Ford Center’s Gingerbread Village Open Through Dec. 16

Annual event features about 20 whimsical holiday landscapes

The annual Gingerbread Village at the University of Mississippi's Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts is on display through Dec. 16. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

The annual Gingerbread Village at the University of Mississippi’s Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts is on display through Dec. 16. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Graham cracker mansions with snow-frosted rooftops, candy castles, peppermint bridges and other feats of confectionery construction are on display through Dec. 16 at the University of Mississippi’s Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts

The Ford Center hosts the annual Gingerbread Village. The much-anticipated holiday event attracts the university and Oxford community to both build the houses and also marvel at the intricate work that goes into the miniature candy houses and landscapes.

“This is an opportunity for civic and university groups to build a gingerbread house and have it on display for all to enjoy,” said Julia Aubrey, Ford Center director. “Each year, the imaginative themes and designs provide delight for all ages.”

The event began in 2010 with just four houses. This year, local groups including Holli’s Sweet Tooth, UM’s Willie Price Lab School, the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council and others have built some of the approximately 20 sweet structures on display. 

The massive effort to set up the village isn’t intended just to delight those who walk through it. As part of the traditional giving spirit of the holiday season, attendees are encouraged to bring canned goods or make a donation to The Pantry or university’s food bank.

The village opened Thursday (Dec. 1) and will be open from 1 to 5 p.m. weekdays and also during Ford Center performances through Dec. 16. The full schedule of both weekday and weekend hours is available here

On Monday (Dec. 5), the village will be open to visitors for an after party following the Oxford Lions Club Annual Christmas Parade, which begins at the Mid Town Shopping Center on North Lamar Boulevard at 6:30 p.m. The parade route should end at the Ford Center about 7:30 p.m.

And on Saturday (Dec. 10), the Gingerbread Village will host Santa Claus from 1 to 4 p.m., giving locals a chance to take their children’s pictures with the man from the North Pole.

“The Gingerbread Village is one of my favorite Ford Center events because it truly brings the community together,” said Kate Meacham, Ford Center marketing director. “The house creators come from all parts of the community. There are families, individuals, businesses, schools and community groups that participate. They are very creative. I am always excited to see the designs.” 

UM Community Called to Bless Books and Bears

19th annual event provides Christmas joy to Facilities Management employees and families

Jackie Certion helps distribute toys during 2015 Books and Bears event. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Jackie Certion helps distribute toys during 2015 Books and Bears event. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

‘Tis the season to be good, not naughty. It’s time to add a little “ho-ho-ho!” to your “Hotty Toddy.”

Donations for the 19th annual Books and Bears program will be accepted Nov. 28 through Dec. 14. All the collected toys and books will be given away Dec. 16 to the children of employees in the University of Mississippi Facilities Management Department. The distribution site will be either the university’s Jackson Avenue Center or the Gertrude Ford Ballroom of the Inn at Ole Miss.

Donations can be dropped off at the following locations: third floor of the School of Law; Graduate School; second floor of Vardaman Hall; first floor of Ventress Hall; Office of the Provost in the Lyceum; ticket office in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts; Howry Hall, Room 308; Hume Hall, Room 305; Farley Hall; Yerby Center; Career Center in Martindale Hall; Powers Hall; and the Lucky Day Residential College.

“Help spread the word,” said Donald Cole, associate provost and assistant to the chancellor for multicultural affairs. “Thank you for having a big, big caring heart and a burning desire to be a blessing to others in your UM family as we enter the holiday season!”

For more information, contact Jackie Certion at 662-202-2932.

So be a Santa and not a Scrooge this Christmas. While you’re rushing out to Wal-Mart, Toys ‘R Us, Target or wherever you do your Christmas shopping, pick up an extra bike, doll, teddy bear, computer or board game, or a book (or two). Knowing some child’s Christmas morning will be a lot brighter because you cared enough to support the Bears and Books program should make you feel really good.

