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Sayre retiring as Hewes Library director

Barry McNamara
06/27/2018
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Rick Sayre’s four-decade career in college libraries is much like the newspaper boy who eventually becomes the paper’s publisher.

In fact, newspapers were part of Sayre’s early exposure to the profession, from which he’ll retire June 30 after serving as director of Monmouth College’s Hewes Library the past 20 years.

Sayre’s first professional position was at the Oklahoma College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery in 1977 but he had actually been working in a library since he was 10 years old, helping his father at the seminary library at Phillips University in Enid, Okla.

“I’d shelve books and put newspapers on sticks,” he said. “I even worked my way up to book allocation.”

Sayre worked at his undergraduate alma mater until 1998, the year Phillips closed. That spring, he said, “I saw an ad for the Monmouth position, and I had a feel or a sense of it being what I had at Phillips.”

Sayre was drawn by the people he met at Monmouth, and also by the opportunity to participate in a major renovation of Hewes Library. Even before he’d started the position, Sayre provided input on the $7 million project, which was designed to turn the library into a “showpiece” and a “place where people wanted to be.”

“I remember still being in Oklahoma and looking at some pictures of the library,” he said. “The architects asked me what I thought of it, and I said, ‘Well, it looks like you could blow a few holes in that thing.’”

Becoming a campus ‘showpiece’

In 1998, Hewes Library had few windows and only one (west) entrance. Changes to the exterior included 32 new windows and an entrance on the east side, where about 70 percent of the College’s students lived.

“The windows have made all the difference,” said Sayre. “Before, if it was night and you were coming out of the student center, you could look toward the library and you wouldn’t know there was a building there at all.”

Air-conditioning the building was also a difference-maker, and Sayre was especially excited about a couple other interior changes. One was the addition of the Barnes Electronic Classroom.

“I’m really pleased we could pull that off,” he said of the 48-seat classroom. “I like technology, so that was a lot of fun to work with the installers and help design that. I’ve always felt that classroom was my baby.”

Other popular changes included a coffee shop (now Einstein Brothers Bagels) and a focus on updated décor, including cherry woodworking that is prevalent in several places, including the Rare Book Room. “The old building shouted ‘1970,’” said Sayre. “It was full of yellow and orange and avocado green.”

The “showpiece” renovation worked, and Sayre has the numbers to prove it. In the first year after the renovation, attendance doubled to more than 165,000. It had never cracked 100,000 before.

“We came up with a room reservation system on the fly,” said Sayre of the demands caused by the increased traffic. “That system helped precipitate the current room reservation system.”

Bigger audiences, more titles

Through the years, attendance continued to grow, peaking at 236,000 six years ago. Since then, the College’s five-year-old Center for Science and Business has affected attendance, but it’s still above 150,000 annually.

Other numbers also support the library’s success under Sayre. When he started, the College had 300 professional journals. Today, the campus community can access 60,000 such titles. The College’s membership to the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI) has produced more big numbers.

“Through I-SHARE, our students not only have access to the collections our library has to offer, but also to the resources of the 80 other academic libraries in Illinois that are participants in the I-SHARE catalog managed by CARLI,” said Sayre, who also noted the College has access to more than 170 databases. “Combined, that totals over 10 million titles and more than 33 million items.”

As for what’s next for the Hewes Library – besides new director (and former staff member) Sarah Henderson succeeding Sayre – he said, “There was a real period of technological growth in libraries, and I think now what you’ll see are libraries moving more into student services, lining up with academic support services. We already share the building with (the Office of) Information Services, and I think you’ll see academic support services having a presence here, too.”

Immersed in history

As an undergrad, Sayre studied history, and working in a library has allowed him several opportunities to go back in time. One is through discovering some of the works in Hewes Library’s collection, including “incunabula” – books printed in Europe before 1501. Some of the “fun things to find” in the library are a history of Spain from 1499 and an index of Augustinian works from 1490.

But the historical artifact that has really drawn Sayre’s attention is the College’s replica of the Canopus Stone – an inscription of a record of a great assembly of priests held at Canopus, Egypt, in 238 BCE. Included in the inscription is a call for a “leap day” every four years – an idea that eventually took hold some 200 years later. Cast in plaster from the original stone, it has been compared in significance to the Rosetta Stone, due to its inscription being carved in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Greek and demotic script.

“Canopus Stone replicas were sent to three cities – Berlin, London and Monmouth,” said Sayre. “I’ve really been fascinated by it, and my spiel on it has grown from five minutes, to 15 minutes to 50.”

Sayre has also quenched his thirst for history through his volunteer work for the Carl Sandburg Historical Site in Galesburg. A board member since 2009, he’s also the treasurer and bookstore manager and has set up the organization’s website and Facebook page.