Interview

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AJL Member Spotlight: Naomi Steinberger. Part 2 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 two of a two-part interview. See Part One here.

Q: How have you helped the library to cope with changes in technology over the years?

“Today it’s very different than when I started. When I came to this library there was one computer in the library. It was 22 years ago; it was a different time. We had a card catalog in those days. But times have changed and that was evolutionary. People still wanted the cards even though we had the online system but slowly people began to believe that the online system would work.

Skip forward to 2010 and were talking about ebooks. I can tell you that over the last four or five years we’ve talked about electronic periodicals. And four or five years ago we said ‘Alright, fine, we’ll get a hard copy and electronic format.’ Slowly, as people got used to using electronic journals, this year we decided to buy only electronic copies and we get hard copies only if an electronic copy is not available. So it’s an evolution of the world and the library.

There’s such major changes in the library today. To keep up we have meetings, talk to people, and we also have to stay in touch with our users. Our undergraduates, for example, are coming from a whole different world than most of our veteran librarians. By the time they were born and could read, the internet already existed.

You have to go with the trends and the way the world is changing. I think that librarians by and large are fine with moving in that direction. I feel like there’s much less resistance to change today than there was 15 years ago because of the way the world is changing so rapidly.

Q: Do you ever encounter resistance to change?

With regard to people who are resistant: sometimes we do focus groups, sometimes we do brainstorming sessions. We discuss how we’re going to make changes, exactly what we’re going to do, how it will impact other things we’re doing, how our users will see the changes.

I think there was more discussion about it 10 years ago than there is now because change is so rapid all the time. I don’t think we ever held brainstorming sessions about shifting to ejournals but 10 years ago we talked a lot about what our website would look like. Today we’re not talking as much about it. There are smaller groups dealing with it; it’s sort of just understood.

With regard to other kinds of change: we’ve unfortunately had a lot of cuts in staff and that’s been very difficult on a personal level because we had to lay people off and also because we had to take on more responsibility. People have been extremely cooperative in those areas and also understand that there are things that can’t be done that we would like to do. Sometimes we get someone who ambitiously comes and says ‘I really wanted to do x-y-z and plus-plus-plus,’ and we have to reign them in a little. We refocus and try to put the idea in a positive light so that we work on how we actually can do it. You don’t have to tell them they can’t do it. You have to say ‘ let’s work on how-to’ rather than telling them why we can’t do something.

We have a wonderful staff who are open and are always looking for new challenges. I know a lot of larger institutions and larger academic institutions have problems with a lot of resistance. Some of their staff is unionized, they have strong unions and won’t do things a certain way because their contract says that they shouldn’t. We don’t have those problems here. We really have a group of amenable and cooperative people.

But there are always challenges because there are always changes.”

Q: What do you like best about your job?

Every day I come in and there’s something new, it’s never boring. There are interesting people to talk to and interact with. And there’s always something that you can do to make a difference, both in the library and hopefully for the community of people who use our collections, onsite and electronically. Another really exciting part for me is dreaming up new projects and seeing them come to fruition.

Q: What are your thoughts on the role of digital librarianship in libraries today?

Digital librarianship. That’s a large field. Are we talking about the actual people doing the digitization, making choices about the digitization; are we talking about the people who create metadata, how is metadata different for electronic objects different than traditional cataloging; are we talking about the web, the presence on the web; are we talking about images, are you talking about text; how are you going to present the text, different formats, the pros and cons of different kinds of formats; also the back office programming, systems work vis-à-vis presentation of the digital object. It’s a very big field to go into because clearly that’s the future.

Q: Specifically, is there a need for digital librarians in the area of Jewish librarianship and at JTS?

“I think there’s a lot of material in Jewish studies out there on the web now and nobody has pulled it all together. We did a rare book digitization project last fall and the first thing that we did was to make sure that no one else already digitized the items. There’s no union list of digital items in Jewish studies. There’s a pressing need for that so that we don’t duplicate each other’s work.”

Q: Is pulling all that material together part of JTS’s mission?

“We’re talking to other organizations to work collaboratively on it. I’m not sure it’s our job to take it on. I see it as a job for the National Library in Israel to take on. But I think that an area that’s important in Jewish studies, it’s important to bring it all together.”

Q: What you look for in the people you hire?

Aside from competency, you have to be able to interact with people. Different types of people are good for different kinds of jobs. In the public area you want people who are easy to interact with, people who want to deal with the public, who don’t want to sit buried at their desks. In other areas, you need specific skills. In cataloging you need specific skills, you need language skills. It really depends on the type of job. There also has to be good chemistry between the supervisor and the potential employee. It’s really a combination of skills and excitement about what they’re doing.

Also you have to have a feel for whether or not someone is going to stay the course. We have someone who’s completing a project for us. It was an 8-month project and we’re in the sixth or seventh month and even she found another job, she said ‘I’m not leaving now. I have to finish this job.’ So a lot of commitment also.

I can tell you that I’ve gotten better at it. Earlier on there were people that I made mistakes with but you make fewer mistakes as you get more experience. Sounding people out is essential in the interviewing process. It also helps if you bring other people into the process. While you might get very excited about someone, another person may see it differently and give good insight. That helps a lot for a better evaluation.”

Posted by Marie.

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