Senior Learning Resources Adviser
Book Review: The Accidental Systems Librarian
The Accidental Systems Librarian by Rachel Singer Gordon, Information Today, 2003, 220 pages, paperback ISBN 1 57387 161 3
Surprisingly, it appears to be a fact that many people involved in systems work in libraries have fallen into the position accidentally. At least, this seems to be the case in America. The author of The Accidental Systems Librarian believes that "anyone with a solid foundation in the practices and principles of librarianship and a willingness to confront changing technology can serve effectively in a library technology position" without any formal computer training. I declare straight away that I am a sceptic!
The author says that some accidental systems librarians ended up that way by "assignment", or due to "gradual assumption of systems duties", or by luck. Some just "felt compelled to take responsibility for computer systems and services because their library's existing technological environment was in some way failing to serve the needs of staff and patrons." The reader is informed that these facts came as a result of the responses of 114 systems librarians to a survey by the author, and the comments from the survey run throughout the book.
The book's confident air is slightly worrying. At least one cautionary tale would introduce a sobering note. I am sure that at least one accidental systems librarian must have made the mistake that resulted in the library catalogue being wiped, or some other awful blunder! But not one question gets anywhere near it in the "Accidental systems librarian survey", the full version of which appears as an appendix.
Chapter 1 starts with an attempt to define systems librarianship. The author observes that the task bears an unfortunate resemblance to trying to define what constitutes obscenity - most people just "know it when they see it"! And that, to some extent, is the problem of the book. Most readers will come to the book with a pre-conceived model of a systems librarian. If the book fits that model then the reader will probably like it. I had a problem straight away as I expected to find a lot more than one and a half pages devoted to the Integrated Library System which seems to me to be a fundamental requirement for a systems librarian. The management, migration of a system, associated vendor selection, data clean-up and staff training did, however, receive a comprehensive and helpful coverage in Chapter 8 under Administration and Management.
Chapter 2 provides a whistle-stop tour of "Technical areas you may need to master", including Microsoft and Open Source software, Macintosh, and Web design, all covered far too briefly in my view.
Chapter 3 covers the Organisation of Knowledge including inventorying, licensing, support information, and documentation. This is useful stuff, but then the book goes off into great detail on how to produce a Help Sheet for library users. Considering the short shrift given to some areas, such as digitisation, a two and three quarter page example of a help sheet for "Pasting a Résumé into an Internet Form" seems over-extravagant.
Other chapters include Instruction Techniques (training), Independent Study, Research Techniques, and Networking (with people - not computers. Computer networking receives a much shorter coverage in another chapter).
Finally, for the accidental systems librarian who is really fired up, there is a chapter covering 'Life Lessons' which includes finding a job and negotiating a 'raise'.
I have commented on the brevity of some subjects but the book does make up for this by listing 'works cited' at the end of each chapter, and includes a detailed appendix of recommended reading plus a large number of references to relevant Web sites. There is also the now mandatory Web site for the book which may be accessed at http://www.lisjobs.com/tasl/. The Web site includes the book's Foreword and Introductory chapter.
Senior Learning Resources Adviser
Barnet College, Barnet, Herts.
Article Title: "Book Review: The Accidental Systems Librarian"
Author: Eric Jukes
Publication Date: 30-October-2003
Publication: Ariadne Issue 37
Originating URL: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue37/jukes-rvw/