Q&A: Meet Katrina Caldwell, UM’s New Vice Chancellor for Diversity

Katrina Caldwell

Katrina Caldwell

OXFORD, Miss. – Katrina Caldwell will become the University of Mississippi’s first-ever vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement when she joins the administrative staff Jan. 1. 

Named to her UM post in October, Caldwell is assistant vice president for diversity and equity at Northern Illinois University.

The Memphis, Tennessee, native is widely recognized in the field of diversity and inclusion in higher education. She holds master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a bachelor’s degree from Spelman College. She was also a Diversifying Faculty in Illinois fellow.

Caldwell served eight years at DePaul University, where she created cultural programs that celebrated the values of the university’s diverse communities. As director of the Center for Intercultural Programs, she also served on the President’s Diversity Council.

At the University of Illinois at Chicago, Caldwell served as assistant dean of minority affairs, developing and successfully implementing a strategic plan to increase outreach to prospective students, improve retention and graduation of graduate fellowship students, and expand professional development programs.

She recently answered some questions for Inside Ole Miss about her new role. 

IOM: Tell me about your background and how you got into this kind of work.

Caldwell: I was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1970s and ’80s. I attended Spelman College, a historically black women’s college, which is where I was introduced to diversity and social justice work. I learned later that our curriculum was a lot like any curriculum you would find at other institutions, because they wanted us to be able to compete post-graduation; however, many of the professors and staff had been involved in social movements in the 1960s and ’70s. They were willing to integrate their lived experiences in their teaching, research and service. I learned many of the foundational concepts that I use today in my work.

I became interested in professional diversity work while in graduate school. I had planned to become an English professor, which is why my three degrees are in English literature. During the summer after my first year in graduate school at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I got a job teaching English composition to students in the TRIO/Bridge program. I used the skills that I had been taught at Spelman to make my course relevant to the experiences of these first-generation, low-income entering college students. The course title was “Representations of Race, Gender and Class in American Media.” After this experience, I was hooked. I knew that I wanted to work in multicultural student affairs in some capacity. 

I have had 20 plus years of experience in diversity, equity and inclusion work and I have watched the field evolve and progress in positive ways during that time. The increased demand for chief diversity officers in institutions like the University of Mississippi is a key indicator of the need for strategic diversity leadership and the value of diversity in higher education. 

IOM: Talk about your role as the university’s first vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement and your vision for the job.

Caldwell: The University of Mississippi is in a unique position to serve as a leader in the strategic diversity movement in higher education. The institution’s complicated history is an intriguing backdrop to its current commitment to coordinating and elevating its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. The university could serve as a campus for innovation where other local, regional and national institutions come to create, develop and test best practices that will move the needle on diversifying higher education.

I plan to continue and expand the bold steps towards repositioning the university as a place that will generate new perspectives and approaches to addressing the individual, structural and institutional inequities that continue to deny access to marginalized groups in the state and region. My vision for the position includes reclaiming the past by acknowledging, in very tangible ways, the harm and pain that was created, restoring confidence in the commitment to move beyond that past and reinforcing UM’s promise of creating sustainable change. 

IOM: Tell us who in the campus community that you serve and who you’ll mainly be working with.

Caldwell: As a member of the university’s executive team, my job will be to serve everyone on campus and all external partners and stakeholders. Diversity, equity and inclusion work is expansion and can cross program, departmental and divisional boundaries. It can also cross local, state, regional and national boundaries. 

IOM: What kinds of services will your office provide to the UM community?

Caldwell: Beyond the general language in the job description, we are still working on these details. Most of the specifics will not become clear until after I have been on campus for at least six months.

IOM: People might wonder about whether they should come to you with an issue. Is there anything you could tell people when they are considering whether they should come see you that might be helpful?

Caldwell: People should feel free to approach me to discuss any issue. I am always willing to listen, offer advice when appropriate, brainstorm solutions, share resources and my story, connect people to the office or program that might help them address the issue more directly and inform the executive leadership when an issue might need to be addressed campuswide.

