ASSOCIATES (vol. 11, no. 2, November 2004) - associates.ucr.edu
*Something about ... Mary Niederlander*
"Something about ..." continues interviews of library paraprofessionals of note. This issue we interview Mary Niederlander, who has created and maintains an excellent website called “LibrarySupportStaff.com” <http://librarysupportstaff.com> that provides resources for on the job and much more for staff working in today's libraries.
Question: Tell us about yourself, where you work, what you do, and a little about your library.
MN: I am a 50-something wife and grandmother, who lives in Buffalo, New York. I have worked in only one library for the past 21 years. My workplace at the Kideney Health Sciences Library is a small library in the Millard Fillmore/Gates Circle Hospital, a large city hospital is part of Kaleida Health (http://library.kaleidahealth.org). I had submitted my resume to the city hospital 22 years ago to work as “ward secretary.” With only a high school education and some noted volunteer work at my children’s school library on my resume, I was called by the hospital – and asked if I would like to apply for a job opening in the hospital library. Apparently the fact of “volunteer work” in a “library,” caught someone’s eye in the human resource department.
For the first 15 years of my job I was the sole “night time” technician, working part-time for 12 years, then full time 12pm – 8pm. I ran the library all by myself, from 4:30pm to 8pm. I did just about every task required for working in a library over the years. Personally, working alone and teaching myself new skills suited my personality, and I thrived and enjoyed the variety my job offered very much.
Six years ago, my hospital and our suburban sister hospital (which also has a library) merged with three other hospitals. Two of the other hospitals had their own library. We merged into one library system, sharing an online catalog, etc. But we remain four separate libraries, each staffed and each with its own site librarian coordinator. My library was the only one that was open in the evenings, and since no one except “me” liked working evenings, it was decided that we would close evenings. All four libraries would operate 8:30am – 4: 30pm Monday-Friday.
During the first three years of the merged system, I worked with two librarians and another technician. I handled Serials Management and the Bindery. We all worked the reference desk, helped in the library computer lab, etc. Everyone in our library was crossed trained, so that we felt comfortable taking vacations and could pinch-hit when the site coordinator librarians were in meetings, etc. Some employees of the other libraries began to leave, and there was a hiring freeze, eventually – each library has ended up with one support staff technician. Now I handle ILLs, serials, bindery, etc., and all other tasks as assigned. One of the libraries has a cataloging technician who does all of the cataloging for the system. She receives, catalogs, processes, and packs up the books and AV for delivery to each library. One of the other technicians handles all of the billing matters for the system. One of the librarians works four days at my library and one day at our Suburban library. Our site coordinator works half time at my library and half time at one of the other city hospital libraries. I am the only full time employee at my library.
Question: What kind of support staff activities are you involved with?
MN: Currently I am the webmaster for our local support staff group, The Western New York Library Assistants (WNYLA). (See the WNYLA website at http://wnyla.org.) Unfortunately, I am not able to participate or contribute as much as I would like within the group due to my own work constraints. But I have managed to attend some of the wonderful workshops and “Getting to Know You” sessions that are offered. And, some of my suggestions for workshop programming have been supported, and successful workshops were held with those ideas.
“Getting to Know You” sessions are when an individual library within Western New York offers a session, and their staff puts together a program, hosts the WNYLA’ers, and informs them all about their library, tells what the staff does, etc. They often feature speakers and/or tours of their work areas and libraries.
Being able to attend three of the New York State Library Assistants (NYSLA) conferences over the past 10 years have been very worthwhile ventures and learning opportunities for me. NYSLA is a terrific organization that truly supports activities and learning for support staff within New York and beyond. I feel everything I learned from both WNYLA and NYSLA activities and participation has made me a more effective library worker and has benefited me personally with friendships and growth within the profession.
Question: You are noted for LibrarySupportStaff.com. How did this come about?
MN: I am an internet junkie, ever since I first linked upon it. I loved finding things of interest, websites, etc., and early on I found several library-oriented sites. I would save those sites as bookmarks.
