A New Era for the St. Nersess Library
For 17 years, Aida Pisani worked at a private K-8 school in Manhattan as its head librarian after earning a master’s degree in library science and working in a college administration job. Now retired, she is putting her skills to use once again, but this time at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary as the new librarian of the Abp. Tiran Nersoyan Library. Volunteering 10-20 hours a week, Mrs. Pisani began to catalog the St. Nersess collection of books in March of 2014 with the help of eight volunteers. Before she began, Aida was volunteering her time at the St. Gregory Armenian Church’s library in White Plains where Fr. Mardiros Chevian, Dean, approached her to see if she could help out at St. Nersess. Fr. Mardiros knew he needed an expert who could organize and catalog the library books, which will be critical to the library when it is housed in the new Karekin I Theological Center and Chapel on the future St. Nersess campus in Armonk, NY. “It has become a tremendous undertaking, cataloging each book one at a time,” stated Aida. “So far we have cataloged about 4,000 books in about ten months, and there are plenty more to sift through. I try to focus on one shelf at a time, as it’s the only way to handle the enormous collection of books. Otherwise it becomes an overwhelming endeavor,” says Mrs. Pisani.
Mrs. Pisani started from scratch, by first setting up an automated database with Book Systems, a software company geared to school and church libraries, which she had used in a previous job. Next, she and her volunteers have taken each book, researching online for existing records and call numbers using the Library of Congress classiﬁcation system. “It’s a painstaking process, like solving a puzzle for each book,” comments Aida. If she can ﬁnd a record for a book online, either from the Library of Congress or other academic library catalogs, she can simply add it to the collection. However, if no record exists, as in some old Armenian books, she must create the information, a more time-consuming process by doing original cataloging, before she can add it to the new database.
Her dedicated team of volunteers include Beatrice Postian, Vera Watts, Anne Shaterian and Aida’s husband Michael Pisani, who have helped aﬃx barcode labels and call number labels to each book before shelving. Computer savvy volunteers Ashely Murtha and Eve Wolfsohn have searched online for records of books in English, while Gayane Manukyan and Lilit Shakhkyan (wife of Seminarian Dn. Ivan) have been instrumental in searching for Armenian language book records. If an ISBN number exists, Aida can catalog 50 books a day, otherwise 30 or less may be added to the collection if no records exist. Dr. Roberta Ervine, St. Nersess Professor of Armenian Studies, is helping to prioritize the books.
When asked to describe the books in the St. Nersess library, Aida comments, “there are religious and theological books, and books on philosophy, music, and history. Some books date back to the 1800s, and some are very valuable and are the only copy in the world. They don’t exist anywhere else.” Thanks to Aida and her team, St. Nersess seminarians are now able to “check out” books to use as part of their studies. Also, anyone can search the database by keyword, author, title, subject or series to ﬁnd what St. Nersess has to oﬀer in its library. To access the OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog) for the Abp. Tiran Nersoyan Library, go to http://stnersess.booksys.net/opac/stnas/index.html#menuHome.
Fr. Mardiros is grateful to Aida Pisani and her volunteer assistants for their continuous dedication to the St. Nersess library, as well as to the Women’s Guild of St. Gregory Armenian Church for a grant that enabled the purchase of necessary materials for the cataloging of the books.