Barbara Davis, Kathy Proffit, Barbara Quinn, Claudine Burnett

How I Became A Librarian

I grew up in an Iowa town of 800 people who were all Catholic (except for two people) and attended the local Catholic school that housed the elementary grades and high school in the same building. There were 18 students in my senior class with some of them coming from the surrounding smaller farming communities. The youngest of four children, I was encouraged to graduate from college (both sisters married before they completed college and my brother did the same.) Having spent much of my youth in 4-H Clubs (cooking and nutrition, home décor, and sewing) I followed the footsteps of my sister Kate and majored in Home Economics in college, graduating from the College of St. Benedict, St Joseph, MN, in 1962. During my last year of college, my Mom died, so I was intent upon staying with my Dad. It took one summer for me to see the old daughters ( who stayed and cared for their parents) walking past my house to the post office at the same time each day and realize my staying would not help my Dad in the long run nor me. But my teaching credential was from the state of Minnesota and I now lived in Iowa; I decided to return to school and obtain my Iowa teaching credential while adding minors in art and literature. I planned to visit my dad on weekends and I did until a girl friend entered the picture.

When that year ended, I applied for jobs in Iowa with credential in hand. I taught Home Economics and English for two years in West Branch, Iowa (Herbert Hoover Presidential Library). If I could get 2 years of teaching experience, I could apply to teach overseas and do some traveling. Halfway through my second year my teaching career was cut short due to problems with my vocal apparatus. I had what I needed, but it was a strain and it was suggested that teaching was probably not a good profession for me to follow. Great! What to do? I was literally saved by the bell by my cousin (an Army chaplain on his way to Viet Nam) who asked me to stay with my Aunt at Fort Benning, Georgia, and help her relocate. We stayed for six months and traveled throughout the East coast. One of her friends was located at the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama where she worked at the library. While visiting the library, the friend suggested library school for me and jokingly said,” if you can type you can be a librarian” and you don’t need to talk. Although I loved book s (remember my tiny school had an even smaller library and most of the books provided lives of the saints and fairy tales and the town had no library then) , I realized library work must involve more than stamping due date cards and re-shelving books. My liberal arts background was a perfect base. I had also been advised to move to a dry climate, so I hunted for accredited library schools in dry climates and applied. I settled in Denton, Texas, home of Texas Woman’s University and the worst down pours I had ever experienced. In 1967 I received my MLS, thoroughly pleased with my newly acquired knowledge even though I had very little practical experience in library work. I loved Government Publications and thought I would become a Special Librarian rather than a public librarian.

Working in an Army Library

I was determined to work overseas and applied for Special Services, a Department of the Army program that provided service clubs and libraries for the servicemen and their families (part of Morale, Welfare, and Recreation). Most of the post libraries were like small branch libraries. I would be a DAC (Department of the Army Civilian) and I would wear a uniform representing Special Services- complete with hat, purse, and raincoat. I was not in the Army, but I would live in BOQ quarters and receive the rank equal to a second lieutenant. Luckily, I was hired and found Germany my home from 1967 through 1969. I was the librarian for a post library ordering books that I would never see arrive and giving programs to the servicemen to get them into the libraries. The funding for the libraries was on a wait and see basis, so an order for books always had to be ready in case it needed to be sent tomorrow. McNaughton plan books provided the majority of current popular reading and these boxes arrived monthly. I could handle these orders. But then there were the programs. Although I am really an introvert, I was determined to make these programs work. At that time “Playboy” magazine carried an ad featuring a good looking librarian sitting on the edge of a desk smoking a tiparillo with the lure, “Should a gentleman offer a librarian a tiparillo?” I hung some of these ads on my desk, smoked the tiny cigar, and gave my spiel about the benefits of libraries with my face the color of an overripe tomato. I was totally out of my comfort zone but I would say “Mission Accomplished”. Because the Army Post hosted a Headquarters Company, the regular serviceman was a college graduate who was doing “catch-up” reading (Will Durant’s History of Civilization series, for example) and enjoying his stay in Germany. There was no problem getting them to use the library. Thank God for my friend, Nora, also a DAC with library experience, who gave me invaluable guidance on how to run the library.

After one year, I was promoted and found myself overseeing two libraries. The caliber of servicemen was not the same at these Army posts, so I changed tactics on trying to get the solders into the libraries. I sent out fliers saying “Truckies don’t read”; “Signal men only read signals”, etc. This was during library week and I had record numbers of people in the libraries with each providing a hatch mark for the various companies. I am not sure any of them checked a book out or if they ever returned. One of the libraries was a very small library that was mostly manned by a young girl who basically stamped library cards and re-shelved books- or so I thought. I would check her work when I came, but spent most of my time in an office across the way. I worked the library when she was on vacation and found that she had placed the most recent cards under the due dates, but stuffed six months of cards into the back of the drawer under some uninviting papers. Things were definitely in chaos. I had to go to the attending Colonel and tell him the library needed to be closed so I could hire a new person. When he heard my tale, he told me something that remains with me to this day. “Ma’am, you don’t run a library from an office away from the job”.

