This article originally appeared in the Summer 2019 edition of Centrepiece, the College alumni magazine.
Director of Doherty Library
Years at Centre: 1977-2019
Education: B.A., English, Berea College; M.A., English, M.L.S., University of Kentucky
Family: wife Donna Campbell; son Ian Campbell ’05
For a bookish kid growing up in an industrial town in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the local branch of the public library was a perfect place for me. It was a wonderful, Carnegie-style building—a place of pure imagination—and I would wander around the stacks and browse and read whatever I came across on summer afternoons. It was there I discovered Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, Roald Dahl, Arthur Clarke, and a long list of other writers.
I consider what I do a calling, and after all these years, I am still idealistic about it. Libraries of all shapes and sizes, both public and academic, are stocked full of books and texts of one sort or another that might and will offend someone. That’s why totalitarians burn books and attempt to suppress ideas and, by extension, the free press. Intellectual freedom, after all, is a beautiful and frightening thing.
I got into library work because a wonderful professor suggested that I might be an effective reference librarian. The advice was appealing since my interests were fairly wide, ranging from general literature, history, film (in particular, genre movies), blues and jazz, obscure cult writers, directors, actors, and all kinds of slightly eccentric subjects. I was a little bit obsessive about it all. Also, the idea of assisting students and faculty with research projects was appealing and seemed like a way to make use of my interests and modest talents. I had no notion of becoming an administrator. That came later.
I was lucky to enter the profession when library automation was just beginning.
Thirty years ago, I was part of an Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and University libraries project that changed how we provided access to information for students and faculty in a profound way. After a feasibility study showed there was little overlap among the collections of the 20 independent academic libraries in Kentucky, we procured grants that allowed us jointly to convert all of our card-catalog records to machine-readable form—the first step toward full automation for the libraries. That sounds very dry, but our project fundamentally changed how our students and faculty pursue research to the present day. I think it cost $1.5 million, a fair amount of money in the late 1980s.
For Centre’s bicentennial, my colleague Beth Morgan ’01 and I put together an exhibit of archival photographs. It is not perfect since the photographic record of the College is not complete, but overall the exhibit turned out well. I think many of the images are beautiful.
Over the past decade, with the support of Dean Stephanie Fabritius, I was able to bring a series of important writers to campus through the Humana-Doherty Library Speaker Series. It was a pleasure to work with such major writers as Elizabeth Strout, Jane Smiley, Silas House and Wendell Berry, among others.
I have also had the opportunity here at Centre to work with students in the theater. That was always challenging and interesting.
If I could go back and somehow tell my younger self something, I would quote a few lines from the poet Miller Williams:
“Have compassion for everyone you meet, even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit, bad manners or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.”
I understand what he is saying, but it is difficult to put into practice, isn’t it?
by Stan Campbell