In each issue of this newsletter, we profile a staff member who works in the library or other related department. This issue features Joseph Watson, the Library’s Preservation Manager & Special Collections & Archives Associate.
What type of work does your job entail?
I oversee the preservation of the physical collections held by the libraries, focusing on Special Collections. This involves managing our in-house conservation treatment and binding program, coordinating the work of vendors who conserve and digitize the collections, monitoring the physical environment for climate control and pests, educating users about proper handling techniques, and preparing for emergencies. I also help researchers and classes in Special Collections, assist with exhibits, and generally help keep things running smoothly there. I’m also the coordinator of facilities requests for the library, which mean I deal a lot with building issues.
Do you find your work interesting?
Yes, I really enjoy my work! I enjoy serving the folks who do research in Special Collections and I learn something new and interesting every day as I help answer their questions. I like caring for the long term health of the collections, it’s very gratifying. While there’s always room for improvement, I’m generally proud of where we’re at, we’re in pretty good shape because we don’t defer maintenance.
How did you come to be interested in working in libraries?
I’ve always been interested in history and preservation, even when I was a teenager, although my first career was that of a manager of restaurants and country inns. Before starting at Middlebury College in 1993 I worked as resident caretaker at Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, where I started to become really interested and experienced with archives and collections.
What do you like best about working at Midd?
Two things: First, I’ve appreciated how I’ve been able to grow in my career. I started as the Bindery Supervisor in Starr Library in 1993, gradually took on more responsibility as the years went by, learned a lot on the job, took classes, received a certificate in Preservation Management from the Library School at Rutgers, received several small promotions that added up over time, and twenty-three years later the job I have now is quite different from the one I started in. That’s good for both Middlebury College and me. Second, as a gay man I’ve always appreciated how open and affirming Middlebury College is. For example, back in the mid-’90s the College granted domestic partner benefits to employees long before civil unions and marriage equality were thought of. In 1995 I was granted some release time to work with the queer student group to help organize a statewide GLBTQ convention here. That was great, and I’m still friends with some of the students I met through that project. I’ve always felt comfortable being myself here.
If you could give one piece of advice to a new employee at Middlebury, what would it be?
It’s at the bottom of my email sig file… “The glory lies in doing well what you’re doing” — Robert Frost
Is there any person on campus who mentored you, or helped you grow into your job?
I’ve had some excellent, supportive supervisors over the years, but thinking back to the early part of my career I appreciated the advice of my colleague Bill Warren, supervisor of what was then the Library Serials Dept. and who retired in 2010. He knew how to deal well with people, and he helped me work through some thorny inter-personal issues. I learned a lot from him.
Do you have a favorite place on campus or in town?
I love the old reading room in Starr Library. Although my office in that building was a dreary, cramped space in the basement, I miss some of the other beautiful spaces there.
What are some of the most significant things happening in your life outside of work right now?
I’ll soon be completing my third, two-year term as a member of the Judicial Nominating Board for the State of Vermont. The board is made up of members of the Vermont Bar, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and citizens like me appointed by the governor. We vet applicants to judicial positions and send a list of the qualified ones to the governor for appointment. The work has been both very interesting and very challenging.
On the fun side, my husband Michael and I are about to go on a two week vacation, traveling across Canada by train!
Is there anything else that you would like to share about your time at Middlebury?
One more thing I like about working at Middlebury College– we’re a not-for-profit, and even though some people make more money than others, nobody is getting rich, and we’re doing some very important work. The world is made just a bit better because our graduates go off and become part of it. That feels good.