This interview is over 1 year old and may no longer be up to date or reflect the interviewee/interviewees’ positions
by Kiersten Bryant, Head Editor, INALJ California
Sharon Miller…Mechanic’s Institute Library Director
Sharon Miller is the Director of the Mechanic’s Institute Library, a historic membership-based library in the heart of San Francisco, founded in 1854 near the end of the California Gold Rush. In addition to housing the library, the Mechanic’s Institute building is home to the oldest continuously operating chess club in the United States!
Kiersten: How did you come to work at the Mechanics Institute Library, and how long have you worked there?
Sharon: I was recruited by the former director to be her assistant in 2005. I had worked with her at her previous job. I was already a member of MI Library, and had done a MLIS class project or two focused on MI Library, with her permission. I was appointed Library Director in 2009, after she left.
Kiersten: How does a membership-based library differ from a public library?
Sharon: Only in the funding. We are totally self-funded (endowment, membership dues, rentals from office space in the building that we own, donations. Anyone can join for a yearly fee. We provide a general interest library and services the same as any public library.
Kiersten: What do you like best about the Mechanics Institute Library?
Sharon: It is a vibrant institution that honors its long history (oldest continuously operating library west of the Mississippi) and is totally relevant today in its collections and services. It has a community feel, a lively series of activities and programs, set in a beautiful old shabby building.
Kiersten: Does your library specialize in any particular subject?
Sharon: No, we are a general interest library, aimed at a college educated clientele. We have a strong business collection (we are located in SF”s financial district), strong history collection, and a broad-based collection over all.
Kiersten: How has the Library and Information Science field changed since you began working in it?
Sharon: I’ve been working in libraries as a professional since 1988, and before that as a student worker. Technology is a huge change, of course, but less talked about is the change of attitude of librarians in the area of public service and being more responsive to user needs and less proscriptive in creating a collection. We have come, almost too late, to the recognition that we must be better marketers of the value librarians add to their communities.
Kiersten: Favorite book?
Sharon: Changes every year, I read hundreds of books a year, and the current favorite is always something that resonates with what is going on in my life. Recent favorites: Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.
Kiersten: Favorite website/blog?
Sharon: Librarian in Black
Kiersten: Favorite thing about libraries/library technologies?
Sharon: One can never keep up – a moving target that is fun to chase.
Kiersten: If you could take any of your hobbies and create a job out of it or integrate it into your job, what would it be? And how?
Sharon: Talking with people who like to talk about books. We have 7 book discussion groups going this spring. And I work the circulation desk a couple of hours a week just to talk with borrowers face to face.
Kiersten: Best piece of job hunting/career advice?
Sharon: Research, research, research before you even show up at the door. Get to know a couple of staff people at various levels (but we aware that the ones who seem to be most eager to talk with you may not be the ones who will help you the most). Don’t expect that all of your great ideas will be automatically welcomed, especially if you have no feel for the place. Cast your net wide, but at the same time, know what kind/size of library will be most comfortable for your style. Send resumes out cold to the places that seem to be the best fit, and explain that.