Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

March 22, 2007

MAKING PITT WORK: Sharon Jasneski

Behind the scenes at Pitt, University staff, some 6,500 strong across five campuses, often toil in jobs ranging from the mundane to the esoteric.

From mailroom workers to data entry specialists, costume designers to biosafety officers, photographers to accountants, staff at Pitt perform tasks great and small, year-in and year-out, for the greater good of the University.

This is one in an occasional series profiling University staff, providing a glimpse of some of the less recognized employees whose primary business is making Pitt work.


Users of Pitt’s University Library System have almost five million books, more than six million microfilms and tens of thousands of journals at their disposal. For publications not available in the open stacks, library patrons can make a request on the PITTCat online catalog and have the desired material delivered to them.

That simple click sets into motion a flurry of activity that leads to Pittsburgh’s Point Breeze neighborhood, where Sharon Jasneski supervises the Library Collections Storage Unit, or LCSU, at Pitt’s Thomas Boulevard Library Resource Facility.

The high-density library storage facility is the only one of its kind in western Pennsylvania, she said.

Jasneski and her staff of three full-timers and seven temporary workers are responsible for pulling materials from storage and then getting them on their way to library users, and for putting the materials back when they are returned.

It’s no easy task, considering there are 1.3 million items on the shelves in Pitt’s high-bay storage area. And there’s no room for error.

Organization is key because anything misfiled is as good as lost, given the sheer number of publications stacked and boxed in the climate-controlled 16,000-square-foot space. “If something doesn’t get back where it’s supposed to, it’s gone,” she said.

Mr. Dewey and his decimal system are of no help here: To make the best use of the storage space, books simply are arranged by size.

“If it wasn’t for bar codes we couldn’t do anything back here,” Jasneski said.

Make that bar codes and a lift. The library materials are stacked in 30-foot-tall, 150-foot-long aisles called “ranges,” each of which is made up of 24 modules about 6 feet wide. All the full-time LCSU staff members are certified forklift operators.

The shelves on each 30-foot-tall module are stacked with trays of books, each with a unique code that identifies, in part, where it belongs. The requests show a unique address including range, module, shelf and tray — information LCSU staff use to pinpoint the item. Once the tray is found, the staffer searches by hand to pick the title.

The LCSU staff download requests twice a day. During fall and spring semesters, 70-80 requests arrive daily. In summer that drops to about 20-30, Jasneski said. On average, someone’s in the storage area three to four hours each day to pull requests and shelve returns, Jasneski said.

“We have lots coming in and lots going out,” she said.

Before anyone steps onto the lift, requests are put into order so the staffer can move smoothly along the range, picking materials as he or she goes.

Jasneski takes her turn in the warehouse, adding that she likes the chance to do more than paperwork. “If I get tired of that, I can get up and do physical stuff. I’m not stuck at a desk all day.”

Picking books and lifting trays can be a workout. Most trays weigh 35-40 pounds, but a few of the larger ones reach 75 pounds.

Unlikely as it may seem, Jasneski admits to being a bit of an acrophobe, but said that rising even to the highest shelf on the lift isn’t bothersome. Because the aisles are spaced just wide enough for the lift, there’s no way to judge height, except at the end of each row.

Once an item is pulled, there’s more handling by the LCSU staff.

Because journals don’t circulate, requests for journal articles are handled by retrieving the volume, then scanning and sending the article as a PDF file to the patron. On rare occasions, when photo quality is an issue, the journals will be sent for in-library use, Jasneski said.

Books are handled a bit differently. Once the book is pulled, staffers process it — with a computer program automatically placing a hold on the item and discharging it to the requested library for pickup. Each book is banded with a green request sticker identifying the book as coming from storage.

The materials then are loaded onto custom-made rolling carts fabricated by Pitt’s metal workers and shipped to the library on the ULS van driver’s regular circuit.

In addition to handling requests, Jasneski and her staff constantly are processing the thousands of books that have been weeded out of general circulation for storage.

Don’t ask Jasneski for current book titles — whatever the item, “I know I won’t see it for 20 years,” she said.

ULS currently is in the process of clearing older books from Hillman Library. When that’s finished — by the end of this fiscal year, Jasneski estimated — a sweep of departmental libraries will begin so space can be cleared for new books.

“It takes awhile to weed out a library,” she said. “It’s probably an ongoing process forever.”

Thousands of books are being added to the Thomas Boulevard storage shelves. The current 1.3 million items have grown from the 600,000 that were moved from Pitt’s old storage facility at the University of Pittsburgh Applied Research Center (UPARC) in Harmar Township beginning in late 2002.

Jasneski, who started as a part-timer at the UPARC facility in 1999 while an undergraduate microbiology student at Pitt, admits she initially wasn’t especially interested in libraries, but soon was hooked when she learned about all that went on behind the scenes.

That job changed her career path. She took the part-time job because UPARC was convenient to her home in the North Hills. She and two full-time employees made up the staff. After a matter of only a few months, her supervisor left and the remaining full-time staffer was promoted. Jasneski was invited to apply for the open full-time job and got it. “Nobody wanted to go to Harmarville,” she said.

She continued to acquire the skills she needed. “I was anxious to learn,” she said, pleased to have been exposed to knowledgeable ULS co-workers happy to share their expertise. “I learned cataloging, I learned circulation,” she said.

Not long after, her new supervisor left.

Because she knew the collection and had the experience, Jasneski was promoted. “I was 21 years old and a supervisor,” she said.

Instead of microbiology, she graduated with an English writing degree in poetry instead — considering it better preparation for perhaps someday pursuing a library-related master’s degree. Jasneski hasn’t regretted the job she says she lucked into. “It’s not monotonous,” she said. “There’s always something interesting going on.”

The move from what was isolated space at UPARC offers more interaction with colleagues because LCSU shares the Thomas Boulevard building with other ULS employees. Among the neighbors are the ULS information technology staff, the archives service center, the digital resource library, preservation and technical services.

The environment is fun and staff members are sociable. “We all get along,” Jasneski said. In addition to casual attire in their first-floor workspace, music CDs play in the background, with staffers each taking a turn to choose.

Another perk is the opportunity to see a cross-section of the many books and other materials ULS holds. Jasneski occasionally leafs through the materials that come through, and doesn’t discourage her staff from pausing a moment to check out interesting books that come their way.

Jasneski touts LCSU as a good place to learn and as a stepping-stone to other library jobs. Of about 40 temps she’s worked with over the years, a number have gone on to full-time jobs at the University. “This is a foot in the door to the library,” she said.

Not only is LCSU a good place to make connections and network, it offers an opportunity to get trained on the job to work just about anywhere in the library system, she said.

“Everyone that works here is well versed in different skills,” she said, adding that in addition to computer skills and other office skills, “You have to like a physically active job” to do well at LCSU.

“It’s never boring. Every day is a little different and it’s interesting stuff,” she said.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Leave a Reply