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Transcript of interview with Laralee Nelson by Claytee White, April 20, 2010


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Laralee Nelson and her four sisters were born and raised in Provo, Utah. She was raised in a Mormon household, her parents worked at Brigham Young University and she attended BYU She was .nearly thirty years old when she moved to Las Vegas with her husband. The move was the first real move away from her Utah home base. She fondly recalls summers at an archaeological dig in Israel while studying for her undergraduate degree. But these were nothing compared to relocating to Las Vegas. Laralee's mother was a librarian at BYU and an obvious inspiration to her career choice. Once she arrived in Las Vegas, she applied for a cataloging position at UNLV. From 1982 to 2010, it was her first and only position. From that span of years, she witnessed monumental changes in the library. Changes in leadership, a move from the old Dickinson Library to the new Lied Library, and the impact of technology. Laralee's anecdotes, especially one about the professor with the red wagon and another about her father clearing a rocky path on a family trip, reveal core success of a library built to serve the university community.

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[Transcript of interview with Laralee Nelson by Claytee White, April 20, 2010]. Nelson, Laralee Interview, 2010 April 20. OH-01372. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada


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An Interview with Laralee Nelson An Oral History Conducted by Claytee D. White The Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas 1 ©The Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2007 Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV - University Libraries Director and Editor: Claytee D. White Assistant Editors: Gloria Homol and Delores Brownlee Transcribers: Kristin Hicks and Laurie Boetcher Interviewers and Project Assistants: Suzanne Becker, Nancy Hardy, Joyce Moore, Andres Moses, Laura Plowman, Emily Powers, Dr. Dave Schwartz ii The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of Dr. Harold Boyer and the Library Advisory Committee. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank the university for the support given that allowed an idea the opportunity to flourish. The transcript received minimal editing that includes the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. In several cases, photographic sources (housed separately) accompany the collection as slides or black and white photographs. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project. Additional transcripts may be found under that series title. Claytee D. White, Project Director Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University Nevada, Las Vegas iii Preface Laralee Nelson and her four sisters were born and raised in Provo, Utah. She was raised in a Mormon household, her parents worked at Brigham Young University and she attended BYU She was .nearly thirty years old when she moved to Las Vegas with her husband. The move was the first real move away from her Utah home base. She fondly recalls summers at an archaeological dig in Israel while studying for her undergraduate degree. But these were nothing compared to relocating to Las Vegas. Laralee's mother was a librarian at BYU and an obvious inspiration to her career choice. Once she arrived in Las Vegas, she applied for a cataloging position at UNLV. From 1982 to 2010, it was her first and only position. From that span of years, she witnessed monumental changes in the library. Changes in leadership, a move from the old Dickinson Library to the new Lied Library, and the impact of technology. Laralee's anecdotes, especially one about the professor with the red wagon and another about her father clearing a rocky path on a family trip, reveal core success of a library built to serve the university community. iv ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH CENTER AT UNLV Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project Use Agreement Name of Narrator: 4-flra, (-3<-a>Uts [V\».(scrv> Name of Interviewer: Y( ?JMrE£ 7).> VIdI//HtilI TZ We, tlie above named, give to Jfiie Oral History Research Center of UNLV, the recorded interview(s) initiated on _ as an unrestricted gift, to be used for such scholarly and educational pt/posc/s as shall be determined, and transfer to the University of Nevada Las Vegas, legal tide and all literary property rights including copyright. Tliis gift does not preclude die right of die interviewer, as a representative of UNLV, to use die recordings and related materials for scholarly pursuits. There will be no compensation for any interviews. P. y/zofio/o Signature of Narrator Date Library Special Collections 4505 Maryland Parkway, Box 457010, Las Vegas, Nevada 89154-7070 (702) 895-2222 1 1 This is Claytee White. I'm with Laralee Nelson. And we are here in Special Collections. Today is April 20th, 2010. And we are in Michael Frazier's office doing an interview. So how are you today, Laralee? Oh, pretty good. Great. Counting down the hours. I know. So first — and this is really off the track -- tell me what it's like right now that you've decided to take early retirement. I do a lot of grinning. I'm going to miss the people, but it's just nice to be thinking that all of these things that I have wanted to do and that I haven't had the time or the energy that I will hopefully be able to get to