21:3 (2006:09) Profiles: Denise Novak

September 3, 2006 at 6:57 pm | Posted in President, Profiles | Leave a comment



Maggie Rioux, Profiles Editor 

I first met Denise Novak, NASIG’s current president, in 1998 at that year’s fall meeting of the Executive Board. She was the CPC chair for the 1999 conference, to be held at Carnegie Mellon University the next June, and I was a brand new member of the Board. It was then that I first realized that she was highly competent and could easily handle six things at once. This was a good thing given her (then) current and future responsibilities. 








Denise practices looking presidential
at Edinburgh Castle in 2004

First came the trial-by-(not quite literal)-fire that was the 1999 Pittsburgh conference. Those of you who were there will mostly remember the record heat wave that hit Pittsburgh that week along with the 700-odd serialists. Others will remember a few dorms (which were foisted on Denise by CMU at the last minute) with non-functioning air conditioning (One suffering group took to calling itself the Donner Party after their dorm name and a previous group in California. Luckily there was no cannibalism involved this time.) Since I had an air-conditioned dorm room, I remember some great programs, interesting campus architecture and, especially, a wonderful evening dinner cruise on the Monongahela  and Ohio rivers which ended with fireworks (courtesy of the Pittsburgh Pirates who were playing at home that night). 

In 2001, when I became President, Denise was elected NASIG Treasurer (for her sins?), in which post she served faithfully and excellently for four years. In 2005, she was elected Vice-President/President-Elect and finally got to relax a little. Yes, I do mean relax – she does indeed tell me that being NASIG Veep and Pres is a lot less work than being Treasurer was. She has learned again what a weekend is, and if there’s something heavy to be done, she can ask the Treasurer to do it. Rank’s got to have a couple of privileges, after all.[1] 

But how, I hear you ask, did our Denise get from her humble Midwest beginnings to the exalted rank of famous NASIG person?  Same as the rest of us – a little bit of intentional planning and a whole lot of stumbling around and sheer dumb luck. Let’s start the story in the traditional way – Once upon a time… 

Like many a librarian, Denise started off as an English major, getting her degree from Augustana in Rock Island, Illinois. She didn’t want to teach and her grandmother was a children’s librarian in Peoria, Ill., so she decided to try librarianship as a profession. Looking for a library school in a dry climate, she happened upon Texas Women’s University. Her focus was in rare books, but there didn’t seem to be much future in that when she graduated so she took a job as a children’s librarian back home in Louisville, Ky. (like grandmother, like granddaughter).  Although living within driving distance of home had its benefits (like you can always drop by for dinner and laundry), she missed Texas and when an opportunity presented itself, she returned to Fort Worth, again as a children’s librarian.  

Yes, but how did she get into acquisitions and academic libraries and Pittsburgh, you ask – please tell us more. OK, I will. Seems the little kiddies eventually drove her nuts and she thought that dealing with vendors, purchase orders and other stuff like that would be less stressful. An opening turned up as Acquisitions Manager (still at Fort Worth Public) and she grabbed it. All was cool except that her boss was now driving her nuts so she started looking for another library to roost in back in the Midwest. She found a lovely spot at the University of Evansville in outhern
Indiana and moved back north. Our Denise had now found a happy home in an academic setting.

OK, we’ve got her in the right field and the right kind of library, but we’re still not to Pittsburgh. Enter romance. It was while working at the U of Evansville that Denise met Paul, her future spousal unit. And it was because of him that she moved to Pittsburgh, where, in 1992, she became Head of Acquisitions at Carnegie Mellon University. Ah, young love – ain’t it great? Shortly thereafter she was turned on to NASIG by the Serials Cataloger and the next thing anyone knew she was CPC chair for the 1999 Conference, then Treasurer, then Veep and Pres. Oh, and she was also on the Continuing Education Committee from 1993-1999 (excellent training for all that other stuff). 

But there’s a side of Our Denise that we in NASIG haven’t had a chance to see. Did you know that she’s a talented musician? From 1995 to 2004 she played bass clarinet in the Pittsburgh North Suburban Symphonic Band. She’s also in her church’s Bell Choir, an alto in the church choir and sings in a trio called the “Anonymous Three.” She’s played clarinet since the fifth grade and actually chose her undergraduate college because her former high school band director was teaching there. You’ll have noticed that her local band career mentioned above terminated in 2004. I asked her if that was because of added NASIG Board responsibilities and she assured me it wasn’t. Actually, she was asked to be on a church committee and the meetings were the same night as band practice. If Denise is like most of us, playing in the band probably helped preserve any remaining dregs of her sanity during most of her NASIG Treasurer years. What I’m wondering now though is if next year in Louisville the informal recorder-playing group that used to get together at NASIG (led by Betty Landesman of ancient music fame) will be revived, but this time with clarinets added. 

And speaking of conferences, Denise has served as CPC chair (or co-chair) twice. The first time was Carnegie Mellon in 1999 and the second time was Milwaukee in 2005. She says that being President is going to be a lot easier than being a totally naive CPC chair with wonky dorms and air-conditioning, but it won’t necessarily be easier than working with the lovely, sainted Pam Cipkowski as co-chair for Milwaukee. While there are things she misses about NASIG conferences having moved to hotels, it does make conference planning a lot easier – no having to check on the air-conditioning in the hotel and it also opens up a lot more options for locations and timing. 

Denise says she is totally looking forward to the Louisville conference next May. It’s kind of her home territory and should be a highlight of her NASIG career. To quote her statement to me in full:  

NASIG has been a large part of my life for the past six years. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities the organization has afforded me and I hope I’ve been able to give back to the group. I’ve made some wonderful friends and worked with some truly dedicated people. We know how to work hard and play hard. Life is good. You can say that again, Denise. See you in Louisville!   

[1][1] Actually, being President isn’t just telling other people what to do – there’s a lot of work involved and the buck still stops at the desk marked DN – but it sounds better in the profile so let’s just pretend.


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