensure that we are aware of current interests and can assess the relevance of ideas to our situation.

The most satisfying aspects of the systems librarian role are problem solving and the ability to engage in creative projects.  However, there are also routine aspects of the role, which provide their own challenges, particularly when, for example, requests for particular reports are not regular enough to be memorised, but occur often enough to need consistent results.

We talked a bit about the computing skills required for systems librarianship.  This seems to vary widely between roles which are largely project management, to those filled by programmers and other IT specialists.  Laurence has found some programming skills to be very useful, and felt that Perl and PHP were probably the most widely applicable languages for the kinds of applications he has for programming.  Although he did take a course, it wasn’t as helpful as he’d hoped as it taught a less common language, which is rarely used.  However, the principles have enabled him to develop custom applications for the library.

Overall, I found the discussion enlightening, and I have a few more ideas of what I should be learning next.  I am fairly certain now that I want my career to continue to become more computer-oriented although whether that is within e-resources, or a more systems role is still very much open to opportunity.