At the end of Aug., three of the university library’s longest-standing staff members, including the library’s director, Doug Lehman, retired after a collective 100 years in service to the university. Joining him was Holly Wolfe, the library’s administrative and acquisitions assistant, and Betsy Dean, the library’s senior media assistant.
Lehman, who joined the library staff in 2004, took his first Wittenberg job with ladder-climbing in mind. “I was in a position where I was the equivalent of an assistant library director, and I saw this as an opportunity to become a director,” he said. “[Also,] I always kind of wanted to be in a liberal arts college. So this fits all those criteria.”
In retrospect, Lehman believes his greatest achievements as the library director were in the modernization of the library catalogue system. Starting in 2019, Lehman led the transition from Wittenberg’s legacy library system EZRA to a new statewide standard, the Ohio Private Academic Libraries Consortium. “Becoming a part of OPAL is going to help us because we’ll have access to a few other databases that we didn’t have before,” he said. “We’ll also have some better support than we’ve been able to have for the library itself… but it’s something that’s really more behind the scenes.”
In his last few years as the director, Lehman turned his attention to the evolution of libraries, especially as journals, magazines and news media are increasingly produced online, not in print. “I think that we’re still a ways off from seeing a library without books,” he said. “Most institutions that have tried to do that have ended up purchasing printed books eventually.”
He largely attributed this lack of a digital revolution in the library scene to book publishers, not libraries themselves. “It’s the publishers who we have the issues with,” he said. “Publishers don’t want us to just buy one book and then make it available in multiple settings. If they do it, they want one book that only one user can check out. So it’s similar to the print model, as opposed to, ‘we buy one book, but we have unlimited users.'”
Still, Lehman thinks that libraries will continue to evolve and survive as the landscape changes. “Ultimately, I think there will become more of a synergy now between libraries and other student services,” he said.
Lehman believes in the power of organizations like OPAL, whose mission is to improve the learning environment for students. “My favorite part [of my career] was working in the with those organizations as we continue to develop new programs and try to figure out ways to provide more resources to Ohio students and to Wittenberg students,” he said.
Holly Wolfe, the library’s administrative and acquisitions assistant, first joined the library staff in 1977. In conversation, Wolfe was eager to reminisce about early working years on campus.
Wolfe had worked in the libraries of local elementary, middle, and high schools before moving on to the university scene. “I have always loved books,” she said. “One of the women that was in this group I was in said, ‘Hey, I just heard there’s a job in my library at Wittenberg. And I know you love books.’ I immediately put on a skirt, which I hardly ever wear, came down here, and applied for the job.”
When she came to campus to interview, though, Wolfe found that someone else had already been hired for the job. She walked across campus to speak directly with the hiring manager. Soon after, to her surprise, she received a phone call from the director, informing her that she had been hired instead. “I was a working mother and I had little children,” Wolfe said. “I made a joke about my kids… [and] later, she said that’s why she hired me; because I made a joke about my kids.”
Wolfe left the university in Aug. of 1979, but returned just six months later, in April of 1980, to work for the registrar’s office in Recitation Hall. After the newly redesigned Thomas Library was dedicated in the early 1980’s, Wolfe was tasked with overseeing the consolidation of the university’s music and science libraries, and soon found herself right back in the library environment.
In 1982, Wolfe began taking classes on campus. “There was one semester [when] I had three classes at once,” she said. “I was working a full time and a part time job somewhere else. So that was a really hard semester, but it taught me how to budget my time.”
11 years later, in 1993, Wolfe completed her bachelor’s degree. “The funny thing is I did that one course at a time over a long period of time,” she said. “And then I turned around and it’s like, ‘oh, god, I’m graduated 26 years ago.’ That proves how long I’ve been here.”
Betsy Dean, the library’s senior media assistant, came to Wittenberg in 1979, and retired just one day after her 41st work anniversary with the school. Dean replaced Wolfe in the library in Aug. 1979. She grew up in and around libraries, and was enthralled at the idea of working in one when the opportunity to fill Dean’s shoes at Wittenberg’s library arose.
Dean has worked consistently since she was in her teens. “When we were furloughed this summer is first time I’ve been off since I was 14,” Dean said, in reference to the COVID-19 budgetary constraints implemented by the university in April 2020. “I’ve never had a summer off, so it was great.”
Both Dean and Wolfe agreed on their reasoning for staying at Wittenberg for more than 40 years. “Working with students has been great,” Dean said. “I love the kids, because they’re our future… it really does keep you younger,” Wolfe said.
In retirement, Dean is taking some time off to enjoy her first time off in years. Wolfe, meanwhile, is working at the Springfield Public Library. “I’ll still get [to work with]… little old ladies that I will teach to use the [digital] catalog,” she said. “I will be flying on the computer. Some of them don’t want to know how, but the ones that want to know, I love to teach them.”
Lehman is moving to Bloomington, IN, where he lived for several years during his graduate studies at the University of Indiana Bloomington. Like Dean, he is enjoying his freedom from work for now. “We’ll just see what comes,” he said.
Lehman, Dean and Wolfe each discussed the changes they had witnessed at Wittenberg since their arrival.
“I think people still love books,” Dean said. “But I think in some ways the university has kind of made us feel like we’re not as important as we used to be.”
Wolfe was concerned with the university’s external reputation. “We used to have a reputation we were known as all our athletes were known as, you know, scholar athletes,” she said. “They were all good students and athletes. And that was kind of the image the school a sweet little private college with these wonderful athletes who were also scholars, and we’ve just changed. I’m not sure exactly how the world looks at us now for sure.”
Lehman was similarly concerned for the student body. “We’ve gotten smaller,” he said. “Our enrollment has declined since I’ve been here. I don’t take any blame for that responsibility, but we’ve gotten smaller. And I think we’ve also become more Ohio-centric: more of our students are from Ohio than they used to be. We don’t have the number of international students we used to have.”
Lehman remained hopeful for the future of the university. “As it stands right now, I hope, and I do think that we’re going in the right direction,” he said.
Despite their concerns for the university’s direction, Dean left some parting wisdom for who she hopes will be future library staff. “Just enjoy the students,” she said. “The students are the best thing about Wittenberg, and some of the people that we work with.”