IOM: What made you decide to come to Ole Miss?

Caldwell: As a native Southerner, I was extremely intrigued by the steps that the University of Mississippi has taken towards reconciliation and healing, which is an important and necessary process to help position the campus to contribute to the contemporary discourse underscoring the strong correlation between educating an increasingly more diverse student body and excellence in local, regional and national leadership.

The vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement position highlights three important criteria that I look for when evaluating a new professional opportunity. First, the demonstrated mission of the institution is extremely important. There must be evidence that the campus values diversity as essential to its success. The University of Mississippi could have continued to thrive and grow without developing a chief diversity officer position, so the commitment to this effort is impressive and signals its readiness to make significant progress.

Second, I look for fit with my experience and interests. I have had a 20-plus-year professional track record of building the type of strong, impactful diversity initiatives and programs that are outlined in the job description.

Thirdly, the decision to elevate diversity to the VC level will ensure that the individual has the visibility, resources, access and symbolic and institutional impact she will need to be successful

IOM: What are some immediate goals you hope to accomplish?

Caldwell: In the short term, I will spend a lot of time listening and learning about the various communities that are represented on the campus, in the city of Oxford, the region and the state. I want to better understand the histories, unique needs, challenges and opportunities for collaboration. In the first few months, I will develop a transitional plan that is transparent, inclusive and adaptable so members of all communities – both internal and external – can follow the progress that we are making as we build a strong diversity portfolio. 

IOM: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the Ole Miss community?

Caldwell: I am extremely excited about this opportunity and I want to thank everyone involved in this process for trusting me to serve the Ole Miss community in this way.

Library launches Summon discovery system

Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Beginning June 29, the J.D. Williams Library launched a new discovery system, Summon, which runs the One Search tool. Summon allows students to more efficiently search for resources through the J.D. Williams Library website.

One Search provides a much broader search,” said Kristin Rogers, electronic resources and discovery librarian. “You can put in one search term, and it will search everything we have access to and not (just) one journal or one database.”

From a user standpoint, the One Search tool allows students to search almost everything the library has access to with a single search. One Search not only searches online resources but also includes local print titles and journals. Summon, via One Search, offers students a more versatile approach to research.

A committee was formed to decide whether to move back to Summon, which the library had used before, or choose a different discovery system.

Summon’s user feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with comments such as Summon “seemed to be more accessible” and the “refined search filters are easier to use.”

“Summon provides an easy way for library users to discover research resources,” said Gail Herrera, assistant dean for technical services and automation and professor of library science. “In reviewing discovery services, the library committee charged with reviewing products scored Summon as the top product.”

As for One Search, it has been enhanced so students will be able to see how many times a resource has been read or shared through social media platforms. This will allow students to browse feedback on the sources they are using so as to better choose articles or journals for their academic work. One Search also features a pop-up chat box for students to communicate with librarians if an issue arises.

Library launches Summon discovery system

Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Beginning June 29, the J.D. Williams Library launched a new discovery system, Summon, which runs the One Search tool. Summon allows students to more efficiently search for resources through the J.D. Williams Library website.

One Search provides a much broader search,” said Kristin Rogers, electronic resources and discovery librarian. “You can put in one search term, and it will search everything we have access to and not (just) one journal or one database.”

From a user standpoint, the One Search tool allows students to search almost everything the library has access to with a single search. One Search not only searches online resources but also includes our local print titles and journals. Summon, via One Search, offers students a more versatile approach to research.

A committee was formed to decide whether to move back to Summon, which the library had used before, or choose a different discovery system.

Summon’s user feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with comments such as Summon “seemed to be more accessible” and the “refined search filters are easier to use.”

“Summon provides an easy way for library users to discover research resources,” said Gail Herrera, assistant dean for technical services and automation and professor of library science. “In reviewing discovery services, the library committee charged with reviewing products scored Summon as the top product.”

