A 40-Year Library Career: Looking Back, Giving Forward

June 1, 2021

As the Library and Information Science Program celebrates its 50th anniversary, it finds a stalwart supporter in Nan Schubel, an alumna from its first graduating class.

Nan and Catherine

After graduating from the University of Arizona with her bachelor’s degree, Nan Schubel followed her husband to Riverside, Calif., and taught eighth grade English. When the couple divorced, she felt stuck, without family or many friends.

A phone call from UArizona professor Elinor Saltus, who was heading up the university’s new library school, would change the course of Nan’s life.

“Elinor said, ‘Why don’t you come and be my assistant and get a master’s in library science? Come home,’” Nan recalled. “I had worked at the education library during college and enjoyed it. So I said ‘yes.’”

In 1971, Nan was part of the first graduating class of the graduate program for librarians, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The program is now an M.A. Library and Information Science Program in the School of Information.

One of the things Nan remembers most about her time in the program was how close the students and professors were, a feature she hopes that current students still enjoy. “We were a tight-knit group. We laughed a lot.”

Saltus — who Nan calls “brilliant and kind” — offered career advice along with instructions on how to catalog. “She told us, ‘If you take a job as a cataloger, and they tell you to type the cards, then you finish your contract and leave,’” Nan said. “She said it wasn’t our job to type.”

Nan also recalls “the wonderful” Don Dickinson, who took over the reins of the library school from Saltus. “At my going-away party, he presented me with a coping saw thinking I would need something to help me cope with New York City,” Nan said. “I still have it.”

A Rewarding Profession

Nan took a train to New York City after graduation — without a job lined up — because she had two friends there. She promptly found a position at the Bronx Library, part of the New York Public Library. Then, like now, the library was about more than books, serving as a community center that offered job hunting help and hosted language classes.

She worked at various branches of the NYPL over four years, including one in Manhattan across from the Museum of Modern Art, where she would spend her lunch break. Nan worked with teens and adults in reference services. “You never knew what questions you would get. It was interesting.”

Nan’s next job was with Scholastic Magazines. The company’s leaders wanted to establish an education library as they pursued moving into the basal textbook field, which they later abandoned.

“They didn’t fire me. They were just letting me sit there twiddling my thumbs. I was creating crossword puzzles for science and history magazines. It was kind of silly, so I went looking again,” Nan said.

She found a job as a reference librarian at Young & Rubicam advertising firm, which was her introduction to searching for information online: “It was when Nexis and Dialog and all those databases came into being,” Nan said. Nan also worked for Reader’s Guide indexing journals such as The Atlantic and Time magazine.

Nan’s next job, and the place she retired from after 25 years, was with the accounting firm Arthur Young. She started as their audit librarian, researching businesses and clients. When Arthur

Young merged with Ernst & Whinney, becoming Ernst & Young, Nan joined the legal department.

“Since I had no legal experience, the firm sent me to Columbia University library school to take a course in legal librarianship,” Nan said. “That class cost more than my entire college education.”

Nan’s career illustrates the variety of positions that a master’s in library and information science can lead to. “It was a really rewarding profession. So much changed in the field over the past 50 years. It was a journey I enjoyed immensely,” Nan said.

After she retired, Nan moved back to Tucson, where she grew up. She volunteers with Literacy Connects and asked her neighbor to build a “little free library” for their community. Pre-pandemic, she would meet up with fellow Tucson High alums — “Badger Babes” — for cocktails once a month. She quilts, enjoys the opera and the theater, and has stayed involved with her book and movie clubs over Zoom. She’s also pleased to stay connected to the university’s Library and Information Science Program.

“Nan is a friend of the school and an advocate for the profession,” said Catherine Brooks, director of the School of Information. “We are incredibly grateful for her support of students aiming for work managing a wide variety of information types. Librarians have a critical job in this age of massive amounts of data that need to be collected, managed, preserved, and made accessible. Nan is with us as a Wildcat, Tucsonan, and supporter of future librarians.”

This article originally appeared in the University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Developments newsletter.


In the photo above, Catherine Brooks, director of the School of Information, is pictured with Nan Schubel / Gail Godbey photo


Supporting Future Librarians

Nan has given to the University of Arizona consistently over the years and recently established a sizable estate gift to the Library and Information Science Program. She also made her largest single gift to the program, creating the endowed Nan Kling Schubel Scholarship in Library Science. A portion of her gift was matched by Ernst & Young.

“My whole thing is about education,” Nan said. “And there are a lot of people who don’t have the wherewithal to pay for college who need a scholarship, so why not help? I mean, what else is going to happen to my money?”

Nan is an advocate for the profession, often saying that “Library science is the only true science.”

“Obviously it’s a joke,” Nan says with a laugh. “But it is a science. And it’s also an art. You have to be pretty creative to know where to go for the information that people are looking for.”

Nan adds, “I think there will always be libraries. And they will always be doing things that benefit society. So it matters. It all matters.”