Before I started library school, I had no idea what a wide variety of careers there were within our field. I had done a bunch of reading about librarianship, but for some reason I still thought EVERY librarian spent all day answering questions, selecting materials, writing blog posts about important civil liberty and publishing related issues, and running fun/educational programs and trainings. Of course, I realized they must also spend time on the same things every office worker does (meetings, reports, and spreadsheets, mostly). I also figured library administrators did more reports/meetings, while front-line staff answered more questions, but in my mind every librarian was somewhere on that range.
I’m not sure when I realized that my ideas were off the mark, but I know it was probably pretty early in library school (I graduated four years(!) ago, just so you have a sense of time). Even so, I didn’t know I wanted to be a web librarian until my last semester, when I started seriously looking at job ads. I had no idea that was a thing, until I saw the listing for the job I have now.
So in case anyone else doesn’t know it’s a thing—or if you do, but you don’t know what kind of thing—I wanted to share what I do.
Here’s what they said my job was:
The Web Services Librarian is responsible for the ongoing design, development, and evaluation of the Consortium Library’s web presence. This position works closely with library staff and university communities to ensure delivery of web services and online resources. The Web Services Librarian provides expertise on web technologies to library faculty and staff and promotes the Library’s website as an instructional tool.
Having held the position for a while now, I can tell you that description is fairly accurate, if vague.
I feel like I spend a lot more time doing other “office worker”-type stuff than I do designing and developing webpages—seriously, I spend a lot of time on meetings, not just sitting in them but making agendas and minutes and reports. My joke has always been “I thought this was a technical job!” And it can be, but it’s usually a lot more about talking to people. And that makes sense when I think about it. You can’t go changing a webpage that your coworkers use every day without having some discussions. But it goes a little deeper than that: I’ve spent a lot of effort building trust and working on how my organization thinks about our web presence, getting people to agree that the website is for our patrons more than it’s for us—and that patrons should be able to use it without first being taught how. (If I leave, I hope they’ll change the “instructional tool” part of the wording before recruiting a replacement!) I’ve also worked to convince everyone that the library’s participation in social media is worthwhile. As part of those efforts I wrote a social media plan, a plan for our web presence, and a best practices document/template for our LibGuides—so there has been a lot of writing, beyond web content, too.
Many (most?) web librarians do usability testing on their websites; however I’m our only web designer/developer, with support from my department head on projects from time to time. I can’t do constant usability testing and development the way some web librarians do. It’s something I would like to do more of if my department grows or if I someday find myself stretched in fewer directions on a day-to-day basis. But I do informal usability testing/observation when I can, including when I work at the reference desk, and I watch our web analytics.
There are other aspects to my job, but that’s the crux of the work I do that I consider “web librarian work.” Is there anything you want to know? Other web librarians, did I leave out something you do on a regular basis?
Coral Sheldon-Hess is the Web Services Librarian at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She was a 2012 ALA Emerging Leader and a 2010 participant in PNLA's Leadership Institute. She holds an MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh and an M.S. in Electrical & Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon. In her spare time she co-founded and now co-manages a programming workshop for women, crochets, geeks out, bicycles (poorly), and evangelizes on behalf of the Oxford comma. You can find her online at her blog or on Twitter as @web_kunoichi.