25:1 (2010:03) Profiles: Marilyn Lewis

March 20, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Posted in Profiles | Leave a comment

Marilyn Lewis
Susan Davis, Profiles Editor

For the next couple issues I thought I’d do some profiles to celebrate NASIG’s 25th anniversary.  I first met Marilyn when we were part of the “Class of 1984” on a trip billed as an International Serials Conference.  We attended the 1984 UKSG Conference out of which the idea for a North American version was hatched.  It didn’t take long for us to develop a close friendship that continues to this day.  She and I definitely believe in the power of humor and chocolate!

Founding NASIG member Marilyn Lewis at the 1984 International Serials Conference. Photo by Susan Davis.

How did you hear about the trip and what inspired you to go?

I saw an ad for the “First International Serials Conference” in an issue of American Libraries.  (This was prior to discussion lists, wikis, email, et al.  Guess this makes me “older than dirt” doesn’t it?)  The conference was to be in England, a place where I had always wanted to visit.  So this was an ideal opportunity to mesh my serials career with traveling.

I was relatively new to serials and was a serials cataloger (at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo—part of the CSU System)…which meant I spent the majority of my time retrospectively converting the serials titles in a medium-sized academic library.  And for “kicks,” I was also finding out in agonizing detail the difference between “successive vs. latest entry” as we were all trying to figure out how not to lose 6 months of cataloging in a system crash.  (I once found out that when I cataloged one serial, it turned out to require 14 separate catalog records to complete our run of volumes….I wonder if that record has been broken?)  In “those days,” few of my colleagues and friends understood (or even wanted to understand!) the intricacies of serials.  I was often on my own, and despite my work on system-wide committees dealing with serials and/or automation, I knew that there was more to this “serial stuff.”  So the opportunity to immerse myself for 5 days in serials seemed like the ideal crash course I needed.

So I signed up for the conference, deciding to make my own air plane reservations, as I was going to take another week after the conference to tour Great Britain.  I did not know beforehand anyone who was going.  It was a “clean slate” and I was open to the adventure.

I wrote about some of my memories in the 10th anniversary NASIG Newsletter . (See the 10th anniversary issue of the Newsletter https://secure.arcstone.com/amo/nasig/uploaded_documents/Newsletters/95special.pdf for a complete account.)  What do you remember about that trip?

My plane arrived after everyone had already checked into our London hotel.  My only contact name was the tour guide, so I asked the front desk where I could meet either that person and/or the group.  I was given a room number, went up to the door, knocked, and was told to “meet everyone down in the lobby” at a certain time to go to dinner.  Remember, I had not had a chance to catch my breath once I set foot in London and I wondered if I was up to dinner.  But I was a “serialist” and could do anything!  Of course I’d meet everyone!  We all met downstairs and went out to some touristy place called, I believe, “The Tower of London,” where we had a rousing touristy “traditional” old English meal…complete with a Henry VIII impersonator.  Thank goodness I was young and pumped, because the drink and food were never-ending.  It was a great way to meet people.

The next morning we all got on a bus and went to our conference.  If I thought our “Tower of London” meal was heavy duty, it was only a warm-up for things to come.  I’ve never been a teetotaler, but the partying that went on at that conference was not for the neophyte.  I tried my best to uphold the “honor of the West Coast,” but quickly learned that our colleagues “across the pond” could teach us more than a little when it came to partying!

I don’t wish to leave the impression that all that went on was partying….it wasn’t the case in the least!  Many serious topics were covered and I expanded my serials knowledge base.  I also met some of the “big names” and “big names in waiting” in serials and found them to be very welcoming and supportive.  To this day, I still keep in touch with some of them.  One of the best things I learned from this trip was that there were many people in the library world who are willing and able to help anyone….all we need do is ask and these people are there to mentor and assist.  And this need not apply solely to serials.  It can work in any area of librarianship.

The conference ended with me learning that there was much more to serials than I already learned, but that I need not feel alone.  There were others out there…some like me that needed further education, and others who were more than willing to assist in that adventure.

Before I went on my own separate tour and before the rest of the “class” returned home, most of us went on our own tour of London.  It was there that Susan Davis showed this California Girl how to ride “the tube” (aka subway).  It had been years since I had, and again, this was another one of those moments that help one gain confidence.  To this day, whenever I ride on a subway (and I do now….really I do!), I think of Susan and how she helped me that day in London.

And tell us how you got involved in the formation of NASIG.

