Debbi Schaubman Tribute

Remembering Debbi Schaubman (1959-2023)

MeLCat and Resource Sharing Legend

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You will notice that we chose to skip the tradition of including a photo of Debbi in this memorial. If you knew Debbi, you know why. For those who did not have the privilege of knowing Debbi personally, understand first that much like her under-the-breath dry witticisms, Debbi was not the type who liked to be the center of attention. Second, she absolutely hated having her photo taken and expertly avoided the camera in a way that only Debbi could.

It follows then, that Debbi might also hate that this tribute exists. However, many have had much to say about how important she and her work were in the library field in Michigan, as well as nationally and internationally. It was only right to create this (photo-free) page to remember her.

We love and miss you, Debbi. You’re just going to have to be OK with us doing this to help our extended community remember and learn a bit more about who you were to all those whose lives you impacted.

Personal life

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Debbi Schaubman was born on November 21, 1959 in the Bronx, New York to Gerald and Toby Schaubman. She is survived by her exceptional and dedicated sister, Averi, who moved mountains to be present and care for Debbi in her final year, along with the help of many of Debbi’s beloved friends.

In 1983, Debbi received a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy from Rutgers University. Upon graduation, she worked on the Urban Communes Project at Rutgers as a data collection and analysis project manager until she was promoted to Systems Manager (1988-1991). She completed her Master’s Degree in Library Science at Rutgers in 1991 and moved to Michigan to serve as head of government documents at Michigan State University (MSU).

Though Debbi spent 32 years in Michigan, she lived up to the “tough on the outside, soft on the inside” stereotype often used to describe New Yorkers. She was an avid, outspoken activist for progressive causes and women’s rights. She was also incredibly fond of community and collective living, which led her to becoming a co-founding member of the Great Oak Co-Housing Community in Ann Arbor, where she lived happily for 22 years.

Debbi’s eclectic interests included a love of animals (especially cats), travel, baking, gardening, kayaking, Puppeteers of America, and unsurprisingly, reading (for inquiring minds, she told MCLS her favorite book was The Golden Compass). Live music and supporting local bands were incredibly important to Debbi. In addition to avid fandom, she was even known to run sound for several bands.

Professional life

Debbi page professional life.pngWhile at MSU, Debbi worked with Innovative Interfaces' INN-Reach software for more than seven years. She also coordinated the InMICH project, a pilot program funded by LSTA that focused on developing a statewide union catalog and resource-sharing system. In 2004, she was contracted by the Michigan Library Consortium (which became MCLS in 2010) to act as the primary technical resource for InMICH’s replacement, MeLCat.

Debbi began her full-time position as Manager of Shared Library Systems at MCLS on November 1, 2010, which she held until her passing on January 21, 2023. In addition to spearheading all things MeLCat, the position also included the Michigan Evergreen shared open-source integrated library system (ILS), PALNI’s shared Aleph ILS, and related activities. Debbi provided leadership in planning, implementing, and managing all shared library systems, including the staff who implement and support MeLCat and RIDES, Michigan’s state-wide interlibrary delivery system. And, she did it better than anyone could imagine.

Legacy and impact on the library community

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Debbi embodied the principles of “radical candor.” She cared personally about the MCLS staff (especially but certainly not limited to the Shared Library Systems team she built) and the libraries we serve. She directly challenged MCLS to operate in the best possible ways as a staff and for libraries.

Debbi was on a level that many in library service aspire to. Because of Debbi and her team, over 400 libraries across Michigan have the opportunity to share over one million items a year with one another via MeLCat for Michigan’s ten million citizens. While that is an incredible contribution to the library community in itself, Debbi offered so much more to her field. Many respected and admired her greatly. With that in mind, MCLS reached out to the library community in February 2023 asking for personal memories of Debbi and stories we could share.

