Profile: Erika Banski, Carleton University Library, Canada
Erika Banski is Head of Cataloguing and Collection Maintenance at Carleton University Library, Ottawa, Canada
Erika Banski was working as a librarian in the former Yugoslavia (now Serbia) when the Bosnian War began. Her husband was drafted into the army in the middle of the night. When he was finally discharged from military duties, the family decided to emigrate to Canada. A few months after arriving in Edmonton, Erika, who is fluent in German, Hungarian and Serbian and has a working knowledge of French, Latin, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, and South-Slavic languages, was accepted in the MA program in German Linguistics at the University of Alberta and offered to teach German to first-year undergraduates. She says that when she arrived in Canada her English was not good, and she had to prepare all her lectures in English as well as German, as the students were not sufficiently advanced to be taught in German all the time.
Erika, whose first degree, from the University of Novi Sad, is in German Language and Literature, had been a librarian in Yugoslavia for five years. The degree course she followed included a teaching certificate program, but she didn’t want to be a language teacher, so she applied for a job in the library, at first as maternity cover in an acquisitions post and subsequently as a bibliographer, specialising in creating records for Hungarian publications. Once living in Canada, she had to work at least part-time, so she decided not to study for a PhD, but instead to enroll for the Master’s program in library and information studies at Alberta. Of this period in her life, she says: “It is not easy when you’re an immigrant and want to get to the professional level you left behind.”
At her alma mater, she was hired on a four month contract, at first employed to compile a database for publishing a bibliography for the Georg Kaiser Archival Collection held by the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library at Alberta. This project was supported by the German Department. While she was doing this, the Head of the Special Collections Library arranged for her to meet the Head of the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Library, a meeting that turned into an informal interview. Shortly afterwards, at the staff Christmas party, this librarian announced to everyone that she had approved a two year contract for Erika to work as the German Studies librarian. Erika says it was “the best Christmas present I ever had”. She was the first librarian to be hired on a contract at Alberta after a ten-year appointment freeze. In 1999 she found herself out of work again for a few months, but was then offered a permanent position, working half time as a cataloguer, half as a German and Slavic studies librarian. This involved operating in two departments, from two offices: Erika says she was ‘very busy’.
At Alberta, librarians have the status of academic staff, similar to faculty members; therefore, when they are awarded tenure, they must complete a three-year probationary period (probation for the faculty takes 6 years). Erika says, “You have to prove yourself above and beyond – contribute to publishing, conferences and workshops – and I had to do this in two areas. It was an extremely difficult time.”
She passed the probationary period successfully, and held the post for ten years. She was still occupying the role when she first joined the Cambridge University Press International Librarian Advisory Board in 2010. During this time, she obtained a year unpaid leave to spend in Vienna, working as a librarian at the United Nations. However, as the post was not tenured and could only be held for a maximum of seven years, when the year was up she returned to Alberta.
Erika moved from the University of Alberta to Carleton University Library in March this year to the post of Head of Cataloguing and Collection Maintenance at Carleton. Heads of Department posts are five-year appointments, but her appointment as a librarian is permanent. Therefore, at the end of the five years she can either reapply for the Head of Department’s post or step down and work as an ordinary librarian. Erika was fortunate in being able to transfer her tenure from Alberta to Carleton, instead of having to complete a second probationary period.
Of her present job, Erika says that it suits her because she loves working with people – she has a team of twelve staff – and using metadata creatively (‘not just MARC records’) to provide access to resources. She agrees that work that focuses on people management has its challenges, especially trying to persuade individuals to work together in harmony. She finds having to address certain staffing problems, especially questions of performance, the most difficult aspect of her role.
More broadly, Erika is concerned about the issues facing the academic librarian community as a whole in Canada: “Budget cuts are continuing. Universities are regarded as ivory towers, and conservative governments go after education in every province, just as in the USA at the moment.” She also worries about the big publishing conglomerates “buying up everyone else and creating an environment where there’s no competition – that is why university presses are so important”. She’s disappointed in ILS vendors, whom she says are not efficient at keeping up with BIBFRAME and developing for post-MARC standards. “Librarians want to take metadata out of silos and open them up on the internet, so that users can benefit from linked data – e.g., index records of journal articles linking to online journals in the libraries’ knowledgebases of licensed resources. We rely on vendors for metadata interoperability and related development, but it isn’t happening quickly enough. Every library has to have an ILS, but only a few can use Open Source solutions, because they’re heavy on staff. Therefore, we have to sign five- or ten-year contracts with vendors who, once they have secured them, are unresponsive to our needs.”
Away from work, Erika, who is married with one grown-up daughter, is a ‘dog person’. She and her husband own a basset hound called Uncle Steven, who is a certified therapy dog and also the official library dog. Uncle Steven visits the Carleton University Library once a week for a one-and-a-half hour therapy session with students who are stressed from their heavy course-loads and from living away from home. He’s certified to go to hospitals, schools and old folks’ homes, as well as universities. Therapy dogs are becoming quite common in Canada. Erika’s husband has now retired, so he is able to escort Uncle Steven to his appointments.
Erika says she’s very happy at Carleton, which has an exceptional record for providing a healthy workplace – it has won a platinum-level certificate for this. The university also holds silver awards for mental health care standards.