Ralph Ellsworth – Mentor
Even before graduation, Roscoe Rouse was courting me for a position at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. I had made up my mind that I would not stay in Oklahoma but I wanted to work at a University and, to go someplace pretty – someplace where it was cool in the summer, where it rained, and where there were lots of trees. I applied to the University of Washington, Washington State University, the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and the University of Colorado. All five replied with job offers.
The offer that was right up my alley came from the University of Colorado – as the Music Librarian. While the letter came from the Librarian, Gene Wilson, by the time I reported he had been named Vice President and the new Librarian was Ralph Ellsworth. It was another of those pivotal points in my life when I was in the right place at the right time.
Ralph turned out to be the most important mentor of my professional life. He was a boss without peer. Creative and innovative, he was always questioning and always inspiring. He taught me to “question.”
Ralph would call me into his office and would, like a repeating rifle, fire off questions and suggestions. I would take notes and say “I’ll think about it and get back with you.”
My method of working was to sit and think about a problem, prepare pros and for our next discussion and decision-making sessions.
Soon he began to trust me to know when I needed help in making decisions, and when I could make the decisions on my own, only reporting to him the progress.
At the University of Colorado, I held three different positions. From Music Librarian, I was promoted to Circulation Librarian and then was promoted to Assistant Librarian for Public Services. In these, as well as all other positions during my career, I began a habit of keeping a list of problems needing attention. On some, I would know a solution for immediate implementation. On more difficult problems, I would prepare a “white paper,” for discussion purposes, defining the problem, outlining the possible solution, and address budget implications. Ralph’s training was invaluable.
For problems that had been solved, it was gratifying to mark them off my list. However, when all but the unsolvable had been addressed, I would get restless. Fortunately, that seldom happened because I always would get a promotion – with a new set of problems. I love problem solving. Ralph supported me throughout my career. He even understood why I wanted to leave a promising career to join the Peace Corps. He kept track of me.
On my return from Malaysia, I was being interviewed for a position at Washington University in Saint Louis. The Librarian, Andy Eaton, reported to me that he had just called Ralph while I was being given a tour of the Library. Andy asked Ralph whether I would be able to head the Catalog Department with so little cataloging experience. Ralph had responded to Andy’s query “If Joe says he can, there will be no doubt.” – still mentoring.
Later, after I had been promoted at the Library of Congress to Chief of the Descriptive Cataloging Department, one day Ralph came into my office like a whirlwind – no doubt scattering a few Section Heads in his wake, sat down, fired off a few important questions relevant to problems for the Library of Congress, jumped up and left before I could catch my breath. Same wonderful Ralph – still challenging me to solve problems.
Following in Ralph’s footsteps, I also am very lucky to have mentored three nationally-known librarians, Keith Russell, now at the University of Kansas; Pam Andre, who succeeded me as Director of the National Agricultural Library; and Sarah Thomas, Director of Libraries at Cornell, the Bodleian Library at Oxford University in England and Harvard University. I also am proud of them. I claim only some of the credit for these successes – they are exceptionally talented individuals and wonderful friends.