Bad news that comes at you out of the blue and grabs you in the throat and leaves you speechless and deeply sad, such was the feeling I had earlier this week when I received the sad news that Mary George, a reference librarian at Princeton University Firestone Library for the past thirty-five years, passed away suddenly at her home.
I can’t quite remember how long I’ve known Mary George, but it probably goes back to the late 1990s when we were both adjuncts at Rutgers, teaching courses in similar areas of reference such as humanities and social science reference. I visited her at Princeton regularly and had students who graduated and went to work at Firestone Library. All always revered Mary George (for to many of us she was always Mary George and not Mary), most recent among them Thomas Keenan.
The depth and breath of her knowledge was immense. At Princeton, she held responsibilities as subject specialist for many areas: Biographical Sources, Comparative Literature, European Union Documents, Library and Information Science. The scope of her scholarship was impressive. Her book on guiding students through the research process features regularly on my syllabi.
In recent years we talked about our shared interest in European Union information. Every spring semester for the past five or six years, I have gone to Princeton with a group of students to visit the library’s special collection in European Union and United Nations information sources. Mary George and Susan White always prepare a whirlwind of a day, with a detailed prepared agenda that includes presentations and tours and conversations and introductions. Seeing and hearing the passion with which Mary talked about her work – all aspects from collecting to helping seniors with their theses – made me appreciate fully her knowledge and dedication.
It was on the most recent visit to Princeton this spring that Mary and I sat together at lunch and had a nice long talk about library and information science education, about the skills needed today, about balancing aptitude and attitude, and more.
I feel privileged to have known Mary George and deeply saddened by her passing.
Earlier this summer, Pat Reeling, professor emeritus at Rutgers, passed away. I have known Dr. Reeling for the entirety of my academic career from the mid 1990s. It was in fact she who chose me. Dr. Reeling (I could never bring myself to call her Pat) walked into the SCILS PhD office and asked to see the essays of the incoming cohort, scanning for a match of interests, and found me. Dr. Reeling then proceeded to pass on to me her vast knowledge in both government information and pedagogy. Dr. Reeling was a great teacher. She brought to the classroom a depth of knowledge and a flair for instilling it in students. Her seemingly random story about how she once used Andriot to help her neighbor fix his lawn-mower is the story you will return to in your head every time you need to construct a search for older serial publications.
I still have in my files the manually compiled legislative histories and her copy of Schmeckebier. Dr. Reeling was always loved and appreciated by her students, many of whom went on to hold leadership positions, most notably among them Mary Alice Baish, the current Superintendent of Documents at the Government Publishing Office. If you look up to the banner of this blog you will see Dr. Reeling’s photo on the corkboard in my office; she’s my academic muse.
I will end with a somewhat related closing. A former student of mine posted this article titled “Why We Need Older Women in the Workplace.” It speaks in general to the contribution that an experienced and age-diverse workplace makes and to the positive impact of mid- and late-career mentors to new professionals. Such was Pat Reeling, and for that I am forever in her debt.
For the past eighteen months I have been working with New York Public Library correctional services program to answer reference questions from incarcerated people. NYPL forwards me the questions and students taking Information Services and Sources answer inmates’ letters as part of their course work.
My colleague Emily Drabinski (who joined the project with her section of the course a year ago) and I, have written two extensive research articles on the topic, which will be published in RUSQ later this year.
In the meantime, Newsweek did a short piece on the project which really captures very little of the project and overlooks some important facets, such as the importance of information for facilitating reentry upon release.
Another aspect of the project that I am concerned with is how well the project meets the learning objectives of students. And for this, I would like to quote one of my students from the Fall semester:
… each of the letters I received had such a real, genuine human voice to them – fears of re-entry and what would happen if they did not acclimate to society well, a desire to pursue a higher education, and so on. The program gave me a chance to interact with the inmates in a unique context that otherwise would have been very unlikely. I do hope the answers I provided were of help to each of the inmates, as that was my aim throughout the program.
For the past two semesters, students taking my Information Services and Sources course (LIS 652) created miNYstories as part of the course requirements. miNYstories are short photo podcasts about New York City and each semester we have been inspired by a New York centric book.
First was E.B. White’s Here is New York and this semester the miNYstories were inspired by From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
Students assembled photographs and music from public archives such as the New York Public Library Digital Gallery and the NYC Municipal Archive Gallery, and added them to a well-researched narrative.
The miNYstories tell about the history and style of public fountains in the city, the history of Automat restaurants, the history of waste management in the city, and many more.
It is quite amazing how much you can learn about New York by watching the miNYstories, I hope you take the time to do so.