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Interview with Betty Sue Westbrook, July 9, 2002 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Betty Sue Westbrook, July 9, 2002
July 9, 2002
Ms. Betty Sue Westbrook, retired faculty member, discusses her career at Wilmington College and UNC-Wilmington as a librarian. She spent her library career as a cataloger. Ms. Westbrook began working at the college in 1965 and retired twenty years later. Topics discussed include: increasing library holdings to 50,000 volumes so that the library could be accredited as a 4-year college library; reclassification of the collection from Dewey Decimal system to Library of Congress system; and the important role and contributions of Helen Hagan, library director. She also discusses how William Madison Randall, college president and a librarian in an earlier career, was very important to the library.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Westbrook, Betty Sue Interviewer: Lack, Adina Date of Interview: 7/9/2002 Series: Voices of UNCW Length 41 minutes

Lack: Good afternoon. We’re here in the UNCW archives. My name is Adina Lack and I’m the archivist. I’m interviewing for our Voices of UNCW Oral History Program Miss Betty Sue Westbrook, whom we’re very pleased to have here. She’s the first person so far--we will do other librarians--but she’s the first person that I’ve interviewed for this project who has been a librarian here.

Lack: Well, first of all, where were you born and where did you grow up?

Westbrook: Well, I am one of the rare beings, I’m a native Wilmingtonian. I was born and reared in Wilmington, attended New Hanover High School and then did my undergraduate work at Duke University and taught for 15 years.

Lack: In high school?

Westbrook: Mostly in junior highs. I taught for a couple of years in Fredericksburg in the senior high in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and then I came here and taught in junior high. Fifteen years of teaching.

Lack: After that?

Westbrook: I went to library school at Florida State University in 1964, I believe it was. Before I graduated, I got a call from Dean Paul Reynolds who said he was looking for a cataloger here and was I interested. I hadn’t graduated. I had never thought of being a cataloger really. If you really want to know the truth, I really thought I was going back to be a school librarian.

At any rate, he came down to see me and talk to me. He was a very nice person. I was coming home for holidays. When I came home, I was interviewed by Miss Hagan. At some point, I was offered the job shortly before I graduated with the understanding that I would graduate. I accepted and I’ve never been sorry. I graduated like in May and I think I started possibly in July of ’65.

Lack: At that time where was the library?

Westbrook: It was in what you call the administration building.

Lack: Right now it has the art department, art and theater.

Westbrook: I think at that time it was called Kenan and administration was there, the president, the dean and all that sort of thing. A lot of the collection was housed on a balcony. You can imagine, it was rather awkward carrying books back up.

Lack: I suppose it was closed stacks at that time.

Westbrook: No, it wasn’t closed stacks. It was relatively small.

Lack: I suppose over time the library got more of a budget.

Westbrook: Oh yes, I cannot remember exactly when Wilmington College became UNCW. Do you remember?

Lack: ’69 I believe.

Westbrook: So there were things we had to do in order to get accreditation and that sort of thing. One of the things that I remember we were working very hard on was getting the collection up to 50,000 to be accredited as a college library by the American Library Association. I can’t remember exactly, but somewhere we were between 23,000 and 28,000 volumes when I came.

Lack: So that’s an increase of 100%, more than 100%.

Westbrook: Right. When I accepted the job as a cataloger, the books in the library were classified under the Dewey Decimal system which of course I was very familiar with that because that’s what I had grown up with, that’s what I had used. The Library of Congress [system] was not terribly well known. Before I started to work, Miss Hagan gave me a telephone call and said, “Oh, by the way, Betty Sue, we’ve decided to reclassify the collection to the Library of Congress.”

Now when I was going to library school, they told us about the Library of Congress classification. We were exposed to it, but how to use it we were never taught because nobody except the Library of Congress used it. So you can imagine the sinking feeling that I had. I mean I had accepted the job and this is what they decided. It was an extremely wise decision.

Of course, we were working towards accreditation and becoming accredited. They hired a retired cataloger from Enoch Pratt in Baltimore, a very well known library and she was retired. She had worked with the Library of Congress classification. So they hired her to come and assist in helping to reclassify the collection. So Miss Samuels was her name. She came and helped in the reclassification of the collection and it was a very, very wise decision, but it was also a very terrifying one at the time for a beginning cataloger.

Lack: Sure, you had to get out the schedules and teach yourself.

Westbrook: Of course, it was very nice having Miss Samuels because she had worked with it before and she was very good at explaining and that sort of thing. It worked out very nicely.

