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AJL Member Spotlight: Naomi Steinberger. Part 1 of 2.

Naomi Steinberger is Director of Library Services at Jewish Theological Seminary. This interview was conducted by Bob Schrier. Bob Schrier holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Earlham College and spent the last 8 years working as a teacher, manager, and high school librarian. He is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Syracuse University with a focus in Jewish and digital librarianship.

This is part one of a two-part interview. Come back next Wednesday, October 27, for the conclusion.

In broad strokes, Ms. Naomi Steinberger paints a picture of her personal career path as well as her outlook on JTS and the state of libraries in general, past, present and future.

Q: What led you to the library profession and how did you make your way into your position at JTS?

“ While I was living in Israel, I first earned a degree in musicology and then got a library job. While working there, I realized that I really enjoyed working in the library. So after that, I did a masters in musicology and a master’s in library services.

I’ve been at JTS for a long time, for more than 20 years. Before that, I worked as a music librarian in various capacities: in music libraries, as a music archivist, and in a music indexing and abstract journal/database.

I’ve worked in public services, as a head of systems, and have been doing this job more or less for the past 10 years or so, maybe a little longer.

My background in Jewish studies is more informal. I acquired a lot of knowledge here but before that, I had Jewish education through high school and lived in Israel for many years. I also did some Jewish studies courses in college in Israel but music was my subject specialty area. So I was able to draw on that plus the music when I came to JTS, which has large music collection.”

Q: What exactly do you do at JTS?

“I administer all activity here in the library. We’re comprised of three departments: technical services, public services, and special collections. In terms of the day to day, I supervise the department heads and the different departments. I also work on special projects as well as initiating grants and administering them. Overall, I manage the professional aspects of the library as opposed to the more academic aspects.”

Q: How does that supervising process take shape?

“Each department has a rhythm of its own and has tasks that it has to take care of in order to meet the user’s needs.

My role comes in more with charting out a course, setting strategic plans, and setting up goals and objectives. There is a formal review process. I meet with each department head once a week. I summarize generally what’s going in the library but we also plan what we would like to do, what we are going to do, how we’re going to change, and the direction we’re going. In other words, we focus on strategic planning. We look at the department strategically and see how we’re going to accomplish certain types of things that we’d like to do.”

Q: Do the strategic goals have to do with whoever’s funding the department or is it more internal in terms of the goals that are set by JTS itself?

“The library has a mission: to collect and preserve and make available the literary cultural heritage of the Jewish people. So we’re actually doing that in each department. I’d say that now it’s slightly different because of changes in funding but sometimes it’s funder directed and sometimes it’s our choice based on what we feel is important at a particular time.

The funded ones are pretty straight forward. You get funding to do a certain project and you have a certain timeline deadline; you have to make sure the work gets done.

In terms of JTS directed programs on the other hand, we’re upgrading our library catalog system, for example. That’s cyclical and it happens every two to three years. So the quantity of testing and customization is our prerogative.

We have three phases of the test for the system. The first phase is: did our data transfer properly? And that’s imperative to accept the system. Then it’s more about the functionality: is the functionality working the way we’d like it to work? What changes do we need to make and what changes would we like to make? The final step is making the system-function move forward from its current level to a level that will work better for what we need. That’s where more of the planning and prioritizing comes in. Ultimately then, we ask ourselves at what stage are we going to do these improvements? That whole process has nothing to do with our funding. It has to do with regular project work in the library.

We have a grant now from the Metropolitan New York Library Council to put up an archival collection in our digital library. There, we must finish the project by November first present them with a completed report. For that, you have to make sure that each of the pieces are in their place as we’re working.

So there are different ways of supervising and managing different kinds of projects.

Also it has a lot to do with people; getting the right people to do the right kind of work and making the right kind of matches for people.”

Q: So your position must require you to be extremely knowledgeable about your staff.

“Well first of all, we’re not such a large staff. Unfortunately we’re smaller than we were, somewhere between twenty-five and thirty now. We’ve been up to thirty-five or forty but we’ve had some cutbacks. If I don’t personally know what would be a good match, the supervisors can make that determination.”

Q: So it sounds like one of the keys to your success is a well-trusted staff of supervisors who help you get things done.

“Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely!”

Come back next Wednesday, October 27, for part two of this great interview. Please email me at mcloutier at jewishlibraries.org if you would like to be interviewed or know of someone who'd make a great subject.

Posted by Marie.

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