In 1969 my husband and I married at the Ludwigsburg Palace Chapel in Ludwigsburg, Germany, with about 60 library friends and relatives in attendance. We took a “European out” and traveled in Europe, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, and Egypt before coming back to Seal Beach, California. (My husband had been drafted and was due back in November to work at McDonald Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach).

Joining Long Beach Public Library

Jim Jackson

In 1970 I was hired by the Long Beach Public Library to work in the Science and Industry Department. This department included government publications, directories, business and all of the sciences and I think some of the social sciences. Jim Jackson was the department head who guided me through the first months on the job, showing outstanding patience and sharing his wealth of knowledge about the department. He always had a smile and was eager to answer any questions that arose. I was overwhelmed to say the least. The card catalog was intimidating as it occupied drawer after drawer on both sides of the entry hall to the library. He taught me well and helped me adjust to both the patrons and the subject matter. One of my jobs was to keep the Vertical File growing and going. These were file cabinets with folders alphabetically arranged by subject that included pamphlets, newspaper clippings, and any other information that would help answer a reference question. (How to build a pallapa). For some reason this appealed to me and I spent a lot of time going through the files. Betty Klink also aided me with her acute business knowledge. She painlessly answered my questions and pointed out why I should use this item to answer this question and that item to answer another one. She liked to wink and always had a smile on her face. She was outstanding with the business resources in the library.

Betty (?) was the lady in charge of the directories. There was an entire section of telephone books and business directories. When Betty went to lunch or in the evenings, the Science Department manned the directory desk. Without fail, the science desk would get busy at the same time. As a new Californian, I remember being asked for a telephone number in La Jolla. I had no idea how to spell it, so I had to ask and the reply was, “Well, a good Californian would spell it La Jolla.” I thanked him and said I was on my way to becoming a good California.

Sheila Ritzman(?) was in charge of Government Publications at that time and she helped me both on the reference desk and in the Government Publications section. Doris Kaltenbaugh was the clerk for the Government Publications Section. She checked in the documents, put them in their places, and handled them many times so she knew them better than most of us. She saved me many times by being able to give me a SUDOC number out of her head or take me to a location where I would find what I needed.

I worked with George McAvoy and various substitutes. We were a cohesive group.

Elizabeth Baty & Diane Erdelyi

Working with the other librarians on the first floor was also intimidating. They seemed to know everything and were always cheerful. Kathy Proffit and Diane Erdelyi were especially thoughtful and lively. I think my early days brought gray hair to Helene Silver, head of the Literature Department, as I tried to figure my way through the card catalog and which subjects were covered where. She helped me mind my business and pay attention. Elizabeth Baty was always helpful.

I took a leave of absence in 1971 and accompanied my husband to the East coast where he worked for Mc Donald Douglas for three months. When I returned, Susan Parker had filled my position and I was offered the Government Publications section. I remember feeling anxious, but I took the job and continued to benefit from Doris’ knowledge and a page by the name of Connie Hernandez . They helped raise my comfort level with the documents and without them, I would have struggled. New people were added to the department ( I think Charles Vestal was one) and I found myself training them as I had been trained.

Library Fire

Library on fire

In early July 1972, I received a phone call at home from Jim Jackson. He told me there had been a fire at the library that was set on the lower level where the Long Beach Collection was housed. There was extensive damage to the library, but we would all come to work (in work clothes) and start the recovery process. Soot and ash covered much of the Science Department and the Government Publications areas as they were located above the source of the fire. I still have photos that were under plastic on my desk that show the smoke damage. Everything needed to be wiped down, discarded or set aside for repair. The whole library group was involved and we worked full days to get the materials in some cleaner state so they could be moved. Everyone was tired, feeling a bit nauseous from the fumes. Men and women alike compared notes and commiserated with each other. I had these symptoms, too, and ignored them until it dawned on me maybe I should have a check up with my doctor. I did and found I had an additional reason for the tiredness and nausea as I was pregnant and the baby would be due in March!

Moving to Atherton

Catalog Department packs for move to Atherton. – Charlotte Fox, Judson Voyles, Ruth LaFond, Grace Bentley, ?, George McAvoy

The fire damage was severe and a new library would be built. That meant the entire contents of the library would have to be moved to an interim site as the new building would be at the location of the old building. I recall Jim Jackson studying how to move a library. At that time, no library moving company arranged it. If there were any companies that focused on this, they were extremely expensive. So Jim came up with a plan to use library book trucks. Materials could be taken off the shelves in order and placed on to the trucks, making it easy to re-shelve everything — in theory. In reality, book trucks with crooked wheels overturned throwing order to the wind. Some refused to go in straight lines. Each person’s understanding of placing the materials “in order” differed, so sometimes the sequence was off. Book trucks from all the branches arrived and once again we were handling the materials for the move to the building vacated by Pacific Bell on Atherton Street near the “circle”. Moving day arrived and now we would all be at the new location. The building was large and there were few partitions. I recall the Children’s Department and the Science Department shared a row of book shelves, with reference materials for kids on one side and reference materials for science on the other side. The reference desks were relatively close together. Sometimes we could offer answers to the other department without leaving our chairs. I remember working with Patty Kennedy Gianulus who brought life to the department.