As for One Search, it has been enhanced so students will be able to see how many times a resource has been read or shared through social media platforms. This will allow students to browse feedback on the sources they are using so as to better choose articles or journals for their academic work. One Search also features a pop-up chat box for students to communicate with librarians if an issue arises.

Library acquires historic volume of Shakespeare’s Second Folio

Jennifer Ford shows Shakespeare’s Second Folio to Jesse L. White, Associate Provost Noel Wilkin and Provost Morris Stocks. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Jennifer Ford shows Shakespeare’s Second Folio to Jesse L. White, Associate Provost Noel Wilkin and Provost Morris Stocks. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Thanks to a gift from the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation, the university has acquired a rare volume of William Shakespeare’s Second Folio, making it a permanent part of the university’s collection. It is on display in the Department of Archives and Special Collections in the University of Mississippi’s J.D. Williams Library.

The Second Folio, published in 1632, is an updated version of Shakespeare’s First Folio. The First Folio is a collection of 36 plays published in 1623, and 18 of those plays were previously unpublished, including “Macbeth,” “Julius Caesar” and “Twelfth Night.”

This rare copy belonged to Edwin Booth, one of history’s most illustrious Shakespearean actors. His brother was John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

The acquisition was completed thanks to the efforts of Rene Pulliam, theatre arts associate professor; Rhona Justice-Malloy, theatre arts professor; Morris Stocks, provost; and Noel Wilkin, associate provost, said Jennifer Ford, head of archives and special collections and associate professor.

“This copy of the Second Folio, owned by one of history’s foremost Shakespearean actors, is a tremendous acquisition,” Ford said. “It will be an enduring resource for the entire university, as well as the general public.”

Edwin Booth was known for a more textually accurate use of Shakespeare’s works in his theatrical performances, a practice which was unusual for the 19th century. It is likely the actor consulted this volume in preparation for his lauded portrayals of characters such as Hamlet, historians say.

The Second Folio was purchased from the collections of New York’s Players Club, a social group for actors founded by Booth, which had engaged the auction house Sotheby’s to negotiate on its behalf. The book, purchased with a $150,000 donation from the Ford Foundation, had an original estimate between $300,000 and $500,000.

Justice-Malloy notified Pulliam that the copy was going to auction while visiting the Players Club in December.

“I am overjoyed that the University of Mississippi will now be a resource for theatre researchers nationwide,” Pulliam said. “This fulfills a vision of Dr. Rhona Justice-Malloy and myself.”

Pulliam and Justice-Malloy put together literature and images to begin the fundraising process to purchase the book. In January, Wilkin contacted Pulliam with news that the Ford Foundation would be a major donor and the acquisition would move forward.

“They were excited about the idea of it being at a public institution where someone would really be able to enjoy it,” Justice-Malloy said. “I am so proud to be a faculty member at Ole Miss and know that they value the importance of such a book.”

The folio will be valuable to help recruit students and scholars interested in the arts, history and literature research, Justice-Malloy said.

“It’s a big deal to be able to say we have not only the Second Folio but Edwin Booth’s copy,” she said. “It will be a point of pride for us, and scholars and students can actually use this. I would like to extend an enormous ‘thank you’ to the Ford Foundation for making this possible.”

The J.D. Williams Library Second Folio exhibit is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call 662-915-7091.

Archives granted NEH preservation funds

Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Maintaining the proper conditions to preserve over 3,000 historical posters, maps, blueprints, broadsides and documents is a tremendous challenge, but the University of Mississippi Department of Archives and Special Collections received some help in the form of a $5,890 grant to protect its most fragile artifacts.

The National Endowment for the Humanities Preservation Assistance Grant will fund the purchase and installation of additional shelving and supplies for the storage, preservation and better organization of historical items in UM’s special collections. Those items include about 300 linear feet of archival materials such as posters, photos and other items that document Mississippi’s blues, films and state history.

Archives staff is grateful for the funds, said Jennifer Ford, associate professor and head of archives and special collections.

