The Library bids farewell to one of its greatest treasures
April 24, 2017
The Girl, the Library, and the Table
In the Beginning – Before I Came to Angelo State as a Student
Slightly more than 50 years ago, I recall my father talking about a conference table he and his brother were building at work for the new ASU Library; they worked at a custom woodworking shop in town. The table was in the shape of a capital A. The ‘A’ was in one type of wood, the other parts of the table were another type. Since I was only 10 or 11, you can imagine how much this bit of information did not register on my list of important things to know.
In 1971/1972, during my junior year at Lake View High School, a friend and I in an independent study class decided that we would go to the ASU Library to do our research. With the blessings of our teacher, we hopped into her car and drove to campus. We found a parking space, and the Library, and the front door. Barbara and I walked inside. We saw a large card catalog right in front of us. The circulation desk was off to our left, the reference desk was to the right of the catalog. There were two glassed-in rooms on either side, too. We looked at each other, decided we had no idea what to do next, and turned around and left the building. So much for our grand plans.
My Days as an ASU Student
In the fall of 1973 I became a student at Angelo State. What was it like on campus?
The $200 Carr Academic Scholarship I received as the salutatorian of my graduating class more than covered my tuition and most of my fees. Tuition was $4/semester credit hour (SCH). (During graduate school 5-6 years later tuition tripled – to $12/SCH!) We had “cattle call” registration days in the gym, when it was known as “the gym” not the Center for Human Performance. We carried cards from table to table, hoping the classes we wanted or needed were still open.
Racquetball, the favorite physical education class in the early 1970s, was so much in demand that I took archery and badminton. Let me tell you, a hard, fast game of badminton can be just as exhausting as racquetball. Archery? Not so much.
The campus looked similar to now, but different. For example, only one science building graced the campus, and it was called “the science building.” The Library was a small thing – with two floors above ground, not the current three. The University Center was also smaller than it is now. The tennis courts occupied the middle of the parking lot behind the Library. Cars could only be parked on the outside rows.
Meanwhile, the trees have gotten bigger, and they’ve multiplied! The large trees between the Academic and the Fine Arts buildings surprised me when I returned to campus in 1999. Being an art major during the 1970s I walked many miles between those two buildings, and there was nary a tree in sight except those closer to the Library and the University Center. The space seemed so wide open and the buildings so far apart. (I can say now they appear to have moved closer together.)
Doing “library research” entailed spending time at the card catalog, to find books, and various indexes to find articles. You used Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, Art Index, Music Index, and Essay and General Literature Index, among others, to find resources. I also vaguely recall using a huge, thick computer printout to see if the Library had the journals and the issues you uncovered in your forays in the indexes, although my memory could be faulty there and I’m remembering doing that at another library somewhere.
Joining the Ranks of the Library Student Assistants
In January, 1974, I joined the Library staff as a student assistant in the Reference/Government Documents area. Most of my memories about that time revolve around the people, especially the other student assistants, and my immediate supervisors. We had a great group of folks working in those days. I was the “loner” in reference. Unlike the students who worked in the circulation department who had others to hang out with, I did it all in my bailiwick. I processed the shipments of documents from the federal and state depositories. We only received items in paper, no electronics (DVDs), much less anything online, and nothing in microform, either. I filed new and revised pages into the loose-leaf binders of tax services such as Prentice-Hall and Commerce Clearing House, and replaced pocket parts in Vernon’s Revised Texas Statutes and several U.S. Code publications. And I re-shelved the books people used from the reference collection.
Inventory time during that period consisted of handling pages and pages of inventory lists from the property manager because everything – and I do mean “everything” – was on the list. Every table. Every chair. Every study carrel. Every catalog. Every piece of equipment. We worked in teams of two, with one person crawling around under the tables, because the property tags were underneath, calling out the numbers. We turned over every chair to check the numbers. One day another student and I worked on a list that included a table in the conference room. He got the key and in we went. Students did not have access to that room, so this was a big deal for us. We walked into a room dominated by a huge table in the shape of a capital ‘A’. I looked at that table; something about it seemed familiar. Then I recalled my father’s description from my childhood. “My father and uncle built this table!” I thought that was so cool.
At that time two young men worked the evening shifts and their duties involved re-shelving the books that were left out on the tables. Brett told me how Dan would re-shelve the documents when they were picking up the library materials before closing. He said Dan, who did not know the government documents classification numbers and how they worked, would just pick a container close to where he thought something would go and stuff it inside with the others. (Oh. My. God.) I told him to tell Dan not to do that – that they would essentially be lost until and unless I was shelf-reading those stacks. I said they should just put the documents on the table in the back and I would re-shelve them myself.
Before the time of security strips and gates, the Library had a checkpoint desk at the exit door, manned by student assistants. We were to check everyone’s bags and what they were carrying. One semester I had been going to the desk for my turn. About half-way through the semester Brett told me that Dan was also scheduled to work the desk at the same time. He would tarry going so I would get there first. He preferred not sitting at the desk. We never told our supervisors that we had been double-booked,
The time spent at that checkpoint led to one semester of everyone adding their thoughts to the daily calendar. Someone waxed poetic, ruminating on the facts of life and the serious issues of the day. Others? Not so thoughtful. At the end of the year we planned to keep that calendar for posterity’s sake. I think the reference librarian agreed to do so, but I haven’t any clue whether it was, or not.
And then there were the parties at the Reference Librarian’s home every semester. Mrs. Georgia Edwards would host all of the student assistants for a get-together, with many of those gatherings morphing into an evening of charades. (Yes, we played charades. Hilarity reigned.) Brett, a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, would always contribute several Conan Doyle titles to the effort. The rest of us knew when we were the lucky recipient of those slips of paper we could simply point to him and the team members would say in unison, “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventures of” and then we could concentrate on the rest of the book title. Another memorable effort consisted of a song title and, as Brett put it, team members who didn’t know anything other than raunchy names for a certain body part. He even got into the hall closet and we couldn’t guess the title. The song? “Behind Closed Doors.”