After that UKSG conference, I knew that I wanted to be more involved in librarianship.  State-wide involvement was fine, but I was ready for involvement in ALA.  So the conference right after UKSG, I was invited to meet with others from the “Class of 1984” to get together and see if the Yanks could do what was done in the UKSG.  Several UKSG members also attended and guided us through the initial process.  I was asked to be the initial secretary for the group….which was named NASIG.  (And the rest, as they say, is history.)

Much of the initial work was done at ALA conferences, by snail mail, and telephone.  (I wonder what would have happened if there had been email in 1984-85???)  The first conference was to be at Bryn Mawr College.  We were all to emulate the UKSG by having the conference in an academic setting where meetings would be close together and all meals would be in one place to facilitate informal networking and meeting new people.

The one seemingly sacrosanct rule of this first NASIG conference was that, while we were all to learn something, we also had to have fun doing it.  Pennsylvania had/has some different liquor laws that required typical serials problem-solving skills.  How does one get liquor on the campus without breaking campus/local ordinances?  Solution:  We’d sell tickets, which would be traded for the drinks.  Another problem:  Bartending…who had been a bartender?  Nobody, really.  Solution:  A quick bartending course—5 minutes—and yours truly became a bartender for the big party.  I can safely say that we did have fun!

One other memory sticks out very clearly:  it was hot at that first conference…at least it was hot and humid for a person who had spent more than 6 years on the California Coast.  I was so wiped-out by the heat and humidity that I decided not to go on one of the trips and, instead, stay in the dorm and watch my soap opera.  I went into the TV room and saw another person there.  We introduced ourselves and laughed that both of us wimped out on the trip.  Then we laughed even more when we found out that both of us had the same idea….watch our soap opera….which happened to be the same one.  We still are friends, and I credit Cindy Hepfer for letting me know that there was no shame in being a “soap-aholic.”  Thank you Cindy!

Tell us about the early years of NASIG—the philosophy of the organization, conference memories, serving on the board, some of the key people, how it grew…

Over the years I’ve seen NASIG evolve and this is a good thing.  When it first began, I met some librarians who were concerned that NASIG either replicated what state and/or ALA organizations already did, or that it would deplete other organizations’ memberships.  I think that the success and longevity of NASIG proves that none of these fears came to fruition.  There are other library groups that have similar separate organizations to cover collection development, reference, distance learning…to name a few.  And I’m so happy that the same people do not do everything in NASIG.  There is a constant influx of “new blood” which has helped foster new directions for its future.

What impact did NASIG have on your career?

If I had to put NASIG’s impact on my career in one word it would be: confidence.  We all (hopefully!) grow in our careers.  Confidence is a key element to that growth.  To think that I just so happened to be interested in combining serials with a trip to England…and from that I met life-long friends and colleagues….and had a small piece in helping to create an organization that still lives on 25 years later is more than I would have hoped to have happened.  But working with terrific people, slaving away at what seemed insurmountable problems, laughing our way through the process, and finding a solution and success had been a crash-course in “Library Success 101.”  In my library work I could now laugh at system crashes….I knew that “this is nothing!” as I reached for that “coping brownie” and suggested a solution.  I learned to speak to an audience and found out that there really wasn’t anything to fear.  The NASIG audience wanted me to be successful, and so I was.

Why have you remained a member all these years?

While I haven’t attended any other conference other than that first conference in Bryn Mawr, I have kept up my membership…first out of loyalty to those whom I personally knew and were still active.  But now I remain a member to take advantage of all the continuing learning information NASIG offers…I have found it a great source.  And I also believe in helping the newer serialists…offering to let them know that just like them, I too felt alone.  But NASIG is there to help.

Any thoughts you’d like to pass on to the organization as NASIG celebrates its 25th anniversary?

I’m sorry that I won’t be at the 25th anniversary in person, but I will be there in spirit.  Time marches on and in the wink of an eye, those of you who are attending your first NASIG conference will wonder where the time has gone when someone asks you about the 50th NASIG anniversary!  Perhaps it’s serials that make time fly.  Who knows?  Treasure who you meet and what you learn in NASIG.  (I once told a serials department, “We do serials….we can do anything!”)  It will remain with you for a long long time!

When I first met you, you were a serials cataloger in an academic library.  You’ve changed jobs a few times since then.  What other kinds of positions have you held and how did you like them?  Now you are doing substitute teaching.  What’s that like?