“This grant will allow us to properly house some of the most fragile pieces in our collection, safeguarding their preservation for years to come,” Ford said. “The funds will also help our staff make them more easily available to the public since they will be easier to retrieve.”

The NEH is an independent federal agency, which was organized in 1965. Its preservation assistance grants help small and mid-sized institutions such as libraries, museums, historical societies, archival repositories, cultural organizations, town and county records offices, and colleges and universities. The funds are designed to help preserve significant humanities collections of manuscripts, prints, photographs, moving images, sound recordings, and decorative and fine art objects.

Special funding is crucial for Special Collections, said Gail Herrera, assistant dean for technical services and automation and professor of library science.

“It is vital for the library to seek out grant opportunities in order to make its unique items accessible for students, faculty and the general public alike,” Herrera said.

UM Special Collections is made up of roughly 20,000 linear feet of archival material. It includes the blues archive, Southern media archive and the modern political archive. Manuscripts include some originals by William Faulkner, and some published and unpublished poetry and papers by Mississippi authors Larry Brown, Ellen Douglas, Barry Hannah, Beth Henley, Willie Morris, Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly.

Many documents and other items are from the civil rights movement. James Meredith, who in 1962 became the first black student to integrate the university and whose enrollment caused protesters to riot on campus, gave his collection of papers to the university in 1997. Papers by other prominent civil rights leaders are also in the collections, as well as documents from UM professors that deal with the integration of Ole Miss.

“The department’s collecting concentrates on Mississippi,” Ford said. “We have several different units: the blues archives, the literary collection, civil rights, Civil War, Mississippi politics and visual materials. Our collections, although they are specific, cover a tremendous variety of materials, and a number of them are oversized.”

The collection is vast but also fragile, Ford said. The photos, newspaper articles and concert posters are particularly vulnerable.

“You will find William Faulkner pieces that are oversized,” Ford said. “You’ll find blues posters from the 1950s onward that are oversized. These are fragile pieces. They were normally printed on acidic materials, and many did not survive as a result of this.”

Johnson, Komara awarded for co-authored book on blues

Greg Johnson accepts the ARSC award for Best Historical Research in Blues, Gospel, Rhythm & Blues in Bloomington, Indiana. Photo by Michael Devecka. Submitted Photo

Greg Johnson accepts the ARSC award for Best Historical Research in Blues, Gospel, Rhythm & Blues in Bloomington, Indiana. Photo by Michael Devecka. Submitted Photo

Greg Johnson, University of Mississippi blues curator and associate professor, is the recipient of two prestigious awards for co-authoring “100 Books Every Blues Fan Should Own” with Ed Komara, former UM blues curator.

The duo received the Vincent H. Duckles Award, the Music Library Association’s annual prize for the best book-length bibliography or reference work in music, and the Association for Recorded Sound Collections award for Best Historical Research in Blues, Gospel, Rhythm & Blues.

The Music Library Association’s website offers praise of the authors’ work.

“The authors’ essays are delightful and extremely informative reading. The methodology and organization are clearly explained. The volume includes a healthy amount of added value, including a playlist that demonstrates something about each entry and a chapter describing the resources used to compile the list of 100 titles. The arrangement of the listing – by time coverage – allows the reader to construct a clear understanding of blues history.”

Johnson said he was shocked and thrilled to receive the awards.

“When I was studying music history in college and later taking a Music Bibliography course in library school, we constantly used the Vincent Duckles book ‘Music Reference and Research Materials: An Annotated Bibliography,’” Johnson said. “To receive the Music Library Association’s award named after Vincent Duckles is a huge honor. And to receive the Association for Recorded Sound Collections award for Best Historical Research in Blues, Gospel, Rhythm & Blues . . . wow!”

Although Johnson’s and Komara’s paths did not cross at UM, Komara reached out to Johnson shortly after his arrival at the university for assistance with his project “Encyclopedia of the Blues.” Komara liked Johnson’s writing and asked him to join him as a consulting editor. Several years later, Komara approached Johnson to co-author “100 Books.”

