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Librarian looks back at half a century at UNH

In her final year at UNH, Debbie Watson still brought energy and knowledge to the reference desk of the Dimond Library. Hearing her speak of her library tutorials for young students, as well as her network of friends and colleagues, it’s easy to see that she would be missed after her departure for retirement.

The 2015-16 academic year marked a half century of college experience for Watson, as a student, faculty member and employee of UNH. She finally retired this past spring.

Where and how did her journey begin?

“I attended UNH as an undergraduate from 1959 to 1963, majoring in German, then got an MA in German in 1967,” Watson said. “I had a Fulbright [scholarship] after graduation and studied at Philipps Universitat in Madburg, Germany for the 1963-64 academic year. On my return, I got a job at UNH in the library. From 1964-1980 I was in the Cataloging Department and moved to reference in 1981.”

Dimond Library has been added to extensively over the years. One can only imagine what it was like for Watson when she was first starting out.

“When I began in the library, the building was only six years old and looked completely different than the Dimond Library of today,” Watson said. “There were no rugs, just linoleum on the floors. There was not third, or top, floor. That floor and the back, from the expansion bar by the reference desk, were added in the 1969-70 renovation.”

The technology available was from another time as well.

“We had a card catalog and many typists who typed up the catalog cards,” Watson said. “Of course there were no computers. About the most modern technology we had was microfilm and microreaders…no databases. Students of today have no conception of how easy it is to do quality research in minimal time, compared to students of that time.”

Someone with 50 years of embedded campus experience must have informed opinions of both today’s and yesterday’s young adults.

“Generally, students are students and they don’t change much over the years,” Watson said. “Only their circumstances and environment do. I think that the biggest difference between students of today and the students when I started is their access to information through the internet.”

Watson said she sees this as a mixed blessing.

“Today’s students have generally already researched their topics by Googling them, or looking in Wikipedia or in some general database, such as Academic Search Complete,” she said.

The backlash of this convenience is that the student will stop looking after the first relevant source of information. This presented Watson with a real challenge in recent years.

“The most difficult challenge for reference librarians,” Watson said, “is to convince students to hone their research skills to seek out the best articles, not just the most convenient. [This is done by] using subject-appropriate databases and methods. This saves the students time and provides better results.”

“My goal was always to teach students to be capable researchers…and to convince them that these skills will indeed be of great use in their future lives,” she said.

Since students of the past were often confined to Durham, Watson feels that there was more of a sense of community in the past.

“There were no buses to the malls, if there were malls; many fewer cars; curfews in the women’s dorms,” Watson said. “Hockey was the big sport and the rink was outside, about on the old site of the swimming pool. So there was much more team spirit. And certainly fewer distractions.”

Important eras in American history came and went. Watson was at UNH during the Cold War as well as the Vietnam era, when she saw a few protests on campus.

“It was the physics department that was the first and fiercest opponent of the Vietnam War,” Watson said. “Not the English department, as you may have heard.”

After 50 years of involvement with her alma mater, Watson reflected on what meant the most to her throughout the years.

“Working with the students and faculty, and especially teaching,” she said. “There is no better feeling than to have a student you have helped return with a friend in tow who is in need of help, and say, ‘Here, go to her, she really told me how to find things.’”

Watson also mentioned how she experienced all of the technological changes that have taken place over the last 50 years; she enjoyed showing people how to use them correctly and effectively.

The 2016 fall semester at UNH saw several nice young students begin work at Watson’s old post at the Dimond Library reference desk. They are advised to pace themselves, as they have 49 and a half years to catch up to Watson.

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