Blog: What does a subject librarian of South and Southeast Asia do all day?

By Marije Plomp

“Is it true you never lay a hand on a book?”, “Then what do you do all day?” These are very common questions for Marije Plomp, the newly appointed subject librarian of South and Southeast Asia. In this guest blog she takes us through a typical day at the Leiden University Library.

For starters, my tasks include buying books, journals, databases and audiovisual material for the library. I’m also responsible for helping you – students, researchers and lecturers – find what you are searching for in the enormous library collections. That sounds pretty straightforward, but in reality it’s a complicated and therefore quite daunting task. I need to buy exactly the right materials you need for your study or research, while at the same time expanding the wonderfully rich KITLV and KERN collections with acquisitions that in other ways are worthwhile to collect and preserve.

It’s been an equally exciting challenge for me to navigate through the complex internal workflow of the University Library. Before coming here I never imagined the inner crypts of a library to be so full of activity. A mindboggling series of small tasks have to be executed by the library staff to ensure that your books await you in the correct locker. Quite a few of them are done by your subject librarian.

Meanwhile, I talk with a lot to researchers, lecturers and students about what they need from the library. From them I learn about hard-to-find publications from all over the world. The next step, then, is to collect and peruse online catalogues from publishers and buy these materials. I study the acquisition profiles, receive donated material and register it. (This is the only time I do handle physical books).

As a subject librarian, it’s my responsibility to keep up with the latest developments in research data management, Open Access publishing, copyrights, specialised databases and digital humanities. I advise readers on these topics or refer them to the library’s specialists. I regularly teach library crash courses and help users to find the material they need, here or elsewhere in the world.

These are some of the things I do. What I don’t do – dear library user – is your work. I can point you in the right direction, but it is you who has to dig into the books!

(Marije Plomp is the subject librarian of South and Southeast Asia at the Leiden University Library and former board member of the Members Association of KITLV.  The collection of KITLV is part of Leiden University Libraries since July 2014.)

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