When I first came to Yale I wasn’t sure what “big” meant at Yale Library. I came from a public institution I thought was big–big campus, big buildings, lots of students, but I know now the library wasn’t big. It was more like medium, medium-rare. They didn’t have a large staff (funny though how we never thought we needed more people). The ILS was about 500,000 bib records-which is less than 5% of YUL’s. I thought YUL would be big enough for me to make more friends and colleagues, big enough to have almost any job you wanted. But then you talk to some folks here who tell you how small Yale is. That is a small school, small campus, small student body, and so on. I think it depends on the day you are having if you feel the bigness or smallness of Yale.
In the interest of making YUL feel smaller and more accessible to everyone, I give you Nancy Lyon. No one should ever work here, even for one week, and not have the opportunity to meet Nancy Lyon. I’ve been here over nine years and I do know Nancy through mutual friends, but it is only recently that I spent work time with Nancy. What I fear is that most folks passing time here might not ever cross paths with Nancy. She works in the basement of Sterling for starters. And folks can’t get there without another staff member escorting you down this tiny, narrow spiral staircase like you’d find in some old NYC apartment. Nancy has a real meat and potatoes job too, so you might not find her at high-profile committee meetings. But she is here, and she is a gem.
First thing I like is that when she sees me she says “Hey, Melis!” I can always tell people like me when they give me their own nickname for Melissa. (Never mind with the formality of Melissa, this is who she is to me, Melis, Missy, etc.). She also asks how you are doing…and waits for your answer while she looks you in the eye. When you reach Nancy’s desk, you immediately see all her favorite things. All tiny revelations about the kind of person she is and what is important to her. Nancy and I have the same print of a woman reading. It isn’t a famous print of a woman by Sargent or Manet, so I figure the odds of someone I know owning this print are slim. She has it in smaller size on her desk. Her desk also has a panoply of bits and bobs that could easily distract or entertain you for hours. But, let me tell you, Nancy is not distracted. Nancy is a woman with a mission and serious commitment to data accuracy. It might be like combining Yue Ji and Tom Bruno.
Nancy gave me a detailed overview of her work and set of responsibilities to help accession items into the Manuscripts and Archives collection, and how she prepares these items for accession to the Library Shelving Facility (LSF). Nancy also helps mange the physical space for MSSA, but more on that later. The process Nancy follows is very manual. There are some automation tools in place, but she still has a lot of high-touch steps to complete these procedures. As Nancy demonstrates these to me, she eyeballs me peripherally and says, “I see that look you have. I know you’re thinking to yourself this needs to all be automated.” I quickly apologize, as I must have some furrowed brows and a “What in the Worldcat?!” look on my face. The look isn’t about Nancy, rather my surprise at how critical work gets done, and engaging my own serious commitment of wanting to offer colleagues efficient workflows. But here’s the rub. Nancy is so good at her job that you couldn’t make her much more efficient. She has got it locked down. The way new parents might show you photos of their kids is how Nancy shows you the printouts of data mistakes she catches and records in case there are future questions. These are of course arranged by type of problem and per fiscal year. Of course, right?
Nancy has this narrative quality I love and often use to understand a program or a process. Some folks always want a short answer, and never more detail than they need at the minute. Not me and Nancy. I like the personalization, the A to Z-ness of it. I like that Nancy explains extracting data out of Archivists Toolkit into Voyager, like someone from Maine gives you directions to a diner and a recommendation for the coconut cream pie. The way Nancy explains it makes the pie taste better to me. I invested a little. And you should too. Because as the data is being identified for extraction out of Archivists Toolkit, it so happens that a little man from Switzerland chaperones it. He’s there, as real as anything, to make sure all data is present and accounted for, before making the next leg of the journey. I almost wish Library IT had added a little background alphorn into this part of the custom program so Nancy could tap her feet. Next comes what Nancy calls the “hold your breath moment.” This is when she waits for the reconciliation screen to show her that the right number of records were extracted and created. If it “balances” Nancy is happy.
So I am learning Nancy’s workflow and taking copious notes. It is true that one day all of her steps will be automated, but it might be after she retires. Why mess with perfection? Part of me doesn’t want her workflow automated, because then I know Nancy is down there doing it just fine. Another part of me does, because then Nancy could do other work that requires such precision and heart.