Yes, I’ve had quite a number of library positions.  Friends of mine have wondered where I’ll turn up next….some have even started a lottery to guess that next place!  Just before the 2nd NASIG conference, I got married and moved to Florida.  I got a temporary position in a community college cataloging.  Then we moved to Oregon where I became the acting head of acquisitions in an academic library.  At that time, the confidence I acquired with NASIG came into play as we dealt with major system crashes….BUT we encumbered the entire book budget that year.  (Thanks, in part, to that serials chant “when in doubt…eat!” as well as other unconventional management treats such as pizza delivery to encourage the entire staff to make that extra effort.)

I seem to have adapted to heat and humidity, but not to snow and ice.  So my husband and I left Oregon to return to Florida.  In Florida I got another temporary job at a university that was in the throes of a serials budget cut (they never seem to end, do they?).  I was hired to coordinate that serials cut.  Also, Marcia Tuttle was hired to consult on the process.  Marcia was also a member of the “Class of 1984,” and it was old home week.  (Marcia and I later were reunited in North Carolina…it’s a small world, our library world!)

I’ve worked in public, school, and academic libraries.  I’ve also volunteered in an automotive museum which wanted some help organizing their library.  (This was a very useful experience…I used what I learned in this automotive museum when I had to catalog a set of government documents from WWII that were mainly technical handbooks.)   I’ve done cataloging, serials, collection development, acquisitions, reference, circulation, and even a stint as a systems librarian!

Several years ago I had to quit my last library position due to eldercare obligations.  I took that opportunity to begin a doctoral program.  After a time, and eldercare obligations, I found that I didn’t want to complete it and wanted to return to library work.  But wouldn’t you know?  This “revelation” occurred right about the time the economy took a tumble…and you know what that means.  I am fortunate that I have another income from my husband, so I didn’t have to immediately sign up to be a Wal-Mart greeter.  I began informally tutoring neighborhood children and found that I really enjoy doing it.  So I signed up to be a substitute teacher with the local school district.  I’m in my second year of this, and am totally enjoying it.  For so many years I’ve been working with college age students.  But now I’ve been teaching mostly elementary school children and absolutely love it.  Earlier this year I filled in for a middle school librarian who was on maternity leave and I found that as much as I love teaching, I still love librarianship.  I’m hoping that the economy will turn around before I begin to collect Social Security and that I can return full time to either classroom teaching and/or librarianship.  But in the meantime, I’m continuing to learn more and more each day from those children.

On more personal matters, you’ve lived in many parts of the country, usually south of the snow line.  Tell us about some of those places, what you liked, didn’t like so much.

I’ve lived and worked in California, New Mexico, Florida, New York, Oregon, Texas, and North Carolina.  I guess I’ve finally accepted that while ice and snow are pretty to look at, I prefer sun, sand, and humidity.  But everywhere I’ve worked and lived, people are the same.

You do a lot of traveling, and I understand you have a big trip planned later this spring.  Do you have some favorite destinations?

One of the up sides of not having a 9-5 job is that we can travel.  We’ve done some great “road trips” of driving around the US and Canada.  (In fact, I applied to my position in Texas when we had driven through that particular town…Alpine…on our way to Big Bend National Park.)  We have been to Italy and Switzerland.  And 3 years ago we went to France…mainly the Normandy Coast.  This year we are planning a Rhine River cruise though Germany.  With the advent of digital cameras and email we no longer have to corral friends for an old fashioned slide show but can simply email pictures to our “victims.”

What else do you do for fun?

When we’re not traveling, I love cooking, gardening, quilting, and counted cross-stitching.

Marilyn and her husband, Rodger, have some fabulous kitties.

We currently have two cats: Dewey and Elsie…what else would two catalogers call their cats?  Dewey is almost 6 years old.  I first saw him coming back from lunch when a person in the library wondered if anyone would want him.  He fell asleep in my arms, so I called my husband and we decided to keep him on the spot.  Elsie was found in our back yard about 3 years ago.  I heard a sound and thought that Dewey had captured a bird.  But it was this tiny (less than 6 ounces) black cat.  Being a she, we named her Elsie (LC), and now our classification is covered.

Anything else I should have asked about?  A guilty pleasure, maybe one or two things that would surprise people to know about you.

My father was in the Navy, and the first 20 years of my life, were spent as a military dependent.  So before I got married, I lived in Virginia, Illinois, California, Virginia, California, Hawaii, and Connecticut.  So it doesn’t seem strange to me to have continued this type of life after marriage, does it?

In Hawaii, I learned how to do the hula, was there when it became a state (remember, I’m “older than dirt!”), and was in the same school for more than one year at a time!


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