I count myself incredibly lucky for the library school I attended: what was then the SUNY Albany School of Library and Information Science and is now the SUNY Albany College of Computing & Information. This is mainly because of the faculty with whom I was able to study: Joe Morehead (between his class and Tae Moon Lee’s government documents collection I was able to see the beauty of documents…and find them!), Ann Prentice (her course on library administration was a real eye-opener, but everything she told us was right on target. Wow!), Bill Saffady (of whom I will always think fondly for having taught cataloging as gently as possible to a bunch of us reference types in an Albany summer), Richard Sweeney Halsey (with whom I once had a three-hour conversation about information, culture, and the connections between the two in the graduate common room at SUNYA/SLIS), and my adviser and mentor, Bill Katz, who, among other things, taught real-world librarianship as he had experienced it.
Bill had a somewhat unusual—but very valuable—preparation for being a librarian, having started out as a newspaper reporter, then working as a reference librarian at the University of Washington (UDub) and King County Library for some years before going on to be an editor at the American Library Association (ALA) and then a library educator. The reporting experience must have influenced him a lot, because he taught us reference work pretty much as if we were reporters working on a red-hot story as well as detectives digging up the salient facts for that story. Bill’s approach to reference made the work exciting, dynamic, and fascinating, and he kept introducing us to more and more reality along the way: he brought in working bibliographers to tell us how you really go about creating a collection; had a serials librarian demonstrate the legerdemain it takes to acquire, keep track of, and make accessible journals as they morph from name change to name change; and knowing that many of us had never encountered some of the more controversial materials that libraries might be asked by patrons to provide, he brought in some of those publications for us to take a look at and discuss why the library might or might not add them to its serial holdings.
But the most crucial thing Bill taught me was that, as a reference librarian, my most important working resource would be people: the people I worked with and the people I met along the way as I practiced librarianship. He stressed the importance of becoming an integral part of the community you serve, reaching out to as many people as you can, building good working relationships with them, and earning their trust and respect. Bill’s idea of a rich, far-flung network preceded that of LinkedIn by decades; he knew “the power of knowing people” long before the Internet or even personal computers. It was a highly practical approach: if you don’t know or can’t find the answer right away, call somebody you know who might. I’ve done this everywhere I’ve worked, and I’ve been astonished at how much folks like being asked to draw on their expertise. But it makes perfect sense when you think about it: when a reference librarian can’t find something and asks you for help, it is a testament to your knowledge and reputation. The first few times I did this, I did it with trepidation: asking a world-renowned Shakespearean scholar about a detail in The Tempest had my knees shaking as I placed the call. But he answered my question immediately and then thanked me for calling and invited me to consult him again if a similar need ever arose. He was not only gracious, he sounded pumped, and I know I was! Bill’s advice turned out to be spot-on, once again.
The same goes for colleagues, both current and past. I have colleagues at my present workplace whose knowledge of research is phenomenal, and they are very generous in sharing it (a characteristic I’ve found in many fellow librarians). I enjoy staying in touch with friends and acquaintances through email and phone inquiries (I don’t text message much; my fingers, which can palm a basketball and reach an octave and two notes on a keyboard, are too big for easy messaging), and, again, folks not only don’t mind being asked, they appreciate the acknowledgement of their wisdom. And all the while I’m building a network, extending it as far as I can, all thanks to Bill.
I don’t know how many other folks out there studied under the inimitable Bill Katz, but I’d love to hear from you if you did. I’d also love to hear from others about how you create and work your networks: Is it through LinkedIn and other social media? Is it through conferences and committees? Or is it my “old-fashioned way,” one person at a time?
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