You Work Where? Making a Difference for First Responders:  Meet Ed Metz, Library Program Manager at the National Emergency Training Center Library

By Caitlin Williams

Chances are good that you’re acquainted with FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency). And, it’s likely you’re well aware of the important work of firefighters and EMS personnel who respond to our emergencies each day.  But, you may not be aware of one of the key resources that supports, trains, and educates these professionals – the National Emergency Training Center – and its’ library, both located in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Operated by the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), the library provides information and resources on fire, emergency management and other all-hazards subjects. I wasn’t aware of this important resource, and in particular, its’ library until I had the opportunity to interview Ed Metz, Library Program Manager of the library there.

Ed’s work is incredibly varied.  As you’ll see in this interview, Ed’s commitment to librarianship is clear.  So is his commitment to adding value and making a difference to his organization and the people he serves.  Read on to learn more about the many different ways that Ed has used his LIS background and skills.

Caitlin:  I know you have experience in a number of different settings.  Could you share more about your background and career path?   

Ed:  I went into the Army after college (I got my college paid for through ROTC). My undergraduate degree is in Political science major with a German minor.  While I was in the military I did something that was akin to getting an undergraduate degree in French.  I went to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California and did a 6-month immersion training in French language, so I’ve got that background also.  

At a certain point I had spent a lot of time in Germany.  I got really involved and interested in the language and culture there and imagined that maybe I’d like to teach German or something along those lines at some time.  I wasn’t really sure.

After I left the Army, I went to graduate school   I spent a lot of time in libraries and thought that it would be a neat place to work in, too.  I talked to a lot of librarians at the time and I thought it was a great career path that they had chosen.  And so, I thought I would give that a try.  I had finished my master’s degree in German, and I thought I would switch gears and go to library school and I haven’t looked back since.

I somehow always imagined I’d go into academic libraries; but to my astonishment, there was a position opening with the Command and General Staff College Library – it is an Army library – and I found myself back in the Army, three or four years after I left, but this time as a civilian librarian.  I worked at a great library there, where I cut my teeth – doing a lot of different jobs.

I started out with Reference – one of the best jobs I ever had.  I really loved that.  I just followed opportunities after that.  I always had a love for learning and so I wasn’t at all put off by moving into positions that would open in areas that I never had considered before, like acquisitions.

Acquisitions was my next stopping point.   I looked up to the librarian who was, at the time, in that position.  I thought he had his finger on the life-blood of the library and he knew what was going on in some way or form.  

The acquisitions world in the federal government sphere has a lot of layers to it.  It was a good way to learn about government contracting; and the experiences I learned there carried over well into my current role where I have to make a lot of decisions on budgeting, and have to be responsible for setting up all kinds of contracts, myself, with the federal government acquisitions professionals.

Not long after that – about a year and a half –  there was an opening for a systems librarian; and I had taken some courses in college, basic web stuff.   I was never thinking of myself as a systems person.  But I think I showed my boss at the time that I would be the type of person who could dive into it and learn things and institute some needed changes within the library.

This was still at the Fort Leavenworth Command and General Staff College Library (now called the Ike Skelton Library – named after a well-known Congressman).  It is a master’s degree granting institution and it serves mid-career Army officers – up and comers in the Army.

So, I moved on to systems and I also did reference, copyrights, acquisitions and also did some dabbling with cataloguing.  I did a lot of different things there.  It was a great schoolhouse for learning about the craft of librarianship.

They had a great leader there at the time, Ed Burgess, who is very progressive – very into providing new ways of adding value to the academic enterprise.

Caitlin:  It’s great to have a leader like that!

Ed:  Yes, it is.  He had a good knack for recognizing people who were doers and giving them the latitude to make things happen.  It’s great to have a leader who is forward thinking, who thinks outside the box and tries new things and doesn’t accept that the way things were done in the past are necessarily the way they have to be done in the future.   

Caitlin: After you worked for some years in various positions at the library at Fort Leavenworth, what did you do?

Ed:  I was looking for more responsibilities and challenges.  I thought I wanted to come out East – there’s a lot of job opportunities in the Federal government back east.  And this unique opportunity came open at the National Emergency Training Center to run their library.

It was a good fit for me. It’s a smaller library, 11 staff when I took over in the summer of 2008. And so, it’s the kind of job where you have your fingers in everything, obviously.  I had all the ILS responsibilities as a big part of it.  I was responsible for everything, being the Director here. The acquisitions piece, where I could contribute to every area and every phase of it.  

The library needed to go through a transition – I didn’t realize at the time just how much!  And we’ve been transitioning ever since. It’s been good.  I think I’ve made some positive impact during my time here – helping it make that transition, trying to move the library from being focused just on building collections, which it was at the time, to building services.  And we continue to do that.

One of the biggest challenges is trying to change the way people look at the library here, on this campus from being synonymous with bookshelves to being more synonymous with service – as a place you go to for help in solving your research needs.

Caitlin:  Do you have people coming in to do academic research there?

Ed: Before 9/11 the campus was open to the public.  But since then, it changed everything.  Security has really been clamped down.  You have to be a student here on the campus.  Fire and emergency services leaders come to campus with their clearances and then they can pass through the gate and take the courses. We definitely collect a lot of academic titles.  We’re training, not so much academics, as we are assisting with supporting and training working professionals in the fire services, EMS sector.

Caitlin: You do so many different things.  Did you know at first that you were going to be a librarian?

Ed: No, I didn’t.  I have loved libraries from the time I can first remember.  My mom and my dad took me to the library.  I grew up in Oshkosh and they had a wonderful public library there and still do to this day.  I liked searching out the cool libraries on the Madison campus and spending my time studying there.  It wasn’t a huge jump.  But somehow the light didn’t go off until much later in life – when I started thinking: Hey, this might be someplace where I would enjoy working.

Caitlin: The work that you do now – it sounds like you still have your fingers in a lot of different areas.  How large is your staff there?  How many people report to you?  What are you involved in now?

Ed:  Like many libraries, we’re facing increasing costs and a flatline budget.  We’ve made some tough decisions in recent years.  I have four professional librarians on staff and four technicians and we’re open most days of the week and most weekends – whenever there are students on campus.  We cover a lot of territory with the eight staff.

As for what I’m involved in:  For one thing, I’m always interested in ways – in this budget environment – it’s always in the back of my mind – how do I demonstrate value to the people I work for?  I’m competing, obviously, with other very important activities – not strictly competing, but I always have to look for ways to show the value of the library.

For example – one of our power users on campus is the Executive Fire Officer Program – it is a 4-year program.  The students come in one-year intervals for two weeks each visit.  They produce a research paper after completing each of those four courses.  They are doing four papers over that four-year time period.

I did a citation analysis of the reference list they produce as part of their papers –  I was interested in questions like: what are they looking for and where are they drawing their source material from?  And I recognized years ago –and I sensed this intuitively – but I wanted to make a case for it – I found a distressing lack of references, comparatively speaking, from the large journal literature that is available to them.    The profession has a large body of literature that their peers are writing in – professional fire and EMS journals.  And it wasn’t being adequately drawn upon.

Incidentally, our catalogue is a little bit unique, in that we include – not just the typical format you’d expect to find in a library catalogue – but also, we catalogue down to the article level for journals. So, you can find citations to professional and scholarly articles in our catalogue.

We invest a lot of resources into making it happen, obviously.  I didn’t think it was being used a whole lot.  Fortunately, from the time I had these thoughts and had done some research and realized that this is an underutilized part of our effort (and it’s an important part), some like-minded people over in the academy were looking at revamping the first-year EFO class.

So, it was a meeting of minds.  It was part luck and part preparation.  We were able to get in on the ground floor of that revamping of the Executive Development class and stake out a place for the library.  So, we’ve been able, for a little over a year now, to get into the classroom for that first year and give an hour-plus presentation on scholarly articles, how to identify and evaluate sites, how to read them, and how they compare to the professional journals. We retooled one of the staff positions to be a research and instruction librarian, which we hadn’t had before.

