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Newsmaker: Susan Lanna / Carnegie librarian earns praise of peers

Monday, April 21, 2003

By Mackenzie Carpenter, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Scroll down the list of Library Journal's Top 50 "movers and shakers" in the library profession for 2003, past the "Crusaders," "Community Builders" and "Book Lovers" categories, until you get to the "Collaborators" and find Susan Lanna.

Susan Lanna, Carnegie Library department head in humanities, was named by Library Journal as one of the country's movers and shakers. (Bill Wade, Post-Gazette)

Lanna, 30, heads the humanities department for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. All fiction, literature, literary criticism, philosophy, religion, sports, foreign languages, drama, entertainment, and customs and folklore are under her purview.

Part of her job is to know a lot about those subjects, but Lanna's innovative approach to being a librarian -- just when the Carnegie Library is undergoing a major revamping -- also intrigued the editors of Library Journal, an industry publication.

The journal announced the awards, called "2003 Movers & Shakers: The People Who Are Shaping the Future of Libraries," last week. The idea was to call attention to the role of librarians at a time when more people than ever are using libraries.

Lanna, a Whitehall resident, said she was pleased by the recognition because it reflects well on efforts made by the Carnegie to encourage its employees to come up with new ways of doing business.

On the journal's Web site announcing the awards, Lanna is described as "part of a new wave of young managers" who are transforming a profession that hasn't done a very good job of attracting young people, says Francine Fialkoff, Library Journal editor.

"We really wanted to pick people who were breaking molds, to identify people who were up and coming in the field, changing the way people look at their libraries," she said.


dot.gif Name: Susan Lanna

dot.gif Date of birth: Nov. 17, 1972

dot.gif Place of birth: Mt. Lebanon

dot.gif In the news: Lanna, of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, was named one of the country's 50 "movers and shakers" in the library profession by Library Journal.

dot.gif Quote: "I know this sounds corny, but I really believe you have to reach out and find opportunities and make the most of them. As a librarian, that's what I try to do every day."

dot.gif Education: Bachelor's degree in English and art history, 1994, Allegheny College; master's in library science, University of Pittsburgh, 1996.

dot.gif Family: Married to Ben Anstandig, a computer consultant.


Lanna has come up with projects designed to cement bonds between the community and the library -- hence, her placement under Library Journal's Collaborators category.

There is, for example, the library's "Book Group Connections" program. For $5, the library will put together a book kit, including photocopies of articles, criticisms and reviews, and send it to book groups for use in discussions. About 30 groups currently belong, and about 160 book kits are available right now. New ones can be customized to order.

A voracious reader, Lanna loves to be asked by library customers what she would recommend as a good read. She listens to audio books during her daily commute and is partial to modern literary fiction, in particular writers such as Louise Erdrich and the Irish author Roddy Doyle, who wrote "The Commitments" and "Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha," which won a National Book Award.

Lanna worked with Lee Gutkind, a University of Pittsburgh professor and founding editor of the literary journal Creative Nonfiction, to bring about "Diversity Dialogues," a two-hour program featuring actors doing dramatic interpretations of essays about differences among people. One centered on a man coping with his disability, another on an author's discovery that her father was gay.

She also helped organize one of the last events of the Carnegie's now discontinued film program, obtaining a grant to put on a film festival celebrating author John Steinbeck on the centennial of his birth and featuring movies such as "East of Eden" and "The Grapes of Wrath" and talks by Henry Veggian, a doctoral candidate at Pitt who is an expert on Steinbeck.

"That was a wonderful program," she said.

Lanna is also coping with some big changes in the humanities department, where she oversees six full-time employees and about eight part-timers. It's about to undergo a transformation into a "popular" library, featuring high-demand titles; new and classic fiction and nonfiction; best sellers; genre fiction; magazines; large print, cooking, home and how-to books; public affairs; biography; travel; and new and featured audiovisuals with a listening/viewing area.

Though not everyone is happy about the changes, Lanna is excited about them and says services will be enhanced as a result.

Lanna didn't grow up wanting to be a librarian. At Allegheny College, she majored in English and art history, and worked briefly in London as a secretary before a friend suggested she look into library science.

It seemed like a good fit.

After graduating from Pitt with a master's degree in library science in 1996, she worked part time at the Peters Township Library before being hired at the Carnegie Library.

She has had good mentors since arriving there, naming her colleague, Donald Wentworth, as an inspiration "because he is really great at reference. He knows all the sources about a subject and he can work with people."

"I'd always liked spending times in libraries," she said. "I just love browsing and looking at all the wonderful books there. You can be with other people, or on your own, in your own world."

Lanna told Library Journal about a recent focus group in which patrons were asked to identify the library as "a person."

The result was what you might expect: "An old man with gray hair, stodgy and old-fashioned, somewhat disheveled but also quite helpful and smart," Lanna said. But in another year, she hopes a new focus group will "have it turned around, so they say Carnegie is an exciting person, with the times."

Mackenzie Carpenter can be reached at mcarpenter@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1949.

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