Lack: A couple of people were so excited that I was interviewing you because we’re all librarians and we’re proud of our profession. Getting to a little library language here, it was really wise [to change to the Library of Congress system from the Dewey Decimal system]. Do you know why they decided to do this at that time since it seems like it was pretty forward thinking?

Westbrook: Well, I think there was a movement and I think it came about possibly because of the computers. The computer was just starting. There was talk I remember even in library school that it would be nice if a lot of the cataloging entirely and the classification could be done by the Library of Congress and the libraries could just accept it. It would keep people from having to sit down and originally catalogue everything.

So I think the movement had started, that a lot of libraries were deciding that this was the way to go. If they could just get their library tied into the Library of Congress, that it would reduce tremendously the cataloging load and classification load and it did. It was a tremendous thing. Of course later on with the various computer age coming into full flower, well everything is now computerized, but this was the beginning. It was a very wise decision.

A lot of libraries were doing it and it was very, very fortunate that we were so small. I don’t know exactly how long it took us. I think it took us about a couple of years to get it done.

Lack: To do the conversion.

Westbrook: To convert all the collection.

Lack: Your alma mater, Duke, actually I’m from Durham, they’re still Dewey Decimal, did you know that? They’re probably one of the few…

Westbrook: Well, and I think UNC-Chapel Hill has converted, but I’m not sure they have their total collection converted. I think that’s what Duke decided, that it was just…their collection was so tremendous.

Lack: I think they waited and maybe they waited too long. There’s a couple of big outstanding research universities, but it certainly isn’t the easiest way to go. What do you remember about the move over to the library’s own building, Randall Library?

Westbrook: Well, let me say this, I can’t tell you a lot about that because it happened I believe in ’69. It was of course Christmas. On January 1, my mother died. I believe that the move was to start right after the new year. I was not here for the move. You’ll have to get someone like Miss Jackson, Louise Jackson, to tell you about that because I really wasn’t here for the move.

When I got back, which probably was no more than a week or 10 days, as best I remember, we were moved. Things were still in disarray, but basically we were moved so I can’t really tell you about it. Miss Jackson or someone like that will have to tell you about that.

Lack: Of course some time after, maybe 10 years, they expanded?

Westbrook: Oh yeah, right. I can’t remember exactly when that did happen.

Lack: How long were you here? Do you remember when you retired?

Westbrook: (Laughter) Let’s see, I came in ’65. I think I left in ’85. I think I was here 20 years.

Lack: You had an opportunity to work with a few directors.

Westbrook: Miss Hagan.

Lack: Everyone called her Miss Hagan, is that correct?

Westbrook: It was very, very funny. Everyone called her Miss Hagan except for one lady who was not a librarian. She had been a school librarian and I’m not real sure whether…I’m sure it’s even stricter, but back then you did not call anyone a professional librarian on the college level unless you had attended and gotten your degree, Master’s degree, from an accredited library school.

School librarians did not have, many of them did not have this degree. But we needed somebody to come help in circulation and so we hired a lady who was a very personable person, very sociable. She came in to help in circulation and she right away began calling Miss Hagan “Helen” All of us stood around with our mouths wide open because we couldn't imagine anybody to have the nerve to call Miss Hagan “Helen.”

But she did, and Miss Hagan didn't seem to mind. We often felt that this lady maybe got by with some things that she shouldn’t have gotten by with. I think Miss Hagan perhaps appreciated being called “Helen,” but we didn't know that. I mean she was very dignified, very knowledgeable. She had taught, as you know, at Emory. You just didn't call Miss Hagan “Helen” except for this one lady.

Lack: Perhaps you’re right, she wasn’t as formal deep down as she seemed. What was she like to work for?

Westbrook: Miss Hagan was very, very nice. She was very knowledgeable about libraries, very hard-working, very dedicated. She was very determined to make this library acceptable to the American Library Association. She had taught library science at Emory University so she was well versed in all the things that the library needed to be. As I said, she was a very dignified lady, very knowledgeable and very nice. She would invite us to her home for refreshments and that sort of thing. As I say, she was very dignified and none of us with the exception of that one person ever called her “Helen.”

Lack: But you called each other by first names?

Westbrook: Oh yes, everybody else was “Louise”, “Mary Sue” and that sort of thing, but it was always Miss Hagan (laughter). She never said “call me Helen.” I think that’s the reason why. I think if she had ever said that, we probably would have done it, but she never said that you can call me Helen. I can’t remember the lady’s name who had the nerve to do it, and apparently she didn't mind it. She probably enjoyed it.