I think that’s worked out very well for us.  I’ve spent almost a year collecting data – my initial sample size was about 25 to work with.  And I saw very good trends –  a 25% increase in the number of student papers quoting scholarly articles and I think it will continue to improve as we tweak the program.

We’re also now offering Wednesday evening and weekend classes for people who want to come and learn more about the research process, how to do APA citations, use our electronic databases, things that are tailored to your adult learner –sometimes they have to go back and revisit things they haven’t seen for 10 years or more.  So that’s one of the things I’m involved with – trying to build up and be more integrated into the academic/training life of the campus.  That’s one area where we’re trying to focus.  We’ve also had our first instance of an embedded librarian in an online course and I hope to see more of that in years to come.

Caitlin: I bet that this is something that’s perceived as meeting the needs of a number of students and that faculty were happy, too.

Ed:  They were particularly happy to see that we can measure that – it’s always easy start a new program – but you want to know if it is successful or not.  I hope I’m not deluding myself in thinking I’m correct in my approach to how we can measure progress.  And that it’s a success in reaching students.

It’s also a function of the program manager for that course having the wherewithal to change things for that course too.  Collectively, it’s safe to say that we see more instances of these quality journal articles appearing in bibliographies.  I think it’s a reflection of the renewed emphasis on that in the course.

It’s hard to overcome the proclivity of students to go with ‘what’s good enough’ that they can find at the moment on the Internet, rather than good, quality sources.

Caitlin:  What is the most interesting and challenging part of your work?

Ed:  For the interesting part, I just like looking for new ways to add value to the organization.  I wake up in the morning and think: what can I do to help make the organization better, or help carve out an even stronger niche for the library and the overall enterprise?  And that can be done in all kinds of venues.  In one part of my professional career, I can be focused on the technology and in another part, it can be something else entirely, but it’s always working to make the library a little bit more attuned to what the current needs are.

Let me explain.   Up until 2014, we were using an older library system.   We weren’t doing encoding using MARC.  It was kind of a home-grown citation and I just thought it wasn’t very efficient.  And so, I decided, no, we’re just going to go MARC.  And since the library world is moving toward RDA, we might as well go whole-hog and go all the way.  So, the planning for that occupied most of 2013, implementing it in 2014, and then perfecting it in 2015.  It’s really helped us streamline the cataloguing of journal articles and so much else in the library – we have a great interface now.

Right now, one of the things that is my current obsession is the research to practice idea.  Let me explain:  We get all these scholarly articles that come across my desk each month.  And I’m exploring: How can I make the story they’re telling (in the articles) into takeaways that highlight the articles; and how can I help disseminate them to the practitioners out there.  They don’t need to know all the nitty-gritty details.  But why not find some way to make them useful?  

So, I teamed up with someone on our web team (I’m on the USFA Web team).  She wanted to have a current events portal – a page where she could put new content from the fire community and emerging topics.  So, I thought I could distill the key takeaways from interesting scholarly articles and we could put that up there.  And it’s gone really well.

If I see an article that grabs my attention – I’ll put together a summary and take out the highlights and give some background to it, of course.  Then I’ll reach out to the author or the team of researchers and say: I saw your article and I think it’s something we’d like to highlight here at USFA.  Could you take a look at the summary?  Did I get it right?  Did I catch the right highlights?  Very often they are quite pleased with it.   Sometimes they’ll have some suggestions.  We take that, then, with their blessing and we put that up on the web, on our page.  It’s a way to add more value for what we’re paying for these journals, and it’s also getting some of this early knowledge – this early take on new ideas – into the minds of some of the practitioners out there.  And these practitioners will call us and ask to see the articles we’ve highlighted or ask questions about them.  

We’ve been doing that for about a year. One of them just got picked up by International Fire Chief magazine – It was really popular and got a lot of attention in the fire service.  We’re going to keep on that for a while and maybe some time in the future we’ll do that for the emergency management sector as well (right now we do a fire and EMS focus).  We’ll see what the future holds for that.  It’s not something we traditionally think of doing, but it’s a way we can add value to our cause.

Caitlin: How about the challenging side?

