Skip to main content
A biannual publication offering insights into the use of digital historical collections

Playing Harp and Accepting Change: A Conversation with Tim Dodge, Auburn University

Amanda Mottorn

Account Executive, Readex

Tim Dodge is reference librarian and history specialist in the Ralph Brown Draughon Library at Auburn University. Past president of the Alabama Association of College and Research Libraries, Tim has also served in numerous capacities for the Alabama Library Association, including President. He is also a member of the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Southeastern Library Association. In this conversation with Readex account executive Amanda Mottorn, Tim discusses current library challenges, a digital diary and Boogie-woogie music—in addition to offering some advice for new librarians.

Tim, what led you to library school?
It was actually a surprisingly casual decision. After graduating from college with a B.A. in History, I floundered around for a couple of months. My father encouraged me to start making career plans. Despite having enjoyed previous jobs as a cemetery maintenance man, shuttle bus driver and farm worker, I knew that a white-collar profession would be a smarter choice for long-term financial security. Rather casually, it came to mind that I had always enjoyed being in libraries. Learning that a Master's degree was required for a professional-level library career, I applied to the now-defunct School of Library Service at Columbia University and—to my surprise and pleasure—was accepted.

How has participation in professional societies such as the Alabama Library Association and ACRL been important to your growth as a librarian?
Opportunities to attend and organize workshops, as well as participate as a speaker, have definitely broadened my horizons. I've been able to contribute on statewide, regional and national levels, and I've met a large number of people whom I'm proud to know as colleagues and friends. My earliest mentor, the late Dr. Donald Vincent of the Dimond Library, University of New Hampshire, advised me early on to work in libraries that support active participation in professional associations.

The Draughon Library has 2.8 million volumes with excellent collections in historical subjects. How have you and your colleagues worked to encourage students to seek help with their research?
During our bibliographic instruction sessions, we discuss the library's incredible history resources, highlight the easy availability of our online databases and encourage students to seek our assistance with their research.

I also send e-mail notices about major acquisitions to history faculty, inspiring them to encourage student use of library resources and the research expertise of librarians. I also maintain my library's "What's New" web page and its associated Whatsnew-L listserv, which I normally update every two weeks with brief notices of new acquisitions, services and library related announcements.

How have you and your colleagues tried to foster faculty-library collaboration?
Our printed Library Newsletter to Faculty informs and inspires members of the academic faculty to take an interest in library affairs. Also, our subject specialists, in their roles as liaisons to the various academic departments and schools, proactively extend library services and opportunities for collaboration.

For example, I'm currently working on a digital project concerning a diary kept by Eddie Rickenbacker, the World War I flying ace, race-car driver and founder of Eastern Air Lines. I began work on this project last year with the invaluable assistance of Dr. W. David Lewis, Distinguished Professor of History.

Another major form of collaboration is in place between our reference librarians and the Department of English. No matter what our individual subject specialties are, we all teach library instruction classes for mandatory English Composition. Currently, the Reference Department is working closely with the Department of English to redesign our instructional program in response to major curriculum changes and also to address the growing need for information literacy among the students.

What has surprised you recently about incoming freshman classes?
How utterly tied to technology many of them seem to be! Aside from the omni-present cell phones, many if not most are also simultaneously listening to iPods, and are perhaps also using a laptop computer. I've been both surprised and dismayed that many students consider the Internet, especially the search engine, Google, to be the first, if not only, source to consult when doing academic research.

We've heard students note how helpful you've been in making them comfortable with using the library's online databases. How do you personally approach this activity?
I try to assure students that while library databases are many and varied, some of the basic search strategies are similar. Depending on the class, I try to pick interesting and perhaps unusual topics to demonstrate how to use a database and then how to locate the actual article or document, especially if it's not available with a simple point-and-click.

Topics that seem to work for me include calypso music and West Indian culture, and also the issue of censorship as connected to popular music. For the latter topic, I recently gave a brief example of music history, relating to the once-notorious rhythm-and-blues classic, "Sixty Minute Man," recorded in 1951 by Billy Ward and the Dominoes. I surprised the class—and got their immediate attention—by playing a short snippet of the song on my harmonica.

Of course, playing the harmonica isn't always practical or appropriate, so I've used other methods to demonstrate enthusiasm for the topic as well as the database under consideration. I try to leave 10 to 15 minutes free at the end of a library instruction session for students to begin doing their own research in the lab. I'm happy to circulate among them and provide pointers on how to utilize a database or to answer their individual questions.

The city of Auburn's nickname is "The Loveliest Village On The Plains." How has the area changed over the past decade and what have you enjoyed most about living in the region?
I've only been in the area since 1992 but I feel like an old-timer because of the tremendous population growth and the consequent explosion of new housing developments and shopping centers. As someone who enjoys rural life, I have to admit to some dismay, but—on the other hand—this does indicate economic health, which is a positive thing. What I've enjoyed most is the natural beauty of the many still-rural areas: the beautiful green vegetation, red soil (as a New Hampshire native, I find the red soil fascinating), rolling hills and plains and traditional Southern architecture.

As "Dr. Hepcat," you have your own "Golden Oldies" radio show on WEGL 91.1, spinning a mix of the rhythm and blues, rock 'n' roll, Doo-wop, rockabilly, gospel, blues, country and related music of the 1940s and 1950s. Where did your love of this music come from?
From a very young age, I enjoyed Boogie-woogie and blues, which I learned to play on the piano as a young kid in the 1960s. Although my friends loved Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and other modern rock musicians, I never did. Around 1970 there was a revival of 1950s rock 'n' roll on the radio, and I immediately got hooked. Over the decades, I've explored the many musical relatives and ancestors of early rock 'n' roll, acquiring a roomful of records and CDs.

One of the benefits of living in Alabama is the opportunity to attend African American gospel music programs. A lot of this music still has the feel and sound of vintage gospel even if the groups are contemporary. Since April 2007 I've found myself in the interesting position of being not just the only Caucasian member of a small church in Camp Hill, Alabama, but also the piano player. My experience in playing 1950's Boogie- woogie and Blues really helps me figure out how to accompany the wonderful gospel singing that takes place there.

What advice would you share with new librarians entering the field?
Be prepared to accept technological change for the foreseeable future. Be flexible about changing work assignments, and be willing to relocate geographically. Join professional associations and become active in them.

Always keep in mind that whether you end up in administration, technical services, public services or technological support, you are there to serve your patrons. Finally, be prepared for a fair amount of stress, but be assured that the rewards of librarianship make it worthwhile.

Stay in Touch

Receive product news, special offers and invitations, or the acclaimed Readex Report

Sign Up

By clicking "Sign Up", you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.