Library Cataloguer Named a Top Librarian Support Person in Connecticut

Shari Swanson ’79, library assistant and cataloger, started working at Olin Library in 1981. She plans to retire this summer.
Posted 04/17/07
Shari Swanson may be considered a bit “bibliophilic.”

During the day, Swanson works as Olin Library’s assistant and cataloger, sorting an array of reading material. And during the evening, she may retire to her personal library – stocked with more than 5,000 volumes.

“I am a bibliophile of the first order,” Swanson says. “I love to read, admire and collect books, old and new. A s a matter of fact, with me, it’s even close to an addiction. I do love to read. I read voraciously. I like the feel of books, books lining the walls of my rooms. Books comfort me; they make me happy; they fascinate me.”

Swanson’s lifelong love for books is just one reason she was recently named the Library Support Staff Member of the Year by the Connecticut Library Association. She will be honored at the annual Connecticut Library Association Conference April 17 in Hartford.

According to Ramona Harten, chair of the awards committee, nominations for the Support Staff Member of the Year award were open to all of the approximately 1,000 Connecticut Library Association members statewide. Swanson was nominated for the award by Barbara Jones, the Caleb T. Winchester University Librarian, and other Olin Library staff members.

The Support Staff of the Year Award promotes the role and image of library assistants and support staff in the library and information science fields. It recognizes the importance of support staff and their image in the library profession. Nominees must be currently working in the library profession in Connecticut in a support staff position.

“Shari has set an example for what university librarians like me look for in a staff member,” Jones explains. “First and foremost, she is curious about the world in general, and she reads and reads and reads, which means she is the ideal cataloger. She knows a lot about a lot of things, and what she doesn’t know, she’ll find out. Finally, Shari is compassionate and thoughtful about those around her. She will send me these thoughtful e-mails when she senses that a co-worker’s contributions are being overlooked, so that I can take notice and give recognition where it is due.”

Sally Grucan, cataloging librarian and Swanson’s supervisor, considers Swanson to be “probably the most productive cataloger that has ever existed” at Wesleyan.

“Shari understands the library and university big picture and, having a strong academic bent, is attuned to the needs of faculty in particular,” Grucan says. “She is the embodiment of a library support staff member who has materially contributed to the advancement of librarianship and library staff in her library. We have been extremely fortunate that she chose to stay at Wesleyan all these years.”

That’s 30 years to be exact.

Her ties with Wesleyan date back to 1977 when Swanson received an Etherington scholarship after receiving an associate’s degree from Manchester Community College. In 1979, she graduated from Wesleyan with a degree in history and has taken several graduate courses since from the Classical Studies and Medieval Studies programs. And in 1981, she began working for Olin Memorial Library on the Library of Congress classification range which included Russian works in Cyrillic language.

Rather than let the language become a barrier, she studied and became proficient in Russian transliteration in order to provide quality cataloging for the new acquisitions. Nowadays, she is able to transliterate Japanese and Chinese characters, and has knowledge in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, Latin, Greek languages, and even Hebrew, Yiddish and Old Gothic script.

“I’m not always able to ‘read’ these texts, but I am able to transliterate them in order to search them, and catalog them,” Swanson says. “In my case, this is like a puzzle, or more closely, cryptography. It is coming at language from the back end, learning to identify ideographs and the ‘sound’ they make. My approach may not be the ideal, but it seems to work rather well.”

As a cataloger, Swanson makes sure each book acquired by the library is recorded correctly into the online catalog. She tweaks each book record accordingly, making sure the search points – such as authors and subjects – match the book so that when someone searches the catalog, he or she can easily find it with a general or keyword search.

In addition to the day-to-day new acquisitions, Swanson has cataloged Wesleyan’s Schomberg Collection of Negro Literature and History, large gift collections from the estates of Paul Horgan and Henry and Claire Erhmann, and rare text and artists books for the Special Collections and Archives Department. She’s also catalogued maps, audio/visual materials and serials, and is starting to catalogue a new “hidden collection” of works about King Arthur.

Swanson plans to retire from Wesleyan in June, however, will return in fall for a special, grant-funded project: the Nathan Comfort Starr Arthurian collection.

“This is a collection I have been drooling over and wanting to get my hands on for years,” she says. “I am very excited about this, and if grants can be gotten or other funds found, I hope that there are other projects that I can return to complete.”

Swanson’s knowledge and background made her an ideal recipient for the Support Staff Member of the award, Harten says, however Swanson was surprised by the decoration.

“I am humbled by this award because is initiated by my colleagues, my peers. They know me and nominated me anyway. Truly miraculous,” Swanson says smiling. “And that the selection committee then saw fit to honor me with this award takes my breath away. There are numbers of other staff here at Wesleyan who deserve this award. They increase exponentially when you consider the whole state. Therefore, I feel that I represent them all, and that I am the one to receive this award is a very lucky coincidence.”

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor