On the Clock: Librarian delighted to track down volumes, answer questions, assist in other ways
Have a question?
If people are in the Guilderland Public Library, Maria Buhl has an answer. As a librarian in the adult-services section of the big book house on Western Avenue, Buhl loves the assorted inquiries that come her way every day.
One came shortly after 1 p.m. on Thursday. A gray-haired woman was hoping “Bringing Up the Bodies,” a book she had called to reserve, was ready for her home and hearth.
“Did you get a call?” Buhl asked, as she prepared to check shelves next to the adult-services desk.
“My husband thinks we did get a call,” the woman responded.
Buhl searched. “ ‘Bringing Up the Bodies,’ ” she said. “Oh, that’s the Hilary Mantel book. I just got it.” It was on the shelf.
Everything checked out. The woman’s name was on the request; she would soon be reading all about Anne Boleyn’s time of Tudor troubles with King Henry VIII.
The reader was interested in another book, and was wondering if Richard Ford’s novel “Canada” was available. Buhl checked her computer and found the book was not on the premises.
“That’s OK,” the woman said. “This will keep me busy for a while. Thank you.”
Buhl, 50, who lives in Delmar, previously worked as a writer and editor for The Times Union newspaper. She decided to change careers and studied library sciences at the University at Albany.
She began working at Guilderland in late 1995 and secured a full-time position in 1998.
“Library jobs are hard to come by, so I grabbed it,” she said. “I’ve been here ever since.”
People have noticed. In 2006, Buhl was honored as one of 25 winners of the New York Times Librarian Awards. The program recognizes librarians from around the country who have provided outstanding public service.
Some public service days are busier than others. Rainy days —when people don’t socialize outside — and hot, humid days — when people won’t socialize outside — are days when people love their libraries.
During June, Buhl said, high school kids are in the quiet main hall. They’re at tables or inside one of the facility’s study rooms, booking for finals.
“Some kids will even take Regents exams here,” Buhl said.
At about 1:20 p.m., Bryan Empie of Guilderland Center had a question. He was having trouble logging onto a computer page. Buhl sat down with Empie and worked the keyboard for a few minutes. A few minutes was all it took — the mission was accomplished.
“We’ve got you in,” Buhl said.
“You got me in,” said a grateful Empie.
Buhl returned to her information station.
“I really do love what I do,” she said, adding that adult-services librarians have special focuses. One of Buhl’s specialties is consumer health issues.
“I also oversee the collaboration we have with Literacy New York,” she said. “We do a tremendous amount of training for volunteer tutors.”
Give and take
Buhl is also expert on the inter-library program in which Guilderland participates. People looking for obscure titles come to her. Through electronic searches, she looks for the book or other media piece in thousands of other libraries throughout the United States and Canada.
“I borrow and I’m willing to lend,” Buhl said. “I’ll find it in Boise, Idaho, and they’ll send it. It’s like you have this gigantic, open library. When you can do this, people are so happy. They’ll say, ‘How did you find this hard-to-find first edition?’ ”
At 1:35, Buhl began her detective case of the day. A woman called the reference desk looking for “In One Person,” a John Irving book. A computer check revealed that one of Guilderland’s three copies was in stock.
Buhl checked the best-seller shelf. Nothing. She checked the seven-day loan sections. Nothing.
“I’m not going to give up yet,” Buhl said. “I have a feeling it’s going to be on a cart.”
She looked around, and visited volumes stored behind the circulation desk. Buhl enlisted a helper, and senior library clerk Diane Bruins began looking for the one copy of “One Person.”
“This is very unusual,” Buhl said, of a book that had apparently disappeared.
She had an idea — someone was browsing library shelves and had nicked the Irving copy. He or she was still in the library, looking for other books to borrow before checking out.
Another query meant another search. A woman named Denise called the desk, hoping the spooky tale “Gone” was on the Guilderland shelves.
Denise was in luck. Buhl found the book, the first in Michael Grant’s science-fiction series, and was quickly back on the phone with a new friend.
“We’ll hold it for three days,” Buhl said. “It will be at the circulation desk. Just give them your name and they’ll pull it off the shelf for you.”
As 2 p.m. approached, Buhl had a quick conversation with maintenance staffer Dan Kelly.
Not just books
On Wednesday, Buhl had handled a request from the Tri City India Association dance team. The dancers are participating in the association’s spring festival on Sunday, and had asked permission to use the library’s expansive Helderberg Room for a rehearsal.
Kelly suggested chair placement near the walls. Buhl loved the idea.
She also loved getting an answer to the missing “Person.” Turned out she was right — the book had been in the library during the librarians’ search, and had been checked out by a page-turner just minutes later.
The Irving fan received the bad news. She said she’d have to come to the library and browse shelves herself.
“She was very gracious about it,” Buhl said.
“On the Clock” profiles people at work in the Capital Region by spending one hour with them on the job. Nominate a friend or co-worker by contacting Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.