What do librarians do? Day One – Specialist Research Librarian

The BLDS is the biggest research collection on economic and social development in Europe, and provides support for a range of global projects. (Image c/o NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.)

The following post was submitted by Rachel Playforth from the British Library for Development Studies.  Here she explains her work and the impact it has across the globe.

I work at the British Library for Development Studies, which is the biggest research collection on economic and social development in Europe. Partly funded by the UK Department for International Development for a variety of global projects, we also support the research and postgraduate teaching programmes of the Institute of Development Studies where we’re based. This means that my day to day work is a combination of the local and the global, and being part of a small library team (13 staff) allows me to do a bit of everything.

I’m currently in the role of Repository Coordinator, working with research institutes in Africa and Asia to digitise their publications and make them freely available under a Creative Commons licence via our open access Digital Library. A typical day on this project might involve talking to partner institutes by email about progress, supervising the work of my project assistants on scanning, uploading and metadata creation, and contacting potential new partners. In this role I’ve also been helping to develop and launch our own institutional repository, which is at the stage where I’m doing a lot of promotion, advocacy, training and trouble-shooting! Working on open access projects like these is a new area for me – we certainly didn’t learn about this stuff when I was at library school 8 years ago… But exploring the world of open access has reinforced the importance of libraries in removing barriers to information and participation for developing country researchers, who have been excluded both financially and culturally from traditional scholarly publishing.

My other main role is cataloguing and subject indexing – part of our mission to profile indigenous research and improve access to development information involves creating very rich catalogue records, right down to article level for some journals. The subject headings we use are from a specialised thesaurus and learning enough about each (often unique) item to apply the right subjects is one of the most intellectually stimulating part of my job (although some of our more theoretical econometrics journals can be a little dry if I’m honest…).

Unlike some cataloguing specialists in larger libraries, I also work on the circulation/enquiry desk rota (1 or 2 hour-long shifts in a typical day). I love meeting the students and researchers of the Institute, who come from all over the world and bring an amazing range of experience with them. It’s also very satisfying when I issue a book to a reader who has found it because of my cataloguing efforts! We have a close relationship with each cohort of MA students and I deliver inductions and user support/training throughout the year, offering tailored search skills sessions and advice on information sources.

We also offer various free services to remote users, such as the document delivery service which I help administer. Through an online ordering service I send copies of hard-to-find journal articles, chapters etc to libraries and research organisations in the developing world (costs covered by the Global Development Network). We’ve also started offering a similar service as part of a project building the writing and publishing capacity of climate change researchers in South Asia. Although the scanning and admin involved in this can be time-consuming, it’s really rewarding when I know I’ve made a print article from our shelves available to somebody on the other side of the world.

Other bits and bobs that make up my day to day work include: maintaining physical archive collections, giving tours for visitors, managing our Twitter account and monitoring other social media, assisting with book selection and acquisition, working on funding bids and cross-institute projects, sitting on my trade union branch committee, climbing up ladders in the basement to retrieve obscure UN publications… it’s certainly never boring!

2 thoughts on “What do librarians do? Day One – Specialist Research Librarian

  1. Pingback: What librarians do (this one in particular) « The toast in the machine

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