Common themes folks shared include those about her intimidating intellect, uncanny wisdom, bone-dry wit, tough exterior that shielded an incredibly warm heart, and an ability to teach simply by existing. She was exceptional, insightful, tenacious, and willing to make tough decisions.

We could go on at length with more examples of Debbi’s excellence. Instead, here are some highlights of what the library community shared with us in remembering her. We hope you enjoy our colleagues’ memories of knowing and working with Debbi.

Debbi and I worked together at Michigan State when we were young librarians. She was the Government Documents Librarian and I was Head of Monographic Acquisitions. I remember her coming by to complain the other selectors were purchasing U.S. documents for the rest of the library when we got a copy for free. To her credit, she got most of them to stop doing that! We learned about Innovative Interfaces systems together through the years and when she moved to work with MeLCat, we still got to see each other at Innovative Users Group meetings. Most recently, Debbi helped us pause MeLCat when we migrated from Sierra to FOLIO. I will think of her fondly when we are ready to resume.

—Kay Granskog, Associate Dean, Technical Services, Michigan State University Libraries 

I had the pleasure of working with Debbi from afar as we went live with MeLCat in 2005 and the later as a member on the MeLCat Advisory Committee for two years. I appreciated her vast knowledge and the dry humor she brought to any situation. She could make boring topics interesting and exciting just by her comments and attitude. I appreciate how she valued everyone's contributions and was devastated to hear of her death. My thoughts are with you all at MCLS as you grieve.

—Gina Bolger

Debbi and I, along with others, were on the committees set up at the inception of MeLCat. We hashed out the first MeLCat policies and made many decisions associated with that set up process. Debbi was a rock star then and continued to be that rock star for Michigan libraries who ventured into statewide resource sharing with MeLCat. She was persistent at meetings of the Innovative Users Group, when INN-Reach needed the attention of Innovative Interfaces. MeLCat would not be what it is today without Debbi's knowledge and attention to detail. I always appreciated her sense of humor and the fact that she was direct and outspoken when needed but she always did everything with a firmness and directness that had people listening. Rest in peace Debbi, you will be missed.

—Sheryl VanderWagen 

I've known Debbi since she began working at Michigan State University and throughout her career at MCLS and MeL. She was a mentor to me when I worked in the Government Documents Department at MSU and decided to go to Wayne State’s MILIS program. Her support meant so much to me. I will miss Debbi personally and professionally. I already miss her wry wit and charm. She was a fierce supporter of MeL and worked tirelessly to fully implement it. My fondest memories were having to cajole Debbi into presenting a MeL report at Michigan Innovative User Group (MIUG) annual meetings. She always acted like she needed to be talked into doing it, but in reality, we both knew that she was going to be the “star” of the event. She always managed to present MeL statistics and updates in the most entertaining way. I’m so sad that we’ve lost our “star.”

—Fran Krempasky

Debbi is a towering figure in the development and striking success of MeLCat, Michigan’s ground-breaking multi-type library resource sharing system. Her first role in MeLCat was in 2002 while at the Michigan State University Libraries, when she became Project Coordinator of InMICH, the precursor to MeLCat. As the system grew and transitioned to MCLS and the Library of Michigan, Debbi moved to MCLS to continue her work as MeLCat System Administrator and Manager of Shared Library Services. What a legacy she leaves! MeLCat now has more than 400 libraries, and Michigan residents borrow more than a million items each year. The entire state will continue to benefit from her contributions for years to come. I was privileged to work with Debbi in those early InMICH years. I knew her as a remarkable librarian and person, with a brilliant mind, a kind spirit, and a wide range of interests, abilities, and friends. We shared a love of cats, and they were her companions throughout her life. She is gone too soon!

