Banner image for Compendium: News from Commonwealth Libraries with photo of Office of Commonselath Libraries building

GAC Profile: Larry Nesbit

Larry Nesbit
Larry Nesbit

 

I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in August 1970 and began work at Mansfield University a few weeks later as the education librarian.  It was a perfect match for me because it permitted me to use my undergraduate and graduate backgrounds in education, as well as my library degree, to create a branch library at Mansfield, which supported the professional education programs.

The school had healthy budgets at the time so the library and its use grew very rapidly.  To help students learn more efficiently and effectively, I realized I needed a more formal background in multimedia materials, which at that time included filmstrips, cassettes and film loops as cutting edge.   I enrolled in the Curriculum and Education program at the Pennsylvania State University and graduated with a doctorate in 1979 and returned to my full time position at Mansfield University.

My professional duties soon changed and I was asked to become the interim director of library services; this became a permanent position in 1983.  The change was significant for me personally and professionally because it permitted me to explore how academic libraries and public libraries could collaborate together.  I had the distinct pleasure of working with Ms. Janice Trapp, Director of the J V Brown Library and the North Central Library District, on a number of grants which ranged from developing electronic ways users from public libraries could access U.S. government documents to experimenting with collection development tools for promoting collaborative collection development.  Probably the most significant item for me was learning first hand about the challenging environment in which public libraries work and the daily challenges which they face.

While this was happening, I also became very interested in expanding resources of Mansfield University to the K-12 environment.  In this case, Dr. Doris Epler Dorwart, Chief of the School Library Media Division, Commonwealth Libraries, became my mentor.  Within a few years, along with Dr. Dorwart, and Dr. James Fogarty, and a lot of other helpful folks, Access Pa was created.  This was a heady time of showcasing Pennsylvania’s success in developing a CD-ROM based union catalog of public education libraries to the U.S. library community.   Another worthy collaboration was created between the State System of Higher Education Libraries Council and basic education when the Council voted to join Access Pa and share their collections with Commonwealth school students.  Needless to say, this was a tremendous achievement in resource sharing and I am proud to have been an advocate for the partnership while I was chair of the Council.

I joined with Ms. Deb Kachel, who I met when we were nominated to be on the Access Pa Advisory Committee,  in pursuing monies for helping basic education and libraries.  This partnership turned out to be a great one; we both so wanted to help the public school students in Pennsylvania have better access to information, regardless in which school district they were enrolled.  Our primary effort was to find a way to make periodical literature available across the state at low or no cost and we decided to try a pilot program.  Luck was with us because Commonwealth Libraries funded our LSTA grant for approximately $100,000, which was used to make available online periodicals to a test group of school and public libraries.  The grant was very successful and Ms. Kachel and I used the data to talk with Pennsylvania legislators who then made over $500,000 funds available to provide the database of online periodical resources available.  Believe it or not, this was later named POWER Library.

In the mid 1990s, Mansfield University was very fortunate to receive funding for renovating its hallmark building, North Hall, into a library.  I was able to lead the planning effort for making the library the first facility planned for the electronic age of information in the United States.  While  the changes now seem elementary, they were significant for the time period and the University.  The library was able to use the extra attention it received for building a stronger institution and attracting excellent students.  There were two major personal  outcomes of leading the effort for designing a library for the electronic age and they were:  1)  the opportunity to become a library building consultant to help design several public and academic libraries with what was learned at Mansfield University, and 2) the honor of making several presentations at professional conferences on both the state and national level on how libraries were preparing for the future.

One of these presentations was at the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association Conference, and as a consequence, I was able to meet an entirely new group of librarians, i.e., school librarians.  A couple of the librarians then became pivotal in developing an online program for preparing school librarians for the electronic age.  Because of the commitment of Deb Kachel, library supervisor for the Ephrata School District, and a core group of Pennsylvania school librarians, Mansfield University developed the first totally online program for preparing school librarians in Pennsylvania.  It was also one of the first in the U.S.   The program grew very rapidly, partially due to receiving four Institute of Museum  and Library Services (IMLS) grant awards totaling  almost $5 million.  Soon up to  350 students a semester were enrolling from across the U.S. and abroad.  It was an exhilarating time for me and I have often said that helping to develop and implement the online program was the most significant activity I have ever had the opportunity to work with.  School library faculty, as well as the support from the University, made it all possible.

Another major project I become involved with was the creation of the Rare Books Library for the State Library in Harrisburg.  This was another learning experience of wanting to create a space which stops the degradation of paper for the rare materials owned and housed in the State Library.  Before the Governor’s Advisory Council (GAC) and Commonwealth Libraries took this project on, the materials were housed in a very poor environment where the lighting, heating/cooling, and storage conditions were inadequate.  This all changed when the new Rare Books Library opened in the State Library.  The ribbon cutting and dedication was held in 2006. This was a true testament to a collaborative effort between the Capitol Preservation Committee, Commonwealth Libraries, and the bipartisan support of  Governor Rendell, Representative Zug and other legislators, as well as the GAC.  I am proud to report I was and continue to be chair of the GAC Rare Books Committee.

As I begin to close this biographical summary, I would like to thank both the Pennsylvania Public Library Association for recognizing my efforts to assist public libraries when I was awarded the Distinguished Service Award.  I was then truly humbled when the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association also awarded me their top award, Pennsylvania Outstanding Library Contributor, for my support of their efforts.  Finally, I retired from Mansfield University in 2005, after serving for 35 years, and then became a volunteer for the online program for preparing school librarians by completing the Public Relations responsibilities until 2014.


Each month, a member of the GAC will be profiled in the Compendium. Learn about the Governor’s Advisory Council.

Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,