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Merle Slyhoff: Career Reflections

August 17, 2021

After a long and successful career, our colleague and friend Merle Slyhoff is retiring at the end of this month.

Merle joined the staff at Biddle in 1977, holding several roles in the library throughout the years, ranging from acquisitions to interlibrary loan. In her current position as Collection Development Librarian, Merle has focused on careful stewardship of the library’s collection, particularly in our U.S. legal materials. 

Merle has tirelessly been of service to the law librarianship profession, chairing and serving on dozens of committees, and lending her expertise and leadership to countless impactful efforts over the years. To honor her committment to the profession, she was inducted into the AALL Hall of Fame in 2016.

What drew you to librarianship?

I have worked in libraries since elementary school. My school (in Camden, NJ) was the first elementary school with a library and I worked there during lunch. Junior and high school I worked in the library during study hall and my work study job at Rutgers was in the library.

My first job after college was s a paraprofessional at Temple Law Library where the director encouraged me to get my masters in library science. I think my career was chosen for me at an early age.

Describe some changes you’ve seen over the years, either in librarianship or at Biddle.

Contrary to popular belief, electricity had been discovered before I started at Biddle. But a major difference was my desk back then… it held paper, pens and pencils. I remember when computers (Wangs) first appeared at the law school “downstairs” in the administrative offices.

Eventually I had one on my desk but that was long before the Internet and email. We all thought they were an amazing invention, that it couldn’t get any better. Little did we know how the computer would change our lives, our work and how students were taught.

You’ve had a successful career. What accomplishments are you most proud of?

I always appreciated that Liz Kelly, the second director I worked under at Biddle, gave me the opportunity to start new programs in Biddle that are still around, including our media department/media collection and Faculty Document Delivery. She saw the need and asked me to run with them.

And I know this will be corny and probably expected, but my biggest accomplishment while at Biddle is my son.

Talk about your involvement in AALL and NELLCO.

My participation in these organizations (American Association of Law Libraries, Northeast Law library Cooperative) along with our local AALL chapter and the American Library Association taught me that work fulfillment goes beyond the 9-5 life within the walls of Biddle, that I didn’t just have a job, I had a career.

Being able to have an impact, no matter how small, on the profession that I chose has meant a lot to me. It expanded my vision beyond the academic world and allowed me to view the “big picture” of law librarianship. My involvement also helped me to improve my librarian skills but perhaps most importantly gave me lifelong friends.

Some I have known since my first AALL conference in 1978, some since the ’80s. Being inducted into the AALL Hall of Fame was a major highlight of my association career but definitely not the reason I got involved.

I have always tried to live by the sentiment of Eldridge Cleaver - ”You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.” My work with these associations allowed me to hopefully become part of the solution.

What’s next?

I recently started a “Retirement Life” journal that already has about 6 pages filled with projects. My motto has always been “Let Dust Bunnies Live” - other aspects of my life have always taken priority over the household issues.

Now I’ll have time to devote to getting the garden and yard I’ve always wanted, to cleaning out and organizing the basement and the barn and much more. And of course my pottery…I have been doing pottery as my second job for about 25 years and I will now be a full-time potter, honing and expanding my skills.