PROFILE: Patricia Elliot and USCS Santa Clara Virtual Library

BayNet is doing a series of profiles of members who work in little-known libraries and information services around the bay. Patricia A. Elliot is an information specialist at a library with a long name: BAE Systems United States Combat Systems Santa Clara Virtual Library.

Patricia A. Elliott
Patricia A. Elliott

Tell me a bit about your organization.

United States Combat Systems (USCS) is a part of BAE Systems Land & Armaments Group. USCS develops and produces a full spectrum of gun systems, weapon launching systems and containers, as well as armored combat systems, i.e. Bradley Combat System, and next-generation systems for manned and unmanned ground vehicles. USCS also develops technologies in the areas of composite materials, hybrid electric power systems, integrated vehicle survivability, crew station design, and training systems. USCS employs more than 7000 people and has locations in Alabama, California (Santa Clara), Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, South Carolina.

USCS is the sole-source prime contractor on several programs comprising critical elements of the U.S. military force structure and have produced more than 100,000 combat vehicles.

USCS has three physical libraries — in York, PA, Santa Clara, CA and Minneapolis, MN. We’re in the process of making all three libraries into one library, with the best aspects of both the physical and the virtual library, to serve users at all locations. The Santa Clara library is 100% virtual.

Who are your library users?

The main users of the Santa Clara’s library are engineers: mechanical, electrical and software. They are located in Santa Clara and San Jose, CA. However, US Combat Systems is part of the Land & Armaments Group, which serves quite a few locations, too many to list here.

What are the main services that you provide for the users?

The main services I provide include web-based access to various resources including Knovel and I.H.S. standards and specs, NERAC and Dialog. I locate hard-to-acquire military documents that require a contract with organizations such as DTIC (Defense Technical Information) and NTIS (National Technical Information), and access to information from various associations, such as IEEE, SME, SAE, etc. Because of the unusual nature of the library, I manage a collection of “technical reports,” internal documents written by our engineers, as well as a collection of about 150 boxes of archived material stored off-site on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

And, of course, I answer any reference requests that may come my way, which might include questions like, “I know there was something written on wheeled versus tracked vehicles in a magazine. I can’t remember the title, but it was a couple of years ago and there was an armored personnel carrier on the cover.” Or questions like “Does the library have a book on Java?”

What is the most interesting and little known fact about this library?

I think one of the most interesting facts about the library is that it continues to exist in one form or another. Before my time, the then “Ground Systems” library had a physical collection of over 150,000 books and Army technical manuals and a periodicals collection of 70 titles. In those days, there was a staff that included a business reference librarian and a technical reference librarian.

I was the Reference Librarian at Ground Systems from 1993 through July of 2000. By then, staff was down to two librarians and one staff person. I was a solo librarian during my last two years there and continued to maintain a physical collection.

This is my second tour-of-duty here at the library. In my 8-year absence from 2000 to 2008, the library was transformed into a virtual library and we don’t even work tor the same company we did back then! That the library continues to exist at all, in one form or another, is a testimony to the resilience of libraries and librarians in general. We grow, we change, we adapt – but the one thing that doesn’t change is we continue to meet the needs of our users

When did you decide to become a librarian?

I decided to become a librarian when I worked at Indiana University of Pennsylvania back in 1982. I transferred to the University library’s Circulation Department and became a Stack Supervisor of about 30 student assistants, just to see if I’d like working in libraries. It was love at first sight. In those days, I wanted to become a Special Collections librarian in an academic library. However, getting that second master’s degree precluded my doing that. Fresh out of library school, in 1992, I went to work at FMC Corporation’s Ground Systems library. A defense library couldn’t have been farther from my original idea of where I wanted to work. But I’ve learned over the years that it’s not about the type of library, it’s about information, how to get it and how to make it available. The research methods remain the same.

As to what I prefer to be called, a librarian or information specialist: those outside the profession seem to resonate more with the title “librarian” because, of course, they are still thinking about books and they picture me stamping those books for checkout. I prefer the term “Information Specialist,” because it’s closer to what I do.

You identify with other solo librarians. Why?

Well, I finished my last two years here (the first time!) as a solo librarian and I know how hard it is when you’re on your own. Solos don’t always have colleagues within the company or library to bounce things off of or collaborate with. They have to be their own trailblazers and fight for their own budgets and collections, but there’s a tremendous amount of satisfaction to be had in both the independence and freedom that come with being a solo librarian.

I’m fortunate that, while I’m a “solo” here in Santa Clara, I’m still part of a larger library with sites in York, PA and Minneapolis, MN. I collaborate weekly with Dianne Bare in York and Crystal Clift in Minneapolis via telephone and online events where we share a desktop. I tell them they are my sanity check. Their resources and availability as consultants, colleagues and mentors is invaluable to me!

To stay in touch with the “outside” world, I am a BayNet member, and subscribe to the OPL Plus blog, the InfoToday blog and the Library Stuff weblog. I am a member of SLA (and the Solo Librarian San Andreas Chapter) and have been to several yearly conventions. This year I plan to attend Internet Librarian, an annual conference in Monterey, CA. I receive email pushes from LAC (Library Associates), Libgig, and Information Today. I maintain contacts with a number of librarians I’ve worked with over the years. And some of my friends outside of work are librarians.

What was the most memorable experience you’ve had as a librarian at BAE Systems?

One of my most memorable experiences is an open house we hosted back in 1994. We were the Ground Systems library of FMC Corp. then and had a physical library. We had a tradition of hosting an Open House every year around Halloween with a Halloween theme, and invited vendors from Dialog, I.H.S., and Dow Jones. Our Halloween costumes were “librarian stereotypes.” We dressed in long skirts, “sensible” shoes, cardigan sweaters, glasses hung from eyeglass chains and hair was sprayed with gray coloring. I was a new graduate of library school, so being involved with all the planning and execution of an event like this one was pretty exciting! While some came purely for the food, all went away with the knowledge that they had a library with resources available to them – the most important reason for the open house.

This year I staffed a booth at our annual Diversity Fair, right beside the Indian engineers group. We handed out library pamphlets and brochures from vendors. To receive a mousepad with library contact information and a list of resources, the attendees filled out a four-question survey. Being virtual doesn’t necessarily mean being invisible!