Bernstein Marathons Through Five Degrees

December 6, 2009

Bernstein Marathons Through Five Degrees

VALDOSTA -- A philosophy major in the 1970s, then Valdosta State College undergraduate Alan Bernstein spent many a night fraternizing with friends at Hoagie’s on the corner of Brookwood Drive and Patterson Street. Thirty years later, the library circulation manager defended his dissertation on that site, now the Speech and Language Pathology Building.

Bernstein will earn his fifth degree from VSU when he graduates in December with a Doctor of Education through the Department of Curriculum, Leadership and Technology. His first degree was a Bachelor of Arts in 1981, followed by master’s degrees in education and history, earned respectively in 1993 and 1995. In 2001, Bernstein was the first student to sign up for the master’s program in library and information science, which he finished two years later. One of the greatest supporters along his educational climb -- 88-year-old mother, Rhoda -- said she is eager to see her son hooded at December’s commencement.

“I never set out to have five degrees, particularly from the same institution. I kept going because of the personal satisfaction of education,” said Bernstein, who routinely unwinds with a New York Times Crossword Puzzle. “My parents didn’t attend college, so I grew up in an environment where education was extremely valued. I also want to have options when it comes to furthering my career in a field that I love.”

Bernstein didn’t set out to work at the library. As an undergraduate, he consumed himself with epistemology and ethics. It wasn’t until he sought a part-time library job during graduate study that he discovered a fondness for working among the stacks. University Librarian Dr. George Gaumond said Bernstein is an effective and caring supervisor who brings flexible, imaginative services to library patrons.

“Alan creates a positive working atmosphere that results in a greater productivity from all employees,” said Gaumond, who has worked with Bernstein for the past 20 years. “He is committed to delivering not just ‘good’ service, but the ‘best’ service. Alan’s career is entwined with the library. His educational pursuits were both self-fulfilling and self-improvement for library management.”

Growing up in a house with little television and political conversations at dinner, Bernstein has built a life enhanced by the wealth of knowledge that accumulates from reading. His adoration of books coupled with his friendly demeanor suits him as he interacts with library users.

“There is nothing more satisfying to me than assisting a student in research or helping a professor find materials for class. I love working with people and being a resource for them as they explore knowledge,” Bernstein said.

Odum Library served as the backdrop for his 130-page dissertation, “The Nether World of Academic Librarians: Issues of Classification, Educative Mission, and Sense of Place.” Bernstein explored the various classifications of university librarians -- whether they are considered faculty or staff -- and whether job title impacted job satisfaction. He concluded classification did not have a significant impact on job satisfaction among librarians surveyed.

“Most librarians do what they do because they love it, and they are often so removed from the rest of the campus that distinctions don’t matter to them as much,” said Bernstein, who enjoys reading non-fiction -- particularly historical and political texts. “People respect librarians because they help them locate essential materials, regardless of how they are classified.”

Bernstein still isn’t quite sure how he managed to juggle work, school and life’s unexpected bumps -- including his mom’s broken hip. He credits the organization skills he gained working at the library as the reason he knew “where his keys were in the morning.” Bernstein said simple tasks, like yard work and other house projects, have moved up on his to-do list now that he is not spending free time formatting pages in APA and preparing for class.

“I am definitely ready for a break. My wife and I plan to travel -- we are spending a week in New Orleans as a post-graduation celebration. I couldn’t have done this without her support,” said Bernstein, who is married to Library Archivist Deborah Davis, whom he first met when they were both undergraduates at VSU in the 1980s.

The self-proclaimed learning junkie said that even though the university has grown in size and scope during his five-degree marathon, the atmosphere has remained one of personal attention. He credits the support of his colleagues, University System of Georgia’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), and VSU’s student-centered approach for his commitment to furthering his education.

“When I was an undergraduate, Valdosta College had 4,000 students and all of us were great friends with our professors. VSU may be three times as big now, but the collegiality hasn’t changed a bit,” Bernstein said. “The campus still has the same atmosphere, with students close to their professors, like we are one big family. Who doesn’t want to continue to be a part of that?”