The Secret Lives of our Profs

Rachel Young

Gilbert was the recipient of the 2008-09 Freshman Studies Teaching Award. (Minh Nguyen)

Young: Tell me about how you came to Lawrence.
Gilbert: I grew up in the Minneapolis area. When I was five we moved out to the suburbs. I grew up in Minnetonka. I went to Carleton College, and went there as a scientist. I took all these science courses, and got to the end of sophomore year and decided I wanted to be an English major, which astonished my parents, but it was a premonition about how I was interested in lots of different things and didn’t want to narrow my focus too early. So I majored in English, and did a lot of theater [at Carleton].
After Carleton – I met the woman I later married there – [my future wife and I] were feeling kind of self absorbed, so we went to West Virginia near Charlottesville and did volunteer work for seven years in a residential community with developmentally disabled adults. It was a cluster of group homes on a 400-acre farm in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was really interesting, intense work. We were house parents, essentially. We got room and board, and at that time, 50 bucks a month. Fortunately, it was like the Peace Corps in that you accrued severance pay, and so we had pretty good savings when we finally left in 1987. Our older daughter had been born there [in West Virginia], but we needed to get back up here to where all of our families were. For a while we lived in southern Minnesota across the river from La Crosse, and we rented a little farmhouse. I worked down the dirt road at a sprout farm. These old hippies were out in the country growing and selling [all types] of sprouts. Instead of a mason jar, they were growing them in 55-gallon drums with a computerized watering system. I computerized their finances and did other things for them for about a year, but decided it wasn’t a long-term solution, so I went to graduate school. At the same time, our daughter really enjoyed going to the La Crosse public library, and she was teaching herself to read, so she would just go through a pile of books and I would stand around keeping an eye on her and watching what was going on at the library. It was looking to me like a really interesting place, and eventually I realized that people actually get paid to work in libraries. So, I went to graduate school in Madison at the School of Library and Information Studies there, and when I was done I started looking around for a small liberal arts college to work in, and Lawrence came up, so we moved in 1990 and have been here ever since.
Young: What should students here know about the library, and how has the way that people look at libraries changed since the introduction of technology?
Gilbert: Libraries have, when you talk about technology traditionally, been on the cutting edge of technology use. Libraries have always been where people get to interact with technology, and so it’s been a big change for us. We have these big piles of books, how do we deal with new things? That’s been a major challenge for libraries. What students need to know is that librarians are here to help save your time. You can spend hours and hours digging around in Google or whatever else trying to find something for a paper or you can ask a reference librarian and they can help you find something in very short order. We see this all the time, students getting frustrated and banging away at the computers, when all they need to do is ask. Librarians are very well trained to use databases, and they know the tricks of searching. I think there are still a lot of people using books, and I think there are going to be a lot of reasons in the future to continue to use books; they’re not going away any time soon. I think they [books and technology] are complementary. We’re not replacing books with Kindle readers and electronic books any time soon.
Young: What else do you do at Lawrence besides work in the library?
Gilbert: People ask me what I do all day and I tell them I attend meetings, and they always say, “oh, so you must be an administrator,” which is how it goes pretty much. I serve on a lot of committees. I teach freshman studies, which I do every year. Recently I’ve just been teaching the winter term. It’s fun. I won the Freshman Studies Teaching Prize last year, which was a great surprise and a great honor. I attribute it to the excellent class I had. I was the director of instructional technology, and I was the original campus web master. The library is actually where Lawrence’s first website started.
Young: Do you have any hobbies?
Gilbert: My family. For recreation, I like to bike. I walk or bike to work year round. It’s about two miles, so I do that; it’s my exercise program. I like reading and crossword puzzles – keeps my brain going. I have two daughters: one is 24 and the other is 17, and the younger one was just admitted to Lawrence, so she may well be coming here this fall. She is also interested in a lot of different things.
Young: Is the Lawrence University library a big resource for the Fox Cities community?
Gilbert: Yes, we have a borrowing relationship with several libraries throughout the Fox Cities community. Appleton residents are welcome to come in and sit and read the newspapers that they don’t have at Appleton public and use the open computers for quick things. We have a courtesy card arrangement, which means that if someone who has an Appleton public library card wants to borrow something from our library, they go to Appleton public and ask for this ‘one time’ library card, and they can come check something out. It gives people access to our collection without costing them a lot of money. I am vice president of the Outagamie Waupaca Library System. I’m on the board of the Fox Valley Library Council, which organizes the courtesy card arrangement. I’m also on the board of the Fox Cities book festival, which is coming up in mid-April. There will be lots of excellent authors coming to the Fox Valley. I’m also involved in the Wisconsin Library association, and I’m the vice president of the Friends of the Appleton Public Library as well, so all of this is promoting libraries [statewide] and learning. It helps me to know what’s going on in other organizations and it helps Lawrence as well to be involved and to know what’s going on in the Fox Valley and to be participating in library activities throughout the Fox Valley.

Gilbert was the recipient of the 2008-09 Freshman Studies Teaching Award. (Minh Nguyen)

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