Monday, May 5, 2008

Information Professional Spotlight: Geoff Danisher

Charlie Brown

Geoff Danisher was one of the first information professionals I befriended when I started my career. He is the Access Services/Interlibrary Loan Librarian at Sarah Lawrence College, where he’s worked for ten years. At Concordia College, also in Bronxville, New York, he’s been a Reference Librarian for more than 4 years. He worked there as a student assistant when he was an undergraduate.

What I admire about Geoff is his professional well-roundedness. In a day, you will find him scheduling student workers, tracking down an obscure interlibrary loan title, rediscovering missing books in the stacks, and answering reference questions, all the while spouting 80s trivia. Geoff graciously accepted my offer to interview him. Instead of a picture of himself, he suggested a picture of Charlie Brown!

How did you decide to become a librarian?

I wish I could say that the whole thing was some big epiphany, like Parker Posey's in Party Girl, but honestly, it stemmed from the fact that I had been working for seven consecutive years in libraries, so it seemed the only logical thing to do.

What's the first or most interesting experience you had in a library?

I remember the very first time I ever set foot in a library. It was my elementary school library and I was in Kindergarten. We all sat on seat cushions on the floor while the librarian read us Where the Wild Things Are. I look back on it now and I realize that something very definitely clicked in my head that day; I guess that's called “eerie foreshadowing.”

Why did you choose to work in academic libraries? In Access, in particular?

Boring answer—it just happened that way.

What degrees do you have? Where did you get your MLIS?

B.A. in English from Concordia College, M.L.S. from Long Island University (though I took all my courses at NYU's Bobst library so I feel more like I went to NYU).

What was the most helpful/useful thing you learned during your MLIS?

I shall try to answer this question as diplomatically as I know how. When I started the program, I was adamant that I would not go into it with the mindset that they would not be able to teach me anything I did not already know. Upon completion of the program, I have to honestly say that I looked back and realized that, indeed, they did not really teach me anything I did not already know. The courses, I found, were rather generic and elementary for someone who had already worked in a library environment for several years. They were more about theory rather than practice. However...

In my Art Libraries course, I learned a great deal about acquisitions and collection development theory. In my Special Libraries course I learned a great deal about the politics that go into the management of libraries, as well as how to effectively negotiate budget proposals, advocate for additional staffing, etc. What I'm saying is that some of the more important things I learned about libraries during the school experience came from off-topic discussions that got into the areas that they don't have 3-credit courses for.

What's the biggest challenge of your jobs? The most rewarding aspect?

By far the biggest challenge that I face is having to run an entire interlibrary loan department and hire, train and supervise nearly 40 student workers entirely by myself. Doable, but when you factor in 10 1/2 hours per week at the reference desk, collection development duties, departmental meetings up the wazoo—you get the picture. Alas, it's all a money issue so there's little I can do about it—other than complain to anyone and everyone who will listen!

The most rewarding aspect? The satisfaction of knowing that someone came to me looking for help and I was able to help them. Simplistic, but absolutely true. The gratitude that people have expressed to me over the years has come in many forms—I’ve been acknowledged for my research assistance in no less than three books published in as many years (not to mention several graduate theses); I've been given candy, teddy bears, Haagen Dazs gift certificates, thank you cards (including a card from someone who borrowed one of our books through interlibrary loan from another library!) and enough thank you emails to crash a server. It always humbles me and always makes me feel wonderful! Requisite cliché: it makes the whole experience worthwhile.

What's the pros and cons of being an Interlibrary Loan Librarian?

Pros: wonderful opportunity for networking round the globe, excellent way to hone your research skills (verifying citations, etc.), discovering new and fascinating materials (and reconnecting with old ones—I really enjoy ILL-ing old textbooks I used to have and videos of old educational shows I used to watch growing up. I can't think of another way to do it save spending trillions on Ebay), and seeing people's eyes widen when I present them with a much-needed resource.

Cons: none that I can think of, or at the very least none worth mentioning. I truly enjoy my job and I hope to keep doing it for at least the foreseeable future.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the field?

Be a sponge—just because you work in the Access department does not mean that you should be ignorant of the inner workings of Reference or Technical Services. The more you know, ultimately the more valuable you'll become to your infrastructure (and, of course, the more multifaceted you are, the more job opportunities you will have as your career advances).

Oh, and if you're not a people person, stay away from Reference. If you're overly sensitive, DEFINITELY stay away from Access!

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