University librarian found career in passion for learning

Editor’s note: This article was revised for accuracy at 12:46 p.m. March 10.

Deep in the heart of West Texas desert country, you’ll find Scurry County, whose population hovers near the 16,000 mark and calls Snyder its central metropolis. Deep in the heart of Snyder native and book junkie Ammie Harrison, you’ll find fond memories of one of the town’s capstone attractions, the Scurry County Library. Harrison, a reference librarian at the university, said she still remembers her first, treasured library card that her Aunt Linda helped her acquire.

“I think I was 7 or 8, and I just thought it was the coolest because it comes in this little plastic envelope,” Harrison said. “These are the old kind of cards before they got these electronics.”

As an elementary school student, Harrison was already interested in reading young adult novels and history books. Although she learned to read at age 3, alongside her older brother, Harrison said the process was rather serendipitous.

While working on reading activities with her sibling, Harrison’s mother tried different ways to keep her occupied and quiet during the sessions. Toys, treats and traditional tactics didn’t faze the inquisitive toddler.

“(My mom) started teaching me parts of the alphabet,” she said. “It didn’t bore me, but it did make me quiet. So, I pretty much accidentally learned how to read because I started to pay attention to what she was teaching my brother.”

Later in life, while working at the county library in high school, she read to children as a mentor. After browsing encyclopedias at the start of her library experience, this was her first real introduction to children’s literature.

Now, as the reference liaison for eight academic disciplines, including art history and English, Harrison said she enjoys the time she gets to spend helping university students. Students can see Harrison for research help in both one-on-one and group sessions, but she said, on occasion, she gets to instruct in a classroom setting. This proximity to the teaching environment is one thing Harrison said she enjoyed most about her work in the library.

“I toyed with the idea of teaching, possibly being an embedded librarian and teaching with someone else,” Harrison said. “Glorious as it sounds, there’s just a lot of job security here – people will always need information and some way to get it.”

Harrison may not work with a large number of students, but those she does communicate closely with, often graduate students, have cited her enthusiasm as one notable trait.

Lynda Davis, an English doctoral student, said she initially saw Harrison for help with her dissertation on cross-cultural marriages in literature. With many hard-to-find sources on her list, Davis said Harrison had a knack for ferreting out the best word combinations for successful database searching.

“What was really neat about Ammie was.she really knows about the research I’m doing firsthand,” Davis said. “I can see her as excited (about) my topic as I am.”

Harrison’s knowledge of time periods and authors was helpful, Davis said, when searching for out-of-print early American novels like the ones she needed.

While looking at Civil War-era novels in which white men married mulatta women, Davis wondered if there were sources in which the situation was reversed. Marriages between white women and black men were virtually unheard of in that time, Davis said, but Harrison was able to come up with several works that answered her question.

“She already had it downloaded, and she just uploaded it right there,” Davis said. “It’s almost like she anticipates where I’m going to ask my next question, and she’s ready.”

Harrison often goes beyond her own workday hours to assist students with their research queries. Another reference librarian, Robyn Reid of the social sciences, said she often works with Harrison on projects out of the English department. Reid recalled a recent time when 5 o’clock in the afternoon struck and Harrison was just sitting down with a rhetoric student.

“She had him give her his research information and e-mail address and, as far as I know, she took it home and worked on that assignment that evening at home on her own time,” Reid said.

Reid said she considered the work done by herself, Harrison and the other library staff members to be highly service-oriented. Many, if not all, of the university’s library staff would be willing to stay after hours in order to help a student, and Harrison is no exception, Reid said.

Harrison said she could have predicted that she’d end up in librarianship someday, but that, without help and input from close family and friends, it might have taken her a while longer. What she never questioned, however, was the fact that she would never stop learning and would be an educated adult.

“When I was in second grade I drew this picture of me, and I was supposed to be drawing what I’d be doing in the year 2000,” Harrison said. “I was going to be president, I was going to be a nurse, I was going to own a ranch and I was going to be a doctor and all of these things. I came home just upset because my teacher was laughing at me, so I told my dad all the things I was going to be and he was like, ‘You better get started now.'”

Never being told she couldn’t accomplish something helped Harrison avoid pigeonholing herself from the start, she said. From carrying a satchel of rented works home from the local branch every weekend, to being surrounded by thousands of readily-available volumes, she’s come far. Yet some might disagree and say she’s closer to her roots in the beloved world of the library than before.