Lack: When you came on board, were you a cataloger?

Westbrook: I came on board as a cataloger.

Lack: Did you hold other positions?

Westbrook: No, I came as a cataloger and left as a cataloger.

Lack: You mentioned that you sort of thought you might do school librarianship.

Westbrook: That’s what I expected when I went to Florida State. I expected to return as a school librarian because I’d been associated with the schools. But I would have to say for Florida State, and I think most of the accredited library schools, they did not encourage you to specialize only in a given path. For instance, had I never intended to do anything else, I would never have taken a course in advanced cataloguing. You don’t need advanced cataloguing to be a school librarian.

I took advanced reference .... because they encouraged you to make it so that you could do something else besides. So I did follow their advice and took more of a variety of courses that would allow me to be something other than a school librarian. I was very grateful for their advice. Now I didn't specialize enough to become a special librarian. I was never interested in public libraries. I never really expected to be in a public library at all.

Lack: So was it firmly divided because now we have cataloguers that work in public service reference for maybe six hours a week. Did you ever work in reference some?

Westbrook: When I came, one night a week each of us had to work at night. My night was Monday night and I always dreaded it because as you know, students would get assignments. When you knew what the assignments were and you kind of got a handle on where the reference tools were that they needed and that sort of thing, you could really be helpful because you were familiar with the assignment.

Sometimes when you worked in cataloging, you had no contact with the students and you walked out there on Monday night and here came these students wanting these things for their assignments and you felt a little bit hazy and you had to really delve in your mind to come up with some things. I think I would have enjoyed it had I worked in it, but going out one night a week, I always dreaded my night work, not because it was night, but because I never felt secure.

You know they couldn't come to my desk and say where do I find this and I could go find it. I’d always have to stop and think, “Oh where was that?” and that sort of thing. I was never real thrilled over that particular assignment. Do all of you now work…

Lack: Yes and that feeling is still with us. Even though it’s changed in that we don’t have to know books as much because there’s so much information now that we can try to find it online, but that still strikes me because I work down in reference also, usually not more than six or eight hours a week. I work one night a week. I’m usually during the semester paired with somebody else.

Westbrook: It’s a little scary. You know these students want it and they need it and you feel like you ought to be able to put your finger on it. I frankly never enjoyed my hours out on reference because I didn't feel secure. They never came and asked me to explain the Library of Congress classification or anything like that which I felt I could have done. They’re always asking these things that I really had to delve into my brain to come up with and sometimes delving didn't help.

Lack: I’d like to ask, Betty Sue, I understand you started with Helen Hagan and she retired.

Westbrook: She retired and Lennox Cooper replaced her. I don’t know how long Mr. Cooper was here. I don’t think he was here more than a couple of years. Then Gene Huguelet came and he finished out until…he was still here when I left. So I just really had…Bill Smith at some point I think served as acting librarian. I’m pretty sure he did.

Lack: Were there noticeable differences that each administrator had?

Westbrook: You don’t really want to know (laughter). For the most part, Miss Hagan as I said, she was very dignified, but things were very relaxed with her to some extent because she was very sociable. She’d invite us to her home. We’d go out to eat. It was a small place, small staff. On occasion, I don’t know whether this should go down in history or not, but if it was somebody’s birthday, the whole staff went out to eat at lunch and left the library in charge of the student assistants.

I mean I think that would be unheard of today, it would be absolutely taboo, but it was in one room. The library was one room. It was small and everything. We’d all go out and celebrate somebody’s birthday. It was like a family. We were a very close-knit group. By the time Miss Hagan retired, we had moved into the library, not into the expanded library, but into this building. Things were growing and so we were not free to all get up as a body of librarians and move out for birthday dinners, but the staff was still relatively small. We still knew each other and socialized together a lot.

When any organization gets large, there is a certain amount of formality. You just do not have the family atmosphere that we had when we first started. That’s natural. I mean there’s no way you can possibly maintain it when you have 15…how many do you have on your staff now?

Lack: We have probably around 18 or 19 librarians.

Westbrook: Just librarians to say nothing of your paraprofessionals. You see by the time I left, I don’t think we had more than five or six librarians, two or three library technical assistants. It was relatively small and that’s when I left. By the time I left, we were not the family group than we had been in the beginning. You can’t maintain that when it grows.

Lack: When you started there were maybe three librarians.

Westbrook: Three librarians and gradually four, five and the technical assistants. In that building, as I say, there were never more than eight or nine of us on the staff. I may be exaggerating even then. I’d have to go back and think, but I’m sure there were not more than eight or nine entirely.

