A Virtual Look Back with Shelia Webb

Shelia Webb on the occasion of her 45-year anniversary with Duke University
Shelia on the occasion of her 45-year anniversary with Duke University

On July 31, 2020, Duke University Libraries will say a heartfelt farewell to a Superstar of our Support Staff: Shelia Webb has decided to retire after over 46 years with Duke. Although she has spent the last few years in Business Services, the majority of Shelia’s career happened in Technical Services, and her physical office space remained with us in Smith. So, although the pandemic has robbed our go-to party planner of her own retirement party, we could not let this occasion go unmarked. Shelia has been a champion of Support Staff issues both within the Library and the University. A powerful personality with a sharp sense of humor and a strong work ethic, Shelia is impossible to summarize or encapsulate in a single blog post. She’s a loyal friend to many and a constant source of support, not only in the professional sphere, but in the personal realm of boosting another up and helping them through the days, months, and years of their lives. In that way she’s a good example of what makes the staff at DUL so much like an extended family. Shelia’s contributions to the Library and to our lives will stay with us as she moves into this next chapter of her life.

Here’s a look back with Shelia over her years with DUL, as told by the Star herself, in a socially-distanced, virtual interview. Take it away Shelia!

Getting started in the world of library technical services:

I transferred to the Library from Dietary Services at Duke South on July 26, 1976, which was my 1st wedding anniversary.  I was hired by Asta Smith, whose husband Eric Smith was a Reference Librarian.  It was a great group.  I was part of Serials records, which consisted of Daisy Whiteside, Debi Woody (Eason), Vera Roberts and Asta Smith (Head).  Later Dale Edgerton, Beverly Mills, Jeannie Beck, Jacqui Brown and Jane Bloemeke completed the section.

An evolving career in library acquisitions:

I began as a Clerk Typist and when Daisy Whiteside left, I was automatically promoted to her position as Library Clerk. I was later promoted to Library Assistant, and then a lateral move as the first Library Assistant to place periodical orders.  When Recon happened (this was the project when the library changed classification systems from Dewey to LC), they needed someone to coordinate that process and I was promoted to Library Assistant, Sr. in that role.  As time evolved, my duties changed and I was given the duties back that were removed when I got promoted.  We switched off duties by the week, so we all had to learn all the duties in the Section.  We merged with the Acquisitions/Accounting Department as Acquisitions Serials.  Then later we became the Acquisitions Department. After that, the serials and periodicals check-in merged with the Documents Department headed by Ann Miller.  After I received my bachelor’s degree in 2003, Ann recommended that I be placed in a position that I showed the most interest in and that was financial.  I had a meeting with Nancy Gibbs and Marty Berryman and in my new position, I became an Invoice Specialist, which was later changed to a Staff Assistant.  After Nancy retired and Teddy Gray departed, I was under Bill Verner who was Interim Head, and then Head of Acquisitions.  In December 2016, I became part of Business Services under Jameca Dupree.

Shelia in 1998, when computer monitors were the size of microwave ovens
Shelia in 1998, when computer monitors were the size of microwave ovens

A tireless advocate and booster for her colleagues and community:

I was on DULSA [Duke University Libraries Staff Association] and the Library Support Staff Council (elected representative) from 2001-2003.  I was the second Library representative on the Duke University Parking Advisory Committee (2001-2003).  We needed representation because Parking Services would oversell the parking lots and it was a mess each year when we renewed our stickers.  Some staff who came to work later could not find a parking space and they were being charged to park. I was a member of the first Perkins Library Diversity Working Group (2001-2003). We won the first Duke University Diversity Award, which was a $750 prize.  I was also on the Staff Development Committee (2004-2008). I was a tester for OLE [Open Library Environment] for a little over 6 years (2009-2015).  That was a challenging task!  I somehow became the party planner and loved doing end of the fiscal year and retirement parties.  My latest committee was the Smith Warehouse Social Committee, which I joined in 2009.  I represented the Library for three annual social events with this committee – Holiday Party, Pizza Party, and the Ice Cream Social.  On this committee, I met people from all over Smith.  These were morale builders!

Outside the library, I am on the Executive Board of my church and also the Hospitality Committee.  I am part of several organizations, like The Order of the Eastern Star (Drucilla #19), Zafa Court #41 and the Golden Circle.  I am on one of my high school reunion Committees that we formed in the early 1990’s, NHSBAA (Northern High School Black Alumni Association).  I have been a part of planning three very successful reunions with this Association.  I am also my family’s official family reunion planner. I just turned that task over to my nieces this year.  They did a great job, but the pandemic put that to a halt.

And, DUL was just her day job:

I worked as a staff assistant (night Page Supervisor) at the Durham County Library for 20 years from December 1997 to June 2007.  I did a variety of duties there, such as working the circulation desk, new patron registration, assisting patrons at other service points, and collecting fines and fees.  I had a staff of three at night who were responsible for re-shelving the books.  I continued to work this position after I enrolled in Shaw University’s CAPE (Center for Alternative Programs of Education) program in 1999.  While at Shaw, I was crowned Miss Durham CAPE from 2002-2003. I was a member of the Alpha Chi National Honor Society.  To help with my tuition, I wrote an essay for a scholarship offered by Glaxo-Smith-Kline about overcoming adversity and going on to attend college and succeeding.  I was one of seven candidates who received an award and the amount awarded to me was $13,000. I graduated summa cum laude in May 2003.  I always wanted a college degree and that was my motivation.  I worked for the Durham County Agriculture as a contractor while I pursued my MBA from Pfeiffer University.  I attended online from January 2016 to December 2017.

What do you wish more people knew about your work in the library?

How hard I worked on the OLE Project.  It was a full-time job in itself.  When it was terminated, I felt that all that hard work was in vain.  I had to document procedures as a tester with no instructions, and there was no one in any of the other libraries working on the financial part of the system in the beginning.

What have been your biggest challenges in your career?

Trying to adapt to all the new systems over the years and not getting them mixed up with each other.  And also, remembering all the passwords for each of them!!!

What is the most fun you’ve had at work in DUL?

When the library staff did the entertainment for library parties, we used to have plays and singing programs.  The Plays were written and directed by library staff.  One I remember was the “The Wizard of Ros”, of course based on who else – Ros Raeford! We used to have designated days like, “Hat Day”, when all staff wore different type hats. We once hired a “Mourner” for a staff member’s birthday who was turning 40.  It was hilarious as her youth was mourned away with information about her they received from us. When Staff Appreciation Week came, Duke gave us prizes all week and a big luncheon on the quad.  To top off the week, there was a big carnival and lots of catered food and we invited our families on that weekend! We used to get bonuses in addition to our raises if you met exceeded expectations on your evaluation. There was never a dull moment back then!

What thoughts or advice would you like to leave us with, as you move into retirement?

Keep a positive attitude!  When you are thrown lemons, make lemonade.  Goodbye tension—hello pension!!!!

A Mad Hatter Party, with Antha Marshall, Debra Taylor, Marvin Tillman, Beverly Mills, and Gail Sewell
A Mad Hatter Party, with Antha Marshall, Debra Taylor, Marvin Tillman, Beverly Mills, and Gail Sewell