December 14th, 2009
If you used the Health Sciences Library any time over the past 34 years, there’s a good chance Sally Brown had a role in your research quest. Brown, who served as reference coordinator at the Health Sciences Library, retired November 30.
“Sally’s personality and her knowledge of this library will be very much missed,” said Susan Arnold, director of the Health Sciences Library. “She’s always so cheerful, and she is always willing to pitch in. That’s something I really appreciated about her.”
Dean of Libraries Frances O'Brien, Sally Brown, and Health Sciences Library Director Susan Arnold.
Brown started at the Health Sciences Library in 1975 after moving to Morgantown a year earlier with her husband, Paul, who accepted a position in the Department of Physiology. She began her career in the acquisitions department.
“Eventually, I began to be the person people gravitated to for reference help because I knew the books that were there," Brown said. "I knew where they were on the shelf, and I knew the books that were on order.”
Brown became a reference assistant in 1995 after earning her Master’s in Library Science from the University of South Carolina in Columbia. In 2000, Terry Burton, former director of the Health Sciences Library, named her head of reference.
Reference librarian was the ideal job for Brown, who liked the academic atmosphere and enjoyed helping people with reference questions whatever the complexity. She found it rewarding to find needed information and to be able to say that she had done her best.
It helped that she had an interest in the research being conducted at WVU and enjoyed the intellectual challenge. She made a practice of reading academic journals and the popular press in order to understand the latest developments and findings.
“Working with physicians and researchers made me read about what they were doing in their fields,” Brown said. “It widened my outlook of what went on in this building and in research in general.”
During her tenure, Brown saw technology transform the Library’s landscape as the Internet brought the online catalog and electronic resources.
Brown finds it interesting that the initial move away from the physical card catalog was met with some frustration. Researchers liked to take their time poring over a section of a catalog drawer. Today the card catalog is an unknown and speed and accessibility of information have taken its place.
Still, the basics never changed.
“It’s the same reference questions as in the old days, but instead of floor to floor we go from database to database,” Brown said.
Despite her love of learning, she considers people as the best part of her long career. Over the years, Brown gained friends in all departments throughout the entire Health Science Center.
“It’s the people,” Brown said. “It’s about the relationships you form over the years that make your job what it is. It’s what you remember.”
The Health Sciences Library is where she became good friends with co-worker Jean Evans. Brown remembers seeing Evans before starting her job at the library. While her husband was in his final interview for his job, Brown walked around the Basic Sciences Building and saw Evans in the library laughing and joking with someone.
“I thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to work with someone like her?’” Brown said. “I did, and it was.”
She also remembers a group she called the “three Ms” – former Health Sciences Library Director Robert Murphy, Marge Abel and Marie Kidd – and credits them for keeping the library running.
She laughed as she recalled an incident in which Abel assisted a physician with a database search. After he left with his results, Abel kept working and discovered a few additional articles.
Brown said: “He was walking down the hall, and there was Marge running after him with a printout yelling, “Wait, I found something better.”
There were also regular patrons who liked to work with Brown. Dr. Rumy Hilloowalla, a School of Medicine professor emeritus, worked with her on the History of Medicine collection for many years.
“She’s always been extremely helpful. I’m sorry to see her retire,” Hillowalla said.
Many of her former colleagues share that sentiment.
“Sally has been a mentor and a mom to many in the library—always willing to listen and give advice,” Arnold said. “We’ll miss her smile and her laugh.”
Although Brown expects to miss library routine, she’s looking forward to retirement’s spontaneity.