At a spry 63 years of age, Ms. Martha Rawlings decided to retire. Her career at the library spanned over 40 years, the merging of University of Chattanooga into the UT system, a few library deans, a department change, almost two new buildings, and, what may be the most important shift of all: leaving the Dewey Decimal System. The library held a retirement party for Martha on December 31, 2012 and we wish her the very best. Of course, we couldn’t let her get out of here without an exit interview.
When did you start working here?
I started working here full-time in November, 1970. I worked here part-time in 1968 or 1969 when the schools merged, and then I moved into a full-time position that Dr. Carroll [Dean of the Library at the time] made available for me. And have been in the same department ever since.
How did your role and position in the library evolve over time?
I started out as Library Assistant and was upgraded to Senior Library Assistant, then finally to Senior Library Specialist, but that took a few years. I was in Cataloging until two years ago when Cataloging merged with Acquisitions and it became Materials Processing.
How did you become involved in Cataloging?
When I first started, they needed someone to process books full-time, so that’s what I did. I made sure everything went to the shelves and all that stuff. At that time my boss was Mary White Hodge. She decided the only way for me to move up in that position was to catalog. So she’s the one who taught me the basics of cataloging. At that time we still had the Dewey Decimal System. When we moved here [into the Lupton building] we changed to the Library of Congress system. That took a while…we were doing books through the 1980s. One reason they changed from Dewey to LC is because there were so many books with the same call number. And call numbers were getting longer.
Do you remember much from the move into Lupton in the ’70s?
It was not really a fun time. We kind of had a fun time doing it, and seeing it done. The library was closed for awhile, before students could get into it. And there was the big flood. The air conditioning messed up on the 3rd floor. Someone started hearing water. And everyone rushed up there. Neil, who worked in reference at the time, was up there holding an umbrella, trying to keep the books from getting wet, while people were pulling books off the shelf.
What is the biggest change you witnessed during your time at UTC?
The biggest change was the full integration of the university. When I first came to UTC, it was basically a forced integration. And then it became more open and more blacks and more nationalities started coming. It wasn’t always that way, but now it’s free-er. I think that’s probably one of the biggest changes.
What is the biggest change you witnessed at the library?
As far as the library goes, probably for me, was the way the departments changed. There seems to be less and less work for staff to do, because we’re going to more digital stuff. So there’s not as much for people to do anymore. That’s part of the big change. That probably started two or three years ago. Working in this department, we still get a lot of stuff in. But everything is going digital. So many people prefer it that way.
What have you enjoyed most about working at the library?
I really like the people here. There were times when there was a lot more togetherness than there is now. And that was always fun. When I first starting worked here, there was Ms. Murgai, there was a black lady at circ, and there was me. Those were the only three people who were different in the library. And we had fun, you know. The whole month of December was spent celebrating. We ate from December 1st through Christmas Day.
And people got along well?
Everybody is their own individual person. Everybody has their own quirks. But everybody here is a nice person. You’re not gonna get along with everybody. But as far as I can see it, I got along with everybody. I don’t feel that I’m a hard person to work with. I mean, maybe not everybody sees it that way. I don’t mind helping people and most people don’t mind helping me. Overall it’s been a good job.
What attracted you to working in the library?
Books! Working with books and seeing what was out there made me interested in doing that. I like working in the cataloging department. I’m not a public person so much, so I don’t necessarily like being in the public, but working in circ has helped that a bit and working on the second floor, because I like working with students. I’ve always liked helping them. I’ve always wanted to either be a university librarian or a high school librarian. But the actual cataloging of them and seeing how people think. As a cataloger you get to see the books before anyone else does. You can decide this is pretty good, this has got a pretty good review, this is worth putting out there. So working the back and front ends, you can say to a student, “Oh yeah we have that.” That helps a lot.
What do you like about working with students?
I just like working with kids. Especially with young kids. Because I wanted to be a teacher, or maybe an elementary or high school librarian. Seeing them learn. And my feeling is, if a child starts out right, they end up right. But if they get a teacher or somebody in elementary school who messes with their minds, they don’t turn out as well, but if you can catch a child when they’re young, then they can be great people. I always felt that way.
Do you have any big retirement plans?
