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Gordon Miller to Retire

by Reba Leiding, Knowledge Edge Editor

Gordon Miller retires at the end of August, 2003, after serving for twenty-five years as a librarian at JMU.  Among his many accomplishments, Gordon has worked as liaison for the departments of history and political science, and has become known as the library’s top-notch primary source researcher.  He is also the resident genealogy expert, teaching several genealogical research workshops each summer sponsored by the Friends of Carrier Library.  He has produced dozens of subject guides in print and online versions, ranging from his definitive 36-page guide on the Civil War to research guides created at a professor’s request for a specific course.  He is also the author of a comprehensive book on local history, Rockingham : an Annotated Bibliography of a Virginia County (1989) that he updated in 1998 with an online supplement .

Early in his career at JMU, Gordon helped establish the library’s Public Services Desk services.  Prior to that time, Circulation, Reserves and Interlibrary Loan shared an office and the library’s main desk.  “I always felt comfortable referring students to Gordon,” said Judi Breeden, current Circulation Manager.  “I knew he would go the extra mile for them.”  Judi herself is scheduled to retire in May after 31 years at Carrier Library. 

Gordon also founded the library’s instruction program, reports Lynn Cameron, the Library’s current Instruction Coordinator.  The instruction program at JMU grew from this solid beginning, and is now recognized as one of leaders in the field as embodying some of the best practices in information literacy programming for undergraduates (see related article in this issue).  Gordon’s high standards for instruction continue to influence a new generation of librarians.  “His handouts and class materials are so thorough that he helped to raise my expectations for the level of knowledge of a subject area,” said Rebecca Feind, English Librarian.

One behind-the-scenes job that Gordon takes very seriously is collection development, the time-consuming process of determining what materials should be added to the library’s history and political science collections.  “Gordon is a model liaison, and a colleague you can depend on,” says Lynn Cameron.  He works on some portion of collection development every day, whether by reading reviews in scholarly journals, researching publishers or vendors, or filling out order requests. 

When asked what motivates him, Gordon’s points to his lifelong interest in history.  He taught high school history for a time before moving on to library school.  “To me, history is alive and exciting—everything connects to it.”  He points out that any subject or current event has a historical aspect to it.  He is able to convey this enthusiasm and in-depth knowledge across a spectrum of subjects, assisting students and faculty in numerous departments.

The hallmark of Gordon’s approach to assisting faculty and students is his personal touch.  “Gordon shows incredible patience and commitment to professionalism,” said Professor Mike Galgano, Chair of the History Department.  He, and other professors, noted Gordon’s skill and persistence in tracking down hard-to-find citations.  “If he can’t find it, it doesn’t exist,” Professor Galgano said.  The History Department accorded Gordon two honors as a way of recognizing him as a colleague and historian:  about twelve years ago the department began listing Gordon as an affiliated faculty member in the American Historical Association directory; he has also been awarded an honorary membership in Phi Alpha Theta.

Philip Riley, Professor of History, notes that many professors coming to JMU graduated from universities with large research libraries.  “I tell them, we don’t have a research library, but the staff here is excellent.  With people like Gordon, they will have access to the materials they need.”

Professor Galgano said that around a quarter of the department’s students present at conferences during the year, a remarkable achievement that he attributes in part to Gordon’s work with students.  Georgia Hancock, a History major currently studying in Italy, says she first met Gordon through library instruction for History 395 and 396.  “Gordon told us all about the various ways to do historical research at the Carrier Library, as well as using ILL and other services.  So naturally, he was one of the first people I turned to when I started researching my senior honors thesis this past fall,” she said.  “Gordon was incredibly helpful.  For at least an hour he thoroughly explained every reference, bibliographic, and online source that he could think of that pertained to my topic.”  She added, “He treats every student with utmost respect, whether the student is working on a two-page paper or a master’s thesis.”

Gordon’s persistent work reaches even beyond JMU.  For years, Gordon has been a resource for the library’s ILL department, helping them verify citations and find sources.  One of the favored stories in ILL office lore is when Gordon helped the staff locate some articles from the 1884 edition of Ohio Farmer for a history professor.  The journal had been preserved on microfilm by University Microfilm, Inc. with several years’ of the journal on a single roll.  ILL requested the microfilm from another library, but when the roll arrived, the articles the professor wanted weren’t on it.  Thinking the copy was defective, ILL re-ordered from a different library, but again the articles could not be found.  After investigating the rolls of film, Gordon determined that UMI had omitted the 1884 issues when the journal was originally microfilmed, and called the company to tell them of their mistake.

Gordon would be the first to agree that people are more important than technology, but that does not mean he doesn't utilize technology in his work.  Besides his extensive online subject guides, he has researched and indexed numerous Internet resources for both political science and history. But he reports that his greatest source of satisfaction is his work with students.  After all, he says, “what’s more important than that?”

The Library is providing Gordon with office space after his retirement, where he can continue his research associated with the Rockingham annotated bibliography and his genealogy work, says Dean Ralph Alberico.  The Libraries & Educational Technologies unit is hosting a campus-wide retirement party for Gordon on May 6 at 4 p.m. in 405 Taylor Hall.

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