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.”