Thursday, June 17, 2004

364 A tribute to a mentor

I certainly didn’t become a librarian because of Miss Coblentz. When I first met her, she seemed rather stoney-faced, mousey and plain, with an unattractive voice and demeanor. I have no idea how old she was--I turned 18 that fall, so anyone over 30 appeared up in years. But she was definitely older than my rather elderly, 45-year old parents, who were so ancient they could remember the bells tolling at the end of World War I!

My first job in the Manchester College Library was something she considered very important--shelf reading. She believed tidy, well-placed books helped my fellow students find what they needed. Imagine that! I think the job included dusting. From shelving tasks which gave me a sense of subject arrangement, I moved “up” to helping at the circulation desk, something I‘d learned in the public library of my home town, and from there I received the rather favored job of helping in Miss Coblentz’s office writing classification numbers on books with a stylus and sheet of white marking paper. I may be one of the select few in the world who can appreciate and understand the Cutter system, and with effort, I can still do a pretty good imitation of a well-placed Dewey number.

This technical services student job provided an opportunity to take an occasional trip to the bindery, and also an opportunity to meet and know the other “adult” staff. I was invited to Miss Coblentz’s home, which was a wonderful, large gracious early 20th century home on North Wayne within walking distance of the campus. Miss Coblentz had holiday teas for her student staff--and being typical teen-agers who never had enough to eat, we really loved that. Over time, I came to see her kindness, scholarship and skill--and even if I didn’t appreciate it when I was 18, I certainly do now because isn‘t hindsight 20/20?

Memorable moments with Miss Coblentz. My boyfriend was attending the University of Illinois (where I transferred and graduated). I decided I wanted to send him a package of Rice Krispies squares--the kind made with rice cereal, butter, and melted marshmallows mixed in a very large bowl. My roommate, Jo-Ella, and I were pretty good about building a stash of the small containers of cereal, but managing the rest of the task was beyond what we could do in our dorm room with a hot plate. Miss Coblentz to the rescue. She let me use her kitchen and utensils to create this magnificent treat for the boyfriend of her silly employee. She even attempted to teach me to needlepoint--something that gave her much pleasure and covered her dining room chair seats, but I never had the patience or interest (still don’t).

After I left Manchester at the end of my freshman year, we corresponded on holidays, and I sent her an invitation to my wedding, notice of my graduation later, and the birth of my first child. My memory is fuzzy here, but I think she knew I went back for my MLS later and became a librarian. She probably thought she had a hand in that career choice. Imagine that.

Update: I contacted the current librarian, Robin J. Grantz, who wrote:
"In my own 15 years as library director at MC, I’ve come to admire all the things she accomplished. Chief among them was her wonderful planning for this 1966 building, which we renovated in 1999. So many things were done well in the original plan, and I’m sure she never received the credit she deserved. I’m passing your blog on to the library staff, who continue to supervise a wonderful group of student assistants.

Ruth Coblentz (Manchester BA ’27), came as “Chief Librarian” in 1945. She served until 1970, all of the years in that position, except for 1957 and the last year, when she was cataloging librarian. She died in 1994."
(Note: if you google “Ruth Coblentz” you’ll find that she had a mentor at Manchester who influenced her and many others to become librarians.)

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