February 16, 2018

Susan McGlamery | Movers & Shakers 2002

Putting Virtual Reference on the Map

“Software is just a means to an end”

Susan McGlamery promotes digital reference with a chipper enthusiasm, so it’s hard to imagine her as a newly minted lawyer practicing corporate tax law. Neither could she, so she quickly left the firm and found a stopgap job in a law library. It reminded her of her “glorious days of youth working in a public library, working with books, helping people,” so she went to library school. That led to jobs in law libraries and a think tank, then finally to her position at MCLS, a consortium of mainly public libraries.

With Steve Coffman, then of the County of Los Angeles Public Library, McGlamery began the 24/7 Reference Project, which has developed a set of software tools to help librarians provide real-time reference assistance. Two years ago, Coffman left to build vendor LSSI’s burgeoning reference business. Meanwhile, the nonprofit 24/7 project has signed up new clients for cooperative reference services, including the academic, K-12, and special libraries in all of southern California as well as public libraries in Boston and Charlotte, NC, and a Mississippi community college consortium. The project has also licensed its software to several other libraries. “It’s possible that [LSSI] will be a Barnes & Noble, and we’ll be an independent bookstore,” she says.

“This is a decisive time for librarians,” says McGlamery, noting that the Internet has democratized the process of information-seeking so that librarians face marginalization as a profession if they don’t change. “That’s why I am so committed to the 24/7 Reference project. If [our clients] are out there, we should be out there too! We call it reference ‘Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere’ (which of course is the name of a song by the Who).”


Current position: Coordinator of Reference Services for the Metropolitan Cooperative Library System (MCLS), Los Angeles and Orange counties; Instructor, UCLA Department of Information Studies

Degree: MLS, St. John’s University, 1987; she went to library school after law school

Active in: Directs MCLS’s 24/7 Reference Project

“Software is just a means to an end.”

McGlamery says it’s challenging to coordinate projects among a diverse group of 40 public libraries, which range from tiny local libraries to the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL). But what excites her most is “the collaboration, having subject experts interact with public librarians. If someone clicks on the LAPL web site, they can be transferred directly to a law librarian. The public doesn’t know all the things the library can do.”

McGlamery hasn’t taught at UCLA for a year owing to the demands of the reference project but hopes to return to it soon. “I really enjoy interacting with library students: they are enthusiastic, eager to make a difference, and not satisfied with the status quo,” she says. While she felt she was around more kindred spirits in library school than in law school, she thinks that the “rigorous logical reasoning and persuasive argument” required of law students could benefit librarians. Writing briefs, she reflects, has certainly helped her as a grantwriter; the California State Library has been a major supporter of the 24/7 project.

When she entered library school, says McGlamery, she didn’t imagine she’d need to develop a techie side, managing a project in which commercial customer service software has been adapted for library use. “But I’m glad it’s evolved into something so meaningful for such a wide number of people. It’s helpful to people–that’s the main thing I wanted from librarianship.”

McGlamery has found a niche. “If I do have an idea that makes sense, I’m given a lot of leeway to make it happen.” Then again, she’s sure to immerse herself in another project. “I have a very short attention span. This is the longest I’ve been in any job, ever. Right now I’m still fascinated with the subject experts.”