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Mary Zaccaria ‘11MLS

Patient Librarian, Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital

A Librarian with a “Fervent Love” for Helping Others

A lifelong love for books steered Mary Zaccaria ‘11MLS to St. John’s University’s graduate program in Library and Information Science. A desire to serve led  her to mentor those who use libraries as a resource for conquering mental illness.

Mary is the Patient Librarian at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Morris Plains, NJ. It is, she says, “a sizable facility,” with 450 patients and 1,700 employees. For the hospital's diverse patients, the library is a vital tool. Print and online resources inform patients about medical, legal and employment issues affecting their rehabilitation.

In some ways, Mary’s work is similar to that of other librarians. She has expanded the library’s collections and helps patrons to access information in print and online. At Greystone, she also is part of a clinical rehabilitation team that uses the arts, technology and physical education to prepare patients to return to stable, productive lives.

A Librarian and More

“It’s very rewarding,” said Mary. “In this environment, I’m much more than a librarian. I’m also a teacher and a clinician.” In fact, a teaching degree was one of the requirements for the position. “I spend a lot of time assisting patients with academic research,” she said.

One patient is completing an online master’s degree in business. Another is a medical doctor conducting research on recidivism and prison reform. There also is an established author writing a memoir about his battles with mental illness and racism.

Many patients entered the hospital voluntarily. Others were placed there — including those deemed “Krol/NGRI,” criminal defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity. “We’ve had lockdowns,” she said. “It was daunting at first, but now it’s just part of the day, along with announcements about events, webinars and guest speakers.”

Mary began her career as a teacher at the middle-school and university levels. A New Jersey native, she earned her bachelor’s degree at Montclair State University in 1986 and her master’s degree in education at William Patterson University in 1992. Mary later moved to Queens, NY, where she taught at a local middle school.

Challenging and Gratifying

Mary also enrolled in the doctoral English program at St. John’s. A graduate assistantship allowed her to become an instructor at the University. After moving back to New Jersey, she worked in a public library for five years while teaching the G.E.D. at Passaic County Community College in Paterson, NJ.  In 2005, she had her son, Michael, and started teaching in both elementary and public schools as a media specialist.

The change convinced her to switch from the doctoral to the MLS program. Towards the end of the program, Mary accepted a position as part-time director at a small public library. She earned the degree last May, five months before securing her position at Greystone.

While challenging, she said, working with the patients “is interesting and intrinsically rewarding.” In addition, employees share “a fervent belief in helping and educating the less fortunate — values I found in the MLS program and at St. John’s.”