A Big Smile + Bright Clothes: The Inside Guide to the Cornell Library Continues with Michele LaRose

It is hard to miss Michele LaRose with her big smile and bright clothes when you enter the library!  Read on to learn about Michele’s daily game plans, the chaos, how she became a librarian and improvements coming to the management of Interlibrary Loan requests. Michele also shares a (g-rated) story about an encounter with a former library patron.

First and foremost, thank you so much for sitting down with me—I know you are always so busy. On that note, could you give us an idea what a typical day would look like ? Is there a typical day for an Access Services Librarian?

I actually start planning for the day, the evening before, by creating an outline of what I want to accomplish. In making the plan, I take into consideration library staffing, interlibrary loan demands, meetings and deadlines. A typical day for me is unpredictable, even though I started off with a good game plan.

Access Services is all about interacting with our users and members of the community and providing excellent service—it is all about multi-tasking. My day is often driven by the needs of our library users, whether that is processing an emergency interlibrary loan for a faculty member, educating students on study aids, helping a student under stress, locating a missing book, or coming up with alternative sources. Email today provides an avenue to receive 24/7 requests—I pride myself on responding quickly to these requests. Additionally, the circulation desk is often the first place visitors come too. We receive a wide variety of questions and one of my colleagues coined us the library’s concierge’s desk. A typical day is often fast past, requires lots of juggling, carving out time to think and create, and following through on library users requests: at times my agenda is thrown out the window.

We are often the face of the rest of the library staff and represent all the work behind the scenes to bring excellent services to the VLS community.

In more detail, can you tell us some of the things you juggle?
Summer time is a great example of the juggling that occurs in access services and I have a variety of responsibilities.

I hire and manage the student staff for access services. The library is open 7 days a week, over two shifts, so I have to find staffing for that. I try to balance the needs of running the department efficiently, while recognizing that the student staff have other responsibilities.

During the summer we also put materials on course reserves for our st
udents. That requires a lot of work. I gather all the course syllabi, which takes quite a bit of time, and we check the sources listed against our collection and pull that material and place it on course reserve.

We also have new people coming to campus during summer and we assist them. Students are looking for materials; want a place to study; or even want to know where to have lunch.

It is chaotic and I love the chaos.

I know you have worked in law libraries for more than 20 years, which is quite impressive. You must like it! Is this the job that you dreamed of as a little girl, or was this a career you sort of stumbled into?

I was actually going to be a teacher. During the Vietnam War, I had a lot of questions and wondered how I could teach history when I wasn’t even sure about the world myself. And so, I took a break. I said to my friend, “I do not know what I want to do.” My friend said, “Why don’t you go into libraries? You love learning, and you love roaming the stacks.” Her mom was also a librarian. So I applied to library school and I got a work-study job in the Government Documents Library at SUNY-Buffalo. I got another job at a law library as support staff and from there, a job opened in Massachusetts…And that’s all she wrote!

That is neat Michele!

And I love it because there are a lot of components that you would find in teaching, in this job. There are a lot of one-on-one conversations, sometimes you are giving tours, or talking to a group.  You listen to patrons and try to educate them about library resources. You also try to view everyone as an individual, like you would in a classroom. You have to be understanding and compassionate and realize that everyone has different pressures, but you are trying to help everyone succeed. Maybe it has been a success because there are so many similarities between the professions.

There is no doubt that you are a wonder woman with all that you do! But, not surprisingly you are taking on more with the implementation of the new ILLIAD software and patron-driven acquisitions. Can you tell me a little bit about what this means?

I am very excited about the implementation of ILLIAD . Basically, ILLIAD is a single interface that will process Interlibrary Loan (ILL) more efficiently. The patron-driven component will give our library users more freedom and accountability as requests are processed. So, right now, an authorized library sends an email, I will print that off, and then process it.  But there is a big gap because users are not able to track requests, if they have been processed, or received. Patrons  now can not go back and find out what they requested, because they do not have access to the history of their requests. ILLIAD will allow users to set up an account, a profile of themselves, and submit and follow requests. For their research needs, I think it will be very efficient. For the library, it will be less paperwork and more streamlined.

So why do we need this?

We have an excellent collection, but there are times when our faculty and the students require interdisciplinary material that we don’t own.

At this point, based on the law school curriculum, AWRs, IRPS, and supporting the Law Review and VJEL, as well as the schools continued growth, interlibrary loan is not going to decrease, only increase over the years. ILLIAD will make it easier to process ILL requests and maintain statistics of what we are doing, while also improving the patron experience.

Could share a funny story with us? Since you are often at the circulation desk, I am sure you have alot of strange requests or see things some would not notice…

I have story. This was during the bar exam prep time, which is very stressful. I was working in a library, in the city, and this woman came charging to the circulation desk and said, “You just have to do something. You just have to do something.”And I said, “Well, how can we help you?” She said, “You have got to stop the fire engine from coming down the road, it is making too much noise.” I said, “Well, there was a fire unfortunately.” We did get ear plugs for her though.

