Susan Parker is deputy university librarian at UCLA, where she leads building design and renovation projects and serves as the library’s chief financial officer. Before participating in the Zócalo/WeHo Reads event “Do Libraries Have a Future?”, she talked in the Zócalo green room about her secret-keeping skills, why she’d love to be a sea otter, and her best spot in UCLA’s Charles E. Young Research Library for coming up with good ideas.
It’s your last meal. What do you eat?
A handmade pizza from my wife. She’s Italian-American, and she grew up in Rome mostly, so she thinks that pizza is a sacred thing that needs to be done right. You hand-roll the crust, you grill the eggplant yourself, you get a mixture of cheese that’s proprietary, you cook the tomatoes just so.
Are you good at keeping secrets? If so, who can vouch for you?
I’m very good at keeping secrets. Almost anybody who’s ever worked for me. People who are close to me—my sister and my wife. And my brother-in-law. It’s a good list.
What’s the last great book you read?
That’s really hard. That’s mean to ask a librarian, isn’t it? The last great book I read that really touched me is Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. You think that you know something about what happened in New Orleans during and after Katrina, but it makes it so visceral and immediate and personal that you have moments where you’re drawn into that environment and really connect.
What advice do you give to aspiring librarians?
I think that you should never give up on the mission of the library—to be able to find information, trade it, remix it, and get it back out into the world. You want to help people achieve that through their passion.
What’s the best decision you’ve ever made?
To move from Boston to Los Angeles.
Whom or what do you root for?
I root for freedom of information. I root for reading banned books. I root for all kinds of liberal causes to help people achieve who they can be.
Who was your childhood librarian?
I’m trying to remember her name. It was a librarian in the children’s section in my public library who very kindly explained the difference between the children’s section and the adult section, and very kindly allowed me occasionally to go to the adult section and get what I needed. Whatever her name is, a shout-out to her. It’s not so much the name, it’s the act.
If you could be any animal, what would you be?
Right now I would say I’d love to be a sea otter because it looks like fun. Whenever I see them it relaxes me.
Where do you come up with your best ideas?
It’s going to sound stereotypical but usually someplace in one of the libraries where I work where nobody else is. The fifth floor of the Charles E. Young Research Library, facing west. In the afternoon when you can see the Getty Center and when there’s no one there.
What do you wake up to?
I usually hear the birds in the front yard, and when I go out to get the paper I smell the lavender on the sidewalk.