Johnson said writing the book required a lot of reading, which was made more manageable by partnering on the project. His favorite books included the biographies and autobiographies.

“The ones that are the best are the ones that tell a larger story, more than just about the musician her/himself,” Johnson said. “For instance, in Willie Dixon’s ‘I Am the Blues,’ you learn almost as much about the recording industry in Chicago as you do about Dixon personally.”

Johnson’s first exposure to the blues was listening to the “Highway 61” radio show on Mississippi Public Broadcasting as a child. As a musician, he played bass and trombone in several big bands and jazz combos. He received his master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2002, where he also received a Bachelor of Music in history and literature in 2000. It wasn’t until he accepted the position at UM that he began immersing himself in the blues.

“I have learned so much since I started working here,” Johnson said. “Coming from the Meridian area and going to college in Hattiesburg, I didn’t know anything about Otha Turner or the North Mississippi hill country traditions. It’s really humbling when you discover something new for yourself, and you wonder, ‘How did I not know this? This is incredible!’”

The national recognition of Johnson’s publication is well deserved and highlights the importance of his research, said Jennifer Ford, head of the UM Department of Archives and Special Collections.

“These awards not only reflect his reputation as a scholar but draw even more attention to the treasures held within the university’s Blues Archive,” Ford said.

In addition to his work at the archives, Johnson’s article “Exploring Civil Rights through Mississippi Collections,” co-written with Jennifer Brannock at the University of Southern Mississippi, was recently published in the Urban Library Journal.

The Blues Archive is located in the Department of Archives and Special Collections on the third floor of the J.D. Williams Library. The collection preserves blues and blues-related materials in a variety of formats for scholars of the blues, African- American studies and Southern culture. It serves not only students and faculty within UM but also researchers worldwide. The archive is open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. except during official university holidays.

Planned gifts support university’s future

Treasures, spaces within J.D. Williams Library are testaments to benefits of private giving

she-may-never-know-youPlanned giving has transformative power at the University of Mississippi, having provided more than $100 million to date in support of Ole Miss programs, facilities, scholarships and more.

With strategic financial planning, alumni and friends can create an impact with their gifts by including the university in their will or living trust, or by naming the university as a beneficiary of their life insurance policies. These methods can be modified, allowing donors to plan their legacy at Ole Miss while also ensuring financial security for loved ones.

The J.D. Williams Library is but one example of an Oxford campus facility that has benefitted from planned giving – to the tune of $3.4 million. Included in that total is the library’s Ainsworth Commons, which was made possible by a $1 million gift from the estate of Oscar Richard and Edith Wetzel Ainsworth, the largest donation the library has received.

Oscar Richard Ainsworth, a UM graduate, and his wife were longtime faculty members at the University of Alabama. Their estate gift ensures that their passion for education will continue by providing students with learning opportunities for years to come.

“These planned gifts provide a margin of excellence, with the majority of those funds creating permanent endowments,” said Sandra Guest, vice president of the UM Foundation. “Ongoing gifts are received from longtime faculty and library staff members, as well as alumni and friends, who have provided thoughtful support for years.

“Through a planned gift to the university, donors leave a legacy that perpetuates their belief in all that Ole Miss offers to students and society at large.”

The late Charles Noyes, professor emeritus of English, also left his legacy within the library. Believing “a library is the absolute heart of the university,” Noyes helped raise money through the Friends of the Library organization while personally giving more than $266,000 to strengthen the university’s libraries, in addition to a planned estate gift of $128,000.

Planned giving allows donors such as Noyes and the Ainsworths to help transform the lives of students for generations to come.

“University Libraries and the UM Foundation are extremely grateful for all donors with a planned gift intent,” said Angela Barlow Brown, director of development for the library. “These gifts, which support the future of our students and the heart of our beloved university – the J.D. Williams Library – are the legacy of the individual donors.”

