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Public Services, Local History and Reference Director At James V. Brown Library Wears Several Hats

The James V. Brown Library is not just a place for books; it is also a rich repository of things dealing with public services, local history, and reference. Several months ago, the Library hired someone to help oversee this rich collection and to help manage it for more efficient use by the public. That someone is Robin Degeratu. Webb Weekly interviewed her to help lay out what she does in that capacity and what skills she brings to the table. What follows is that interview.
What do you do?

As the Public Service, Local History, and Reference Director, I wear a number of hats. I lead, develop, and promote all public services offered by the James V. Brown Library; I serve as the head of reference; and I oversee and execute the Library’s local history and genealogy initiatives, including improving access to resources and ensuring that they are around for years to come.
What should people know about the local history collection? What is the value of the collection? What does it mean for local history and genealogy researchers?

The Library is home to an impressive collection of resources related to local history as well as local genealogy. Our collection includes books and other bound volumes, photos and negatives, vertical files, a master local history index, maps, microfilm, and other media. These were formerly stored in a small research room in the Library called the Pennsylvania Room, but in the fall of 2022, we moved the majority of that collection to a balcony area in the Library that is well-lit and close to staff who can answer questions.

The local history and genealogy collection at JVBL tells us the story of the shared heritage in the region, and there is something of interest in it to just about everyone, even if you aren’t originally from Lycoming County. You can use our collection to explore the history of the area in which you live, investigate local families, find older photos of Williamsport, and so much more. The collection includes an impressive array of city directories — honestly, one of the most complete collections I’ve seen — as well as yearbooks, county information, church history, compiled family histories, and more.

We’re constantly working toward making items easier for our patrons to access both on-site and further afield. Some of our collection can be searched on our website from anywhere, including newspapers published before 1923 and Lycoming County photos. Others can only be used on-site, including books and digitized newspapers published after 1923. We’re currently working on moving the master card index of local history topics as well as microfilm out to the research balcony.
What is your background?

I grew up in Centre County before moving away for college at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and then graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After earning a BA in English and an MS in library science, I returned to central Pennsylvania to be close to loved ones.

Prior to joining the team at the James V. Brown Library, I managed the Pennsylvania Room and Historical Museum Collection at Centre County Library & Historical Museum in Bellefonte for six and a half years. It’s a large, complex collection of both library materials and museum objects. In my role at CCLHM, I focused on increasing the accessibility and discoverability of information; local history and genealogy research can be for everyone, and I want to help people feel empowered to learn and explore those fields. In addition to that role, I’ve served a variety of other libraries, including an Environmental Protection Agency research library and the American Philatelic Research Library, which serves stamp enthusiasts. I’ve also worked as an administrative assistant, a test prep instructor, and tutor, and in myriad other roles.
What do I think are the challenges with this collection?

The primary challenge that I’m hoping to address with the local history and genealogy collection at JVBL is making resources accessible to the public while also ensuring that they are available to the generations that come after us. Achieving that balance is critical to empowering our users to explore and conduct their own research. Overcoming the natural hurdle between access and preservation will require careful, methodical work, but I’m excited to do it, and I think that our community is going to enjoy getting to know these resources.