One Person, Many Responsibilities: An Analysis of Science and Technology Library Job Descriptions

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It seems to be common knowledge among library professionals that the duties of a librarian are diverse and numerous. What is not clear is how many different jobs a single librarian might be expected …

It seems to be common knowledge among library professionals that the duties of a librarian are diverse and numerous. What is not clear is how many different jobs a single librarian might be expected to perform. In the spring of 2008 I conducted a study to examine job posting on ALA JobList to see how many positions required various standard librarian tasks (reference, instruction, and collection development). I closely examined the science and technology librarian positions to count the number of responsibilities each position entailed. I found a range of between 10 and 28 separate responsibilities per job with an average of 16 different tasks per librarian. This was done by coding each job description using a consistent scheme that would quantify the various terminologies in each job posting.
I will be revisiting this study in the spring of 2009 to expand the data set and to see changes over one year. I believe it will again reflect the large number of tasks that an individual librarian is required to perform in a single job. It may also show a seeming increase in the number of responsibilities felt by many professionals in the field. This issue is very relevant to current and new professionals, who must evaluate and manage each new task they are assigned, and also to administrators in these areas, who must define job parameters and balance new services against shrinking budgets.

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  • This is just a quick look at a visualization of the presentation title.  This was my 2008 poster presentation I will mention later.  I tried to visually represent the percentage of time I spend on tasks by scaling each copy of myself in proportion.
  • This is the order my presentation will follow.  Starting with the background of my study, a literature review of other research in the area, my methodology, some of the results including conclusions, then suggestions for future study.  I will leave time at the end for questions.
  • I first became interested in this research when I was hired into a new job, which was formerly the mathematics librarian.  It was expanded to include outreach to scientific institutes on campus and patent depository responsibilities.  After one year the head of my library took a six month sabbatical leave, which added a number of temporary administrative responsibilities as well as subject liaison areas.  It was during this time that I did a preliminary study of job postings, exploring what percentage of library jobs required administrative responsibilities, reference desk work, or instruction.  During this study for the ALA general poster session I also took a close look at smaller sample, science librarians, to count number of tasks per job.  With this research forum as another opportunity, I focused completely on science librarians and looked for trends and changes with a formalized method.
  • There are many studies of library job postings, but all of them focus on which responsibilities are required or salaries.  For example, Gary White found in a study of announcements from 1990 through 1998 that "Science reference or science reference bibliographer" was the most common title for a science or engineering liaison librarian.  He also discovered the distribution of salaries and how frequently requirements appeared.  This theme runs through dozens of other studies from the 1950s to today.
  • One resource that proved useful was the ACRL CUPA-HR (College and University Professional Association for Human Resources) recommended "Position Descriptions for Academic Librarians" used for the 2008-9 Administrative Compensation Survey.  The suggested use of this document is during the review of an academic library position when library administrators meet with human resources staff.  This document is recommended "in order to assure that the position and duties selected for consideration match up with these ACRL accepted titles and descriptions."  Thus it is could be considered a professional standard in the field.
  • For my methodology, one day each year I took a snapshot of all the job listings available through ALA Joblist.  I then selected those with a liaison or collection development responsibility in a science or technology subject area.  This could be explicitly defined or mentioned as a potential or negotiable requirement.  My content analysis rules were defined in an attempt to capture the number of tasks despite dramatically heterogeneous and sometimes verbose descriptions.  My general rule was to count all non-duplicative action verbs.  I had to make a number of exceptions to account for compound sentences, prepositional phrases, and lists.  If there were distinct objects of the verb, I would count those instead, for example "collect books and journals" would be two not one.  Yet I would avoid duplication, especially in audience, since it was difficult to determine the impact across different jobs.  One position might only list "chemistry", while another would list "science".  Tenure was also a difficulty "responsibility" to quantify equally across job postings, many of which referred to other documents, so it was counted as at least three tasks (service, scholarship, professional activities).
  • Here is the ALA Joblist website showing a result that extends further down the screen.  Postings can vary in detail and length, and they can also link to more complete job postings.  I used more complete job postings when available, but not other addenda such as benefits or tenure documentation.
  • As a baseline, I applied my methodology to the ACRL "Reference and Instruction Librarian" position.  Note that each type of reference service mode is counted, tasks under information literacy instruction are next followed by development of materials.  Liaison is counted once then collection development and online creation of content.  Finally technology related responsibilities for services and programs (note when there are multiple verbs AND multiple direct objects, the verbs are preferred)  This position does not include tenure track responsibilities.
  • So the total here is 15.
  • My results from both applications of my methodology, both at the end of May of each year, are displayed here side-by-side.  As you can clearly see, the total number of jobs has dropped considerably from 368 to 173, over a 50% decrease.  The number of jobs that I could use in my sample also dropped, although to a lesser degree.  The average and median number of tasks has risen somewhat and is slightly higher than the ACRL definition.  The maximum and minimum show the wide variance of the job postings.  A distribution of the data is shown below helps to visualize the shift of the median and the change in distribution.
  • Here are those distributions overlayed for a closer comparison.
  • We can draw some conclusions from the data, many of which were easy to see from the results.  Overall it seems that responsibilities are increasing and the number of jobs is decreasing, a correlation that should not surprise anyone familiar with the state of the economy.  Librarians have always been considered generalists and multitaskers, but surely there must be a limit to how many tasks one person can manage effectively.
  • There are a number of related studies or improvements that could be made.  First a historic analysis could detect true trends over time.  A larger data set would be available and the print job ads involved would have greater stability (often web ads are simply deleted when the search is over)  A requirement would be the mapping of old terminology to new in order to correctly weigh tasks.  This could be accomplished by applying a more rigorous coding scheme to the data, in order to map tasks to a type of work (reference, instruction, collections).  This has the added benefits of revealing the change in focus of librarian jobs, perhaps an increased teaching/instruction component, and also make the application of coding more consistent.  It would be less reliant on the language used by the ad alone.
  • Here are the resources I used to conduct my research.
  • Any questions?

