DNR @ Work

By: Dorcas Coleman
Ceil Petro Ceil Petro
Director, Information Resource Center

Banish those childhood images of your elementary school librarian, the severe looking woman with the tight white bun and sensible shoes… Being a librarian in this day and age has become hip. BIG time.

Case in point: Ceil Petro, Director of DNR’s Information Resource Center affectionately known as by the staff at the Tawes State Office Building as the IRC. One look at her and those memories of being frostily hissed at to “be quiet” over the top of an imposing wooden desk and a stack of musty, dusty reference books will disappear once and for all. DNR’s IRC is the modern day library gone high-tech and Ceil is your modern day librarian, ready and able to place her hands on journal articles, books and web-based information at little more than a moment’s notice.

Ceil’s passions for reading and liberal arts were indulged at the University of Maryland College Park where she majored in women’s studies before setting out on a roundabout career route. For the first 18 years of her professional career, she worked as a secretary in both state government and private industry. In the 1970’s she and her husband operated a used/rare/out-of-print book business out of their home, which later grew to become a shop on Main Street in Annapolis. She found her way to DNR in the 1980’s having been an assistant director for the Maryland-Delaware Solid Waste Association. Once at DNR, she started in Program Open Space providing database management and computer support. When the idea of the IRC came up more than five years ago, she was a natural choice to head up the fledging project. Ceil credits her fulfilling career opportunities to being “extraordinarily computer literate and well read.”

One of her favorite – and most challenging -- aspects of her job is being able to provide research to DNR employees on subjects ranging from “fish guts to land use issues.” Upon receiving a request for research assistance, she makes a point of sitting down with the individual to learn a bit about them and better understand the context in which the requested data is needed. These “reference interviews” have enabled her to establish long-term relationships with many people throughout the agency and whenever she stumbles across a topic that she remembers someone to be particularly interested in, she happily sends it their way.

Another challenge that she embraced was developing DNR’s Image Bank, a repository of photos and slides collected from employees dating back almost 30 years. These materials were previously scattered throughout the agency, passed down from one to another as people left DNR or retired. Now these materials are gathered in one central location where all employees can access them as needed.

The IRC’s collection has grown exponentially based on what information is needed and what needs are looming on the horizon. In addition to the vast array of books that line the shelves, there are 6,000 cataloged volumes including electronic documents and Internet sites, videos, and 45 periodicals. Enough to assure that even the most curious never get bored.

Since it’s beginning, Ceil has had a host of assistants, interns and volunteers to help her with the enormity of the task but she is now on her own to take the IRC into its next phase of development. Next on her agenda: she recently received a $56,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to retrofit DNR’s electronic databases with metadata, a collection of data that will detail when its corresponding data was created and by whom to determine its continued accuracy and usefulness. She intends to make this metadata web-accessible and then embark on training DNR employees on how to use and compile their own.

Ceil is incredibly proud of the work she does and says librarians, “are subversive. More than anyone, they know firsthand that knowledge is power and they want to share that knowledge with the world.” Everyone understands what a library is, and it is the IRC that makes DNR accessible to the outside world. Because of this she says, with a twinkle in her eye, “no one in this department is thanked as often as me.”

Now how cool is that?

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