Librarian Profile: Tess Tobin

After 17 years at the City Tech Library, Tess Tobin is retiring. We sat down with Tess to talk about fake news, her work as an advocate for Latino populations in professional library organizations, and how the library has changed during the course of her tenure at City Tech. We’ll miss you, Tess!

What made you first become interested in being a librarian?
As a child I spent a lot of time in my local library. It was a beautiful Carnegie built library and seemed palatial at the time, but the reading rooms were full of activity and it was a place to get lost among the stacks.  There was never a library school or librarian at any of my high school career fairs, and for some reason, I never thought of librarianship as a viable profession.

I taught ESOL for many years and when my hours were cut, I asked the Dean if there was any other work I could do at the college.  It was just happenstance that they had acquired the Humanities Media Center from the New Jersey Committee for the Humanities and the college needed someone to lead the project.  So, I began to travel around New Jersey presenting humanities programs at local libraries using the films from the collection.  At one of these events, I met the Head of Media Services at Rutgers University Libraries. She liked my work with the Humanities Media Center and recruited me to come work for her at the Rutgers Kilmer Library managing the film library.  Once there, I went to Rutgers School of Communications and received my MLS degree. Librarianship is my vocation and I have truly enjoyed my work with students over the years.
Given our current political climate and the controversies related to fake news and cyber security, what do you think are important issues relating to information and research?
In the college setting, librarians have always been interested in helping students evaluate websites for accuracy, relevance, and currency.  Bias, propaganda, and hoax sites have always been addressed with the goal of showing students how to look at information critically and assess its purpose and source. However, the explosion of fake news during the 2016 Presidential Campaign was astounding. Fake news websites and social media posts sprung up to mislead, rather than entertain, readers for financial, political, or other gain. Google and Facebook were among many sites that promoted false information or perpetuated conspiracy theories.  Today most people are confused about what is real and what is fake.  Some people have become disengaged and this is not good.
Today President Trump uses the term fake news for any media outlet that portrays him unfavorable.  Investigative reporting exposes wrongdoing or sheds light on an event after accurate fact checking.  With the White House questioning the media and portraying it as an enemy,  they are undermining the free press. Our democracy thrives on the sharing of information and at this time there is a need to protect press freedom, and ensure diverse voices are represented in the media. The term fake news has a new meaning when used by President Trump.  Undermining the free press makes for a very volatile and dangerous environment.
I am feeling overwhelmed with so much information and misinformation I read and hear lately.  The 24/7 news outlets have to fill their time slots and this too has diminished the delivery of accurate news. Media conglomerates produce news to make money.  I would recommend that folks pick and choose their news sources and not be swayed too easily by what they read and hear. Look for another point of view, assess, and then formulate your thoughts on the issue.
How long have you worked at City Tech? How has the City Tech Library changed in the years you’ve worked here?
I started work at the City Tech Library in June 2000.  At that time, the computer terminals were what we called “dumb terminals.”  There was no internet connection at these terminals and the Library Catalog was called CUNY+.  At this time, former Chief Librarian Darrow Wood was encouraging faculty and staff on the benefits of communicating via email.  This was also an arcane system with very few bells and whistles and there was some resistance to switching to electronic communication.
During my tenure as Administrative Services Librarian, the library made many technological advances mainly due to the Technology Fee instituted in 2003. With these monies the library has been able to stay current with its computer hardware and software and support services such as scanning, the ipad loan program, and wifi connectivity, to name a few.
Another improvement was the conversion of the old unused reference area into the Internet Lab, a 30 station computer lab, that is heavily used to this day. The Multimedia Resource Center was upgraded, new equipment was installed in the Multimedia Projection Room along with the E-classroom and an area of the Library Archives was turned into the Modular Learning Space.
It was great to oversee these changes and grow with the new technologies now available  in the library today.
What are you planning to work on after you retire from City Tech? 
Currently, I am Vice-President/President elect of REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information to Latinos and the Spanish speaking.  With the current political climate, the work of REFORMA advocating to better immigration policies and reforms and providing free access to information to the Spanish speaking communities is more important than ever.  I also will continue as a Corresponding Member of the IFLA section, Library Services to Multicultural Populations.  This work will fill my time and energy for the next few years.
And just for fun…If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would it be?
I always loved the short stories and novels of Julio Cortazar, the 20th century Argentine writer.  My favorite was Las Armas Secretas.  His stories have an open-ended structure which was so new to me when I was reading him in the 1970’s. His short stories are surreal in nature and I enjoy reading all his work.