By Heide AW Kaminski
Arts & Entertainment Editor
Nov. 9, 2009
Whether you need a quick fix of chocolate, or an extremely-hard-to-come-by journal article, you can get both right in the heart of Siena Heights - Sacred Heart Hall, that is, more precisely, the library. There sits, with a smile and endless supplies of candy as well as uncanny powers to get to even the most arcane article, Siena’s human cyber search engine: Melissa Sissen. You always find her with a passion for people and her job at heart.
Being a librarian was not her childhood dream. Little Melissa, educated by Dominican sisters right from the start, wanted to become a nun. “But then, one day, I realized that it was not my calling,” she said. Sissen is, by her own admission, quite ornery, and has since discovered the joy of motherhood and grand-motherhood, so her change of career idea might have been better for all of us. Sissen shared, “Believe it or not, I used to be quite quiet, but then I had children…”
Sissen graduated from Siena Heights University in 1977 with a double major in English and history and almost completed a double minor in art history and French as well. “By then I knew I wanted to be a librarian, don’t ask me why, and I felt that I needed a well-rounded education to be a good one,” she said.
After graduation from Siena, she worked in the Lenawee County History Museum in Adrian for a few years. Her next job was the scariest she ever had, she said. “I worked for a credit bureau at the front desk. Balancing the books was not that easy, as numbers aren’t my strong point.” She also got in trouble for doing what she does so extremely well: being nice to people in need. While this is one of the best assets for her job here at Siena, this did not work so well in the credit bureau. “People would come in and, especially around the holidays, they would be worried because they didn’t have any money. I would tell them, just pay five bucks for now and keep yourself out of trouble. My bosses didn’t like that too much. Most of these were good people haunted by some catastrophic circumstance in their lives.”
After that, Melissa Sissen worked at the art museum in Toledo for six years. Her boss, an unmarried female, wasn’t too fond of motherhood. “So, when I told her I was pregnant with my second child, she more or less indicated that there was ‘another’ option. That was completely unacceptable for me, and I left the job to stay home for a while.” Staying home, while great for the kids, did not pan out for too many years for Melissa. “When I realized that I had all of Big Bird’s lines memorized and always correctly predicted what he would say next, I knew that I had been staying home with the kids too long.”
Alas, her relationship with Siena Heights was rekindled, but this time as a faculty member in the role we all know and love her in: the librarian. “I do just about everything around here, except for acquisition and the director’s job.” Sissen also teaches FYE (First Year Experience) with a complementary module this winter, “A Look at the Holocaust Through the Eyes of Children,” as well as bibliographical instruction, in her words, “lovingly known as B.I.”
She calls the students her kids, and they are the main reason why she has been here so long and does not foresee her departure any time soon. “I see so much great potential here,” she said. Reading, in her opinion is far from dead. “It’s just bananas that young people don’t read, I really want to see more people in the library!”
One of her goals in life formed a few years ago when she started children’s story hour at SHU’s library. “I decided I wanted to read all the children’s books from A through Z. The problem that arose was that every time I was done reading all books that began with the letter A, more books came out beginning with A. So, here I am, still working my way through the letter A,” she grinned.
Even though Sissen has the personality of a sunny day, she does have some pet peeves. “What I would like to see improve here at Siena are the options for commuter students. They should be the first ones to be allowed to register, because they have families, jobs, driving time and gas money to consider when they compose their schedule,” she suggested. She would also like to see the Sage Union be open five days a week, rather than four and open earlier for an extra cup of coffee to start the day after the drive here. As far as Benicasa is concerned, Sissen said, “It’s more set up for dorm kids and it is a tad bit too expensive.” Another pet peeve, which she shares with a large population at Siena: the parking!
In general, another thing that vexes her is, “kids who are on summer vacation and say they’re bored!”
One of Sissen’s trademarks is the never empty candy dish on her desk.
“Here I apply the Mary Poppins philosophy: just a spoonful of sugar,” she said. “If you feed birds, first you throw the seeds at a safe distance and you don’t make any sudden moves to scare them. And as the birds get more comfortable with you, they are willing to come closer and finally they realize that I don’t bite! So the students see my candy dish and at first they come to get a piece of candy, then they stop to chat and when they realize that I don’t bite, they even ask me for help!”
After that, you can even go further, because Sissen also loves hugs!
On a personal note, Sissen is married and has three sons and one granddaughter. Her hobbies include reading (who would have guessed!), metal-smithing, jewelry making, embroidery and painting (“I want to be the Grandma Moses of Lenawee County!”). She likes to offer the proud results of her artistic efforts at craft shows (“My husband calls them crap shows,” she laughed). Melissa also has 13 years of classical piano in her background, so it comes as no surprise that her favorite music band is… Metallica.