All that remains of old Atherton…3/28/2018

The Government Publications Section was on the other side of the building. So patrons would be sent on their way, hopefully ending where they wanted to go. It was a bit chaotic, but in time it worked out.

As the months crept forward, I was nearing the March date my baby was due. The hospital was around the traffic circle and up the hill, closer than if I stayed at my home in Seal Beach. I worked until the day before my son was born on March 8, 1973. I do not recall how long the library was at this location (editor’s note-until April 1977). I was busy with motherhood and all it involves. After six months, I did return to work in the Science and Industry Department and Government Publications. In July 1975, our daughter was born. The move back to the new building must have happened during this time as I have no recollection of it.

There were many fun times for lunches and Christmas parties. Barbara Davis held an awesome Christmas party where she displayed the collection of snow globes her family shared for years. She knitted two Christmas stockings for my kids. My daughter still uses hers as it expands and holds more than regular stockings.

With each new announcement of available jobs, we librarians would chat over lunch and discuss the positions that were open and who would fill them. It was often just a guessing game but sometimes we were spot on.

Vince Galante (on left) at Atherton Main

I remember Pat Del Mar and the film section, Vince Galante in periodicals and ??? a librarian who had been in Lebanon. Nancy (?) from the Art Department loved England and traveled there often. Mary Pearson was the head of the Art Department and her knowledge was impressive. All of these people and many whose names have escaped me played an important part of my library world at this time. I was impressed with their desire to travel and their use of library materials to help the journeys go smoothly.

Barbara Davis and Claudine Burnett also worked in the Science and Industry Department but I am fussy on the time frame. I remember training them both and trying to help them through those first days of any new job when one says, “Why did I do this?” I was especially impressed with Claudine. She had worked in many departments of the library and she was so young! She brought her knowledge from these various departments to her new position and it added a broader depth to the job. I remember the day she appeared at work before she was due for a major health concern. She was busy wrapping up details for her projects as if this were her top priority.

I became a substitute librarian for the library in 1977 where I worked in the Science and Art Departments of the new building as well as some of the branches. I continued until 1979 when I resigned because we had moved to the San Diego area.

Raising a Family, Becoming a Librarian in San Diego

My library career took the shape of a volunteer when my kids were in elementary school and high school. Librarians were really happy to have someone who could do more than re-shelve books.

With both kids in college, I started thinking about returning to the library. In 1995, I became a substitute librarian (Sundays only) for the San Diego Public Library. Computers were now everywhere in the libraries and I had quite a job relearning everything. I remember going to the Science and Technology Department with their row after row of reference books I had studied in library school. We had to handle thousands of reference books and determine why we would use this book rather than that one and what specialty each book had. I was going to be able to put my knowledge to work. As time marched on I became trained in all of the departments of the library except the Children’s Department and working 30 plus hours a week was not unusual.

In 1996, I was hired by the Serra Cooperative Library System’s. “Serra” was a network of public libraries in the southern California counties of Imperial and San Diego. Their goal was collaboratively working with each other to provide materials and shared services when possible. Serra Research Center was the go to place if a question needed further investigation, more time to explore, or required more resources for the librarian to complete a question. (Were elastic suspenders invented at the time of the Civil War?) The librarian would submit a reference question that would be researched and answered by the Serra staff. I worked twenty hours for Serra and often did substituting for SDPL while I was in the building. The combination worked wonders for my career as I became familiar with so many more resources than I would have if I were in one department only. I finally found where I belonged in the library. The hunt for an answer was challenging and I felt like a detective searching every nook and cranny. Serra was located in the basement of the old SDPL building where all the treasures were kept. I could explore, browse, and find treasures that answered questions.

Time marched on and the Internet became a major resource in libraries. I recall my son asking if I had ever heard of “Google;” it is really cool, he said. The Internet helped tremendously during these years as it tied resources together and provided new avenues to search much more quickly. The Internet also led people to do their own searching and with more and more information available on the net, the questions tapered off. Providing answers to difficult reference questions had been an important part of Serra, but the need was being met, in many cases, by the Internet. Costs for the library systems were increasing so many of them combined or disbanded The Serra Board of Directors decided to use the services of the Metropolitan Cooperative Library System based in Los Angeles and closed Serra’s doors in San Diego in 2011. My career came to a halt and I retired from working in libraries at that time.

My library career has been so rewarding and I realize the benefits I received from the different jobs I held. Library workers are some of the best people in the world. They seem to absorb knowledge from their surroundings and seek things out of the ordinary. They are focused and appreciate the values offered in life.