Ed: Being in FEMA, it’s a relatively small agency and when disaster strikes, pretty much everybody has to become an emergency manager full time.  It was particularly challenging with all the hurricanes – Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Maria.  And then the California wildfires – beginning in August, 2017 and going to the beginning of November, 2017, I had to pretty much put the library world on hold and I was spending 8, 10, 12 hours a day working the help line, taking calls from people in faraway places who had awful things happen to them; and trying to help and get them the help they needed.  They registered for assistance and needed help either for the process of putting in their application, or to find out what their status was – making them aware of resources, like where could they find a hotel, where could their family stay, when can an inspector come to their home, where can they go for food or clothing – questions of that kind.  For two months solid I did that.  

This isn’t that far removed, in a certain sense, from being a librarian.  It is a customer service thing – we are a customer service organization.  It’s in our lifeblood.  Disaster survivors come to us on the phone with an information need.  When I talked with them, I found myself doing a sort of reference interview.   They would call with what they thought was their need.  But I would figure out that they might need something else.  I would reframe it – I saw some real parallels there with what librarians do.  

I was able to do my job better that way from having that background.  Knowing how to find something for them.  I felt like I was able to find them answers by knowing how to find them things a little bit faster than someone who isn’t accustomed to that kind of work. But I was able to – being an old reference librarian.  It can be really satisfying.  It doesn’t solve all their problems, obviously, but it made some of their days a little easier.  So they could say: “Oh! this is what I need to do next.”  I would give them this list of things so they could be in the best position to get all the aid they might be eligible for.

Caitlin: What are you most passionate about?

Ed:  Telling the story of the library.  I am determined and passionate about making people understand that the library is more than just a collection of books on our shelves.  We have access to the story of the fire service, the emergency services – it’s a treasure house of these things but it’s also a treasure house in terms of expertise on how to navigate it in the form of the librarians who work here that collectively have so much experience.  We want the staff and students here at the library to recognize that we can be an active partner, not just a passive stop along the way between classes.

We can actively help them with their information problems.  We can help them find, evaluate, cite – what they need for their projects.  Not just for their courses, but when they are out working and they have a policy paper they have to write for the local government or for their organization.  We want to be a continuing resource for them.

Most of the calls we get are from graduates – they’re not currently here, but they have some affiliation with us and they ask if we can help them find what we can on a particular topic.

It’s that – making sure that the library, as it is exists today, is recognized, not just for its’ four walls and its’ bookshelves, but as a place of service and learning.

Caitlin: What do you see as the challenges for the field, itself, for library professionals, and in your sector?

Ed:  I think communication skills are the most important thing that students should be graduating with. Communications – in terms of being able to talk to one another, being able to get outside of our own little corners, cubby holes and niches of the library to communicate and collaborate.  The best work comes from close collaboration and integration.  Communicating (in writing and orally) what we do, and what we need to our parent organizations, whatever they are – and being able to take what we do in the library and put it in a language that our managers and superiors recognize as value is important.  And also communicating with our patrons, our customers – both orally and writing again – I really put a premium on getting in front of a group of people and talking to them about information literacy, being able to help them with whatever the niche is – whether it’s an academic, or an adult learning situation.

People are coming to us less and less for a certain type of reference – what they really need us for is to help them navigate, help them learn how to evaluate and find quality, not just whatever is expediently available out there.

I think we need to be able to write to the public.  By that I mean – everyone should be leaving school knowing how to write for the web.  Not all of us are going to have the ability or the inclination to do coding or manage a database.  But we should all be able to contribute to our web presence.  It’s really hard to come up with good web content – well-written web content that people understand.  That’s a skill.  You’re not born knowing how to do this.  It’s writing for a particular audience and presented online in a particular way.  It’s a challenge to connect with people via the web in a way that’s effective and engaging.  So, communication is key to our success – both orally and in writing.

Caitlin:  What advice do you have for students and those who are new to their field?

Ed:  I don’t think you should specialize too soon.  Before you devote a lot of your time and resources to specializing, you should become a good generalist first and get a good foundation.  I didn’t leave graduate school with a good generalist education in all the areas I wish I had.  I’ve been fortunate in my career path that I’ve been immersed in these different areas.

