24:3 (2009:09) Profile: Rick Anderson

September 15, 2009 at 1:07 pm | Posted in Profiles | Leave a comment


Susan Davis, Profiles Editor

Our new NASIG president is a familiar name to many as he is a prolific writer and frequent speaker at professional conferences.  In doing some background research on Rick, I discovered he is a man of diverse interests and talents which will be readily apparent in reading this column, not least of which is sharing my preference for dark chocolate!

Rick Anderson: librarian, writer, musician, cook, and 2009/10 NASIG president.

Rick Anderson: librarian, writer, musician, cook, and 2009/10 NASIG president.

NASIG will be holding its 25th conference in 2010.  Any thoughts on how NASIG can thrive and succeed for another 25 years?

I think our 25th anniversary is coming at a very exciting time, when NASIG is in an important transitional period.  The last few years have seen us reexamine our financial posture, take a hard look at how well we’re living up to our mission, undertake a thorough strategic planning project, and reach out to parts of our core constituency that have sometimes felt marginalized or unappreciated in the past.  Recent NASIG presidents have done incredible work to move the organization into a better position for the future, and I want to build on what they’ve done so that, when we meet in Palm Springs next year, we’ll be able to say that NASIG is in the strongest position it’s ever been to make the world a better place for scholarly communication in general and for the serials information chain in particular.  The question is, once in that position, how do we make the most of it?  I think our success and vitality over the next 25 years will depend on our ability to do several things: make NASIG an equally hospitable place for all participants in the serials environment; help each other navigate the extremely choppy waters of the recession; and work together to redefine and expand the ways in which we can all make ourselves mission-critical to our sponsoring institutions.

How has NASIG impacted you professionally and personally?

Some of the most impressive, inspiring, and helpful people I’ve ever met in our profession have been NASIG members.  I don’t think any other organization in the information world offers better opportunities for service, networking, and the exchange of exciting ideas.  For most of the past decade, NASIG has been where I’ve focused my national involvement, and I haven’t regretted it for a second.

Did you always want to become a librarian?  What led to this career choice?

There were a lot of factors, but I think the most important one was simply that I’ve loved libraries for as long as I can remember.  Some of my earliest and happiest childhood memories are connected with libraries.  I worked in my university library as an undergrad, and when the opportunity to go to library school came along I realized that I loved that environment and really liked the idea of spending my career there.

Have your thoughts on what it means to be a librarian changed over the course of your career? How?

Like many of us, I initially thought that I wanted to be a librarian because I love books.  But I eventually realized that what I actually love is libraries, and all the things that libraries make it possible to do.  I still love books very much, but as a professional I see them as one tool among many for connecting people with the information they want -– whether what they want is a good book to read or an elusive factoid or a pile of articles for research use.  To me, what makes being a librarian worthwhile is helping patrons: I just love the feeling that I’ve cleared away an obstacle and made it possible for people to find and read what they want to read.  I also like the fact that being a librarian can mean doing so many different things.  Every day when I walk through the door of the library, I feel like I’m entering an intellectual playground.  It’s incredibly energizing to me.  I may have gotten only four or five hours of sleep the night before, but when I come through the library’s doors I can feel my batteries instantly recharge.

You started publishing CD HotList: New Releases for Libraries in 1999 (http://cdhotlist.btol.com/).  You are also the editor for the Sound Recordings Review Section of Notes (the quarterly journal of the Music Library Association). How did this come about?

