By MARTY LEVINE
Two long-serving library directors on the Oakland campus whose jobs took them from the paper card catalog to the web database era — all the while finding new services to bring to faculty and students — are leaving the University.
Retiring this summer are Barbara Epstein, who started as a reference librarian at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in 1975 and has been Health Sciences Library System library director since 2004, and Marc Silverman, director of the School of Law’s Barco Law Library, who began his career there in 1979.
Silverman worked his way up in law library
Everything was different when Silverman started, he recalls – from the way Human Resources hired to student attitudes about the online world.
After getting his master of library science degree here and working a student job, Silverman applied for a faculty position at Barco.
“I was told before I came for my interview to stop at Human Resources and pick up a brown manila envelope,” he says. Inside were his resume and application. The library head had apparently not seen his materials at all yet. “That’s when I realized — he knows nothing about me. He didn’t choose to interview me.”
“You have no legal experience,” the director told him quickly. “Why would you be a good fit for working here?”
Silverman talked his way onto the staff at first, “with a promise that within a year they would move me into a faculty librarian position.”
It took a new director, months later, for that to happen, but Silverman was a Barco reference librarian through 1985.
In 1979, of course, personal computers were still in the future, although some computer databases were available, connected via telephone line to a mainframe … somewhere. “If there was an accident in Ohio and someone knocked over a telephone pole, you lost your connection,” Silverman recalls.
Most databases charged by the minute for searches, and were available at a single terminal in Barco, so the librarians themselves did all the searching. “Not many students were interested” in even venturing online, he says. “The fact that they don’t want to touch a book (today) is a big change."
As Barco put its catalog online — along with book ordering and every other process — so too did it begin to invite students to do their own searches through increasingly available and affordable databases. And Silverman rose to head of public services (1985-1996), then its assistant director (1996-2002) and associate director (2002-2013) and finally director of Barco in 2019.
He has been teaching research classes for law students almost from the beginning — second-year research and electronic-research classes as well as a law librarianship class and paralegal research courses across the years. Today, he and his staff aid faculty members with research more than they do students, in particular partnering with professors to track down material that’s never been published.
“We’re going out and requesting government agencies and other nonprofits for information that just can’t be found in other ways,” he says.
While in Chicago on other business, for instance, Silverman helped a faculty member research the 19th-century history of correspondence law schools, examining the city’s historical society documents and photographing the buildings where these law schools once thrived. He has used ancestry.com to try to locate living family members of faculty research subjects as well.
His personal passion is photography and its history, about which he has published many articles. He plans to continue that interest through retirement.
“What I’ll miss are the wonderful people I’ve met here at Pitt,” he says. “People have been so nice here, especially the older faculty members.” When starting out, he recalls, “I was a kid here who was a duck out of water. I didn’t understand why I was being invited to these dinners. I had nothing in common with these people. I thought, people are so nice here. I could work here for five years— and here I’ve been here for 42 years.
“Here at the law school,” Silverman adds, “at times we also made history.”
He recalls working on history-making cases and Pulitzer Prize-winning books for law school professors. The library fields research calls from state and federal officials looking for information, and has hosted everyone from judges to Attorney General Dick Thornburgh.
Silverman was supposed to retire in 2020 but stayed on at the dean’s request, he says, to get the school through COVID-19. “We had to work so fast — so people could use the services,” he explains. By April and May of last year, faculty had become restive without access to their books. “I started coming in and taking requests from faculty,” then driving books to their houses, and sometimes to law firms downtown, he says.
“For a good six months, I was like the milkman, delivering books. And the entire staff participated, doing all kinds of above-and-beyond services for faculty and students. We did what we needed to do to get everybody through this. This last year was a big surprise — and I’m glad to be retiring.”
Epstein helped develop new library resources
“Working at Western Psychiatric at that particular time was really an exciting time at the institute,” recalls Barbara Epstein. “It was a chance to work really closely with people who were doing cutting-edge work and it was really exciting.”
Epstein had gotten her master’s degree in library science at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, which included a traineeship in the National Library of Medicine’s health sciences librarianship program. Joining Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in 1975 for two decades was a natural fit. She rose to become director and also served nationally as president of the Association of Mental Health Libraries.
“I found that this is exactly what I wanted to do,” she says.
Research library services were increasingly becoming part of the clinical setting, as databases became more sophisticated and there was an exponential growth in journal articles and publishing.
“Keeping up with the literature” was a continual task, she says. “When online searching began, only librarians could do it. The researchers thought we were doing magic for them because only we could find this information.”
She moved to the Health Sciences Library System (HSLS) when a new associate director position opened there, and has been there for 17 years, most recently as director.
“Very soon after I came,” Epstein says, “we were called on to do a lot more teaching and guiding” concerning library research for clinicians and other faculty, as well as students. As the nature of research shifted for library users, this changed how librarians worked.
One of Epstein’s innovations was the now nationally recognized molecular biology information service. Instead of every molecular biology lab on campus licensing their own software and struggling to learn it, the HSLS licensed it and developed training programs on how to use it, developing a comprehensive website with training materials.
HSLS also developed the ability to offer assistance with systematic reviews in research — searches through past literature on a research topic, which can take a team of people a year or more to accomplish. HSLS librarians wrote the section on methods for research articles and gained co-authorship as well. They conducted workshops on this subject for more than 500 health sciences librarians across the United States.
By this time, Epstein had become director of the Middle Atlantic Region of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine. In 2011, the National Library of Medicine made HSLS a mid-Atlantic regional medical library, funding their effort to train librarians, clinicians and the public to take advantage of NLM resources. HSLS staff traveled throughout the region and country to offer these trainings and give out small technology grants.
“We were the field force for the National Library of Medicine,” she says, which continued for a second five-year period in which HSLS developed the NLM website and other online resources.
Epstein is a distinguished member of the Academy of Health Information Professionals of the Medical Library Association (MLA). She became an MLA fellow in 2016 and its president in 2017-18.
“It’s been an interesting time to have been working through raising two daughters and being the support of the people I worked with,” she says. “I’ve appreciated the support I’ve gotten at the University, being a working mother professional.”
Epstein concludes: “I find it very gratifying, the educational aspect of my career,” she says: “Developing staff, developing librarians, to developing education and outreach to our users.”
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-758-4859.
Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.