And finally, to wrap things up, many people know you around campus as being a warm, friendly and positive person. When you look around your office you have lots of inspiration quotes and things to empower yourself. I was wondering if you could share a couple tokens of wisdom with our readers?

I love working with people and I am passionate about libraries. We do so many wonderful things to help support our faculty, students, staff and members of the community. I firmly believe that law libraries, like the Julien and Virginia Cornell library, play an integral role in the law school experience. We are part of a circle that starts in admissions, and ends with the office of alumni relations and gift giving. The libraries job is to help make the student experience rewarding, which starts during legal research, continues in advanced legal research, and through one-on-one reference appointments. We care about the comfort of students and understand their diverse study habits. We work hard to maintain an excellent collection with an active ILL service to support research and classroom needs. As the students graduate, we are proud to know we participated in their growth as individuals and future lawyers. I am a strong believer in customer-service and to provide excellent service you have to work hard, have a sense of humor, respect people and enjoy the work you do. You also have to be a team player and my colleagues are the best.

Thank you Heidi for asking me to participate and share my thoughts.

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Summer Reading!

Summer arrived two days ago, and it made me think about one of the pleasures of summer: reading a book that has nothing to do with my work.

Having authored A Coffin for Dimitrios, and The Light of Day, Eric Ambler is known as one of the father’s of the thriller. Since I have read A Coffin for Dimitrios, and seen Topkapi, the film version of The Light and Day, I decided to read one of Ambler’s less well-known books, Epitaph for a Spy.

Epitaph for a Spy is an excellent thriller, set on a small stage but similar in atmosphere to Alan Furst’s wonderful novels of Europe in the 1930s, which I also recommend. The story takes place on the eve of war.  One reason these books are interesting is because of the suspense created by the reader’s knowledge that World War II will soon come, while the naïve characters in the book maintain a degree of innocence. Some characters remain happy-go-lucky, while others feel the doom nearing. Still others are foreign spies.

Our narrator, Joseph Vadassy, has the credentials to be the thriller’s hero. A Hungarian native holding an invalid Yugoslav passport, he is a man without a country. He is an alien, who speaks five languages, and earns a modest living as a teacher of foreign languages in Paris.  Will he prove to be an innocent man or a spy?

An interesting background issue, the difference between nations and states arises.   Whereas Americans typically think of the nation and the state as being the same thing, there is actually a distinction.  The nation is the people of a country—what we think of as nationality—and the state refers to a government with sovereignty to the borders.  Not uncommon in South Eastern Europe, then as now, the borders of the states are not congruent with the borders of the nations. Vadassy is born in Szabadka, Hungary, a town that later becomes Subotica, Yugoslavia.  Vadassy’s passport has expired, and he fears returning to Yugoslavia where his father and brother have been killed.  Terrible social conditions in Hungary make that an unlikely place to return and he desires French citizenship.

Now located in Serbia, Subotica and its region, Vojvodina, are still comprised of Hungarians, Serbians, Croatians and other smaller populations.  Locations like this, with a mix of peoples and changing borders, prove to be ideal for thrillers.  Graham Greene  placed Stamboul Train, one of his “entertainments,” as he called his thrillers, in Subotica.

Alfred Hitchcock once famously claimed that his films often revolved around a MacGuffin, the thing that gets the story rolling, but that ultimately proves unnecessary to the story, like the eponymous  Maltese Falcon. The MacGuffin here is a 36 exposure roll of film. While the last twenty six frames are various poses of a lizard, the first ten are photographs of secret French military sites.  Vadassy claims to have photographed the lizard, but swears he did not take the first ten photographs.

The local French Commissaire de Police and Beghin, a sweaty fat man (think, Sydney Greenstreet ) from the Sûreté Générale, feel they have an airtight case. Vadassy will be imprisoned  for espionage, or thrown out of the country, unless…, unless, he can establish the true photographer of the French military sites.  To this end, Vadassy is permitted to return to La Reserve, a small hotel on the French Riviera where the bulk of story unfolds.  Beghin advises him to simply interview the other guests – do you own a camera like mine?—seemingly foolish advice which Vadassy rejects in favor of more complex approaches more likely to get him in trouble.  Who could be the photographer of the first ten frames? How could the spy have possibly shot the first ten frames on Vadassy’s roll of film? And what ill might befall Vadassy, should the treasonous culprit turn up in search of the first ten photos?

The story proceeds with a number of twists which I won’t give away, as Vaddassy mingles with the other guests, a varied cast of characters stereotyped by nationality—the American wise guy, and the French lover—suspecting and rejecting them in turn.

The story proved to be sufficiently visual that it was turned into a 1944 movie, Hotel Reserve, starring James Mason –transformed from a Hungarian linguist into an Austrian medical student.  In all, the book was a wonderful entertainment and left me with the desire to dig deeper into Ambler corpus.

-CAY

Let us know what your summer pleasure reading is.