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Librarians in the Field: An Interview with Mary Jane Brustman

The UAlbany librarian that we'd like to introduce you to today is Mary Jane Brustman, the Associate Director for Public Services. She has worn many hats, including: administrator for Reference. Information Literacy, Information Commons, and Access Services; head of Dewey Library; Criminal Justice bibliographer and previously, Social Welfare bibliographer; and chair of several different ALA committees. Mary Jane is a graduate of UAlbany’s School of Library and Information Science (now Department of Information Studies.) As an administrator and subject bibliographer, she provides a unique viewpoint of both the big picture and the day-to-day operations within an academic library.

Q: Congratulations on your appointment as Associate Director for Public and Access Services! What does a typical day look like for you in your position?
A: Three University Library-Science Library department heads report to me – Reference, Information Literacy (including Interactive Media Center), and Access Services (including Circulation, Reserves, Media & Interlibrary Loan). I am also responsible for the Information Commons for the University Libraries and serve as bibliographer for Criminal Justice. So it’s busy every day. Absolutely never dull.

I get lots of e-mail, people letting me know what’s going on, cc’ing me on messages, asking what we/they should do, etc. People stop by to fill me in or consult with me several times per day. And I have lots of meetings scattered throughout the week, mainly with managers and other people in the libraries, but also with patrons, ITS (the university’s Information Technology Services), others on campus. Every two weeks the Dean, Associate Directors, and Head of Dewey Library get together to discuss library-wide policy issues and once a month we have a division-wide Public Services meeting. There are memos to write, recommendations, etc. There is problem-solving-- on personnel and other issues. Occasionally I handle patron complaints—which are surprisingly few, given the huge numbers of patrons using the Libraries (1.7+million users at the University Library alone last year).
Other activities occur every few days or so. Several committees report to me (including the Website Development Committee and working groups for the EBSCO Discovery service and our Facebook page) so I need to keep on top of their concerns and progress. It’s very important to keep abreast of what’s going on in other libraries, with new technology, and the profession generally. Listservs, such as infocommons-l (moderated at Binghamton University) or stars-l (ALA, RUSA) on ILL keep ideas in front of me, but I also like to find time to read professional journals or magazines. Colleagues here and from professional organizations constantly share information and ideas in person and via e-mail and listservs.

Four hours a week I work at a reference desk. I do this because I enjoy it (and it was the original reason I became a librarian 34 years ago!) and because it keeps me in touch with who our patrons are and how our services are working. As criminal justice librarian I buy books and other criminal justice resources and occasionally meet with researchers and speak to classes. Currently, there is committee work for two ALA LLAMA Committees. Also, I do a little scholarly work --annual revisions of the criminal justice section of Resources for College Libraries, writing occasional book reviews, and service on a journal editorial board.

Q: How do you translate the library’s mission into practical programs for the student body? Are there any particular goals that you are always seeking to fulfill when making administrative decisions?
A: Our goal is always to provide the best service to our students, faculty and researchers to further their studies, research and teaching. Public Services facilitates access to resources, offers research assistance, and teaches effective use and evaluation of resources. We work with ITS and our own facilities people to provide the best possible research and study environments within the Libraries and also work to provide anytime/anywhere access to the best extent possible. Translating the mission into practical programs involves thinking and talking about what we might do, looking at the literature, inquiring about what other libraries have done, and coming up with a plan to put our ideas into operation. For new initiatives we usually appoint a committee or working group. I am invariably pleased with the results of their work. We have a very talented and committed staff. We are always aware of the need to use our funds as effectively as possible. Sometimes this leads to a win/win as when we implemented the RapidILL system for ILL two years ago. We got faster and less expensive service.
We always have something in mind to improve services. Many of these ideas are stimulated by what we read and hear about. In a library-wide effort over the past few months we had several task forces make recommendations for additional initiatives. Many excellent ideas emerged, but most require more resources to be effectively carried out.
A few things we’ve been working on: we recently completed a mobile website (access with your phone here [http://library.albany.edu/mobile]) for the Libraries. We have in mind other mobile improvements involving QR codes and transferring catalog information to devices. Our ILL Coordinator is currently using ILLIAD software to further streamline some of our interlibrary loan processes. We also have been working on a long-term plan to gradually renovate the University Library to make it a more usable and pleasant space. To be an effective librarian you need to be a life-long learner who is receptive to new ideas.