My grand plan is to volunteer at a daycare my kids went to. At one of them we have actually given them books. I don’t know if this is public information, but with the textbooks, especially the reading or math ones, we get new ones every six years. At some point, probably six or seven years (we used to throw them away), I asked if the Children’s Home/Chambliss Shelter could get the books. Especially the reading books. Because they have a lot of kids. A place where kids are put when their parents are in jail or elsewhere. So they were starting a library, and I thought, “Ok this would be great, we can put the books there.” And that actually helped them out a lot. That was one of my favorite things to do.
How often do you plan on volunteering?
A couple of days a week. That’s what I’m planning on doing at this point. And I can either work in the library or with the children.
What about non-grand plans?
Working in my garden, trying to start a vegetable garden, trying to make my yard beautiful.
You going to try and grow anything specific?
Definitely tomatoes. I want to try my hand at cantaloupe and probably green peppers and stuff like that. I may try turnip greens, but I’m not sure if I’m ready for that.
Try to get a lot of work on my house done. Probably babysit my grandkids. I’ve got five grandkids now. Some of them live in Georgia, so I only see them a couple of times a year. And I may actually go back to school. I was a student at UTC and planning on finishing college and going off to library school. But life has a way of making things different. My mother got real sick and that was a priority for me and then I had kids. I only have a year and a half on my undergraduate degree, so I may come back to that. If I decide not to do that, I’d probably go to Chatt State and work on something in the gardening field.
Do you think you’ll have any problems adjusting to life without a routine work schedule?
To get up every day and not really have somewhere to go…that’s gonna be hard for me. But I didn’t really think about that until a week ago. “What am I going to do with myself? I don’t wanna sleep all day.” When my mother retired, I tried to get her involved in stuff, but she didn’t want to do anything. And then she got sick, and that was that. I don’t want to be in that position, so I’m going to keep busy. I’m going to get up and go walking and stuff like that. I even actually went to the Brainerd Center where I live and they have things like water aerobics or crochet class. So I’m thinking of stuff I can do. And there’s always the Senior Center in Eastgate. Some of my friends go there. They do the line dancing, though I don’t know if I can do that. I’m not into line dancing. Although I went over there one day and saw some old men and a pool table. And they were just sitting there. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t want to not work to go sit somewhere. I just can’t see myself sitting at home all day.
And what’s this we hear about you still working part-time?
I work as an usher at the Arena sometimes. But I can’t do that for two months, because it’s a state job. I won’t start that until March. But I work at the Lookouts during the summer, so I’ve already got two part-time jobs lined up. The Lookouts only do five games every other week. My son was in high school when I started there. I’ve been doing the games for at least seven years. You know, you’ve gotta make ends meet. To me, those two jobs are fun jobs. I get to meet people. At the Arena, if the circus is in town, I get to see the circus. Or the Icescapades. Cher came in town! I got to see Cher! Maybe three or four years ago, but I was on the floor. I got to see people dress up like Cher. I don’t mind working the floor, depending on the concert. Because people are rowdy. Elton John came. That was a good concert. It’s a fun job to work. You get paid and you get to enjoy the concert.
Was there any one moment where you realized it was time to retire?
Kind of like a moment. Just one day, it was just, “Ok. I’m ready. This is it.” I’ve been going through retirement workshops for a while, but it’s always been, “I can’t really do that now.” And then one day earlier this year…when I finally made up my mind, I had to do it, because if I hadn’t, I probably would have stayed. But it was just something. I can’t really say what happened, it was just something that came to me. It’s just scary. I mean, I’ve been here for 42 years. I started when I was 21. That’s a long time. When you see yourself starting to change the way you feel about a place, it’s really time to go. And you don’t want to change your mind, your heart, and your attitude toward people. And I don’t want to do that. You change a little bit, but it shouldn’t be such a drastic change that you don’t like the way you are. You should never not like the way you are. And if you ever get to a point in any job where you don’t like yourself, it’s time to go. I never thought I would be here 42 years. I always planned on doing something else, but life has its up and downs for you. Plans change sometimes. You just have to go with the flow.
You still going to come visit us?
I’ll be back in to visit. I’m one of those people who doesn’t hate visiting the library, so I’ll be back.