Forty Years Later, Librarian Talks History, Memories, Tomorrow

September 30, 2011

Russell Fulmer

Russell Fulmer, assistant librarian on the Floyd campus, has quite happily wrapped up 40 years as a working librarian, but his trajectory wasn’t always certain.  When he entered college he thought he would enjoy a job with the Foreign Service, so he majored in European history and Russian and East European studies at Dickinson College.  Upon graduation in 1968 he enrolled at the University of Illinois, specializing in East European and Southeast European studies.  However, he became disillusioned with the program there.  He also discovered that the Foreign Service was as much of a good-old-boy network as it had ever been, and he would need strong contacts for an entrée to it.  He didn’t have the latter.

He had traveled home to Alabama to mull over his future after dropping out of the program at Illinois.  His parents, like concerned parents anywhere, were trying to help him find his way.  They introduced him to a friend at the University of Alabama Medical Center, thinking he might be interested in pursuing a career in the medical field.  U.A. was just about to open a library science school, and because Fulmer had worked during high school in his local library cataloging and repairing books, his contact thought he might be interested in looking into that field of study.

So he completed in one day what would be impossible in 2011. He enrolled in the program. He interviewed with the head of the program, who agreed he was the kind of student the school was looking for.    Even in 1971, however, he was required to present scores from the Graduate Record Exam or some other equivalent testing protocol that proved he was qualified for enrollment.  He had taken the GRE, but the program was beginning within the next few days and getting his GRE scores would take at least two weeks.  So the program director gave him the Miller Analogies Test, or MAT, on the spot as a substitute.   He scored highly on that test, and was therefore enrolled that day, just in time for courses to begin.

Shortly before he finished his course work in library science in 1971, the director of libraries at the university asked him to work at the University of Alabama library.  That was a lucky break because the new library science program he had just finished wasn’t yet accredited.  So the university delayed graduation until the program’s accreditation was granted, giving him his degree in 1972.  In fact, he was one of the first two students to complete the graduate program in library science at U.A.

Working at Alabama for several years gave Fulmer experience and sharpened his expertise in cataloging.  The older among us know that many years ago, printed material was cataloged using the Dewey Decimal system.  In the 1970s, libraries were changing from that system to the Library of Congress method of cataloging based on subject classification.  Broad subject areas were assigned a letter.  As Fulmer had taken a keen interest in cataloguing both in high school and college, he undertook much of this conversion.  He stayed with the University of Alabama for several years, but then took a better job with the Jackson, Mississippi Library System, where he served as head of technical services serving about a half of the state’s population.  While there he increased the system’s copies from about 400,000 to 1 million.  And cataloguing methodology continued to evolve.  He was in Mississippi when the first machine-readable records were made available.

After eight years in Mississippi, he traveled west in 1983 to work in the Colorado School of Mines as assistant director of the library for technical services.  During his tenure he was sent to South America to develop relationships with academic, engineering and mining representatives in Chile and Argentina.  He also gained entry to the national atomic energy commission in Argentina, where he developed a  network of energy contacts.  During those years, he also served on the board of the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries, or CARL, as its acronym was known.  CARL developed UnCover which was one of the forerunners of digital research methodologies used today.  For the first time, faculty and students could receive source articles nearly overnight.  The beginning of instant communication was at hand.

While Fulmer was in Colorado he was elected president of the Colorado Library Association and contributed professional services for the American Library Association.  But in 1994, his happy years in the Rockies came to an end when he was needed in Georgia after the death of both his father and brother.  He came back to the South to live in Rockmart, where he could help his sister-in-law and his brother’s children, and more efficiently undertake the task of executor of his father’s will.

As fate sometimes dictates, he ran into Exir Brennan, who headed the Floyd College learning support program and had graduated with him from Alabama when he got his library science degree.  And thus began his sojourn at Georgia Highlands College.

He joined the college in July of 1995 at an exciting time, because that fall Galileo was introduced.  Galileo is the current online research assistant, which is one part of the Georgia Interconnected Libraries.  GIL links all USG libraries together, allowing member libraries to borrow a book or get a periodical article sent to this library from another member.  It represented the coming of age of online library services.  Fulmer has stayed at GHC, and will finish his professional life here – he is only a few years away from retirement.

When asked what the most monumental change in libraries have been over the course of his long career, he didn’t hesitate: the way books are cataloged.  Again, technology has made its indelible mark on the profession.  When Fulmer started more than 40 years ago, he typed catalog records.  At Alabama he used huge copy machines to copy the many cards needed for a particular book.  In Jackson he entered information into a computer, and that information was sent by dedicated phone lines to a central office to be typed and returned as cards, pre-alphabetized for the catalog.  “Today, said Fulmer, “anyone can access information.  Through interlibrary loans, users can receive the most unlikely and rarest sources.  It’s extraordinary that I’ve seen such dramatic change, all because of evolving technology.”

Fulmer, like many librarians, is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge.  The GHC family has been made immensely richer because of his years here.  We’ll catalog him under I for invaluable.

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