Norwalk native is president elect of prestigious library group

Aaron Krause • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:15 PM

It only takes a phone conversation with Norwalk native Susan Beck to discover her fondness for books and libraries.

"I feel comfortable with books," said the president-elect of the roughly 5,000-member Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), the foremost organization of reference and information professionals.

Beck will begin her term as president-elect in July and assume the presidency in 2009-2010.

The Princeton, N.J. resident, a 1972 Norwalk High School graduate, noted that as she spoke with a reporter in her New Jersey home, she sat near seven bookcases filled with a variety of books.

Ask Beck for an anecdote or two, and she'll tell you about the time her mother would read out loud to her when she was ill. Beck, who now reads out loud to her husband, will also tell you that as a child, every Friday night her mother took her shopping and to the Norwalk library. Beck recalled checking out five books at a time.

"It was a ritual," said Beck, the daughter of the late Patricia Brady and Kenneth Beck.

She believes libraries and reference librarians will continue to have a place in society well into the future.

"Absolutely and you know why?" Beck asked rhetorically. "The reason that we still have reference librarians is that people in general do not want to become experts in finding information.

"Sure, you can go in and Google it, but you're not necessarily sure of the validity and reliability of the reference source."

The Internet has limitations, Beck said.

"As valuable as the Web is, if people need very specific information they really need to go to people who know how to find it," she said.

Beck has served as such a person since receiving a master's in library science in 1980. She has worked as a visiting professor of Communication, Information and Library Studies, as a reference librarian and teacher at the University of Alabama and has worked at the same library at the Camden Branch of Rutgers University for 25 years.

Beck, who is head of public services for Rutgers' Camden branch, has served as chair or member of different committees within RUSA.

"It was quite an honor," Beck said about her election to RUSA's presidency. "It was just one of those things that kind of came to me because I was elected by my peers."

One of them, reference librarian Theodora Haynes, has worked with Beck for about 20 years.

"I think she'll be fabulous at it," Haynes said, referring to RUSA's presidency.

Haynes described Beck as a good organizer who prepares a lot for tasks and, therefore, makes it easy for others working on them.

In a statement, Beck thanked everyone for their support.

"Throughout my career, my participation in RUSA has helped me do what I like best be a good reference librarian."

Beck attributed her accomplishment to name recognition among people in the field, who knew she did a good job as chairwoman of the American Library Association's reference services organization.

Beck said she thought she had more visibility than the other candidate for RUSA's presidency and wasn't surprised by the result of the vote.

"I knew I had a really good chance," said Beck, who won by 67 percent.

Beck said as RUSA's president, she plans to take an advocacy approach.

"I think the real important thing is to get people active and to promote the idea of what we do and what we do well," she said. "As reference librarians, we find, interpret, create and translate information for our users, but our ultimate goal is simply to help people find the information they need."

One of Beck's first experiences with a reference source came on her 11th birthday, when she received a copy of the World Almanac.

"I have been hooked ever since," she said. "I can find amazing things in there. It's a one-fits-all kind of book."

Beck said she enjoys her job.

"The reward you get out of it is knowing you helped a person find the information they want," she said.

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