Lack: Did that collegiality extend to the college and eventually the university, did you know most of the professors and the students?

Westbrook: I would say to some extent, yes. I don’t think there were but three buildings when I first came here, Kenan, Hoggard and the science building, Alderman, whatever. At any rate, the professors, we knew them by name. They knew us by name. Some were more friendly. As you know, there are some professors that make very great use of the library and as such, they learn the library staff. Of course being a small library staff, they knew us and we knew them.

There was a lot of collegiality even with the professors particularly with those that were library oriented, let me put it that way. With the library oriented professors, there was a collegiality there.

Lack: Did the library do library instruction?

Westbrook: Yes, we had library instruction.

Lack: Because that’s certainly one way we get professors in nowadays. During the break, you mentioned some of the people that would be good to interview, Phil Smith…

Westbrook: Ron Johnson, have you talked to him yet. Ron is back and forth. I don’t even know where Ron lives now, but I’m sure he could be very informative. There was a librarian here before I got…well actually when I came…Linda Hollis, have you run across that name?

Lack: I think I know that name.

Westbrook: She can tell you about this library which you might be interested in knowing, before Miss Hagan came. I really don’t feel like this library became a real library, college library until Miss Hagan came here because she knew about what a college library should be. She was a true professional. She taught at Emory, she was an outstanding person.

Before it had been run by librarians, and I’m not belittling them any because I have great respect for them, perhaps school librarians or public librarians who at that particular time in library history, some of which did not have let’s say the Master’s degree, you know, all the things that are required today to be a university librarian. But Linda Hollis had a Master’s from UNC-Chapel Hill and she was here. I believe she was here before Miss Hagan came.

She might be able to tell you about some things. She would be able to tell you things prior to ’65 to some extent. I can’t think of anyone else that might still be living that could tell you much before then. But she could tell you about some of the earliest experiences here.

Lack: What about some people in the university who may or may not be alive today, but who you kind of remember as being interesting or influential people from the college?

Westbrook: Well it’s hard to say. Of course, there’s Dr. Randall. Dr. Randall was a very dignified…he was not a gregarious, hail fellow well met type person. He was rather stern looking and quiet, but very knowledgeable. I’m sure you know about Dr. Randall is the fact that he had a lot to do with setting standards for college libraries and so forth. He was from the University of Chicago, I think.

Lack: Right, he had been a librarian.

Westbrook: He had been a librarian himself and as such, we were very fortunate because he was determined that this college was going to have a good library and he supported the librarians.

Lack: Was his Ph.D. in library science?

Westbrook: I think it was and he had catalogued or had done some cataloguing in the Vatican. Of course, the reason he was even here was because he retired here. I don’t think he retired here, I beg your pardon. I think he and his wife were traveling and got in a car wreck. At some point, the university was looking for a president (laughter). It sounds real weird. Anyway they persuaded him to come and he really was, as I say, he was very dignified, not terribly outgoing and yet it’s rather strange when I say that because he was very quiet and stern, but when you crossed him on campus, he always said “How do you do” and usually spoke your name.

We had later presidents that might not speak to you at all. As I say, he was aloof and dignified, yet he valued his faculty I think.

Lack: That’s really interesting because I haven’t heard much about Dr. Randall. I’ve heard about Dr. Wagoner, but I haven’t heard much about Dr. Randall.

Westbrook: Dr. Randall, the library owes a lot to him because he, having been a librarian and knowing what a library means, he was very supportive, very supportive. He really, as you know, sometimes you can get administrators that are not that knowledgeable about the value of a library.

Lack: That’s good to know, someone from your side.

Westbrook: Right.

Lack: While we’re on the subject of cataloging, I like cataloguing also. I’m not doing it now, though I’m doing some projects where I help out in that area in some ways. I was going to ask you what was it like being a cataloguer when there was such a change in standards. Did the library, for example, support you going to conferences and learning about that?

Westbrook: Oh yes, very much so. Going back to Dr. Randall, I don’t think there was much that Miss Hagan wanted to do. She would be in favor of sending us to conferences for study and that sort of thing. But if she asked Dr. Randall to support or get help, funding, that he didn't oblige. He was very, very interested in the development of this library and supported her in anything that she might suggest in the way of conferences, going away for some study.

Of course, you couldn't go away for any length of time because you were the cataloguer. But anytime there was a seminar or if there was something that we could go to and get help with, and I know in reclassification, I attended conferences to assist in reclassifying a collection. The administration was very supportive of the library.

