George: Moving with the electronic wave

How did you get started at the Libraries?

George Swan
George Swan

I learned to touch type in 1985. (I know: most people learned in high school; I didn’t pick it up until I was 35!)  With my new-found skill, I doubled my income and was working temp jobs on campus until late 1989. Then a permanent Senior Secretary position opened up in SBU (Subject Bibliography Unit) and I grabbed it!

What was the campus like then?

Many things were then as they are now, but significant aspects have changed. In 1990, you never saw anyone walking down the mall with their head glued to their cell phone! But I think the gardener the campus had through the 1980s already made his mark. There was significant effort put into land-care management through the 1980s and beyond. It’s amazing how tall the trees in front of Wilson have grown.

How have the Libraries changed over the years?

Physically and visibly, Y2K seemed to bring some significant upgrades and maintenance of the physical plant [with] the Walter Library renovation and the consolidation of archive units in Andersen and the caverns. The long arc of incorporating computers at first brought a decline in people visiting the Libraries, but over the last few years there seems to have been a steady increase in visits.

How did this change your work?

“I still revere the physical object; it will always hold some mysterious attraction for me.”

—George Swan

Soon after I started working at the libraries, the implementation of email brought the steady decline in phone calls and messages to selectors that had been channeled through my desk. Birth of the internet and web-based presentation of Libraries resources meant that at first my job of managing physical copies of libraries guides moved online. (Selectors were creating and editing on average two or three each.)

I remember creating the first web versions of those guides. Soon that big project was collected under web services, and I was free to devote my time to other projects. Creating camera-ready copies of books was an opportunity from which I learned quite a bit. That in turn diminished as selectors more and more could do their own typesetting and design.  Currently the focus of my work framed within larger centralized systems which are cloud based, setting up SUSHI accounts that track patrons’ online usage of resources, or running small queries against databases. The tasks and projects I do seem so easy and manageable now, and yet if I stop and think about it, I remember all the changes, growth and development of our larger systems from which I learned little tweaks to keep things running smoothly.

How did you and the Libraries adapt?

There was a lot of “going to the water cooler” to ask: “Who might know a solution to this problem?” None of us could sit at our desks and strictly follow orders and job descriptions.  We wouldn’t have adapted. We wouldn’t have survived. There is a level of faith, trust, and initiative at the Libraries that I appreciate, and that I wonder if it exists in other organizations.

What will you miss?

The New Books shelf in the front lobby. This isn’t as regressive as it sounds. I’ve come at last to a method of study that incorporates both the physical and the digital. The digital book is a wonderful and convenient means of distribution of information. At the same time, I still revere the physical object; it will always hold some mysterious attraction for me. And yet again, the digital process allows me to print out book chapters and articles in a format with wide margins where I can write notes and thoughts and lists (and draw pictures!) without damaging the original. But the New Books shelf is where I often start.

What are you most proud of?

I feel best about the fact that I ended up staying around for 30 years, making a daily contribution to the Libraries effort, and witnessing the transformation of the Libraries into an organization and resource that is different in many ways and quite the same in others. The Libraries continues to respond to patrons’ thirst for knowledge but has transformed the way it does so.

What was the favorite part of your job?

One of my favorite parts of my job was pushing my book cart down to shipping to get the mail and packages. I inherited that book cart from one of the selectors. The wheels don’t squeak, and I think they have mini shock springs on them. That cart has carried a lot of books, a lot of mail, and carries a lot of history.

What do you plan to do in retirement? 

I plan on doubling my time using the Libraries for my own personal research as well as doing some travel.

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