Longtime Employees: Meet Lily Hernandez, the Library’s 40-Year Vet

Staff of the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library at Columbia University Irving Medical Center stand at the Information Desk.
Anna Getselman, center, executive director of the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library, with longtime library assistant Lily Hernandez (to her left), and other members of the library's staff. (Credit: Michael DiVito)

The world has transitioned from analog to digital, and much about libraries has changed.  Such is the case with the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library, which serves all four schools at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Spaces that were filled with book stacks a generation ago are now study areas and event space. 

One constant since 1979, however, is the person at the front desk: Lily Hernandez.

Hernandez started at Columbia as an assistant manager of the coffee shop in the William Black Building. She learned of a research assistant position, and after grant funding for that job ran out, she was hired for the library position she has held for 40 years. 

Hernandez has seen so much change over the years. When she started, papers were written on typewriters that were housed in a dedicated room. “You put a quarter in for half an hour and you could type,” she recalls.

She remembers when computers arrived at the library in 1982. That was a seismic shift. “We had to go for training. And we had to barcode all the books,” she says.

Hernandez is the longest-serving member on a staff of about 20. Two other employees have been with the library for more than 30 years, and several more have worked there for more than 20.

Hernandez, who lives in the neighborhood, has remained at the medical center for so long in part because of Columbia’s excellent benefits. And then, there’s the relationship with her colleagues and the students.

“You’re always doing something different,” Hernandez says. “Even though you’re in the same place, you’re interacting with everyone and there’s something new. That’s what I like about it.”

Anna Getselman, the library’s executive director, said Hernandez is “the face of the library,” adding: “She’s seen it all. She carries this institution’s memory.”

Keep an eye out for future profiles of long-serving employees—and read about an employee who has been here for 44 years.