John Haskell

John Haskell was UMBC’s first employee, hired in 1964 to build what has become the Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery.

What follows are edited excerpts from a recent UMBC Magazine interview with Haskell.

Read our full story about how staff built UMBC’s information infrastructure.

On how he was hired as UMBC’s first employee

In 1964, I was finishing up my Master’s in Library Science at Rutgers. and at that point, Howard Rovelstad, who was the head librarian in College Park, interviewed me. There was no such thing as a search committee. If there was somebody they wanted to hire, they would hire them. And so he said, ‘You’ll be one of a group of people who will be building the library on our new campus.’ And I said, “Well, I have to get my six months active duty with the Army Reserve behind me.’ You could go in for three, or get drafted for two, or do what I did. So I wanted to get in and get out, and I had a degree and I had a job. And he said, “Sure, we can wait till 1965.”

So February 1st of 1965, literally two days after I got out of the Army, I was on the UMBC campus. Although, actually, I was in College Park, because there was nothing there in 1965. So I had an office in the basement in McKeldin [Library].

I looked like I was about 15 years old when I was 24 years old, so people were appalled that they hired this young guy – and there was also the fact that he had never worked full-time as a professional librarian. College Park staff were sitting there waiting for UMBC to open so they could all get jobs in the library…. So I started, and one of the senior administrators in College Park called me into his office after they had decided I was going to be the librarian. And he said, “Where do they get off making you the head librarian?” I said, “Well, they must think I can do the job.” He was not happy.

On building the library.

There was a list of periodicals that the University of California was using called New Campus. It was both books and journals. These were titles that any academic library should have. So we just turned on the spigot and ordered all these periodical subscriptions. But where are you going to put them? When they first came, the mail just laid stacked up in a room on West Redwood Street for months [in downtown Baltimore] because we had no place to put them until we got shelving up at Hillcrest. So that was that.

We also had 25,000 volumes on the shelves on opening day acquired between February 1965 and September 1966 using that list. We never picked and choose any individual book. If it was on there, we just told the jobber to send it. And the book came with the cards in the back, the loose cards and the book had the call number on it, and so theoretically all you had to do was shelve it and file the card.

It wasn’t exactly quite that simple because you had to alphabetize the cards. And my wife and I kid about this, but when we were dating, sometimes we would spend our time alphabetizing cards.

I remember the campus was open in September 1966. It took us a while to get some of those books over there, and Dr. Kuhn would say, “John, when are we going to have it open?”

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