Kathleen List, director of library services, chuckles when she reflects on her professional career: She didn’t think it would turn out like this. She never thought she’d be retiring from Ringling College of Art and Design after 17 years, and spend 36 years working in a library.
She sits at a small round table in her office. Her walls and shelves are full of memorabilia from her time here. Aside from photos of her two sons, siblings and grandsons, there are photos of her with all of the visiting lecturers at the Ringling College Library Association’s annual Town Hall Lecture Series — the big fundraiser for the library.
There’s artwork and cutout photography done by the trustee scholars who graduated a few years ago. There’s also a gold record for her service — but that story will come a little later.
Her office has a window where she can see everyone who enters the library: a girl wearing long-sleeved flannel in 80-degree weather, followed by a boy with blue-and-green hair. List, wearing a demure gray suit jacket, is the perfect juxtaposition.
She looks bittersweet as her last day in the work force, June 20, steadily approaches. She didn’t imagine ending up here. Actually, how she became a librarian is one of her favorite stories to tell.
List landed in Missouri following graduation from Indiana University with a degree in art and French. She wasn’t getting a job as an artist right away, like she had hoped.
She’d always found a home at libraries. List’s father, Lt. Col. Hiram Hardin, was a military man who moved his family frequently. Libraries were always her constant friends.
So, jobless, List approached the University of Missouri library staff.
“I was thinking to myself while sitting across the dean of libraries, ‘A librarian? That’s the nerdiest job I can think of. I’m an artist, after all,’” she says.
But the university offered full tuition for a masters in library and information science and a part-time job. Eventually, she moved to Sarasota just for her job at RCAD.
She’s seen a lot of things change since her time here. In 1997, the campus was much different. There were fewer than 800 students; now there are upward of 1,200. The multistory buildings hadn’t yet been envisioned. The library occupied three-fourths the space it does now. Now, 30% of the collection is in storage because there’s no place to put it.
She’s helped acquire a lot of the library’s collection through public donations. List helped procure exactly what materials the students needed to fulfill their studies: DVDs, e-books, art history books, books that teach specific sequences and scholarly journals, to name a few.
And now the college is preparing to construct a new 46,000-square-foot library slated to open fall 2016, located southeast of the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Old Bradenton Road overlooking the bayou. She’s helped develop the design of the new multistory $16 million building.
Liberal arts colleges don’t typically have libraries, nor would they have something this state of the art. But List sees value in having a library here — she has seen it first-hand.
List has seen students empowered through books. She pulls out a brochure containing a photo she took of a student. He was sitting in an aisle among shelves of books with two out in front of him. The next time she saw him, he had a row of books stretching the length of the aisle. Each book was open to pages of photography that inspired him.
The image struck her so much she had to take a photo. Today, it serves as a reminder of how physical books are important for serendipitous discovery, she says. Pulling one book off the shelf and finding other books nearby that relate perfectly to the subject you’re researching is something you can’t get online.
She’s also seen what would be unusual in any non-arts library. The unpredictability and nature of Ringling College keeps her job interesting.
“I think it’s the fact that art isn’t standardized or predictable, so the needs of artists are unpredictable,” she says.
Once, a visiting artist wanted to photocopy fish and pieces of meat on the color copier for a work of art. List decided it would be OK, as long as they covered the photocopier in Saran Wrap.
All people are different — that’s been her experience. But, as she explains, the art world is “different” — on steroids.
She appreciates the unpredictability of finding art hanging from trees, protruding from walls or coming out of the ground on campus.
“I have seen how amazingly talented our students are,” she says. “It’s kind of intimidating, too, for a person who’s an artist herself.”
List hopes to get back to printmaking and painting art in her retirement, finally pursuing it with regularity. But her main hope is to embrace the seasons of Indiana and spend some time with her grandsons, who are both in high school. She also hopes to start writing. List loves historical nonfiction — particularly books spanning World War I to the Korean War, when her dad was in the service. One of her favorite writers is David McCullough.
McCullough spoke at the library association’s lecture series twice; once, he wanted to visit the library. List had just received a shipment of books of American fiction and nonfiction. He helped her unpack and looked at all the volumes.
One of her favorite memories was surprising her colleagues with the fact that she’s not only a visual artist but a singer, too. She was in a country-western dance troupe that performed live numbers.
Her colleagues learned this unexpected talent at karaoke one evening. For one of her landmark birthdays, her colleagues gave her a gold record to celebrate. She’s singing a Patsy Kline song at her retirement party in June.
She’ll certainly miss her job when she moves back home to Indiana. She’ll miss being “that person,” “the director,” “that faculty member,” “the librarian,” she says, using air quotes to describe her identities on campus. Then she gets a little choked up.
“I may miss being identified with something I consider so fulfilling and so meaningful as the work of a librarian and the work of an educator,” she says.
List’s words of wisdom
Enjoy what you do.
Do something worthwhile.
Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.
Leave yourself open to unexpected adventures.
Acknowledge what you owe to other people.
For more information on the new library, visit newringlinglibrary.com.