Sister Agnes Irene keeps the library in order by the book

January 21, 2022 by

Sisters visiting the Nazareth Motherhouse library this year have noticed some big changes. Former career librarian Sister Agnes Irene Huser has spent the past year taking on the huge task of organizing and redesigning the library with the sisters’ ease of use in mind.Sister Agnes Irene retired to the Motherhouse approximately two years ago. She was soon asked to take on the librarian job, as the sister who was the current librarian had taken on the role of archivist.

“She was just overwhelmed with the work of both roles,” Sister Agnes Irene said. “I wasn’t sure I wanted the job, but I thought, ‘Why not? It’s right here handy, and once I get it set up the way I would like it to be its not going to be that big a deal.’ So I agreed to take it on.”Sister Agnes Irene is no stranger to library work. She received her master’s in library science from Rosary College, River Forest, Illinois, in 1973, and then spent about 20 years working as a professional librarian.

Her first position was as a reference librarian in Lebanon, Missouri. “I worked in a four-county regional library in southwestern Missouri. They had a main library in Lebanon and then four branches for satellites. I was responsible for the reference work in all of those areas, book selection for the collection, and training staff in the use of reference materials,” she said. “And then just the day-to-day stuff like checking out books.”
She also spent many years as an assistant librarian at Conception Abbey, Conception, Missouri.“I was assistant librarian there for a college library which I really liked. It was wonderful,” she said. “And then my health kind of gave out on me and I’ve just had to take it really easy ever since.”

The sisters’ library is quite a change from the larger libraries of her past.
“This library is basically an historical collection, if you will. Some of the sisters here have a hard time reading or they just aren’t able to do a lot of reading any more. Often times it is a matter of going back and looking for the tried and true — something that they know from the past,” she said. “So we have a very deep collection when it comes to past theology, religious life and scripture. I’d say we probably have all the classics from the 1950s and 1960s on.”

One of her first tasks was making the collection inviting and accessible.

“When I came, these shelves were packed so full of books. All of them. You had to work to pull a book off. Then if you wanted to put one in, that became a process, too,” she said. “I thought we need to get rid of a bunch of this stuff because it is old wood and nobody’s using it. In fact nobody should be using it.”

“In addition, the shelves on the south side of the library were at random heights, some were nine inches tall, some were 10, some were 11 or 12 inches. As a result, the taller books didn’t fit.” Sister Agnes Irene said. “They were either laid down on their edges or laid down flat at the end of the row and who’s going to look for a book that way?”
Sister Agnes Irene, with the help of another sister, began the reorganization process by ‘reading the shelves.’

“That means we took the author list and we went shelf by shelf by shelf accounting for all the books. And the ones that we couldn’t account for, we pulled their cards after I was sure that they were gone,” she said. “And when we took all of that dead wood away, you can see how much space we have and it’s much easier to use and manipulate.”

She also tackled the problem of the shelf sizes. She asked employees in the Motherhouse maintenance team to put in new shelving strips so they were all the same height.
“They just did a beautiful job. When they were done we could put all the books back on. It looks uniform and neat,” she said. “It also gave us space to make a couple of shelves extra tall for over-sized books that hadn’t been able to fit anywhere before. Now they are on a shelf where they can be used.”

The extra space allowed Sister Agnes Irene the ability to set aside special shelves to highlight popular collections of books.
“We have one section on health and one on aging. We pulled those books out simply because those are books that are of interest to the sisters for their own health,” she said. “Aging is one of the things that is going on in this house, so we had those books set aside in a special place and it is clearly labeled where they are.”

In addition to special collections of topics, there are special collections of authors as well.

“I pulled the books of several authors that I know people like to read, shelved them together, and then put a label on the shelf. If they come looking for something like Thomas Merton or Telhard de Chardin or Joan Chittister, their books are labeled right where they are and they don’t have to go looking for them,” she said.

There are other special sections, such as specialized reference books, new books and magazines.

“We also have some special collections here. One is books on histories of Sisters of St. Joseph communities. Another is a history of religious women in the United States. We also have collection of Willa Cather books that Sister Lucy Schneider used when she wrote her doctoral dissertation at Notre Dame in 1967.”

Just down the hall from the library, in a collective room, a wall of open shelves contains the biography collection.

“We leave that pretty much as an uncataloged collection. Pick it up, take it, read it, bring it back. They aren’t things that we’re really riding herd on like you would other volumes,” she said. “And it gives us more room in here for these volumes, and makes them easier to find. So we did some weeding in there, also.”

With things now organized just the way she likes it, Sister Agnes Irene has more time for the day-to-day work of a librarian.

“Now basically I help people find things. I order new books if and when we want to. I just do the ordinary things that you do running the library,” she said. “Putting things away … its like I used to do in the past, only in a much smaller scale.”

“I’m pleased with the way it looks. I really am. I know that it is a much more inviting place than when I first came. You had the feeling there were books stuffed on the shelves and some of them were pretty old and outdated. It just was not a welcoming place and I just think this looks a lot better. I think it is easier for people to actually use.”

While Sister Agnes Irene started her career in education, she has no regrets about going back to college to become a librarian instead.
“I was not a good teacher. I did not enjoy teaching that much,” she said.

After much introspection she realized that library work was a much better fit for her.

“I love it. I love library work. I absolutely loved it. When I had to quit, because my health wouldn’t let me go on, I was absolutely heartbroken because I really did love it,” she said.
And now she’s back to the work she loves, just on a smaller scale.

Comments

Feel free to leave a comment...