ASSOCIATES (2009, November, v. 16, no. 2)


Sue Knoche, Johnson City, Tennessee

sueknoche1Medical Library Assistant
ETSU Quillen College of Medicine Library, Johnson City, TN.

Where do you work?

I have been employed at The Quillen College of Medicine Library at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee for 21 years. We are located in the upper northeast corner of the state about 25 miles from the Virginia border and about 15 miles from North Carolina. This area is the first settlement west of the original 13 colonies back in the 1700’s and first independent form of government established. It is considered to be the first frontier.

What do you do?

My title is Medical Library Assistant, Cataloging/Serials/Acquisitions. I started in the position of library assistant, cataloging in 1988; acquisitions was added in the 1990’s; and serials in 2004. This was due to staff leaving over the years and with budget constraints, these positions were blended into one. So being a small specialty academic library, there is our Technical Services Librarian and myself to handle all the duties associated with this department.

My duties include all aspects of cataloging, processing, daily print serials check in and soon to be assisting in electronic journals, catalog clean up management/maintenance, accepting/processing donations, special projects for other departments, occasionally helping librarians with graphic presentations, training/supervising student workers, purchasing materials (if funds are available) and being a book repair expert. What I call one of the perks of my job is “museum duty” where I give tours of the Museum at Mountain Home about the history of medicine, the history of our Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the history of the development of health care in our areas. There are many other duties as assigned it’s impossible to list them all, but I really like my job.

How did you get involved in library work?

A very interesting question, because most of what I do I’ve learned along the way from librarians or procedure manuals in addition to a common sense approach to team work or problem solving. In high school I worked in the library as a student worker or after school as an extra-curricular activity since I liked the library so much, especially filing cards and went on to being the President of the library club. Not quite sure why, but back then and even now, I enjoy filing or putting things in order on the shelf and probably the only person to miss an old fashion card catalog. I also like to shelf read and while in our local Barnes & Nobel store waiting for friends to finish making their selections, I noticed many books thrown around out of order, and have on a few occasions felt compelled to restore order to their shelves.

When I moved here from Chicago in 1988, where I was a medical secretary for an orthopedic surgeon, the jobs here were very limited and no jobs were currently available for what I was trained to do. I applied at a temporary agency and with my knowledge of medical terminology I was assigned to the University in the College of Medicine, Department of Pathology, Forensics to type autopsy reports. Although I knew orthopedic anatomy like the back of my hand it certainly didn’t prepare me for the extensive knowledge needed to do this job. I believe it takes a certain type of individual to work daily in a pathology department environment and it definitely was not me. The pathology department director liked my work and although they offered me a full time position and/or gave me a great recommendation when I applied for a job opening in the medical library. I’m really not sure if the library job was not available if I would have pursued a career path in libraries because it would not have crossed my mind. I believe things happen for a reason and I think I found where I needed to be because I do enjoy my job; being an active member on committees, roundtables, of various professional library organizations; the special projects being able to use my creative side for presentations, displays etc. for the library; being a museum tour guide or working with some amazing people not only in our area but throughout Tennessee.

Describe support staff activities in your area.

There are none to speak of. Tennessee Library Association (TLA) dissolved the paraprofessional roundtable a few years ago due to lack of participation by support staff being active in this group. At TLA I’ve never felt that being a support staff has ever restricted me in anyway, just because I do not hold an MLS I feel I’ve earned the respect of many librarians across the state. All support staff people from around the state are continually invited and encouraged to join either TLA; the local group in their area of the state; SELA (SouthEastern Library Association) – regional; or ALA – national. We are encouraged to serve on roundtables, committees or special groups with librarians/directors rather than having a separate group specifically for support staff alone. I am currently the chair for TLA technical services roundtable and a member of the TLA Honors & Awards Committee; have been chair of the paraprofessional roundtable when it was active; the first and only support staff person to serve as the Recording Secretary 2005-2006 or a position on the executive committee in the 102 years TLA has been an organization. Opportunities are available in Tennessee for support staff should there be a desire in whatever capacity they are needed or feel comfortable in.

Final comments

As the recipient of the Library Journal Paraprofessional of the Year 2003 as well as other awards, it has opened some doors that may not have been open or thought of before. You don’t need to be an award winner to just get out there and become involved in libraries or other community events and promote your library. I think it also gives one a boost in confidence to “be the best we can be, in whatever, however, or whenever you can”. As one of the past presidents of ALA LSSIRT I am proud of what this group has achieved in the past 5-10 years. No doubt they will continue to be the trend setter for years to come on behalf of support staff everywhere. Get involved in your library association today, go above and beyond what you would normally do and you’ll be glad you did.