do. And then I think about I've really got to discipline myself now because I'm not having to get up and go to work and having this schedule. So I've got to discipline myself to schedule myself. That's going to be interesting to see how long it takes me to do that. Tell me about your early life. Where did you grow up? I grew up in Provo, Utah. My parents both worked at Brigham Young University. My mother was a catalog librarian, as I am, at the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU. My father worked for the university press for most of my growing up years. And then he worked for the student newspaper, The Daily Universe, until he retired. Any sisters and brothers? I have four sisters. I'm next to the youngest. No brothers. So my father was surrounded by females all his life. He didn't seem to mind. Where is the family now? My oldest sister lives in West Valley, Utah. The next one is in Mesquite. They've retired to Mesquite, although they still keep their home in Orem. Sister number three lives in Farmington, New Mexico. And my youngest sister lives in Lehi, Utah. Tell me about your schooling as a young girl and then college. Okay. The elementary school I went to was Wasatch Elementary. It was just down the hill from where I lived. So we used to walk to school most of the time. Then we would walk back up through the neighborhood to home. 2 My junior high, which is what it was called — it wasn't middle school; it was junior high — was Farrer, called F-A-R-R-E-R. I can't remember what it is now. The building still exists, but it's no longer a junior high. And then I went to Provo High School for my high school. It was a three-year high school, but they had what they called split shifts. Instead of the year-round, which a lot of the areas do, the seniors came early and left early. And then the sophomores and juniors came two hours later and left two hours later. So there was only one period in the day when everybody was in class. And they had three lunch blocks. It let people use the facilities, but still gave us our summers off. So it wasn't a bad arrangement, actually, because I know that there's always challenges with the year-round schools of trying to schedule vacations and family time and things like that. So your mother inspired your career? Yeah, I think so. She was a stay-at-home mom until my little sister and I were in elementary school. And then she worked part time. And she always tried to be home when we got home from school. When we got a little older, she went to work full time, worked on her degree and got her master's in library science the same year I graduated from high school. That was kind of exciting. When I was a freshman, I used to — the high school was west of Brigham Young University just down off the hill. And we lived east of the university. I would walk up to the university and wait for her because I got off school around 4:30. And I would wait for her and we would walk home together. And, you know, I would sit there and waste her time, which I hadn't realized I was doing until I did realize I was doing that. Then we would walk home together. So, yeah, it's kind of in the blood to, I guess, be involved in libraries. Actually, as a child I never used the library because that's what our home was. Every single wall in the house that didn't have a window had books. My mother was a very big reader of books and buyer of books. We had lots of books in the home, mostly science fiction and fantasy, but some other things. So I didn't need a library; my home was a library. Oh, that's great. That's wonderful. Even in the hall there were shelves wide enough for paperbacks. So even the hall had bookshelves. 3 So you don't know any other way to live. Yeah. In books. What is your home like today? I don t have nearly the books that my parents had. I actually don't do a lot of reading of books because the computer arrived. So that's what I do most of my --1 will occasionally get down and actually read a novel or something. But most of what I do is done online now. I'm actually not the reader of books that I used to be. Am I correct guessing that you're from an LDS family? I am. Many generations worth, actually. Wow. Tell me about family night. We weren't one of those families that succeeded at doing that very well. Other families have done much better at that. But from what I gather we weren't unusual in the fact that it was a really big challenge for children to want to do that because there was always other things you could be doing. You know, you'd watch TV or you could be doing your reading or you could be out with friends or whatever. We tended to give them sort of a hard time the times that they attempted it. So we didn't have regular family home evenings. Oh, that's what it's called? Family home evenings, yeah, abbreviated FHE usually. If you ever see it in the literature, that's what they call it. But we did have regular family prayers at night. We all would gather and have family prayers and stuff. At least the younger kids — there was a five-year gap between my next oldest sister and me. So there was sort of a two-family kind of thing in terms of ages. But we went to church regularly together. And the meetinghouse was usually within walking distance. So it was usually a walk to church and a walk home. So that was fairly common. That was just part of my growing up experience. Tell me about college. I went to BYU. Strange surprise there. I was going to ask if you had gone away. Yes. I went to BYU in part because I never really thought about going