Day in the Life: Circulation Clerk at a Medical School Library

*Inspired by the Library Day in the Life project

5am: Good morning. After I shake the sleepiness off, I work out (the squats killed me today), eat breakfast (cheerios, of course!), shower, and work on my blog. Today I wrote my bio page, something I’ve been avoiding for a while.

7am: Pick up newspapers. I’m lucky enough to live a few blocks from my library so I don’t have a long commute. It was raining this morning so I left a bit early to make sure I could dry off when I got into the library. I went to the newsstand to pick up the daily newspapers we subscribe to: 2 New York Times, 2 Philadelphia Daily News and 2 Philadelphia Inquirers. I was so intent on getting to work without getting soaked that I skipped my morning coffee. Something I regret.

7:15am: Arrive at library. When I got to the library, there was already a group of students waiting for the main library to open. We have a study area that is open 24 hours which is usually packed and I have to be very careful to lock the door after myself or the students will find a way in! For my morning opening procedures, I counted the cash drawer, checked in any books that had been dropped in the book slot, changed the due dates on the stamps and made sure all the software we use was up and running.

7:30am: Sweep the library. After the circulation desk was all set up, I stocked my cart and got ready to sweep the library. My cart is my trusty sidekick; I load it with my water bottle, reams of paper, the duster, gloves (in case I have to pick up anything yucky; see IV kit) the newspapers (which I deliver to the two leisure reading areas) and the keys to the library. This way, I can go around the entire library and complete any tasks necessary to prepare for opening. I went around to the study rooms to make sure they were tidy. The other day I found an IV kit complete with an open vial of some medication. I hope this is something special to medical school libraries. I straightened up the furniture, collected some books that were lying around and replenished the paper in our 6 copiers and 2 printers. One of the copiers was jammed and I tried my best to open and close all the little doors so it would register the jam cleared but it wouldn’t. I left it to finish up my rounds.

7:45 am: Open the library. The mass outside the doors let me know it was getting close to opening time; they jiggled the handles repeatedly, as if to say, “You’re seriously going to wait 20 seconds until it is officially 7:45?” Sometimes I worry that they see me and know that I’m watching the clock! One of the regular students came in holding a Dunkin Donuts iced coffee and I clearly drooled, asking her what kind it was and saying it looked good. After I unlock all the doors, I scan any books that I find in the library to keep statistics on book usage and put them on the cart to be reshelved.

8:00am: Reshelving of books. By this time, the rest of the library staff arrived and I started reshelving the books that had been checked in. I made sure to organize my cart in call number order before I left the circulation desk, to cut down on the time it took. I also swung by the jammed copier from earlier and finished un-jamming it. The copy room was dark and hot so while I unjammed the copier, I left a bit jammed.


8:30am: Shelf Reading. For those who don’t know what shelf reading is, I was in your blissfully ignorant position just a few weeks ago. It’s not that bad, but it can be really draining if you do it for too long. I read the call number on each book on the shelf, to ensure that it they were in the proper place. I also straightened all the shelves so that the spines of the books were all lined up on the edge of the shelf. That way, you can always see the call number and the shelves appear orderly and clean. I’m also the first person in years to think that the shelves should be dusted, so I put on my plastic gloves and gave the shelves a good cleaning. Then I listened to the students studying nearby start to sneeze and moved on. I have to shelf read the entire library by October, and right now I’m on WE 200 (we use the National Library of Medicine classification system). I have 10 more shelves of circulating books, plus the journals, leisure books, thesis and reference area. I’m sure I’ll get it all done!

10:00am: On Search. I maintain a list of books that are missing and do a weekly search for them around the library. Today I found four missing books. Usually they’re mishelved or have fallen behind the stacks. It takes a lot of patience and a good eye to find them! I filed my report to my supervisor and patted myself on the back. Four books is pretty good, but last week I found eight.

11:00am: Pick up the mail. This isn’t too exciting but I get all the mail, sort it and deliver it to the various departments within our library. I like to deliver the mail because I get to talk to people I don’t normally see up at the circulation desk. Today the Technical Services librarian and I talked about hot chocolate. I am now craving a Starbucks hot chocolate. Who cares that it is over 500 calories for a tall?