I’ve been writing music reviews in a variety of outlets since 1990.  In 1999 it finally dawned on me that no librarian could possibly comb through every one of the hundreds of new-release announcements that come out every week, that I was doing some of that combing-through already as part of my freelance reviewing, and that some of my colleagues would probably appreciate being given a condensed heads-up about titles I was seeing that might be of particular interest to libraries: significant reissues, world-premiere recordings of obscure works, new releases by unusually interesting artists, etc.  So I started a very simple web page that I updated with 12-15 new releases each month, providing full ordering info for each entry along with a brief explanation of why it struck me as significant.  It was received very well.  After a few years I got too busy to do it all alone anymore and I brought a few contributors onboard to help.  In 2004 I signed CD HotList over to Baker & Taylor, and now they pay me to edit it.  Our coverage has expanded to 40-plus titles each month, and because it’s hosted by a vendor you now have the option of clicking right through the review to order (though you don’t have to be a B&T customer to use it -– CD HotList is freely available to the public).  I joined the Notes editorial staff in 2004 after contacting the editor and saying “You know what? It’s kind of crazy that you guys have columns for book reviews and for reviews of music scores, but no column for CD reviews.”  She agreed, and I’ve been editing that section of the journal ever since.  I also write between five and ten reviews per week for the All-Music Guide (http://www.allmusic.com).

You’ve worked at several libraries over the course of your career as well as at YBP.  What was it like working for a vendor?

It was absolutely great, for a number of reasons.  For one thing, I learned a lot about publishers -– who publishes what and in what amounts, how discount programs work, which publishers have strengths and weaknesses in particular areas, etc.  Even better, I basically acted as an adjunct member of the acquisitions departments of dozens of libraries, big and small.  That was hugely beneficial.  When I left YBP and went to work for UNC Greensboro, I already knew the staff, knew their approval plans, knew their areas of subject focus.  What was best about working at YBP, though, was that I got to learn about the scholarly information business from some of the smartest, kindest and most knowledgeable people I’ve ever known: Bob Nardini, for example, was and still is one of my biggest heroes; I feel the same way about Rick Lugg, Ruth Fischer, Mark Kendall, Rob Norton, and many other YBP employees and alumni at whose knees I learned much of what I know about librarianship and the book trade.  I would advise any librarian who’s interested to take a sojourn on the vendor/publisher side, even if only for a few years.  It will absolutely make you a better librarian.

What was it like moving around the country—Greensboro, North Carolina, Contoocook, New Hampshire, Reno, Nevada, and now Salt Lake City.  Where do you consider “home”?  I thought I read you were born in Massachusetts but went to college at Brigham Young in Utah.

As far as I’m concerned, home is wherever my wife and kids are.  But yes, I grew up in Arlington, Massachusetts, and I will always feel a bit out of place anywhere outside of New England.  That said, I’ve enjoyed everyplace we’ve lived so far and there are things I miss about each of them.  I’m especially grateful for the fact that my kids have had the experience of living in very different regions of the country; I think it’s helped them develop a certain broadmindedness and empathy that might not have come so easily to them otherwise.

Library Journal named you a “Mover and Shaker” in 2005 in the Rebel category as one who “thinks differently.”  What inspires you to think differently?

Well, first of all, it’s important to distinguish between being different and being right.  I think I’m more often the former than the latter.  That said, though, I do have a tendency (and it’s not always a healthy one) to question my in-group –- I  think I’m a very nontribal person by nature, I’m not a joiner, and I’m usually more interested in figuring out what I and my group are doing wrong than in celebrating what we’re doing right.  At a rational level, I just think it’s a more useful approach to life and work -– if we’re doing something right, that’s great, but why waste energy in patting ourselves on the back when we could be figuring out how to do even more things right?  But at a non-rational level, I think I just have kind of a contrary streak.  I don’t trust rah-rah; the louder we yell about how wonderful we are as librarians, and about how much everyone loves us, the more suspicious I get about why we feel the need to proclaim it so loudly.  Really, though, this is an area where I think I need to change somewhat: back-patting does have its place, and so does advocacy, and it’s important to know what you’re doing well.  It’s especially important for staff to know that they’re doing well and that you recognize it.  So that’s something I’m kind of working on.

Based on what you’ve talked about above, the first question I have is how do you find time for everything?

Two strategies: I get up very early in the morning, and I have a fantastic staff.  But also, the fact is that I don’t find time for everything.  Some things fall off the edge of my plate, and I’ve decided that has to be okay -– I just need to make sure that what fall off the edge aren’t the important things.

Clearly you have a love of music—and very diverse types of music.  Tell us more about how your interest and appreciation of music developed.