anyplace else and part because, with my parents living there, it was like half-price. I wasn't paying for my own education 4 at that point. My parents had the funds to take care of it. I never even really thought about doing that. I took a lot of things for granted because I was at the point in time with my parents' financial positions that I didn't even think much about that. So I went there. I got my undergraduate degree in archeology, actually. And then got my master of library science at BYU as well. They had a program there for a while. They don't now. They stopped it a few years after I graduated. At one time did you think of doing something other than library science? I took archeology because it was interesting. But I don't know that I ever really thought ahead far enough to what kind of employment opportunities would be there. I hadn't really considered, well, how am I going to work in this field? I said, you know, I don't know that I really want to do fieldwork. Then you'd go and you'd teach or do other sorts of things. At that point you had a full-time job at the university in cataloging. I said, well, you know, this is a good profession. So I got my degree, part-time, usually taking evening classes. It was a one-year program and I got it in about three. Took me about three years. The example of my mother and the fact that I enjoyed working in the cataloging department and doing things with that it seemed like a good career choice. Wonderful. Did your sisters feel the same way about school? I only have one other sister that graduated from college. That was sister number three. She graduated in home economics. I can't remember if that was what it was called at the time. And she went off to Mexico to teach high school. So that's what she was doing. My oldest sister was trained as a nurse, although she wasn't in that field for too long. She married and started having kids. She's been through several relationships now, but right now I think she actually works as a security guard. So that's sort of an interesting change of position. Sister number two, she became a beautician and did hair. She actually did some very good work and she worked in that field for a while. Her husband made sufficient funds that it wasn't economically wise for her to be earning much money. So she did some work-in-kind kind of things and she worked at a shop that did upholstery and drapes and things like that and got fabric instead of money. They're the ones that are retired and have the home in Mesquite and then the home in Orem. 1 5 And then sister number three, she did get her bachelor's degree. She has been working on master's degree, but she has yet to finish it and I don't know that she ever will. And then my youngest sister also got a beautician's degree, but has been mostly a stay-at-home mom, too, when she got married. So how did you get to Las Vegas? I married in 1975. One of my husband's good friends was down in Las Vegas doing work as a stockbroker. And so he had been trying to talk my husband — his name is John - into coming down and working with him. I met John while we were both ~ while he was getting an anthropology degree, I was getting an archeology degree. But we met at BYU. So we were thinking after we both got our advanced degrees because he got his — actually I ought to get it right. We both got archeology degrees. And then he went on and got an advanced degree in anthropology. I see. I haven't been divorced that long. I should remember that. I do remember his bachelor's degree - his diploma is actually in the cornerstone of the Harold B. Lee Library. Why? How did that happen? When they dedicated the new building that was one of the things that got added to it. So it's supposed to open it up 25 years. Well, actually, no, that was his master's degree. They're supposed to end ~ let's see. When are they supposed to open that up? I don't remember. But if we're still alive then, we've got to go get it so he can finally get his diploma. That's great. That's great. So he had friends that wanted him to come down here. I said, well, you know, let me just look around and see what's available. I looked and there was a library here. One of the associates of his friend — his wife worked here. She was the dean's secretary, Dotty Edleman. And so we sort of had connections there because I was looking for library work. And she said, to talk to her. We had come down for some reason. I think it was just for a visit. I said, let me see what the library's like. Myoung-Ja Lee Kwon, who was head of non-book at the time, actually gave me a tour. This was just shortly after they pretty much completed the rectangular building. But we couldn't go see it because this was right after the MGM fire where the fire codes and everything 6 got redone. They had to redo that building before they could open it. So the opening was delayed. And so, she walked me through the round building, the Dickinson Library. And she told me, well, this is the tunnel and there's the new building, but you can't go see it yet. So she was actually the first person I met at UNLV was Myoung-Ja because she had given me the tour. And then I don't remember how I found out that there was a position available in cataloging. But I inquired after it. My interview consisted of a phone call. Billie Mae called me and talked to me over the phone. And a few days later they called me and offered me the job. Things have changed. Yes. But, yeah, that was a nice way to interview, actually. Yes, it was. And she did express at the time of the