#SLAers Flying Solo

Categorized | 20 Questions

Almost 20 Questions – Deborah Falik

In this month’s edition of (Almost) 20 Questions for a Solo Librarian, Deborah Falik discusses her transition from medical librarian to small business owner, the “L” word, and our ever-changing profession. Deb was an especially good sport and answered 24 of my pesky questions…though I could have had lots more for her. -Holly

1. Where are you physically based?
I live in and work in New York City – specifically Manhattan.

2. Why did you become a librarian?
Because I love libraries and books?! I know, very stereotyped but also very true. It always seemed to me to be the perfect place to work – and I’ve done so since junior high school.

3. Do you have an MLS and if so from which school?
My MLS is from Rutgers although I started at UCLA.

4. How did your pre-library background & life experience help you thrive as a solo librarian?
My family always encouraged me to ‘speak up’, to be willing to take a stand & be independent. More specifically, I like being on my own without lots of heavy handed supervision and this plays into running a solo operation.

5. We understand that you’re changing your job situation. Could you tell us a little bit about your last solo library job & why you left?
This was actually the second time I left a solo position. The first time was just before 9/11 when the ad agency I worked at decided to retrench and closed the library. That’s when I started my own company, The Information Sourcerer, doing archival and general research work. When the economy kind of tanked in the early 2000’s I went to work at a hospital library. I did have a director who was also a librarian but within a year or so the hospital was bought by a larger group which included a med school & I became a solo again albeit I did have to report to those overseeing med school library. I left this past December because I didn’t like the internal politics and games that had to be played by both the library and the hospital itself.

6. Could you tell us about your plans for the future?
I’m in the process of resurrecting my company looking to do archival projects and perhaps some general reference and genealogical work as well.

7. What have been some of your “other duties as assigned” while working as a solo?
I’ve done everything from working at the front desk, fixing the photocopy machine, shelving material to helping people figure out their own programs (a particular problem given that I am in no way a techie!). One thing to keep in mind is that in many ‘solo’ libraries the reality is more that while there’s only 1 professional there are other workers – clerks, volunteers etc. who are extremely familiar with the library’s operations In a sense, it’s perhaps more accurate to say that “solo’ libraries are really ‘small staffed’ libraries.

8. Will the word “librarian” be in your new job title & how do you feel about that “L” word?
Since I own the company I use the term “principal”. BUT – I love the word and the title & have no hesitation in using it to describe what I do. I think it encompasses everything; it’s something that most people know immediately what you’re talking about after which you simply enlarge the description to encompass any special particulars. I think it describes what we do not how we do it or what gadgets we use to do it. I prefer not to be categorized by the technology I use.

9. What’s the most memorable information request you’ve received?
I was asked to try & find verification of a donation plaque at the hospital. I had to look thru the old annual reports which were fascinating: contributions of chickens to help with the food supplies, sheets for the beds, donations of even just 5c were reported in the very early years when they were still trying to fund the building.

10. As solos, we sometimes don’t have the luxury of walking down the hall to talk to librarian colleagues. How do you keep “in touch” with other professionals?
Listservs! Networking thru SLA! Getting involved in both my local NYC group and in various SLA subject interest divisions. Going to conferences was also a major way to make contacts. I’m also member of other professional organizations such as AIIP (Assn of Independent Professionals) and Archivist Roundtable.

11. Why did you join SLA & the Solo Librarians Division?
See #10!

12. What advice would you give to new librarians?
Get involved, get on listservs, ask questions, network! Be willing to ask questions & keep up with the literature.

13. What’s one tool or skill that you wish you could “magically” acquire?
Get better at all the techie stuff.

14. What question have you answered most often for your patrons?
Where’s the key for the bathroom?! Ok, given that I was in a hospital library where most of the Dr’s know how to do online searching in Medline the biggest issue has often been to show them the best way to do this searching as they (like so many) have a tendency to just throw a couple of key words into the database & hope for the best. So… not one specific question so much as a how best to do it question.

15. What advice do you give to your patrons who are trying to find things in a mixed analog/digital information world?
Medical libraries nowadays are so massively digital that I almost have to remind people that not all journals or texts are online and instantly available – sometimes the only way to see something is to read a ‘real’ journal or book.

16. Does social media help or hinder our profession?
Guess I’m of two minds here: it obviously helps when trying to find someone, whether for personal or professional reasons, or simply keeping in touch/networking for these same reasons. But the costs are high in terms of distraction. We’ve stopped having real, interpersonal interactions & all the emoticons just don’t take the place of hearing & seeing the person up close.

17. Do you have a reference “go to” source?
The best “source” I have are the people on my professional listservs. One of the best things about the Solo Division is that it, much like my AIIP group has such a wide range of interests & knowledge upon which I can call. They’re all so very quick and ready to help out – another of the major reasons to belong to SLA & to Solos!

18. What are your hobbies outside of work?
I love going to museums and galleries and am certainly spoiled by living in NYC tho I also make sure to indulge whenever I travel. And, as I collect old mysteries (we’re talking 1880’s to 1950’s) I scour used book stores when I find them as these are often the only place to find the really old works. Another advantage of living in NYC is all the theater & ballet that are to be found here. I’m a volunteer with ATAP (American Theater Archives Project) which works with off-Broadway companies to preserve their archives and I’m a major balletomane – I’m eclectic in tastes & get to most of the companies that appear in the city.

19. Who is your hero (librarian or other)?
My dad for having gone thru so much but still believing in and working for his labor and Zionist values.

20. How do you see the profession changing within the next five years?
I think there’ll be an even faster adoption of online and social media that will attempt to take the place of carefully vetted sources. I have to admit I’m glad I’m not starting out now – when doing research I prefer to take my time and really delve into things but nowadays patrons have learned to expect instant answers handed to them. I’m not sure that this is really in the best interests of either patrons or their clients.

21. What is your favorite library/librarian related movie?
Probably “Desk Set” with Hepburn & Tracy as it so perfectly personifies the clash between tech & people.

22. Name one of your guilty pleasures.
Hunkering down with a good mystery; indulging in chocolate chip mint ice cream isn’t bad either!

23. Read any good books lately?
Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookshop by Robert Sloan

24. What kind of music do you like?
Classic and folk.

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