I don’t even know how to start.  I’ve been completely obsessed with music since I was a toddler.  When I was four years old and my dad was going on a trip, I asked him to bring me home a sackbut (my interest in early music started at a bizarrely young age).  The first thing I remember spending my own money on was a record.  I wanted to play stringed instruments from the first time I heard and saw them.  I don’t know -– it’s almost like a sickness.

What instrument(s) do you play?  Do you compose music?

I play clawhammer banjo, guitar, upright and electric bass, Irish flute, bodhran, Appalachian dulcimer, and very little piano (sorry, Mom).  I’ve written a few fiddle tunes, but nothing substantial.  I’m a good musician, but I’m actually not very creative at all -– I’m more analytical, and I’m good at pattern recognition and I’ve got a good sense of time and a good sense of pitch.  But making stuff up is a struggle for me.  So I’m a better player than composer.  What I love to do is accompany -– playing behind a singer or playing for dancers is my favorite.

I see mention of a band on your Facebook page.  Is that a current band or a fond memory?

A very fond memory.  When I was at BYU I spent a couple of years in a ska band called (ahem) Swim Herschel Swim.  We were very popular in Utah, believe it or not — I think there were 1,100 people at the final show I played with them.  It was the most fun I’d ever had, but the combination of a working band, graduate school, a full-time job, a slowly growing writing career, and a new marriage all added up to one too many things in my life, so I finally had to quit.  I do still miss it.  When my kids are grown I’d love to get back into playing out -– my beat-up Telecaster is still hanging on the wall next to my acoustic guitar and my banjo, and sometimes I think it looks at me reproachfully.  When I lived in Reno I got to play banjo and bodhran for contradances down in Carson City with a couple of other guys, and that was loads of fun.  Sometimes I get together with a guitarist from the library and a fiddler from the Art Department at lunchtime, and that’s great too.

[Ed. note: I was not familiar with all of the instruments and musical terms Rick mentioned, so I did a little research on Wikipedia.  A sackbut is a medieval trombone, a bodhran is a type of Irish drum, and ska is a music genre that originated in Jamaica.]

You also seem to do a fair amount of cooking and sharing of recipes.  What are your specialties?  How did you learn to cook?

Cooking is what I do to relax.  When I come home from work, all I usually want to do is start cooking, especially if I’ve had a bad day –- it helps me think things through, and sometimes it’s especially therapeutic to chop stuff up.  But also, I just love food.  By no means am I a gourmet cook — I don’t know how to do anything really fancy or elaborate.  I just like figuring out how to make things taste good.  I also like figuring out how to make recipes both healthy and yummy; I enjoy that challenge.  The test is whether or not the kids notice.  If I can give them something that I secretly know is good for them, but they don’t notice or comment on it, then that’s very satisfying to me.  I learned how to cook from my mom.  I was the oldest of seven kids, and it was pretty much expected that all of us would learn our way around the kitchen.  I think being an oldest child also tends to create something of a nurturing streak in a person -– it’s very satisfying to me to prepare a meal for people I love.

Any other hobbies?  Favorite authors or genres?  Movies? Blogs? Social networks?

I’m a sucker for crime novels in general and noir fiction in particular.  I love British farce, both in books and on TV –- the first time I read a P.G. Wodehouse novel I was on an airplane and totally embarrassed myself by constantly snorting and giggling and wiping my eyes.  I’m a pretty active Facebooker, and I blog (sporadically) about music at http://musicblurt.blogspot.com.  Also, I’m a very active Mormon, so church is probably my biggest social network!

Anything you’d like to share about your family?  Dogs, cats, other pets?

I met my wife Laura when her brother and I both got hired to work in the library at BYU; he and I became friends and he introduced us, which was probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me.  She was teaching high school Spanish and English at the time.  We were married in 1990 and have three kids: Maggie (16), Bryan (14), and Tucker (10).  We also have two dogs: a lab/spaniel mix named Sassy and a golden retriever named Kodi.  Sassy is medium-sized and neurotic; Kodi is big and incorrigible.  He broke my collarbone for me about five months ago, which I thought was very nice of him.


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