interview a concern, because I had spent most of my life in Utah, whether I would feel comfortable moving someplace like Las Vegas because they are quite different environments. And I said, I don't think I'll have a problem. I can't say for sure because I haven't done it. But she was a little concerned about that. But I'm still here, so I guess it worked out. Yes. Did you have the job prior to the move? Yeah. How long did it take you to actually get here? Basically they offered me the job and I said, that I should give two weeks' notice. That's all I gave. And so we came down here. I think it sort of sunk in because I remember bawling along the way because I said this is the first time I'm actually living away from my family and planning on living away from my family for who knows how long? That lasted for a few miles, but I got over it. But it was a big change. Yes. I had experiences living out of the country, but it was only for short periods of time. This was the first real serious "out of the place of my childhood" that I had ever done. Tell me about living out of the country. During my bachelor's degree in archeology, there was a joint project between Brigham Young 7 University, North Carolina Chapel Hill and University of Pennsylvania where we went to Israel to Be'er Sheba, which is one of the biblical terms. That was the southern boundary of Israel because you went from Dan to Be'er Sheba. So it's a biblical site. We were able to excavate there for a couple of months each summer. Did that in '74 [1974], got married in April of'75 [1975], and then went back that summer. That was sort of our honeymoon. That's where my husband, John, decided, yeah, you'd be a good wife. So we went back the second time for that. And then had a little bit of experience the summer — the first year I went to Israel, that same summer I had spent two months in Mexico on sort of a mini study abroad project for the university. I was there for a couple of months. Then I had the weekend and I went off to Israel. That was a busy summer. Then [we] went to Israel again the second year. And we had a few stops coming back, just little one-day stops in Holland or England and things like that. Oh, that sounds interesting. It was. So tell me about your first impressions of Las Vegas. I'm trying to remember if the first time we came ~ John and I drove down together, but he wasn't going to be able to come down until later in the year. We drove down together. I can't remember if it was dark or not. But I remember one of my first memories is just coming over the hill from Utah and seeing the city spread out and all the lights because it had been so dark up till then. I don't remember if that was the first impression. But this was 28 years ago. It was a whole lot smaller than it is now. I remember the big streets. But I was not unaccustomed to that because Mormon settlements have big streets generally anyway. I think I was somewhat excited. I didn't really know what to expect because it was really the first time I had planned on living anyplace else other than Utah. But it didn't seem to be any - I don't remember having any strong feelings one way or the other, other than being impressed at the city when it was spread out, you know, how spread out it was and stuff because it's not really constrained by mountains and lakes and things like Provo. And the fact that, well, you do have mountains, but can you really call them mountains compared to where I lived, which was basically in the foothills? And you go up a street and there's the mountain. You know, you go up one block and there's the mountain. 8 So that was 1982? This is 1982. Where did you live when you first came? We lived with John's friends, John and Pam. Was it Pam? I can't even remember. Meyers. I remember the last name and his first name. But they had a house down on Clydesdale, which is just south of Tropicana and off of Eastern, actually a little bit south of Hacienda where we lived. So it was fairly close to the university. We stayed in their spare room. We actually stayed there for nearly a year while John and John, because he was John too, were getting established and stuff. And then we moved to an apartment, which was north of campus called the Neopole Apartments. It's just on Twain off of Maryland. And we were there for about a year. And then we moved to our first house, which was down on Count Wutzke, which is just south of the university. John's father had always given him advice that says mortgages are deductible, mileage is not. So we always tried to live close to at least a place where one or the other of us worked. And his first — when he was working their office was just off ~ well, they had one that was just off of Flamingo. But I don't remember if that was the first one. But it was fairly close to here, too. So we ended up being fairly close for most of this. And then we moved over to Florence, which is again just south of Tropicana off of Eastern. So we've always stayed fairly close in range to the university. Great. So tell me about your first position here and your first supervisor. My first position is the same position. I've been a catalog librarian since I got here. Billie Mae Poison was my boss. She was good to work with. She was one that you could disagree with her, but you never felt like she felt threatened about it. And that was nice. You know, that's not the case with everybody. Sometimes people get defensive when you don't agree with them. But you never felt that. In our department meetings we could disagree, but we weren't