An Interview with Librarian Matthew Nye: SDPL’s Special Collections Manager

June 28, 2024

Libraries are a well-loved space for reading, working, and community where many of us have made countless memories. Have you ever wanted to know a bit more about the behind-the-scenes of how a library is operated? In this blog post, we chat with Matthew Nye, San Diego Public Library’s Special Collections Manager for the Central Library downtown. He oversees the special collections and archives on the library’s top floor, including a wide range of resources related to genealogies, Southern California, and rare books. 



Rachel Lemmen: Why did you want to become a librarian? How did you get to where you are now?


Matthew Nye: Before I was a librarian, I was in the medical field working in a hospital. I knew I didn’t want only one career to define my life. I wanted to make sure I could look back on life and have it full of different life experiences. In high school, I worked in the book repository repairing books, which I enjoyed. I explored career options that were similar and eventually decided on librarianship. I volunteered in a variety of setting(s) to make sure I knew what I was getting into. I set a goal of exactly what I wanted, mapped out the steps I would have to take, and with the help and support of my husband I worked hard and stayed focused.


RL: What does your role as the Special Collections Manager at San Diego Public Library’s Central Library entail? Give us a snapshot of what it is to be a librarian.


MN: As a librarian who supervises others, I see my job as being one that supports and guides a team, allowing them to achieve their personal and professional goals. This includes providing all staff with regular evaluations and reviewing goals. At the same time, I ensure that the department we work in gets its needs met: collection management, maintenance, supplies. Another significant task in managing a Special Collections team involves the procurement of grants which allow for the digitization of a variety of items in the collection; this includes maps, City Directories, photographs, microfilm, and such. As a manager, I also play a significant role in the collection development of materials we add or withdraw from the collection. This includes making assessments of items staff might feel would be appropriate for purchase or accepting as a donation or seeking out items from catalogs, book fairs, or donations from patrons in our community.


RL: What are some of the most common issues you deal with at the library?


MN: Issues can range from helping a patron better understand and articulate what they are looking for by conducting a good reference interview, dealing with late or lost materials, providing computer assistance to patrons with minimal computer skills, to making sure patrons are not eating or sleeping in the library.


RL: When I visit the Central Library downtown, I am fascinated by the Marilyn & Gene Marx Special Collections Center, which includes the following: “The California Collection, encompassing materials relating primarily to Southern California; The Wangenheim Rare Book Collection, with items illustrating the development of the book; and the Genealogy Collection, containing books, periodicals, and research databases.” From where and how are those books sourced? How are they maintained?


MN: The initial collection of rare books came from a local citizen, Julius Wangenheim who bequeathed his collection of rare books to the San Diego Public Library, (passed away in 1949), and the collection came to the newly built library on E Street. Since then, the collection has doubled in size to more than 9,000 items. They are maintained in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment.


RL: What are these collections most commonly used for in research? How can patrons utilize these collections?


MN: The most common uses of materials in the collection are the primary materials the library owns on the San Diego Mission, images from the photograph collection, and the study of the structure and construction of a book.


RL: How are libraries still relevant today?


MN: As repositories of free information to the public; as a haven from the environment, free to all citizens; as community resources and gathering places; as places of access to technology, free to all.


RL: What are some of the library’s resources you think the public should be more aware of?


MN: The wealth of databases that provide educational programs, instructions, and testing prep. Some of the best are, Archives Unbound, and the Sandborn Insurance Maps.


RL: What role does the library, particularly the Central Library, play in the community?


MN: The library serves the informational, educational and recreational interests of San Diego. Our mission is to inspire lifelong learning through connections to knowledge and each other.


RL: Can you determine the fluctuation in the demand for certain books or genres from what is being checked out from the library?


MN: Yes, not only is there anecdotal evidence, but there is Integrated Library System (ILS) software that can be used in determining what materials should be purchased and what type and subject of programming should be offered.


RL: What is your favorite book?


MN: Go Dog Go by P.D. Eastman. (My second favorite is The Hours by Michael Cunningham.)


RL: Is there any advice or final words you’d like to leave with the reader?


MN: My advice is for anyone that might be interested in getting themselves involved in the preservation and documentation of history, contact a Special Collections manager and set up a time for an individual tour of a department. And if this sparks some kind of interests, then I would pursue volunteering, even if it is for 2-3 hours a week.

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