“I love all animals.” Croft in her office at the Animal Health Library.
PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University librarian Vicki Croft sometimes fields far-out questions from patrons: What is the jaw strength of a pit bull? Where is information on staph infections in birds? Can a llama’s DNA be fingerprinted to determine its paternity?
Far-out to many of us, but not to Croft, who heads the university’s Animal Health Library. Her clients go beyond faculty, researchers and students to practicing veterinarians, pet owners and even lawyers.
Croft is among a rare but valuable breed of librarians who specialize in the area of veterinary medicine. And talk about a good fit – Croft loves animals as much as she does retrieving and sharing information about them. Inside her office, animal posters fill the walls and stuffed animals perch upon a file cabinet and shelves.
She networks with animal-specialty librarians worldwide, including those employed by zoos, aquariums, wild life centers and universities in South Africa, Finland and Sweden.
“I love all animals,” she said, displaying her cat earrings and pendant necklace, “which makes what I do all the more rewarding.”
Profiled in national book
Her work has so impressed the American Library Association that it profiled her in its recently published book, “Working in the Virtual Stacks: The New Library and Information Science.”
Croft, who was trained in medical librarianship in graduate school at the University of Illinois, has worked at WSU as a veterinary librarian since 1976.
No shushing here
Information, please. Croft advises veterinary students Tessa
Sustacha and Shelley Gerstner.
The bright and cheerful Animal Health Library, located in Wegner Hall, is as much a social place as an academic one. Student artwork decks the walls, and clustered about the area are new wooden study tables, small sofas and easy chairs.
All were purchased with donations made mostly by WSU’s veterinary college alumni “fund-raising at its best,” said Croft.
“The vet college wanted library users to feel comfortable studying, researching and interacting here,” she said.
Seamless access, but not cheap
While bound books, periodicals and journals fill metal shelves, the library is also a high-tech gathering place, providing access to online resources such as medical journals, databases, dissertations and e-books on everything from West Nile virus and ebola to metabolic disorders in dogs and cats.
In its “creativity area,” three computer workstations are equipped with PowerPoint and Word, CD burners and scanners.
“I think people are under the impression that all this digital information is free, but it’s not,” said Croft. “We filter the information first to make sure it is reliable and credible. Then we buy the information to make it available to faculty and students. Medical journals, databases and e-books they cost a lot.”
When first-year veterinary students Tessa Sustacha and Shelley Gerstner visited the library one recent morning, Croft appeared at their table displaying the hospitality of a restaurant server: “What can I help you with?” she asked. The two were reading text books not found online and too expensive for them to purchase, they explained.
When Croft held up a 1,600-page book called “Small Animal Surgery,” their eyes went wide. The book, written by Theresa Welch Fossum, is taught in veterinary colleges everywhere and used by practicing veterinarians.
“The author graduated from veterinary school right here at Washington State University in 1982,” explained Croft. “Isn’t that something?”
Downsizing renders skills more important
Contrary to what naysayers had predicted, the Internet didn’t cast libraries the way of super-8 movies and typewriters. But it did launch big changes. Nationwide, many libraries downsized, including WSU’s Health Sciences Library, which became the slimmed-down Animal Health Library.
As more and more outdated books were placed in storage, Croft became an expert on the electronic world.
She shares this expertise not only in a supporting role but also in a partnership, said Guy Palmer, WSU Regents professor and director of the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health.
“For the students, Vicki and the library provide a physical place where they can study and get topnotch research assistance,” he said. “For our researchers in global health, she knows her way around electronic information and can access journal articles and data in a hurry, sometimes using her librarian contacts in other countries.
“She’s an integral part of what we do,” Palmer said.
From geeky to cool
During Croft’s 36 years at WSU, the image of librarians as soft-spoken book worms has morphed into one of grand masters of information, which suits Croft just fine, she said.
“A lot of people used to think of librarians as nerdy,” she said, “but technology changed that. Now people think we’re cool.”