Columbia International University Library Director Jo Ann Rhodes never wanted to work at CIU. Not that she did not like CIU. Her goal after graduating from Nyack College was to serve the Lord overseas. And while she did plant churches and disciple women in the Middle East, the Lord eventually closed that door and guided her into library work, including a total of 28 years at CIU on three different occasions.
But Rhodes is retiring effective Jan. 1, 2013, having served in CIU’s G. Allen Fleece Library as a circulation supervisor, book processor, cataloger, archivist, periodicals librarian and finally in 2001, she became library director.
Rhodes pondered a few questions as she reminisced on her years at CIU:
What is your fondest memory of your 28-year service to CIU?
Rhodes: Being a part of the opening of two different libraries! I was here when we opened CIU’s first library on the Monticello Road campus in the 1960s, and I was library director at the reopening of the library following the devastating fire in May 2010.
What impact did that fire have on you professionally and personally?
Rhodes: All of a sudden, we found ourselves without most of the tools we had before, and we had nothing to offer students (except, databases available via the Web page). We did not have a place to work (no chairs, no desks, no computers, no telephones), nor did we have any tools with which to work (no paper clips, no paper, no pens, no pencils, etc.). We did not know what the future would be. All we had was a smelly, dirty, sooty library.
Thankfully, I had a supervisor who was doing all he could to help me, but there was a sense in which I felt alone in this, because my staff and I were the only ones who really understood what the implications were as a librarian. In the weeks and months following the day of the fire, many faculty, staff and deans came by my temporary office and prayed with me and for me. That, I must say, is one of the greatest blessings of working at a place like CIU – we are not afraid to stand by one another for encouragement, but those first hours were difficult, to say the least.
Describe how the library and its services have changed over the past few decades.
Rhodes: Thirty years ago there was very little deliberate cooperation between libraries other than some sharing of books back and forth, and precious little of that. However, in the years since I became library director this has changed dramatically with the creation of a cooperative effort among most of the colleges and universities in the state, now known as PASCAL (Partnership Among South Carolina Academic Libraries). Students coming to CIU now take this for granted, not realizing how much our library has benefitted from our membership in this academic library consortium. We have access to over 12 million books in 57 libraries across the state through PASCAL. More than half of the databases we have listed on the library Web page are available because of our membership in PASCAL. We save more than $1 million dollars a year by paying our several thousand dollars in membership fees! That was not an option, not even an idea yet, when I entered my library career.
One of the biggest and newest challenges for libraries is finding a good balance of electronic books (e-books) and print books. University libraries all around the world are trying to find the right balance on this issue. A common perception is that everything is available via the Internet, so print books are just an “extra” in a university library nowadays. Library directors can tell “horror stories” of university administrators who have insisted on getting rid of all the print books in the library because “it is all online now.” We are fortunate in that our university administrators understand that we need a balance of print and electronic resources.
Print books are still the preferred method of getting appropriate research information that a CIU student must have for classes in Bible and theology. We must be careful to not shortchange ourselves by limiting our research to online-only resources in those areas.
What will you do in retirement?
Rhodes: The biggest reason for retiring now rather than at the end of the school year, which would be the usual time for retiring, is to devote more attention to the care of my elderly mother. Aside from that, I look forward to teaching a women’s Sunday school class in my church and doing some scrapbooking and card making. I have had numerous requests to do presentations about dealing with a library disaster, so as time permits, I may do some of that as well. I will also be continuing in my role as immediate past president of the Association of Christian Librarians.
What aspect of CIU will you miss the most in retirement?
The unique spirit of camaraderie that we have because of the emphasis on serving one another.