A Day in the Life of a Local Studies Librarian

It’s something of a cliché in the modern workplace to proclaim that there is “no typical day” in profession x, y, or z; such is the speed of turnover in tasks, roles, colleagues and service-users. Cliché it may be – but it is, even so, an absolute truth for today’s local studies librarian, especially in these days of cross-service responsibilities. My current role, for instance – Librarian-Manager for the Local and Family History department at Leeds Central Library – combines what we might call ‘traditional’ librarianship with the responsibilities of front-line team management.

Leeds Central Library. Credit: librariestaskforce . Licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Even so, certain patterns do emerge in the ‘librarian’ part of that job-title equation. A typical day likely starts with the standard checking of emails and consequent actioning of immediate necessities (whatever that may mean – anything from getting stock ready for customer visits to delivering, at short notice, a heritage tour of our 1884 building). After that, if I am not required to cover our departmental counter (in truth, a frequent occurrence) comes the ‘real’ work: aiding customers with enquiries delivered by phone, email or in person; usually through painstaking research on some obscure matter of regional or ancestral history. 

In-between, or after, the settling of those priorities my attention moves to tasks with longer-term deadlines – organising a programme of public talks on relevant themes, for instance: identifying possible speakers, making contact, and then thrashing out the logistics of rooms, dates, times, the wording and imagery for promotional material. A similar amount and type of work is required for our series of family history workshops and 1-1 sessions.

Our age of the digital catalogue means physical stock work is perhaps less common today than it was 10-20 years ago. Nonetheless, those pleasures are still with us and usually form part of a typical day: anything from identifying, ordering or collecting new books and other, ephemeral material for the researchers of today and tomorrow, accepting (or rejecting!) offers of donations from the contents of your Great Aunt Lydia’s loft, to the comfortingly traditional, tactile acts of rearranging, repairing and reclassifying books. Just this past week, for instance, I spent an afternoon reboxing our (fantastic) collection of 19th and 20th-century playbills from Leeds theatres.

Finally, most days find me engaged in some level of editorial work on the Leeds Libraries’ heritage and collections blog, the Secret Library Leeds (www.secretlibraryleeds.net) – a job that covers everything from replying to user comments, through commissioning and uploading articles written by librarian colleagues or external contributors, to the researching and writing of original content myself.

That is really only a snapshot of I do, with large chunks of any given day spent improvising to rapid developments with staff, stock and the public. While all Librarians I know bemoan their lack of predictable time to devote to long-term projects, I’m not sure, in truth, any of us would swap that for the invigorating reality of never knowing quite what is to come each and every day.

Antony Ramm

January 7th 2020

Antony Ramm is Librarian-Manager of the Local and Family History department in Leeds Central Library