One spring, right after the semester ended, a small part in the air handlers broke which left the Library without air conditioning. In May. For two weeks! (The replacement part had to be special ordered from another state.) Within two or three days the Reference Room became too hot to work in. The desk and countertops were hot. The scissors and stapler were too hot to handle. The second floor could have been a steam bath. All we needed were some hot rocks and water to pour over them. I worked in the acquisitions area where we could open the back doors off the loading dock, with strategically placed box fans to pull in some air. No books were re-shelved. Mr. Joe Bill Lee, the University Librarian, went so far as to allow people to take chairs outside to the front porch to use the books. The student assistants would take our breaks together and leave in search of donuts and cold drinks … anything to get us out of the building for a while. By the second week all of the book trucks were filled with books that needed to be re-shelved. One of the guys organized us into teams of two. We worked for no more than 10-15 minutes at a time. Sweat poured down our faces and our backs, but everyone survived. That day in particular we left the building for colder climes and drinks!
My Year as a Full-Time Staff Member
After graduating in May of 1978, I spent one year as a full-time member, working in the reference and government documents area, as usual, but also in serials. That year I prepared the monthly bindery shipments. I’d pull the completed volumes of current issues from the area on the first floor and stack them on a long table in the Technical Services room. Then it was time to type bindery slips for each volume, using an IBM Selectric typewriter. My fingernails never looked as good as they did during bindery prep time. Typing on a typewriter really gets the blood flowing, which is good for your fingernails.
When we added new subscriptions I had to make a space for them in the current issues area of the first floor (now the Information Literacy corner). I became quite adept at using a straightened paper clip to push out the title slips and putting in another one until a spot had been made for the new title’s issues. This task involved some crawling around on the floor to get to some of those plastic label holders.
One of my tasks in serials involved choosing the binding colors for those new titles. We had a card file of each title and the binding color for each. We had to choose another color that would not be the same as a title before or after the title being added. Since I do not like the color orange, no new title added during 1978-1979 had orange as a color.
My Final Time at the ASU Library
I left ASU in August of 1979 to go to library school at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, swearing I would not be back to San Angelo. But, as ‘they’ say, “Never say never.” After twenty years and stints at West Texas State University (now WT A&M), St. Mary’s University Law Library (San Antonio), and Texas Tech University School of Law Library I returned to Angelo State University as Government Documents/Reference Librarian.
From my time as a student assistant at the ASU Library I have always had a soft spot for government publications and government information. Now my position allowed me to highlight the resources found in the Library in the federal and state depository collections. I had the document’s assistant catalog everything, which was a departure from the past practice of cataloging only selected items. I used the library’s newsletter to highlight the collections, as well, especially when I wrote annotated bibliographies on the topics of various Symposiums on American Values on campus. The topic of every Symposium could include government publications, with the possible exception of Humor in America. (The government did not publish much, if anything, on humor.)
I enjoyed creating displays that were located in glass tables in front of the reference desk. Some of my particular favorites included one on Army Ranger Sgt. Matthew Eversmann, a survivor of the 1993 Black Hawk Down incident in Mogadishu, Somalia, ones on Constitution Day every September, and Star Trek’s 40th anniversary in 2006. A veteran who viewed the first one came to the reference desk while I was there and asked who created the display. When I told him I did, he shook my hand and said it was the best he’d seen in a long time. The Star Trek display elicited all kinds of positive responses across campus. It seems there are quite a few Trekkers on campus, including myself, the Library’s Executive Director, and the cataloging librarian at the time. (And, yes, a government publication even appeared in the Star Trek display.)
Other highlights of the past 17½ years include the 2000-2001 period when the Library migrated from the NOTIS system to the Voyager system and the inspection of our depository operations at the same time. I served as the project coordinator of the first one and had to tell the GPO inspector that, yes, February 7 would be a good time to come, even though that was the day we stopped all operations on NOTIS and the migration moved into “high gear”.
So much has changed in the Library and its operations between 1973 and 2017. There is no card catalog now. We use RamCat to find books, government documents, media, streaming videos, and online journals. (“Streaming videos” and “online journals” were not even on anyone’s radar in 1973.) The service we call U-Search searches the majority of our databases, and RamCat, and in many of these we have access to the full text online. No more searching in a large printout, or even a card shelflist of titles) to see if the Library has the journals and the articles your search retrieved.
The first floor remodel in 2010 to create the Learning Commons is a big change. In 2011, shortly after reopening, one of our vendor representatives, an ASU graduate, came to meet with some of us. She sat out in the Commons with her mouth dropped open. She couldn’t believe the change!
I could go on and on, but it’s time to wrap this up with one last story. What about “the table”?
In the summer of 1999 I came to San Angelo for my job interview. During the staff meet and greet portion of the schedule we met in the conference room. I thought I would finally get to see the conference table one more time, except the room now had smaller 4x6 tables instead of that massive table in the shape of a capital ‘A’. Dr. Fortin began to tell me about the table and how they decided to remove it from the room because they needed a more flexible arrangement. Except the table was so big and they couldn’t take it apart. Men from the Physical Plant came and sawed it apart to get it out of the room. I said, “My father and uncle built that table.” People started to laugh and I turned to see Dr. Fortin pulling his suit coat up over his head. I thought, “Well, I won’t be offered this position. You don’t get a job offer if you embarrass the boss.” Thankfully, I was wrong.
Some things about the Library never change!