February 17, 2018

Rivkah K. Sass | Movers & Shakers 2002

Creating Next-Generation Reference

“If we are going to survive, we have to find new ways to be there for the next generation”

When Rivkah Sass was planning to attend library school, she and her husband packed up their car and headed cross county, visiting campuses and communities from Brooklyn to Berkeley. It was an action that could be seen as emblematic of Sass’ career–adventuresome, committed to information gathering, and just a bit unorthodox.

Sass first thought of entering the library profession when she was working in the court system in Sonoma County, CA, and considering a law career. “But what I loved was digging for facts,” Sass says. “I was fascinated with providing people with access to information.” Sass’ first job after receiving her MLS in 1978 was at the Spokane Public Library as a reference and children’s librarian. While working with children has clearly informed Sass’ career, it is reference–getting the public the information they ne
ed–that is Sass’ passion.

As a coordinator at the Timberland Regional Library, WA, Sass worked on designing and providing public service in five outlets. In 1989 she joined the Washington State Library as continuing education coordinator. As the Internet came on the scene in the early 1990s, Sass created and conducted training for nearly 50 libraries, integrating the new technology into reference work. By the mid-1990s, Sass was deputy state librarian in Maryland, working on SAILOR, a ground-breaking initiative to provide free Internet access and resources to all Maryland residents through the local public library.


Current position: Reference Coordinator, Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR

Degree: MLS, University of Washington, 1978

Who knew?: Jane Austen fan, member of the Jane Austen Society of North America

“Life is about curiosity, and that’s what reference is all about.”

In 1996, Sass left libraries, joining Thomson Technology as a research engineer. “I always complained about vendors not paying attention to librarians’ concerns, so I thought this would be an opportunity to work from the inside out,” says Sass. She stayed with the company through its purchase by Gale Group–where she worked on the development of InfoTrac Total Access–leaving in 1999. “I’m a lot more tolerant,” says Sass, reflecting on her years in publishing. As for aggregated resources, “expect little, forgive much,” she advises.

Sass credits Gale Group’s Allan Paschal for showing her the importance of good working relationships. “He taught me to pay attention to the happiness of my staff,” she says. “If they’re happy, the customers are happy.”

As for accomplishments, Sass is proud of the number of people who entered the profession “because they said I inspired them.” She also cites the ability to see connections quickly. “I knew the Internet was going to be transformational fo
r library service and got to work on projects in the dark ages of 1991-93.” When Sass first saw Mosaic in 1993, she “knew there would be no going back.” When introduced to Metacrawler in 1995, her reaction was, “Why can’t that be done with library catalogs and databases?”

Today, Sass is busy planning the next-generation reference service for the library. She recently developed the web-based “AskUs!Online,” an award-winning initiative providing 24/7 reference service. “I’m interested in how we can market what we do,” Sass says, “so that we’re the relevant place in the public’s mind.” With a son who is 24 and daughter 16, Sass is worried about Generation Y, a generation that has completely integrated technology into their lives. “If we are going to survive, we have to find ways to be there for them.”