11:30am: Lunch. I usually bring my lunch but today I got caught up in the morning and didn’t have time to pack it. The hospital has a really great cafeteria so I got an Americano from the Jazzman CafĂ© (delicious) and made myself a simple salad of greens, dried cranberries, pine nuts, cherry tomatoes, pepper chicken and cucumbers with olive oil vinaigrette. A guy at the table next to me was telling his friend about a simulation he did for a class, where he had to tell a woman (an actress) that her husband had just died. The actress reacted by twitching and fainting and he was tested on how he handled the situation. His take away was, “it wasn’t real, so I was giggling and stuff. I just want to be done with this and get in there!”

12:00pm: Circulation Desk. A very excited man approached the circulation desk, asking for board review books. “BOARD REVIEW BOOKS!” he said looking at the scrawled note across his forearm. I asked him if there was a particular subject or publisher he was looking for. He said “BOARD REVIEW BOOKS!” We get a lot of people who give vague descriptions of the books they’re looking for. “It’s blue,” is a favorite descriptor of our patrons. Sometimes I wonder why we don’t organize the books by cover color instead. I gave the BOARD REVIEW BOOKS man a couple of call numbers and he pretty much skipped into the book collection. He came back in a bit and asked for “Wheater’s Histology Atlas.” This time I knew what he was talking about, QS 517 W556f. I got him one of the many copies we had on Reserve. He told me that he was sorry to bother me, and that he was new. He hadn’t yet found a place to live and had been sleeping in our 24 hour study area. I already suspected this, having seen him for the past two mornings sprawled across some chairs. I told him he was no bother and to let me know what else I could do to help.

1:00pm: Still at Circulation Desk. One of the ladies from the IT department called and asked me if I remembered the error code we kept getting on the pay-card scanners yesterday. I spent the next half hour trying to Google it. Then I asked the reference librarian (isn’t that what they’re for?) but we couldn’t figure it out either.

Between helping patrons’ check in/out books, DVDs and laptops, I worked on updating the wiki the library keeps for Student Workers on the circulation procedures. I also updated my performance goals. I’ve been checking off a lot from my list lately and happily so. I started at my new position on July 13th and I try to work towards completing my goals whenever I find down time. Today, I made signs for the study rooms so that the students knew which room number they were. A couple of students had complained that there weren’t any room numbers, and we had an outdated map of the library to direct them. So I updated the map and printed out some room numbers so that the students knew which room they had reserved. This went toward my goal of improving the patron’s library experience.

One of the regulars came in with a coffee coolata, but I remained committed to my Americano and didn’t drool too much over it. Another girl came and asked for a reserve book on Obstetrics and Gynecology (WP 140 O14). Yesterday, I had encouraged her to wait until after 4pm so that she could have it overnight (our overnight reserve books are due by 9am the next morning). Sure enough, 4:01 another patron came and took the book out – I felt so bad! I apologized to her today and told her good luck. Their test is tomorrow.

2:00pm: Sweep the library. I collected any books that were left out, scanned them into our computer so we know they’re being used and put them on the trusty cart to be reshelved. We have a great Technical Services Librarian who is semi-retired who was in the library today. We talked about some damaged books I had dropped off at his office. He is very passionate about books and hates to see them in poor condition. We once had an issue with someone I call the “book bandit” (but that is another post) and he was incensed.

2:30pm: Get mail, sort, deliver. Lather, rinse, repeat.

3pm: Close up shop. Reshelf books, replenish paper, straighten up, and make sure everything is ready for student workers who take over at 5pm. There was another copier jam and I handled it as gracefully as I could while keeping an eye on the clock and my stack of books needing to be reshelved.

4pm: Home again home again jiggity jig. Back to my little studio apartment in Center City, where I got changed and went out to meet my boyfriend Andrew for a night of fun!

5pm: Explore Philadelphia. After making some sorry looking heart shaped pancakes, we checked out Fairmont Park (and were the only ones just walking/sitting on the benches - everyone else was running/biking/rollerblading or walking with determination). For some reason we found reenacting scenes from Forrest Gump to be hysterical and talked for most of the night in a Forrest Gump twang.

7:30pm: Burger Craving. The pancakes weren't a full dinner for us, so we walked across town to indulge in some Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

8:15pm: Be cool. While walking off dinner, we listened to Michael Jackson songs on my iPhone and snapped our fingers while trying to walk like MJ in Billie Jean.

9:00pm: Interwebs. We checked in on our favorite time-sucking websites: Awkward Family Photos, F My Life and There, I Fixed It.

Awkward Family Photos

9:30pm: Sleep time! Andrew tucked me in, locked up my apartment and headed home to NJ. Woo! What a day!

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