Eliot Circular

Hanawalt Checks Out

Photo by Leah Nash

By Randall S. Barton

Norman F. Carrigg College Librarian Vickie Hanawalt started her career in libraries when she was in junior high.

“I was paid 90 cents an hour working at the local library,” she remembers. “They let me file catalog cards, which was very good for a seventh grader. I’ve never looked back.”

After 25 years as head of the Eric B. Hauser Library, working for six deans and six Reed College presidents, Vickie is retiring. She came here in 1987 from Berkeley where she was the assistant head librarian of the Moffitt Undergraduate Library at the University of California.

As a librarian, Vickie enjoys fostering conversations between people and books. “There are conversations waiting to happen, and we’re a place that makes that possible,” she says.

In addition to developing the library’s collections and preparing its budget, she hires and manages the library staff. Because the relatively small staff tends to remain longtime members of the Reed community, each addition makes a huge impact.

Under her aegis, the college joined the Orbis Cascade Alliance, offering access to the combined collections of its 37 member institutions. Students can search for titles online and get their hands on the books within days.

Reed’s own collection of 630,000 volumes is not a generic, just-add-water kind of undergraduate compilation, Vickie says, but echoes the curriculum.

“It’s a reflection of what we teach and what our students work on for their theses. There are peaks and valleys in the collection. It’s got contours to it, which is important, especially as we are now able to get other materials through Orbis.”

The collection is the heart of a building that has been enlarged twice in her tenure but hasn’t lost its charm. It still offers plenty of nooks and crannies for students to inhabit—a phenomenon that never fails to impress visiting colleagues.

“When I go to other campus libraries I’m sometimes struck by the opposite, the degree to which they seem impersonal, underused, and somewhat without character,” Vickie says. “Students identify with this place as part of their education and we try not to mess that up.”

The library may form the academic nucleus of the college, but the origin of intellectual discovery, she says, lies within.

“At some point it’s personal, happening within yourself. When you take advantage of all these resources, human and otherwise, you are the center of that change.”

Professor Peter Steinberger [political science 1973–] admires Vickie’s consummate professionalism and the serious intelligence she brought to the job. “She also brought a profound love for all the things that make Reed different, distinctive, and wonderful,” he says. “Virtually from day one, she was a Reedie at heart.”

As her career at Reed comes to a close, she anticipates the process of reinvention and being able to read at her leisure. A friend gave her a bookmark inscribed with “Vickie Hanawalt is reading this book and it’s 10 a.m.” 

Following Hanawalt’s retirement, Dena Hutto will be the new Norman F. Carrigg College Librarian. Dena has been at Reed for 16 years, most recently as the director of reference and instruction. The college conducted a robust national search that brought several top candidates to campus. But in the end, the search committee, with the help of extensive feedback from others in the community, concluded that she was best positioned to continue the fine work of her predecessor. Congratulations, Dena!