As part of a departmental review, we’ve been sent a questionnaire asking us what percentage of our time we spent on various activities in the last year. Not too difficult a task, surely?
But when I sit down and think about it, it’s hard enough to work out what I actually do all day, let alone what percentages of my time I spend doing it in the course of a year. Not, I hasten to add, that I fritter away my time staring out of the window or covertly updating my Facebook page – even were I so inclined, my window has a view of two stacked portakabins and I haven’t really grasped social networking technology. It’s simply that there’s no such thing as an average day, week or month in the kind of job I do.
Take the last couple of weeks for example. I’ve been co-organising a one-day seminar and a visit for staff from another library, and preparing and presenting a talk for fellow-staff on Nazi children’s literature in our collections. I’ve also been getting ready to welcome a work experience student. These things have involved me in tasks from basic admin (dealing with room bookings and catering orders, filling in HR forms for the student) to the more intellectually challenging (organising a tour and display of ‘treasures’ for the visitors, researching and writing the talk, and making sure I have what I hope will be some interesting and worthwhile tasks and activities for the student).
On a more everyday level, I’ve been checking our general ‘german-enquiries’ mailbox and dealing with priority book orders and general post while Clemens has been on holiday. This may all be rather atypical, but so many weeks, months and even years are atypical. Much of 2007 was dominated for staff in European Collections by preparations for the Breaking the Rules exhibition, and for me the autumn of 2008 was dominated by the recruitment process for a new post in German.
Of course there are core elements of the job, with clear targets. Book selection and the many related activities are central to what we do and probably account for the largest percentage of my and my colleagues’ time. The number and nature of enquiries received may vary from month to month, but can be averaged out over the year. As a manager, I have to make sure that I keep up to date with performance reviews and job plans. Then there are regular meetings – our monthly departmental meeting and another monthly meeting of a group which discusses and shares information about cataloguing issues. Although reading room duties are no longer part of my formal job, I still spend the occasional morning on the Rare Books enquiry desk when reference team colleagues need an extra pair of hands.
Writing this down, I have actually helped myself to see a framework of regular tasks to which the less predictable elements of the job can be added, and it is to a large extent that balance of the regular and the unusual, the predictable and the unexpected, which makes a curatorial job what it is. So I will return to my percentages with a new resolve to work it all out, and to think of it not as an onerous task, but as a chance to look back over another typically atypical year.