Transcript

  • 1. One Person, Many Responsibilities An Analysis of Science and Technology Library Job Descriptions
    John J Meier
    Science Librarian
    Pennsylvania State University
  • 2. One Person, Many Responsibilities
  • 3. An Analysis of Science and Technology Library Job Descriptions
    Background
    Literature Review
    Methodology
    Results
    Conclusions
    Future Study
    Bibliography
  • 4. Background
    Hired into a new position
    Redefined to include more, broad responsibilities
    Change in job responsibilities
    Temporary role as administrator during sabbatical
    Study in 2008 of ALA JobLIST postings
    Poster for ALA Annual Poster Session in Anaheim
    One year later
    Change in results? Trend? New venue to present
  • 5. Literature Review
    Many content analysis studies of library jobs
    Most focused on frequency of certain responsibilities, some on salary or job titles
    Did not focus on total number of tasks
    White, Gary W. “Academic Subject Specialist Positions in the United States: A Content Analysis of Announcements from 1990 through 1998”
    Lynch, Beverly P., Smith, Kimberley Robles “The Changing Nature of Work in Academic Libraries”
    Beile, Penny M., Adams, Megan M. “Other Duties as Assigned: Emerging Trends in the Academic Library Job Market”
  • 6. Reference and Instruction Librarian - Reference Level I
    Provides general and virtual information, research and reference services. Plans, teaches and assesses information literarcy instruction in collaboration with faculty and/or Department Head. Develops web and print based materials. Serves as liaison to academic departments. Locates and creates digital content to support academic instruction; Explores, evaluates and encourages deployment of emergent technologies into library programs and services.
  • 7. Methodology
    Population of all jobs on ALA JobLIST
    Selected all Science and Technology Librarians
    Must have liaison or collection development responsibility for a science or technology department
    Used content analysis to code number of tasks
    General rule: select action verbs
    Exception: when more than one direct object to a verb, select direct objects of the verb instead
    Exception: remove duplicates and only count audiences once
    Exception: count tenure expectation as at least three
  • 8. ALA JobLISThttp://joblist.ala.org/
  • 9. Reference and Instruction Librarian - Reference Level I
    Provides general and virtual information, research and reference services. Plans, teaches and assesses information literacy instruction in collaboration with faculty and/or Department Head. Develops web and print based materials. Serves as liaison to academic departments. Locates and creates digital content to support academic instruction; Explores, evaluates and encourages deployment of emergent technologies into library programs and services.
  • 10. Reference and Instruction Librarian - Reference Level I
    Provides general and virtual information, research and reference services. Plans, teaches and assesses information literacy instruction in collaboration with faculty and/or Department Head. Develops web and print based materials. Serves as liaison to academic departments. Locates and creates digital content to support academic instruction; Explores, evaluates and encourages deployment of emergent technologies into library programs and services.
    15
  • 11. Results
    2008
    JobLIST has total of 368 jobs
    Sample of 30 jobs
    Average 16
    Median 14
    Minimum 10
    Maximum 28
    2009
    JobLIST has total of 173 jobs
    Sample of 25 jobs
    Average 17
    Median 16
    Minimum 7
    Maximum 29
  • 12. Results
  • 13. Conclusions
    Number of total jobs down significantly
    Corresponding number of Science and Technology related library jobs down less
    Total number of job tasks up slightly
    Number of tasks per job slightly higher than ACRL standard definition
  • 14. Future Study
    Historic analysis for true detection of trends
    Larger data set
    Print job ads
    Mapping of archaic terminology to new vocabulary (ex: Automation = Computer Skillz?)
    Coding scheme by type of activity
    Discover changing nature of job in more detail
    Consistency of coding easier to track
  • 15. Bibliography
    ACRL works with CUPA-HR to update academic library position descriptions
    http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/issues/personnel/
    ALA JobLIST
    http://joblist.ala.org/
    White, Gary W. “Academic Subject Specialist Positions in the United States: A Content Analysis of Announcements from 1990 through 1998”
    Lynch, Beverly P., Smith, Kimberley Robles “The Changing Nature of Work in Academic Libraries”
    Beile, Penny M., Adams, Megan M. “Other Duties as Assigned: Emerging Trends in the Academic Library Job Market”
  • 16. Questions?
    John J Meier
    Science Librarian
    Pennsylvania State University
    meier@psu.edu
    johnmeier1 – Twitter, Gmail, etc
    http://www.personal.psu.edu/jjm38/blogs/meier