Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer’s post about keeping a job diary hit a nerve yesterday. I mean to keep a diary–either personal or professional, but somehow the pressures of the day get in the way–and when I worked the reference desk semi-regularly, I tried doing so. But since the reference desk is obsolete, and at my library, at least for the time-being, librarians don’t staff the reference desk, it’s a moot point. In fact, keeping a reference desk diary is a great practice and I recommend it highly to new and old reference librarians alike for several reasons.
First, keeping a reference desk diary documents the amount of time you spend answering a question. It allows you to identify your search strategy as well as to pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses. Certainly, while you were in library school and enrolled in your reference courses, your reference professor sent you on wild goose chases and you documented your search strategies and he or she read over them to ascertain your growing familiarity with reference sources. But, reflecting upon your strengths and weaknesses is always important for professional growth. For instance, I’m terrible at business reference and never took a course in those sources. And so I know those weaknesses and usually refer any of those type of questions to the librarian on staff who has the MBA.
Second, a reference diary allows you to retain key pieces of information for future reference, such as patron name, email address, and telephone numbers in a permanent, easily accessible, chronologically ordered place. Whereas, if you wrote that information on a scrap piece of paper and lost it between the time you last spoke with the patron and when you discovered the answer to her question, well, what good is that? Perhaps, you’re better organized than that and would never lose a scrap of paper. Keeping hold of that patron information is valuable as well because of the key trends in librarianship that I recently read about is turning the library/librarian into a consultant. Basically this means re-branding. Just change our name and image and instead of calling patrons patrons, call them customers. But, this also entails keeping hold of customer data and building a database and building relationships with them. Basically, from what I gathered, stalking people. Okay, so maybe not.
Third, over the long-term a reference diary lets you examine and re-visit your growth as a reference librarian annually. This data is useful for administrative purposes if you’re in academia and must prepare an annual report of your activities. Keeping a reference diary provides both qualitative and quantitative data that you can suss of your diary and deposit into your report which then reflects your professionalism.
The value of journaling that the authors of the article I mentioned in the first sentence was:
Journaling has also given me patience and sharpened my ability to plan. Although it can seem that I’m making only baby steps of progress — and, yes, sometimes going sideways or even backwards before moving forward — my journal is an independent arbiter (and a silent cheerleader). There will always be more progress to make, but for me it is important to know that I am moving closer to my goals. I am always encouraged to look back and know how far I have come in a year’s time, and how major obstacles seem to become minor speed bumps in hindsight. This record gives me great patience and perspective when new challenges come my way.
On my honor as a librarian, I promise to make a better attempt at professional journaling. Although, blogging is a type of journaling. It isn’t daily journaling because I don’t approach this practice in that manner. And I’m promoting a reference desk diary/journal, although it’s helpful to have a general professional journal as well.