ever disagreeable or contentious. We could get some interesting discussions going. Our meetings were usually not run by an agenda, but basically we would go around the room and say, okay, what's going on? What concerns do you have? And then we'd discuss them. That was kind of nice. She knew all sorts of things about all sorts of things. She had been here since the 50s 9 [1950s] I think or the 40s [1940s]. I'd still like to get her interviewed before she forgets everything because I don't know that she ever has been. Is she still -- She's still alive. She lives in a retirement community. I talked to Kathy Rankin. They go to wine club together and stuff still. She's in contact with her more than I am. But it has been suggested — I don't know how far up the chain or whatever — that she should. She's one of the very old-timers for the university and for the city. Kathy says she's starting to not remember as well as she used to. But she would be a good one to track down because she could give you hours worth of stuff if you were willing to listen to them. I'm willing to listen. That's great. Thank you so much for that. I'll get in touch with Kathy Rankin. That was your only position. It's been my only position. Now, the position has evolved over the years. And tell me about that evolution. When I first came I was hired as a catalog librarian. The job description was to do copy cataloging, which is basically you catalog books with copy that already exists. You don't have to create it yourself. Where did the copy come from? In those days - I have to make sure I separate how we did it here from how I did it because I worked six years as a classified staff at BYU. And at BYU we would get what they called proof sheets, which are little flimsy cards with catalog copy on it. You would just get those. And if you had a book that matched one of those, you would go check the proof sheets. And you'd do it. And then you'd make your copies from that. Here we worked with a home-grown system. The card catalog when I got here had basically been closed. We weren't producing any more cards. What we were doing was we were entering data into a home-grown system on machines that had no monitors. You had a printout. It was a hard copy printout. So you would enter data and you would see what you typed, but it would be printed out on paper. And then the computer response would be printed out on paper. You didn't have computers with monitors, or we didn't for doing this. 10 I can't even image. Yeah. It's not the only thing. But what we had, we couldn't do that. We could access some other databases and they did have monitors. They were green monitors, green and lighter green for the colors. We would enter this data and then it would print it out. And what they would get was they would get some sort of a tape load and they would load the data. And then as we found things we would enter information into it. But what we produced was a microfiche catalog. It was only produced every six months. So you had this six-month gap, or potentially a six-month gap between when you got an item and before the patrons could find it because we would only produce this catalog every six months. Things have changed. If someone would have come in and they wanted a book that you processed three weeks ago - They might have to wait till the next flche came out in order to be able to find it in the catalog. What would happen to the book? It would go out on the shelves. So you could browse the shelves and find things. But in terms of if you wanted to find out what was in the catalog, you wouldn't be able to find it. That was not an ideal circumstance. But this was one of the first attempts to actually use a computer to produce some sort of finding aide for the patrons. And things evolved. That wasn't the best way to go, but that's what we had at the time. What was the next step? We did have CLSI fairly early, which was a circulation system. And I wasn't directly involved with that. But that was our first automated system in the library in terms of patron access and patron services. It was Computer Library — I don't remember what it stood for. But it was a circulation system. And basically you could check things in and out with it. That's pretty much all that it did. We had a project at one point to take a lot of ~ well, to take our shelf list, which is the cards that we kept that was sort of the master record. It was in call number order and it showed what we had. And then the cards downstairs would be arranged by author and subject and title and things. But the shelf list was arranged by call number. It told us all we had. We had a project with a firm called ~ well, the acronym is UTLAS, U-T-L-A-S. And I 1 11 can't remember what it stands for right now. We actually had several projects and I'm trying to keep track of the order in which it is. If you ever get Marilyn up here, her memory is very good. She'll be able to get it right when I don't get it right. But we've had various projects where we could send the information ~ I think one of them was — and I think the UTLAS one was we could send them our shelf list, or a copy of it, and they would key in the Library of Congress card number. And then they would send us electronic files of those records. And that was sort of the seedbed for electronic database. And then we had another project with Amigos, which is an OCLC vendor now. It was another retrospective project where we could in-house key in the Library of Congress card number and then we would get records back. And that