Librarians at Knox tend to have lengthy tenures—since Seymour Library opened in 1928, only six people have served at its helm. Jeff Douglas, who retires at the end of the 2020–2021 academic year, has put in 30 years among Seymour’s stacks, during which the library has transformed in ways that previous librarians could have hardly imagined: a digital catalog that enables students and faculty to search for and request materials from dozens of other libraries, wireless internet, and, since fall 2020, Knox Primo. Douglas is particularly excited about Knox Primo’s “virtual browse” feature. “Instead of going into the stacks to browse around, you can do that online, and just go from one book to the next and open up the descriptions of those books instead of going down the shelves.”
As you can imagine, after 30 years, Douglas’s office has accumulated many interesting finds, both from the library’s collections and elsewhere. He graciously allowed us to take a closer look before he starts packing up.
Welcome to his office.
1. A photograph of Abraham Lincoln. Taken in Springfield, Illinois, in June 1860, Douglas says it’s the last, best look at Lincoln before he grew his beard and before the presidency and the war took their toll.
2. Barack Obama bobble head. Douglas got the bobble head as a souvenir at a Quad Cities River Bandits game, where attendees could choose between an Obama or a Romney bobble head. “You might start a riot if you did something like that today.”
3. A painting by Steve Fineberg. It was lost for many years, but discovered when the art department moved to Whitcomb Art Center.
4. A painting of Old Main. “This tiny oil painting is by Carlotta Kinney, a 1919 Knox graduate. I found it in the bottom of a rack of old frames at a rummage sale that the Central Congregational Church used to have every year.”
5. A framed gingko leaf. Douglas received possession of the leaf, the “trophy” for a staff competition to guess the date all the leaves will fall from the gingko tree in front of the library, in 2019—his first-ever win. He says that his subsequent 2020 victory was “just a lucky guess.”
6. Library of Congress bookends. The bookends depict door panels at the entrance to the Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress. “James Bowman ’48 was a cataloger at the Library of Congress for many years. These were given to him when he retired, and he sent them to us.”
7. A bas-relief of John Huston Finley. “Before he was president, he was not only a student here but also the student librarian when the library was just an upstairs room in Old Main. His jobs included keeping the stove going to warm the library. He edited the first good catalog of the library’s collections, and even set the type for it—we might think of that today as his senior capstone project. I think his spot in that corner was well-earned.”
8. Stepladder. A gift from Verna Louise Haws Little ’1919. “I don’t know how it came to be here, but it is handy for reaching the top shelf where I keep extra copies of various Knox histories. If you really need another copy of They Broke the Prairie, I’m your man.”
9. The fireplace. Douglas believes his might be the only campus office with its own fireplace, dating back to when the office was part of a larger room where art history classes were held. “I don’t know if the fireplace was ever regularly used, but I like to think of Depression-era students learning about Rembrandt or other artists considered worthy of study back then while warmed by a fire—nothing like today, when we can download and manipulate millions of images of works of art on our phones or laptops through Artstor.”