Planned giving provides more than institutional support. It can also fund precious, personal collections, which are of great educational value to the university, especially the library.

library_2016The importance of planned giving for Special Collections cannot be overstated,” said Jennifer Ford, head of the Department of Archives and Special Collections. “In many cases, this advance notice gives both the donor and Special Collections a chance to discuss projects and collection needs in detail so that the wishes of the donor are well documented.

“This type of planning helps our department in so many ways, as we rely so much on the generosity of our donors.”

Many gifts arrive at Ole Miss unannounced. While these gifts are greatly appreciated, planning a gift through the UM Foundation enables the university to properly thank the donors and ensure that their intentions for the gift are clearly understood.

While gifts remain confidential, donors who plan their donations in advance are eligible to become members of the 1848 Society, an organization that recognizes the generosity of alumni and friends.

Laura Harper retires after 45 years of service

Laura Harper

Laura Harper

When Laura Harper began working at the J.D. Williams Library in 1971, the Monroe, Louisiana, native expected her employment to be brief. Four-and-a-half decades later, the veteran librarian has bid farewell to a career that has brought her great professional achievement and personal satisfaction.

“The best day in my 45 years here was Sept. 26, 2008 – the day of the first 2008 Presidential Debate, held on our campus,” Harper said. “I can attest to the excitement and pride felt as we hosted an international press corps with the spotlight on our changed image. It felt like redemption, to finally be free of the burden of the past (referring to UM’s civil rights history and integration in 1962), if only for one day.”

Harper has worked with 11 library directors/deans (four of whom were interim) and six chancellors.

“I have also learned much from so many other talented and dedicated colleagues over the years, each making their unique contribution,” Harper said.

Initially, Harper worked in the Reference Department for 17 years. As senior library assistant, she was in charge of Interlibrary Loan for five years. Later, she became a reference bibliographer and online search service coordinator.

“In 1979, the library began offering a fee-based online search service to over 200 databases,” she said. “I was in charge of the service, training the other searchers and scheduling search appointments. In 1981, librarians achieved faculty status, and I became an associate professor.”

Harper’s legacy is well-known among her peers in the library system. In 2011, she received the prestigious Bernadine Abbott Hoduski Founders Award from the American Library Association for her contributions at the state, regional and national levels to government documents.

“Laura is well-known within the library system and state for being very dedicated to her work,” said Gail Herrera, assistant dean for technical services and automation and professor of library science. “Library users have commented on her helpfulness and her ability to find anything you’re looking for. Her knowledge of government documents is extensive.”

In addition, Harper has provided generous monetary support to the library.

“She has supported numerous causes and needs through financial gifts such as the Information Commons, Art Store, STUDIOone, Friends of the Library and Government Documents collection support,” said Angela Barlow Brown, UM Foundation director of development for special projects.

After earning her undergraduate and master’s degrees from Louisiana State University, Harper’s first professional job as a librarian was in the public library in her hometown. Then, she and her late husband moved to Oxford.

“A newlywed, I thought I would work here only two years or so and we would move on after my husband finished his doctorate,” she said. “But we stayed here when he got a job at Blue Mountain College. Later, after his death, I had the opportunity to become a department head, when the legendary Annie Mills retired as head of Government Publications.”

As the regional depository for Mississippi, Government Documents provides guidance to smaller depositories and essentially serves the whole state. The library’s catalog provides access to almost a million volumes of government publications, 40 percent of which are available full text online.

Before retiring, Harper moved to Technical Services, where she managed processing and cataloging of documents, as well as answered reference referrals.

Harper’s retirement plans are to work on landscaping, gardening and decluttering her house. She looks forward to traveling and spending more time visiting her son, Griff, in Bloomington, Indiana. A member of Cedar Oaks Guild, she also wants to spend more time volunteering there and with community services such as the Food Pantry and Doors of Hope Transitional Ministry.

“It has been a privilege to have been part of the library and the Ole Miss family for so many years,” Harper said. “I will miss being a part of the next chapter in the library’s history but hope to watch from the sidelines as a member of the Friends of the Library board.”