The Daniels Faculty's Eberhard Zeidler Library is an essential resource for students, faculty, and staff. For the past 19 years, the person responsible for managing the library and building its collection of architecture, landscape, and design research materials has been librarian Irene Puchalski.
In fall, when Daniels students begin their slow return to the Daniels Building, the library's books and periodicals will still be there, but something will be missing: Puchalski herself. She retired on June 30.
Retiring during a pandemic was not her intention. "When I made my decision, it was pre-pandemic," she says. "I was in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa in March when all of this was happening." Once COVID-19 is under control, she hopes to resume her travels.
Puchalski was known among her employees at the Eberhard Zeidler Library for her collaborative leadership style and her deft hand at assembling the library's subject-specific collection. "She worked really hard on building that collection," says Lisa Doherty, a library technician who joined the Faculty around the same time as Puchalski and reported to her for 19 years. "She was very particular about what she chose. I think that benefitted students greatly. She wouldn't stick to just one distributor. We would go everywhere and anywhere for what we needed."
Faculty members appreciated Puchalski for her devotion to helping enrich the learning experience at Daniels. Among her student-focused initiatives was a pilot project in which first-year undergraduates received information-literacy training. "She was extremely supportive of my courses," says lecturer Hans Ibelings. "She took the initiative to organize library tours so that students would see how the library was organized and what they could find there. I thought it was really marvellous that she was helping me get my students better prepared for doing their research. She was always extremely generous in that sense."
Faculty members also benefitted from her subject expertise. "Working with Irene has been one of the great joys of my time at the Faculty," says associate professor Jane Wolff. "I've really appreciated her guidance when I've needed to find things for my own research. She has a deep knowledge of resources and how to find them, and a deep knowledge of our field, which has made her a fantastic guide and colleague."
For Puchalski, joining the Daniels Faculty in 2001 was the culmination of decades of previous work and research in the fields of art, architecture, and librarianship. Her first undergraduate degree was a DEC in architectural technology from Vanier College, in Montreal. Soon afterward, she earned a BA in art history and a Master of Library Science from McGill.
Her first professional library job was related to architecture: the same year she received her MLS degree, she began working as a bibliographic searcher and coordinator for Montreal's Canadian Centre for Architecture. "That really sealed the deal," she says. "I wanted to pursue architecture and art history, if I could, as a librarian." She deepened her subject expertise by earning a second master's degree, in art and architectural history, from Concordia University.
After more than a decade working at Concordia University, where she was a reference librarian specializing in fine arts, Puchalski moved to Toronto. She worked briefly in reference positions at the CBC, the University of Toronto Mississauga, and the Ontario College of Art and Design before taking what would turn out to be her last job, at the Daniels Faculty.
Puchalski served under three different deans (Larry Wayne Richards, George Baird, and Richard Sommer) and saw the Faculty through many changes, including the shift to all-graduate academic programs in the early 2000s and the Faculty's rapid expansion in 2012, when it repatriated the Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies program from the Faculty of Arts and Science.
Puchalski was also instrumental in one of the most significant events in the Daniels Faculty's history: the move from the Faculty's former building, on College Street, to its current building, at One Spadina Crescent. As librarian, she was in charge planning the process of moving the library's thousands of research materials from one building to the other. "Never in my career did I ever plan to be moving a library," Puchalski says. "That was just something that happened, and I had to rise to the occasion. We all survived intact."
Now, reflecting on her career at Daniels, she says one of the things she enjoyed most about her job was serving a tight-knit academic community. "It was very dynamic," she says. "It was inspirational. Students are idealists. I absorbed all their wonderful energy. It was a very positive environment, and it was an environment where I grew and continued to learn."