LIScareer.com
Career Strategies for Librarians
Working in a Joint-Use Facility
by Lisa Massengale

As I neared completion of my MLIS and began to apply for jobs, I wanted to work in an academic
environment because I had worked in a university library while I was in graduate school.  I applied for any
entry-level reference jobs in what I considered livable locations.  When I applied for and subsequently
accepted a position as a reference librarian in a joint-use library, I was excited about starting my career
in such a distinctive organizational model.  A joint use library is defined as “a library in which two or more
distinct library services providers, usually a school and a public library, serve their client groups in the
same building, based on an agreement that specifies the relationship between the providers.”[1]   This
library model essentially combines the strengths of both public and academic libraries.  As a reference
librarian in a facility that serves both university and public populations, my day encompasses a variety of
activities made unique by the nature of the organization.  My job is specifically focused on reference,
instruction, and collection development, but in reality I am involved in much more.   

As a newly minted librarian, I spent the first year on the job carving a niche for myself.  Now in my second
year I have begun thinking about the particular issues and concerns that make my job different from
more traditional reference librarian positions.

BENEFITS

Access to a large, varied collection

As a library committed to serving those affiliated with the school and the general public, there is a need
for a variety of resources.  When talking to librarians in other systems about their access to materials, I
realize how lucky I am to work in a facility with several hundred computers, a broad range of popular and
academic titles, and an abundance of electronic resources and services.  It has taken me over a year to
become completely comfortable with all the resources and services we provide and I find myself
learning something new every day.   

Broad range of patrons

I have really grown as a librarian because I have had the opportunity to work with both the general public
and academic patrons.  The array of questions I am asked during a reference shift has allowed me to
sharpen my skills and expand my knowledge base.  I can go from answering a question about finding a
peer-reviewed article in a database to helping a patron find a travel guide for his or her upcoming
vacation.  It is rewarding when patrons tell me how happy they are that they can come to one library and
have a range of their needs met.                                                                                              

Diversity of staff

I find that the best resources at a library are the employees.  The library as a whole employs people from
diverse academic and cultural backgrounds who bring different perspectives on the profession.  My
department alone has more than twelve full-time librarians, so there is always someone around to
provide valuable insight and advice.  As a paraprofessional I worked in some stressful libraries that had
severe staff stortages or had staff members who had become stagnant and bored. It has been extremely
beneficial for me to have many accessible colleagues with whom I can discuss any issues and
concerns.

CHALLENGES

Scheduling

Staffing a reference desk at a joint use facility is not your typical nine-to-five job.  Because the library
serves a diverse patron group, longer hours are needed for their convenience.  The library is open seven
days per week, so working a few night and weekend shifts is expected.  If you’re used to a more set
schedule as I was, it can be a challenging readjustment.

Access confusion

Since the library is on a university campus, public patrons assume they are not allowed to use the
library.  I find myself constantly reassuring the public that they are welcome and encouraged to use the
library.  Although we value all our patrons, there are some special rules concerning access to some
materials.  There are instances when patrons get upset about their restricted access to certain
resources.  It is a balancing act to ascertain which resources patrons have access to before I can point
them in the best direction to obtain the information they need.              

Virtual reference

We are unique in that a significant portion of our student population consists of online distance students
who have limited physical access to our print collection.  They must rely on our electronic resources,
which can malfunction at the most inopportune times.  It is always challenging to perform reference
without the face-to-face interaction necessary to properly gauge patrons’ satisfaction.

CONCLUSIONS

Overall I am extremely pleased with my decision to begin my career in such a unique institution.  I
believe that I have learned more about the profession than I would have if I had followed a more
traditional job path.  Since I have experience working in two types of libraries, I can claim familiarity with
providing quality reference assistance to a diverse patron population.   

It has been a bit of an adjustment. Coming from an academic library background, my first inclination is to
act as a teacher and show a person how to find information.  I find that in some cases, public patrons
are more interested in getting the information than in learning the process of finding it.  I was used to
showing someone how to use the catalog or a database as opposed to just finding a list of books or an
article for them.  While this adjustment has been difficult, I realized that as a librarian, my job is to
attempt to provide a level of service with which the patron is comfortable.  Library school prepared me
with the necessary academic skills to begin a career as a librarian; my experiences as a joint use
reference librarian have provided the resources and opportunities that motivate me to contribute to the
profession I have grown to love.

References

Bundy, A. (2003). Joint-use libraries – the ultimate form of cooperation. In. G. McCabe (Ed.), Planning the
modern public library building. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited. Retrieved January 5, 2005, from http:
//www.library.unisa.edu.au/about/papers/jointuse.htm

About the Author:

Lisa Massengale graduated with her MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh in 2003.  Her professional
interests include information ethics and information literacy.

Article published March 2005

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