About Me


Friday, June 10, 2011

Working at an Information Desk

I spend my days sitting at a desk with "Information" emblazoned across it in bold-face lettering, with a sign on my left entreating passers-by to "Ask Here!" and a button on my shirt encouraging them to "Ask Me!"

And they do. Oh boy, do they ever ask.

When I was training for this job, my boss emphasized that it wasn't my responsibility to know everything. I was to answer the questions I could--there was a 50-page training manual teaching me how to do that--and refer the rest to the appropriate people, offices, or resources.

My brain is a catalogue of people, offices, and resources.

At any given moment, someone might come up and ask me any question their little heart desires. Seeing the word "information", they figure I must have the answer to just about anything. And, to be fair, I do.

I can give directions to anywhere on campus--and practically anywhere in the city--without a second thought. I know everything there is to know about finding materials in the library, from books to online resources to microfiche in compact shelving. I can load a roll of microfilm in about ten seconds and merge two PDF documents in five.

From the top of my head I can tell you how much it costs to print an 11x17 page in colour, where to find a fax machine on campus, the number of the computer store, approximately how long it takes for a book ordered from U of T library to arrive.

When people hear "Information Desk," I'm pretty sure their brains say, "Google." Because they will literally use you like a search engine. Someone might call and say, "If I tell you my neighbour's last name can you tell me what country it's from?" or "I need to talk to Jenna in Mechanical Engineering." You might get an email asking where a Geography student can book an academic counselling session, or if it's possible to have the correspondence of a nineteenth-century politician copied and faxed to Wales. Someone might come up and ask about an accessible entrance to the Film School building, or the fan mail address of a celebrity. And whenever there's any kind of special event on campus, you can be absolutely certain someone is going to ask me all about it. Especially if there is little to no information on the university website. In which case I have no answers.

Technically, this is a library information desk that is supposed to provide library information. But sometimes that seems difficult for people to understand.

Through it all, I am constantly helping people who can't find the books they're looking for--either because they have trouble understanding the call number system or because the book is misplaced. I help them fill out request forms if that's the case. I deal with computer problems, printing and scanning problems, photocopier troubleshooting, difficulty connecting to the wireless internet. When the database servers are down I teach students how to find the same resources through the journal publication's website. After ITS goes home for the day I comfort people freaking out because their laptops have crashed. After Learning Skills have gone home for the day I soothe frazzled nerves of students so stressed they're barely coherent. After the librarians go home for the day I give students research crash-courses and suggest alternatives when they discover all the books they need for their paper due tomorrow have been taken out already. And sometimes I even give library tours, teach workshops on how to make posters with PowerPoint or business spreadsheets with excel.

Honestly? By now, three years into this job, I think I actually do know just about everything.

Where to rent a projector on campus. How to connect to the proxy server from home. Printing three slides per page with notes from Word 2010. Sometimes the questions run through my dreams.

It's interesting. It's challenging. I enjoy it. I like the feeling that my brain is a giant database filled with facts and instructions and resources.

But here's the real question.

How the crap do I put this on my resume?

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