Mark O’English’s librarian skills have sent him globetrotting across the Marvel universe of comic books — and into a position with WSU’s Owen Science and Engineering Library.
O’English is a science reference and electronic resources librarian. He teaches faculty and students how to use library resources and serves as a translator between the system’s users and technological creators.
“I want to make the technology comfortable for everyone,” he said.
Before O’English came to WSU, he helped research and reconstruct Marvel’s history through encyclopedias and handbooks. But in December, O’English submitted his final notice with Marvel Comic Books.
“The commitment is a tremendous amount of work to be doing, now that I have a tenure track position with WSU and my own research to fulfill,” he said.
One of O’English’s biggest projects is helping redesign the libraries’ website. He said the goal is to improve the accessibility and usefulness of the libraries’ resources.
“To me, what a librarian does is figure out what information people need, how they like to find it, and then help them be able to find it again,” he said. “There is a misconception that librarians collect everything in big dusty stacks of books and then let you dig through them.”
What’s in a name?
Mark’s ‘maiden name’ was English. His fiancee’s was O’Leary. She was attached to the O, so they merged their names to become O’English. Lorena O’English is a reference librarian at WSU’s Holland and Terrell Libraries.
Comical history contributes to lifelong love of science
While attending graduate school, Mark O’English created a Fantastic Four website featuring comics from the 1970s. He developed a connection with the people working on Marvel encyclopedias and, in February 2004, was recruited into writing.
“It was an insane amount of work, especially while attending graduate school,” he said.
The handbooks and hardback encyclopedias he worked on were first created in the 1980s to sort through the accumulation of history.“Some Marvel characters started in the 1940s,” he said. “The history was overwhelming for writers and editors to keep up with in their stories.”
In addition to the encyclopedias, O’English has contributed to handbooks that document groups of characters and discuss themes ranging from Spider-Man to women in Marvel comics.
O’English bought his first comic book for 35 cents at the local grocery store and has read them off and on for the 30 years since. He vividly recalls the cover that drew him into the world of superheroes.
“There was a superhero fighting dinosaurs with rockets in the background at Cape Canaveral,” he said. “Everything a young boy is interested in.”
Today he owns approximately 16,000 comic books but remains particularly fond of the Fantastic Four, whose themes focus on family, science and exploration, he said.
“Society almost seems to have lost its love and fascination of science,” he said. “For me as a child, these comic books brought science to life.”
In a way, O’English has become a new type of superhero — one who sits at the reference desk, eager and waiting, to help students rediscover science.