Washington University, Saint Louis

Washington University


Having finished my two years of service in the Peace Corps in 1965, The Greyhound Bus Company came to my rescue upon my return.  I had received $500 in mustering out pay from the Peace Corps which didn’t provide much in the way of finding a job and resettling.


Greyhound had a program for those Americans who had been out of the country for at least a year.  One could buy a ticket for $99 that could be used for going anywhere in the United States, except Hawaii and Alaska – but with only one proviso – you had to use it within 99 days of the ticket’s purchase.


I don’t recall all of the places that I interviewed; however, I went back and forth across the country several times interviewing for positions, usually stopping in San Angelo, Texas where my mother was in a nursing home and where my brother Dick and his family lived.  If possible, I traveled at night, renting showers at the bus stations.  It saved the cost of a hotel room.  I was hoping to be situated on, or near, either the east or west coast.


I had just interviewed at Cornell University and was winding my way back, via Washington, DC (where I had dinner with a Malaysian friend, Normin Shah and her mother – another story) to San Angelo when I found myself in Saint Louis early one morning where I had to transfer to another bus.  My suitcase did not arrive, and I had to wait until late afternoon for my next bus.  Uttering a few curse words and, in order to not waste a day in the bus station, I checked the yellow pages to see if there were any universities in St. Louis.  I found that there were two:  Washington University and St. Louis University.  I called the former and asked if there were any openings in their library.  Indeed, they had an opening as Head of the Catalog Department.  While I didn’t really qualify since all of my positions had been with public services, it was an area in which I was interested in getting experience.  Averill Nero, the Personnel Officer, asked if I were interested in applying.  When I answered that I was, she asked me when I would like to interview.  I explained my predicament and I replied that I would like an interview “now.”  She was wonderful and arranged for an interview at 10:00 A.M.


I quickly took a shower at the bus station, put on my dirty and rumpled clothes (I didn’t even have a jacket), and took a taxi to the University.  I met with Averill Nero, who took me for the interview with the Librarian, Andrew Eaton and his Assistant, Steve Salmon.   I explained that I was anxious to get some experience in the technical services and that I was sure that I could take on the position of Chief of the Cataloging Department.  While Steve was giving me a tour of the Library, I found that Dr. Eaton, rather than writing my former boss, had telephoned Dr. Ralph Ellsworth at the University of Colorado.  Dr. Eaton reported that he had asked Ralph if I would be capable of running a cataloging department, and had gotten the answer “if Joe says he can do it, he can.”  They offered me the position on the spot.  While, by this time, I had had several positions offered to me, none of which I was interested in, none had been offered after only a one-hour interview.  Since I had an outstanding application with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, I asked if I could delay my answer for two weeks.  They agreed.


I returned to the bus station, found my bag, and left for San Angelo where I spent two weeks visiting with my mother while my brother Dick and his family had a vacation.  I believe that Dick was going on a training class for the Navy Reserve while his wife Dorothy Lee, children Susan and James, had a vacation.  My stay was rather expensive for them.  I probably ruined the lawn mower by filling it with kerosene rather than gasoline.


While in San Angelo, I received a letter from Hong Kong offering me the position of Head Librarian.  Unfortunately, the salary that was offered was less than the one advertised.  I’m sure that this was meant to open the bargaining.  I was not in the mood for bargaining so wrote them that I was withdrawing my name from consideration and that they need not send me a counteroffer.


Instead of living in Hong Kong, I accepted the position as head of the Catalog Department at Washington University in Saint Louis.


On my first day in the Catalog Department, it became clear to me that I didn’t know anything about “series” and many of the complications that they presented.  Evading discussion with the staff, I spent the first evening in the department working out the complications – publisher’ series? traced or not traced? classified as a whole or in parts? etc. etc.  I was, therefore, able to speak “cataloging language” for doubting catalogers.


On to another hurdle – organizing the large backlog of books awaiting cataloging.  Every desk and table were covered with such books.  It took about a week to organize them so that they could be out of sight and could be located.


Steve Salmon, my immediate supervisor, was impressed; thereby, opening up a very important career channel – one that ultimately lead me to the most important technical services position in the United States at the Library of Congress.  Steve Salmon who, later, moved to the Library of Congress, suggested that I apply for the vacancy there for Assistant Chief of Descriptive Cataloging.


Thanks to Washington University for taking a chance on me but, most of all, to the Greyhound Bus Company, that not only provided me with the cheap bus ticket but also, for losing my luggage.