I contributed a blog post to SLA’s Future Ready project that was published on Sunday, October 2, 2011. I’m reprinting it here, but urge you to read the other posts at the SLA blog.
As we all strive for a state of future readiness—while recognizing that the future will inevitably arrive whether we’re ready or not—let’s not forget our past. I was extraordinarily fortunate to work for BankAmerica Corporation in my first professional position after earning my MLS. I became enthralled by the story of the founding of the library in 1922 at what was then Bank of Italy. (The name changed to Bank of America in 1930.)
The first librarian, K. Dorothy Ferguson, didn’t answer a job ad. She wasn’t promoted from within. She certainly didn’t find the position through Monster.com or CraigsList. She didn’t go through traditional channels for a very good reason. There was no job. There was no library. There was no bank employee thinking, “Gee, we really need a corporate library.”
It was Ferguson herself who created the job. She approached A.P. Giannini, the legendary entrepreneur who started Bank of Italy in 1904, and said, “To be a great bank, you need a financial library. Moreover, you need me to organize it for you.” He hired her. The bank prospered. She stayed with the bank until 1943, when she resigned to establish libraries in Africa and Asia under the auspices of the British government.
A strong advocate of SLA, Ferguson was the first president of the San Francisco Chapter (1924-25) and served a second term as president in 1938-39. She became national chairman of the Financial Group, which evolved into the Business & Finance Division, in 1927. On the job, she demonstrated strong marketing skills. By 1923, she had a regular column about the library in the employee newsletter, explaining how it could benefit bank employees.
Today, as we contemplate how to prove the value of libraries and information professionals, we try not to “preach to the choir” by getting “outside the echo chamber.” Ferguson, in the 1930s, was publishing articles in journals read by bankers, not librarians. Web 2.0? Obviously, Ferguson lived in a pre-internet world. But she continually stressed that library services were not confined to the physical premises of the library. She championed information sources beyond books and beyond the library’s walls. The library’s slogan—”When in need of data, consult our library”—resonates still.
The attributes I admire in K. Dorothy Ferguson are ones that I think make modern information professionals future ready. She was fearless, with a strong belief in her own abilities and convinced of the power of information. She seized opportunities, made her own luck, and creatively transformed her professional life. Future ready? Yes, she was. Follow her example, and you can be future ready, too.
You can read a fuller account of Ferguson’s career in an article I wrote to celebrate the San Francisco Bay Region’s 75th anniversary in May 1989.