was another seedbed. And, of course, they all had their share of issues. But that was sort of the start of the online catalog. We've been through several of those catalogs. I picked Marilyn's brains for some things, but I didn't pick her brains for these and I should have in terms of what came first, in terms of the order of these sorts of things. But we were getting fledgling online catalogs from when they first started showing up, as far as integrated library systems. We didn't fully integrate really till the 80s in terms of having everything work together. We had CLSI, which was standalone system. And then we moved into — did we have a DYNEX product? I think we may have for a time. Sometimes I can't remember whether we accepted them or if that was just one of the ones we reviewed. But we could do cataloging with. And then OCLC started coming out with ways to access their database. Even from the day I started we had access to AARLIN, but as a search tool only. We didn't actually subscribe in terms of contributing copy. But we could search their database and use their records. So we had that. And then we got OCLC as a way to get records available. Our systems evolved and we had one and then we added another and then we added another. And it was I think not till 1989 that we got the Innovative system. That's what we've had since then. The only reason I remember the year for that is because there's a lot of records in there that had that date, 1989. So it reminds me what we did. But we've had systems where you did things in batches and it would only update overnight or whatever. So if you did something that day, you had to wait until the next day to find out if you 12 did things the way you wanted. For a while we were still producing microfiche because there wasn't a public option on some of these systems as a public catalog. So there's been a lot of changes. I started my professional career in the day of cards. And that was one of my jobs as a classified staff at BYU was filing cards every morning. As a student I'd file the cards. And then when I became classified staff, we'd go out and check what the students filed and drop the cards and all that kind of stuff. And then we went to automated systems and automated databases and evolution of online systems and public systems and things. It's just evolved over the years. Tell me about the supervision over the years after Billie Mae. Billie Mae was my supervisor from the time I started until she retired I think in '89 or '90 just before we came into this building. I've got a list of people. That's what I picked her brains for. Okay, good. So Billie Mae, it was '98 or '99 that she left, just before we moved here. And so from '82 — She worked here until — Yes. She had worked here quite a few years before I started. And then she retired in '98 or '99. Like I said I think we moved here in '99 and she retired before we moved here. So, yes, a lot of years. So '82 — so that's what? Seventeen years or so she was my boss. And then after Billie Mae, the next head of cataloging was Brad Eden. I don't remember Brad. He had come out of a music background, but he had an MLS and he had a Ph.D. He was our head of cataloging for a while. I can't remember the years. Three or four years. I think he's director of something or other now. I don't really follow what he does. At another college? Yeah. He's moved on into other management directorship, assistant directorship things. I don't know exactly what he's doing now. But he was a fairly prolific public writer of articles even when he was here and he still does. So you'll probably find him in the literature here or there. Okay. So he has published a lot. Yeah, he's published a lot. That was one of the reasons I think that we hired him is because he had a good publishing background. The whole nature of the profession has been evolving. Like when 13 I was hired it was a phone interview and I got tenure with one article in a fairly obscure sort of publication. That's not the case now. So there's a lot more things that librarians have to do in order to be considered qualified for the job. Right. For better or worse. I have my own thoughts on that now and again. So do you think librarians should have to get tenure? I've been looking at the model that BYU uses. And I don't know precisely how it works. But they have an option where in certain areas of the library you're expected to get tenure, but in other areas you can opt to have what is called a continuing contract. I don't know how the workload and the expectations differ. But I suspect that one is required to publish and the other one you can do it or not, as you choose kind of thing. There are also differences. You're not going to be qualified for certain things if you're in the one category that you are in the others. There may be a lot of similarities, but I haven't really been able to see how much they differ. But I'd like that kind of a concept because there's a lot of — you know, perhaps for the public librarians, the expectation to publish is a reasonable one. In other areas of the library it may not make as much sense. But you don't want to really have — it seems to work well there. But BYU's a private institution and they have certain different things. It's a church-run college. And so what would work there may not necessarily work in other places. But sometimes I get the impression that we do it because we're afraid of what might happen if we don't rather than because we feel that it's really important to the growth of the profession or the