June 29: Owen Library’s Joe Ford Retires

After 34 years of service to WSU, Joe Ford with Owen Science and Engineering Library will retire Friday, June 29. A reception will be held 2:30-4 p.m. Wednesday, June 27, in the Terrell Library atrium.

Packed and ready for a road trip, Owen Library’s Joe Ford shows off his first motorcycle circa 1980.

The library and archives paraprofessional 3 worked at various WSU units through the years before joining Owen Library in 2001, including Media Materials, Biomedical Communications, Student Publications and the Daily Evergreen.

“I’ve greatly enjoyed the people and the pace at Owen and have taken a great deal of satisfaction in helping patrons find what they need there,” Ford said. “Libraries in general are such wonderful things because of the huge —nearly unlimited— amount of information we have access to. All types, all formats, for all ages, on any subject.”

Working in early media

Raised in Louisiana, Ford came to WSU originally for graduate school, earning a master’s in wildland recreation management in 1982. That same year, he married Margaret Paden, a library and archives paraprofessional 4 in WSU Libraries’ technical services department. Two years later, Ford began work as a media assistant in the former Instructional Media Services when it was located in the Holland Library basement.

There, Ford was responsible for the care, storage and maintenance of several types of now-obsolete media, such as 16-mm film and Betamax videos. He was promoted to media services supervisor, scheduling media presentations on campus as well as renting films to other institutions.

When the department was restructured, Ford was introduced to circulation procedures at Holland and stayed at the library until the new next-door addition was constructed in 1994, helping to move a large portion of Holland’s collection into what would become Terrell Library.

“Thousands of carts of books and other materials were loaded, rolled over and shelved by dozens of volunteers,” Ford recalled of the big interlibrary move. “In a remarkably short time, WSU had two big libraries full of books. The planning and layout of that move boggles my mind to this day.”

Weathering library closures

Not all changes were as welcome as Terrell’s opening. In 2012, the closure of the Fischer Agricultural Sciences, Architecture and Brain Education libraries funneled their collections into Owen Library as well as Holland. Shortly after that, one floor of today’s Animal Health Library was remodeled as office space, and many pharmacy journals came to Owen, Ford recalled.

“Budget crises seem to come and go, yet somehow WSU’s staff and faculty find ways to keep things going,” he said. “All of this moving required a lot of tearing down old shelving and rebuilding it in new places. I learned to put together quite a bit of that shelving for Owen’s growing collections.”

Helping Ford weather those crises are the people he works with in Owen, including Michael Landers, library and archives paraprofessional 2, and Robert Hart, access services supervisor. Landers and Hart describe fond recollections of their colleague.

“When I first joined the unit, my occasional lapses with respect to the use of polite language prompted the appearance of a ‘cuss jar,’” Landers said. “It didn’t have the desired effect. People started to view the penalty as absolution for cursing. After two years, everybody in the unit had deposited quarters into the jar except for Joe.”

Hart told of one student employee’s urgent voicemail needing help with his broken-down car. When Hart returned the call, he learned that Ford had come to the student’s rescue.

“Joe had not only made a special trip into town, he’d also brought a tow rope and pulled the kid’s vehicle back to his apartment parking lot for him,” Hart said. “All this, and he’d recommended a good mechanic.”

—Story by Nella Letizia