I became aware of LIBSUP-L when I attended the 1994 COLT conference in Miami. I came home all excited about the possibility of talking online with other support staff. I learned so much from these contacts. Often questions were asked, and sometimes through my research online, I would find answers and share with the group. I always saved everything I ever found, and eventually developed quite a group of resources. I knew of the terrific site, The Library Support Staff Resource Center (LSSRC), created and developed by Martha Parsons and Walt Nickerson. I had already put up a website that included all my favorite internet finds (which covered Tea & Tea related info, Family and Home links, and more). One set of pages was my “library links” or what I called The LibMary. I thought to myself: Why not have a one-stop linking site just for Support Staff that could have all the links anyone could ever want to find? The site would link up with the resources of the LSSRC, and my links would supplement those. I bought the domain name and within a month of going live with my site, the LSSRC was in the phase of moving from the University of Rochester in New York to Martha Parsons’s neck of the woods in Washington. The LSSRC site was not available for linking, but I figured it soon would be, so I went live in October 2000 – with LibrarySupportStaff.com. Soon the site took on a life of its own, and I began to add page after page of interesting resources that I hoped anyone working in today’s libraries would find useful.
I work on LibrarySupportStaff.com in my spare time at home, as well as three of my other websites (Teas2Dine4.com; SippingTea.com and Link2Mary.com – I also own 2 other domains that are not as fully developed). Working on my websites is a therapeutic hobby that I enjoy. The fact that they prove useful to internet travelers is a nice bonus for me.
Question: You obviously use technology, especially the web. Has it changed your particular job?
MN: Yes, especially in the area of online journals and interlibrary loans. I use the internet every day, finding online articles, verifying citations, using email and other internet tools to meet our patrons’ requests. I use Docline and OCLC’s online ILL systems each day, and the speed and efficiency of both systems really makes my job so much easier. I use Locator Plus, part of the National Library of Medicine, for finding information on books, journals, or audiovisuals.
Using the internet for reference has made my job more interesting and I feel I am able to research and find things more effectively using the net, saving time for the patron and myself. I enjoy the hunt for information. I am an effective searcher, using Medline, and PubMed, and becoming more familiar with other databases.
Question: Anything new being introduced in your library?
MN: No. But that’s not to say we “the staff” don’t stay informed or understand the latest library trends or listen to the current needs of our own patrons. We feel we meet their information needs, with a user-friendly staff, and have created a library that is comfortable and a place they want to come to. If we don’t have it in-house, we know how to easily obtain it for them.
Question: If you had unlimited funds, what would you do for your library?
MN: I would invest in more computer hardware, color printers, software and technology to produce audiovisual programming, etc., so that hospital personnel could use the Library for research, writing, and producing programs, learning tutorials, patient teaching tools, etc. – all in one place. And I would hire staff that could teach and support such programming within the Library.
Question: If you had unlimited power in the profession, what would you like to change?
MN: That’s a tough question…
My personal opinion of the American Library Association (ALA) is that there is too much focus on “politics” and not enough on the individual library worker and staff. I’d like to see more support staff features and articles, etc., within all major library publications. I believe there are so many intelligent, articulate voices and ideas of support staff that need to be heard on a larger stage within the profession.
I also believe that support staff has made great strides over the past few years, especially within ALA, and we are just finally becoming a part of the “profession” and our presence is being felt throughout it. Change never comes easily or without struggle.
Even if I had unlimited “power,” I don’t think I could change things as effectively as the group power we as support staff have within our own grasp. I believe in the power of “one” and that one can accomplish much – but I don’t think it should be the “one” accomplishment. We need the shared accomplishments, ideas and contributions of “many” to become a true and effective power.
In 1983, I was looking for a part-time job working nights so I wouldn't have to hire a sitter. I never sought a job working in a library of any type. But someone, some where, found me and put me in the position to obtain this job. (I think it was my Guardian angel, my Nana, who worked as a Librarian in the 1930-40's) This job has fit me to a “Tea.” I have made it my own. The internet helped open up the world for me to others who work in libraries. For that connection, I am forever grateful. Through LibrarySupportStaff.com, LIBSUP-L, and email, I am able to learn from and connect with wonderful people who share their passion, accomplishments, love, humorous and downsides of their own library jobs.
Thank you to all of "you" who link up with me and each other, online and off.