Q: As an administrator with several titles, you must do a lot of juggling. How do you prioritize and stay afloat when managing several different departments?
A: You need to have intelligent, well-organized, and committed department managers—which we are very fortunate to have at the University Libraries. Trudi Jacobson, Cathy Dwyer, Kabel Stanwicks, Regina Conboy and Tim Jackson are in my division. I am also most fortunate to have a Dean of Libraries, Mary Casserly, who I can frequently consult for sound advice. It is very important generally to have good lines of communication, positive working relationships, and ready sources for information.

Issues that directly involve patrons invariably come first. Other issues may or may not be extremely time sensitive. Some are cyclical (beginning of every semester), some need to wait for when staff have slower times (between semesters, etc.). Other things we do are constant. It doesn’t all work like clockwork! There are times when the pace in the Libraries is very frenetic. The person in my position needs to be flexible and also to plan for sometimes staying late, sometimes finishing work at home. It’s very important to maintain balance and keep the workplace a positive place for all of us.

Q: Is there a specific time management software or technique that you could recommend to our readers?
A: I would like to find an optimal software program to keep me on track or to help me organize. I keep extensive “to do��? lists, use Microsoft Outlook for calendaring. E-mail is a great “memory bank��? and alternate file cabinet. I try to leave a certain amount of time each day for the unexpected as well as catching up on projects. Regularly scheduled meetings keep particular projects or responsibility areas on track.

Q: In today’s economy, libraries are not a well-funded oasis in the midst of troubled times. How do you reconcile financial limitations with the demands of a mid-sized academic library?
A: This is very difficult. We are very short of staff in the Libraries. Our staff members have stepped up in a great way, but there is a limit to how many responsibilities each person can take on. We as a group have very high standards and feel a lot of pressure to provide the same high quality services and resources regardless of funding. Over the past few years we have had to make many difficult choices about purchases of resources and filling of positions.

I am particularly concerned about hiring. New librarians are an important way of keeping the intellectual environment and profession fresh and energized. We’ve had several terrific Department of Information Studies students work for us. It has been very disappointing that we haven’t been able to hire some of them. It is frustrating when we can’t move forward with ideas that we’ve developed. We try to find ways to do more with less and sometimes technology can be a big help in that regard.

Q: You’ve mentioned the importance of getting meaningfully involved with professional associations, and I see that you’ve taken an active part in both the ALA, a national library organization, and the CDLC, a local library council. Why are professional memberships so vitally important to the library field, and what advice can you give future librarians about finding one to join and getting involved?
A: Being involved in ALA has been absolutely essential in my development as a librarian. It’s where I observed and tried out leadership and “management��? skills, where I found several role models for my career as a librarian. Some people I have met at ALA have developed deep expertise in certain areas of librarianship; others have found success in management and leadership. This experience has been very important to me for finding confidence and a sense of the possibilities of what I and my library might do. When I initially joined ALA there was no group for criminal justice. At the urging of my supervisor at the time, Barbara Kemp (now at the US Naval Academy), I circulated a petition and created the now 13 year old Criminal Justice/Criminology Discussion Group. This offered opportunities to talk about the challenges of criminal justice collection building and services and to directly impact the products of vendors. It also opened up opportunities for me for professional presentations and publication.
Professional organizations engage in many projects of critical importance to librarians and libraries. Committees I’ve worked on have put on programs, mounted joint websites with subject resources, drafted standards, sponsored listservs , been involved in development of products, and had discussions about how-to provide services, etc. I have served on committees with librarians from libraries that do amazing things (note the current rapid development in information and learning commons). Conferences are an important way to renew, learn, and become connected to a community.

For the beginning librarian or someone working in a fairly general area (reference or information literacy, for instance) local organizations can be terrific. Many have excellent programs, and it is relatively easy to join committees or even be an officer. For those with narrower areas of expertise, like criminal justice, national organizations are essential. Visitors are usually welcome at committee meetings. Organizational websites provide essential information on activities and specialties of organizations, but there is no substitute for a mentor who knows his/her way around.

The Dewey Library Blog would like to extend a sincere thank you to Mary Jane for sharing her knowledge and experience with our readers. For more information about her position and a selection of published materials, please visit the Library Administration web page].

Blog post created by Lauren Stern