—Colleen Hyslop, retired MSU librarian

Every time I use MeLCat I can’t help but think of Debbi’s contribution to the success of that venture. I’m a retired librarian who relied heavily on Debbi’s expertise when my own library loaded our records on MeL in 2009. Her encyclopedic knowledge of MARC records and NCIP attributes (among MANY other details) was critical in making MeLCat one of our state’s most effective online services. As a cataloger I served on her work group on MeLCat matching algorithms, the driest of dry topics. And wow, could she keep a meeting on track. There’s nothing more satisfying than a well-run meeting that produces results, and Debbi was a pro. The minute I met Debbi, I liked her. She meant what she said: no gimmicks, no games, and balanced with a wry sense of humor. My library life was all the richer for having known Debbi, just as MeLCat is all the richer for her competence and guidance.

—Michele Montague

Debbi was one of the very best systems librarians I have ever met. She had the patience to deal with all the MeLCat libraries in the state - something that is a very tall order. And while you could count on her to hold libraries to do their part correctly, she also had good humor and would be among the first to joke about something that was not working perfectly. I had a chance to work with her through MeLCat, through the Michigan IUG and the national Innovative Users Group. Her understanding of the Innovative INN-Reach system was among the best anywhere - including people inside and outside Innovative Interfaces, Inc. I always felt she was generous and patient with other librarians when dealing with systems librarian issues (and there were and are many)! She will be both missed and fondly remembered by librarians everywhere.

—Corey Seeman, University of Michigan


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With love and respect, MCLS

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One of Debbi’s many superpowers was her ability to keep her personal life separate from work. She was adamantly private, but still sociable with—and protective of—her coworkers. While MCLS will continue to mourn her loss, we will strive to carry on her legacy and continue to support the programs she lent her incredible talents to, including building state-wide essential services. She shaped MCLS in ways that will carry on.

The relationships she built with her MCLS family are part of her legacy. The following sentiments were submitted by those at MCLS who were touched by her talents, depth of knowledge, and fierceness in advocating for both staff and doing the right thing.

Debbi was a force, and I feel lucky to have known and worked with her these last 6 1/2 years. While she really intimidated me with her smarts and her sometimes gruff presentation at first, my distant respect grew into warm admiration as I got more and more little windows into who she was. She was an advocate for our staff - even those of us who didn't work directly for her - and used her voice to speak up for whatever she knew was right and just, at work and in the world. Her deep beliefs made her unafraid - or brave? - to speak truth to power and be a naysayer when needed. She was kind, yet willing to forego politeness, or even allow awkwardness, if it was needed to correct a wrong or advocate for right. While an introvert who didn't need a spotlight, Debbi was a gifted presenter, able to clearly and engagingly communicate concepts to diverse audiences. After bonding over our shared love of New Jersey and then participating in staff social events including an Escape Room and a Lugnuts baseball game, I started to notice how funny, and fun, she was. MCLS has been better for having had her voice of calm, thoughtful reason, and she will be so missed. I hope I take from having known her to be a little braver, a little more willing to stick my neck out for what I know is right - that will be how I'll try to carry a little piece of Debbi forward.

—Jan Davidson, MCLS 

On October 2, Debbi invited staff to a party in Ann Arbor. Once we got there, we realized we were in fact attending a living wake. True to Debbi fashion, it wasn’t about her – it was about everyone who she invited. She shared her favorite things with usp and extended that to staff. It was the first time she had brought the two sides of her life together. It really showed us how much she valued and cared about the people she worked with.

—MCLS staff member

If Debbi endorsed an idea, she was fully on board. I most appreciate the fact that no matter her stance, she was always open to listening to others’ point of view.

—MCLS staff member

When Debbi took on a role, she was good at it. She was the co-lead on the staff side of the director search following Randy Dykhuis’s retirement. She was a huge advocate for making sure the staff had a prominent voice in who would be their next leader.

—MCLS staff member

Other resources

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Obituary and comments posted on Staffan-Mitchell & Caskey-Mitchell Funeral Homes website: https://www.mitchellfuneral.com/obituaries/debbi-schaubman

Memorial contributions may be made to the Glioblastoma Foundation or the Humane Society of Huron Valley.