From the heart: reminisces of a veteran librarian

After 34 years of service, the Library bids farewell and good luck to Senior Deputy Chief Librarian, Dr Janaki Sinnasamy. Do read her last piece of article which she contributed before going on retirement.

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Too quickly time has passed us by,
now it’s time for us to say good-bye,
Please join us to wish her the very best,
as she starts her long and well deserved rest.

It is unlike me to be emotional especially in the office.  I am seeked out for my objectivity, rational, and unbiased opinions.  However, the message above sent out by Zanaria to all librarians on 11 August 2015 had me shaken a bit. I read and read again. Thirty four years of my dedication to the University of Malaya library drifted in front of my hazy eyes. Was it dedication, commitment, enthusiasism, or sheer ‘periuk nasi’,  I cannot really tell!   But I could remember the day of my interview with  Mrs Khoo Siew Mun, clad in a green pencil line tight skirt, tucked blouse, and high heels.  I must have impressed her with my attire I guess.

I used to joke to my friends and acquaintances when they asked me where I was working.  “The same office, same chair, same table”,  I laughed at my own silly statement.  I did not think much about being a librarian.  Not a glamourous position compared to my varsity mates working in big time corporate bodies and government ministries.  However, the overseas study leave granted to me by the University in 1985/86 and the accomplishment of being awarded a postgraduate degree in Master of Arts (Library and Information Science) changed my entire outlook of this profession.

My first posting was at the Medical Library headed by Mrs Tsu Ping Woodhull. Being married to a Indian, I presumed she had something against the race although she often used to declare, “my children are Indians too, you know”!. Or it could simply be my independent personality where at times I made decisions without consultation with her.  Although I was trained the nitty gritties of cataloguing and indexing by Mrs Monica Kuak Sim Joo, and later refined by Mrs Tan Siew Eng, my mentor was Mr Teh Kang Hai who will always be respected by me. It was from him I learnt the simple truth of humbleness to treat the counter staff, clerks, and even the cleaners as your colleagues.  He advised me to be at the counter during tea and lunch breaks when there was shortage of staff to ensure counter staff can have a quick bite. It was hereon I learnt the many, many basic details of the library procedures, policies, and problems. It was the beginning of my knowledge gain which led to the support staff and later the seniors and management having confidence in my opinions and suggestions.

My second posting was at the Serials Division after having worked at the Medical Library for 11 years.  I have not come across another soft hearted head of division like Mr Eddie Yeoh. His demise the same year as my mother, left a deep scar in my heart. It was during my stint here in the year 1998, the library ventured into the massive and major computerisation project.  It was akin to starting a library from scratch. For the chief librarian Mrs Khoo Siew Mun to entrust me with the serials conversion was a big boost for me.  It was indeed a formidable task at hand to convert the bibliographic data from card catalogues and the holdings from the verticle indexes into the system.  The challenging skill of creating serial patterns has since phased off.  Likewise, setting up circulation maps and calender in the system which used to be the expertise of circulation officers are now entirely left to the system and IT staff.

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My most memorable posting was when Dr Zaiton Osman asked me to be in charge of the collection development of monographs and media. Although I did not know much about acquisition processes, I could not refuse her. When Polytechnic Liverpool sent me a telegram to stop my journey there to pursue my masters due to racial riots, and when University of Aberysthwth, Wales could not wait for me because of the delay in processing my study leave grant, I was stuck with a study leave grant with no place to go. With the wave of her magic wand, Dr Zaiton contacted her good friend, Professor Harvard Williams, the dean of the library school at University Technology of Loughborough, UK and within a day, I was offered a place to pursue my masters. The acquisition process then was left entirely to the officer to sign purchase orders and invoices. I used to stay back late hours and work weekends to settle them. As a reward for handling the 3Million platinum project, I was sent to New Delhi for the book fair, my first trip to India.

About this time too, the university made a mammoth decision to fully implement the MS ISO 9001:2000 quality managment system. Being part of the library task force, it was a total review and revamp of the library’s processes and procedures which took months of hard work and brainstorming. Almost all the senior staff in campus were sent for the NADI programme meant to sustain solidarity to prepare for the changes ahead. The entire UM regardless of position, qualification, gender, and race had a brotherhood spirit which was really remarkable. The library was one of the first to be audited by SIRIM. It was nerve wrecking when the SIRIM auditors asked to audit the person responsible for buying books for the library, and it had to be me who was in charge then! In the presence of the university’s top task force, the SIRIM auditors and the Chief Librarian, I wished the floor would swallow me up. Nevertheless, the library received a non-compliance for purchasing books without justification when the invoice price was more than the purchase order price.

My most challenging posting was when I was promoted to head the Information Skills Division. I was given a free hand by Mrs Noriyah Mohamad Nor, the Chief Librarian, to promote user education to postgraduates and it was she who encouraged me to present my first conference paper. It was a time when I took charge of the Continual Improvement Project to increase usage of online resources by postgraduates http://dspace.fsktm.um.edu.my/bitstream/1812/261/1/25MY_Janaki_OK.pdf. The library won a gold medal for that project but it was at the expanse of me making a few people unhappy for instructing them to work extra hard and for pinching staff from other divisions to help out. During such tough times, Mrs Che Puteh Ismail and Mrs Mukhtiar Kaur gave me the courage and confidence to move on. Their advice to me still linger in my mind.

During the 80’s and 90’s the library somehow was always active with many activities involving the university such as exhibitions, programme books, preparing bibliographies, etc. The librarians in the university were the first to learn email and the ways of the Internet. We were trained to be trainers for the academics. Classes conducted by an Australian facilitator was during Saturdays. Dr Nor Edzan Che Nasir had in a number of occassions helped me when I could not make it due to family committments. Teaching some of the academics to send emails via telnet was a stressful task especially when the system gets stalled just before sending and the whole text had to be retyped.

On the personal side of life as a veteran librarian, I must admit behaving like a headmistress at times with a cane in hand. My good collegues/friends somehow accepted my behavior as if I was an older sister. In fact, there are many ‘younger sisters’ and ‘brothers’ around who received my chiding in good grace, at least that is what I think. There were plenty of fun and frolic moments; my daily tea break all the way to Rajoo restaurant with Sakina and Rogayah Ahmad Daud for vadai and chutney but never once exceeding a minute of the time allocated, my regular formal and informal discussions with the trio, PM, KD, KAP and many more.

As I stood by the shredder watching my documents being swallowed, my heart felt heavy. All my first memories; appointment, conference presentation, course attended, pay slip, loan, promotion, journal article, and along with all of those, the memory of the people who had been the moral support and guide for what I am today slipped through as I get ready for the next phase of my life, a retiree!

Dr. Janaki Sinnasamy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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