Meet the Librarian | Maria Joseph

About Maria

Maria oversees the operations of the Bibliographic Services and Catalog Departments at our Library Support Center (LSC). The departments at the LSC serve as an anchor for the CLP system and the libraries in Allegheny County by developing, processing and distributing collections for patron use. As technical services is a core shared service throughout Allegheny County, Maria liaises as needed with county libraries.

About CLP

With over fifteen branches spread throughout Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods today, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has served the patrons of Allegheny County and beyond since the late 1800s. For more on the history of the library itself, please follow the links provided after Maria’s interview!

Let’s Meet Maria

What’s your favorite part about working your position? What inspired you to become a librarian?

In my current position as Administrator for the Technical Services department, I love being among all the behind the scenes aspects of the collection, knowing that the team I manage are doing a great job working on getting the materials out to the public – which is our ultimate goal. Having been on the public side of library work, I know how exciting it is for the library patron to browse the shelf or display for a new book and have such a wonderful selection of materials to choose from. It’s also super important for the patron and staff to have a library catalog that is up-to-date and easy to use, and that is some very important work that my team handles which is mostly unseen and thankless. I’m proud of the team and their work.

Do you have any tips for someone beginning a research project? What resources do you often suggest a patron utilize? (can be either in library or online)

First, I ask if they have library card! We have so many resources – in the library and online – and the best way to access any of those is with a current, active library card. A quick check online or call to your local library can answer this question and get folks started on their research. Your local library staff can point anyone in the right direction of the online or print resources available for their project. 

What is your favorite thing about working for CLP? What’s something you wish you could add to enhance reader experience?

This really is a great organization to work for. We’re in it for all the right reasons – helping the public and engaging with them in literacy and learning.  Even though we have 19 locations, there are many in the community who don’t know all of what we can offer to them, and also may have trouble accessing our libraries and/or our resources. Expanding our reach in some way so we can be there for their library needs would be a plus.

A coworker recently said to me, “Libraries are dying.” But I wholly disagree! Do you feel that an interest in reading has grown over the last few years, stayed steady, or decreased?

I disagree too! Libraries are evolving! People are still reading – but the options have expanded. We have new devices and alternate ways of ingesting information. Our eResource library patrons have increased in numbers over the years, and the pandemic certainly helped push a lot of people towards the downloadable options of eBooks and eAudio. But the physical items are still being checked out in the library locations. People are reading online news sources and magazines, blog posts and social media posts, learning through online courses and language databases.  “Library” is no longer a 1:1 ratio for “book depository”, and thus the learning and reading that our patrons are doing has taken on new forms in an exciting way.

What are the most popular materials folks check out at your location? Research materials? Media? Fiction or nonfiction? Do you think this is a trend different from other smaller area libraries?

In my previous position as a CLP branch manager, our patrons were definitely checking out the new, best-seller titles – books and movies especially – as well as popular non-fiction titles such as cookbooks, crafting books, self-help and memoirs. And children’s books of all types are very popular in many locations – picture books, board books, series, and often tie-ins to movies and tv-shows. I think this tends to be the trend at most libraries, with the larger libraries seeing more people utilize their collections for research. Some smaller libraries may have collections specific to that community and its history, so you may see some utilization specific to a unique collection of materials.

Do you think “library culture” has changed in the last ten or fifteen years? Is it still a place where folks crave quiet, or is it more of a social gathering place?

I think a lot of that is dependent on how the community sees their local library. One community might be seen as the gathering place based on where it is in the community, the collection, or the programming and services it offers. If they have a dedicated quiet space or study area, I’m sure there are members of their community taking advantage of that space for study and learning purposes. When I was working with the public as a branch manager, we often had library users of all ages commenting on how quiet or noisy the library was on any given day. I think library culture has evolved to the point of no longer being that stereotypical place one used to get shushed in (which is a good thing), and I believe libraries have become better at adapting to the needs of their ever-changing community of library users.

How important is it for you to keep the library database up-to-date? I’m sure audits are always a fun process!

The library catalog and its contents are a huge responsibility, and that is much of what my staff is working on in their day-to-day. It’s very important! The work they do directly affects the library end-user. My team is responsible for inputting the information into the library catalog, which then enables the patron to find the item on the shelf in their local library or give them the ability to place a hold on that item. Keeping the catalog up-to-date is an extremely important customer service.

Can patrons request materials be added to the system? Is this the same as the library app Libby, or is it a completely different service?

Patrons can request materials to be added to the system. There is a “Suggest a Purchase” request form on our website and patrons can request that we add certain titles to our collections. That form gets reviewed by staff whose job it is to add items to our collections using their professional expertise alongside various policies and guidelines of the library.

How many libraries does CLP work with? Is it more than people usually think or do the numbers generally make sense?

I think it is more than people usually think. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh includes 19 locations serving the 90 neighborhoods of Pittsburgh and beyond. One of those locations is LAMP (Libraries of Accessible Media for Pennsylvanians) which serves libraries and communities across the state. Through our computer network, patrons throughout Allegheny County not only have access to CLP locations’ materials and resources, but also the materials and resources of the 40+ libraries in the county. In addition, library patrons have the option to use a service known as InterLibrary Loan (ILL), which further increases their borrowing options to across the state, nation and sometimes even across the world.

And so concludes July’s Meet the Librarian!

What do you think? Isn’t this a fun addition to The Pittsburgh Writer? If you’re a writer/author, I highly suggest getting to know the librarians in your area, especially if you’re not yet published. No matter what you write, you’re going to need to use their resources at some point. Why not start with their very knowledgeable personnel? Don’t be afraid to get out there and ask them questions!

To learn more about the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, please follow the links below!

Are You A Librarian?

Are you a librarian here in Pennsylvania? I am always on the hunt for more interviewees! With spots to fill for the rest of the year, I’m looking for five more fine folks who’d like to participate in this super fun series. Please follow the info here to let me know if you would like to take part!