Lack: That’s helpful.

Westbrook: It was very helpful because, as I say Dr. Randall having been a librarian and knowing the value of the library, he was very supportive. Miss Hagan having taught library science at Emory, she knew exactly what was needed ideally and so she was very good in getting the library started. I think the library had a very good foundation, a very excellent foundation.

Lack: That’s great. That’s a whole lot that I didn't know, but really helps me understand because I’ve looked at this and I feel that it is excellent considering very humble beginnings.

Westbrook: Yes, the beginnings were very humble.

Lack: But professional.

Westbrook: When we were trying to build the collection, 50,000 was the magic word. Fifty thousand volumes will get you accredited by the American Library Association for a college library. When I came, we were somewhere in the 20,000, somewhere between 23,000 and 28,000, I don’t remember exactly. Of course the budget was increased because books had to be bought. But Miss Hagan went around and spoke to various groups in the community about donating books.

Now this was sort of a funny thing because we got some really nice donations because there were a lot of people that did have valuable books. Maybe they were getting old and they were thinking, what am I going to do with them So we did get some valuable books, but we also got a lot of junk. She had made it very clear that if anyone did give to the library, that the library would be free to use them as they saw fit or to do with them as they saw fit.

So we never accepted any donation of books without the understanding that this is library property and we will be free to use it as we see fit.

Lack: It’s good to make that clear.

Westbrook: Yes, you have to. She did. She was very, very good about that. So we did get some junk. We also got some good stuff and she went around the community talking to various groups about donating. She did drum up some support from various clubs I think in town to either donate money or to donate books and of course promoted the idea with a lot of people of donating money to give as memorial gifts.

You know the money could be used to buy books and we would put something in the front saying in memory of so and so. So she knew all sorts of ways to get extra money. She really did work hard. She did make it clear that we would have to be free once they gave it to us to dispose of as we saw fit.

Lack: I don’t know if back then you had any book sale or anything.

Westbrook: Now don’t hold me to this, but it seems to me like we did have some book sales. I think we did probably. I was back in cataloging. It seems to me I remember vaguely something about some book sales. I remember it being very clearly stated to all donors that they must understand we were free to do with it as we saw fit. Occasionally a donor who really had a valuable collection would say to us we will give you this collection with the understanding that you do such and such.

I don’t think any promise was ever made that we’ll set it up as the John B. Doe collection. That was never done I don’t think. But I think there were times when after we looked at the collection and saw that it really was good, we will say okay, I think we made certain promises but it was only after it was looked at and we were pretty sure it was no junk. She was very good about that.

Lack: It’s an important role for a director, to be able to manage gifts.

Westbrook: Right, you don’t want to antagonize anyone, but you don’t want to accept a lot of junk because you can’t catalogue junk, believe me.

Lack: I believe that wraps up a lot.

Westbrook: I don’t think there’s anything more of value that I can tell you.

Lack: One thing I’m curious about before we leave, is the Helen Hagan room. Was that created by the time you had left?

Westbrook: Oh yes.

Lack: Was that a rare book room?

Westbrook: It was a rare book room. I’m trying to think when it was designated as that. It was just called special collections at first. I don’t know whether we did that just prior to her retirement so that she knew it. I’m sure before she died, she knew there was a Helen Hagan room, but I can’t remember whether it was done after she left or just before at her retirement.

That was another thing. When anybody left or retired or anything, we had a big dinner in a restaurant, and it was nice when we were very small. We were all very collegial.

Lack: It loses some intimacy and even now people talk about to me how it’s changed in the last 10 years. It used to be a much smaller group. There are people I don’t see for weeks.

Westbrook: Right, we all knew each other and we were pretty collegial. We worked hard, but had a lot of fun. It was really a family and Miss Hagan had a lot to do with that because she entertained in her home for us. She treated us as a family. She was a very nice lady, very dignified and very knowledgeable. I don’t think they could have found anyone better to have established this as a genuine college library.

Lack: We were lucky to have that. I’m glad at least we were able to create the room. If we have some time after the interview, I’d like to show it to you and show you the whole special collections area because now it’s more than just one room. Anything else that you’d like to add? If you think of anything else, I’ve scheduled follow-up interviews with people because we’ve realized there’s some more things that we’d like to talk about. So if you think of anything more, come back and we’ll meet up again. Thank you very much.

Westbrook: You’re more than welcome. I appreciate your asking me. I’m really proud of the library, I think it’s really nice.

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