I think you can leave school with being – not an expert in them – but being conversant and comfortable in your own shoes with bibliographic description, with reference, with being familiar with how an integrated library system works.  I think it gives you a better window into what really matters in the library and how you can collaborate with colleagues who are specialists in these other areas – and you will become a specialist eventually, in something that you like.

But no matter what area you go into, being an effective communicator – both verbally and in writing –  should never be underestimated.  Some technologies can tend to disconnect us from other people.  Never underestimate the importance of picking up the phone rather than sending an email.  

Caitlin:  Looking at the future of your field, I know communication is really high in importance for you – is there anything else you think will be important to the future of your field?

Ed:  I think I would go back to the communication thing.  Obviously, the tech trend is going to continue, and it can only help to be more than a little bit of an expert in how to fashion technology, ourselves, in a way that helps the library. I don’t know how that works in practice, but if you can bring the tech skill and put that in the harness of the library, I think that is something that will be very much in demand.  What I said earlier…. You can have all this social media presence and a wonderful looking website.  But we still have to put content on there that is engaging.  It’s a skill that folks who aren’t technically inclined can gravitate towards.  The tech table is a big table and it doesn’t necessarily mean behind the scenes stuff.  It can be more about how to provide engaging content.  It takes imagination, creativity to pull that off effectively.  It’s a team effort to do that.  There’s definitely a place for communicators in that context.

Caitlin: It’s clear that you took advantage of opportunities and you’ve always been open to learning.  Are there other activities and initiatives you’ve been involved in?

Ed:  I was involved in an initiative related to civilian residential fire fatalities:  When I came here back in 2008, we had a contractor monitor the news media and keep track of how many people were reported having died in a home fire.  I went to my new boss and I said that we could do this ourselves by fashioning a simple (by our standards) Google Search to track home fire fatalities.  That was a way I was able show value to the organization and save some money on that. That can be a tough thing.  I still participate in that effort. I’m talking about preventable home fires here.  I write a report in the mornings on what news agencies have picked up regarding what fatal fires have been reported in the area in preventable home fires.  It’s not an official statistic.  We rely on other sources for that.  But there’s always a delay before that stuff filters up.  But what we do gives sort of a real-time feel for what’s happening across the country in terms of fatal fires.

I also did a lot of digital migration.  During my early years here, we had all these old pneumatic tapes. Some of it was pretty cool stuff. I didn’t think I could find a pneumatic tape player anymore but I worked with the Library of Congress – FEDLINK – we got some contracts to get selected ones migrated.  It was a year-long project.  This goes back to the mid 60’s.  Once the Civil Defense College closed, we inherited this real neat collection of civil defense films that went back to the ‘40s and ‘50s.  I spent years getting those migrated.

Caitlin: You took all of that and you were able to turn it into digital?

Ed:  Yes, we have them available on DVD and we have archival copies on storage disks.  We inherited their library so they had a lot of those studies from the civil defense people.

Caitlin:  What do you do in your off time?

Ed:  I have three young kids so I’m a soccer dad, and I’m an ice skating dad. My family is really into soccer – we watch it and we play it.   I’m on the go a lot.  I also like to do gardening.  

Caitlin:  Ed, thanks for sharing your incredibly diverse career path and all the fascinating things you’ve been involved in.  Thanks also for sharing what you do to stay balanced and energized in your life!

Ed:  You’re welcome.  It’s been a pleasure chatting with you, too!

To learn more, check out this link:

As you read through this interview, did you notice how Ed has taken advantage of learning opportunities throughout his career?  And how he continues to pay attention to adding value and finding ways to be an active partner with those he serves?  The other skill that I noticed as I reflected on this interview is Ed’s ongoing efforts to improve the services and programs that his library offers.  These are all hallmarks of an engaged and forward-looking professional.  If you wish to become even more engaged and forward looking in your own career, here are some questions that may help:

Consider your current position (or one you would like to take on if you’re still in school):  


  • Have you identified potential ways you can add to or improve the services and programs you or your organization offers?  
  • In what ways do you consistently seek out new learning opportunities?  
  • How can you add value to your organization?
  • How do you “tell the story” of your library’s resources to those you serve?