By Nella Letizia, WSU Libraries
PULLMAN, Wash. – Former Washington State University pharmacy librarian Sarah McCord literally had just rolled into town, U-Haul trailing behind her, when she learned about the impressive reach of Vicki Croft, head of WSU’s Animal Health Library (AHL).
Arriving from Madison, Wis., in 2000, McCord was set to start work the following week at the library. She stopped first at the Pullman UPS Store to sign up for a mailbox. The clerk behind the counter perked up immediately when she saw McCord’s name. The clerk’s husband, a researcher at the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine—the AHL’s most frequent customer—had heard about McCord’s hire through Croft.
Croft, the “queen of networking,” according to McCord, will retire from the university on June 1. A retirement reception to honor the longtime veterinary librarian is planned 2-4 p.m. Friday, May 30, in the Terrell Library atrium.
“Few academic libraries have the good fortune to count among their professional ranks an individual of Vicki’s caliber,” said Jay Starratt, dean of WSU Libraries. “For 38 years, she has served as the go-to source for WSU veterinary researchers, teaching faculty and students alike, often helping them find critical information within minutes when patient emergencies called for it.
“Her efforts have not been limited to WSU alone,” he said. “As a founder of the International Conference of Animal Health Specialists, Vicki was instrumental in connecting colleagues around the world for greater access to all topics affecting animal and human health. There isn’t a greater advocate for bridging that information gap worldwide than Vicki.”
Croft made her own journey west from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln to WSU in 1976, after serving as a science reference librarian for five years at UNL.
Since then, she has directed the AHL through three name changes, a collection growth from 25,000 volumes to its peak of 75,000 volumes, budget cuts and a subsequent transformation to the study-friendly space it is today.
Croft has also witnessed and participated in the sea-changes that have swept libraries everywhere—moving from card catalogs and microfiche to computers and the cloud, as well as to a greater reliance on electronic resources and data management.
But some of the more tumultuous changes she has weathered were personal.
Born in St. Louis as Vicki Keating, Croft was 6 when her father died in 1954 and the family moved to rural Harlan, Iowa, and a small farm.
From first through fourth grades, Croft was educated in the same one-room schoolhouse where her mother attended and where her aunt taught. The schoolhouse was equipped with electricity but no running water. Every Halloween, neighborhood boys tipped over the outhouses as a prank.
Croft’s companions were the household cats and dogs, cousins and books. The last gave her a sense of the larger world beyond the Iowa fields.
“I read all the time,” she said. “My favorite books were biographies of famous men and women. I loved the ones about the women best.”
Graduating from high school in 1966, Croft earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Nebraska’s Dana College in 1970 and a master’s in library science with a biomedical librarianship specialization from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1971.
Learning to network
Arguably, finishing an education in librarianship was the easy part for Croft. Networking was another story.
“At first, I had to push myself to go from being an extremely shy person to being an active representative of my profession,” she said. “I had to learn to give papers in front of groups at large conferences.
“It’s so funny that a little Iowa girl traveled all over the world representing libraries, and my work with the professional library associations made it possible,” she said.
“I’ve visited veterinary medical libraries in 19 countries. And what I found is that librarians are all the same. We all want to meet each other.”
Voices from the network
Meet them she did. With every person she was introduced to or introduced, Croft gained confidence, expertise and a loyal community of supporters and friends.
McCord, now associate director of information literacy services at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, called Croft “devoted, tireless, passionate and wicked smart (as we say in Boston)…”
Bryan Slinker, dean of the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, met Croft the same year she started at WSU, when he was a CVM student—and in need of a home away from home. After an absence of 10 years, Slinker returned to WSU in 1992, first joining the faculty, then serving as department chair and finally dean.
“The thing I think I most appreciate about Vicki is how she made our space in Wegner Hall a part of the larger community life of the college,” he said. “Imagine my surprise some years ago to find one of my baby pictures up on a board with those of many other faculty and staff members! I do not remember exactly the occasion, or how she managed to find that picture, but it was one of many such celebrations of the life of the college she concocted or conspired with others to do that made this space not merely a library.”
Sandra Weingart, agricultural sciences and veterinary medicine librarian at Utah State University, one of the partners of the Washington-Idaho-Montana-Utah Regional Program in Veterinary Medicine, credits Croft as “the reason I know how to be an animal health librarian.
“My favorite story to tell about Vicki comes from my first visit to Pullman,” Weingart said. “I met many faculty and administrative personnel in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and I asked each one of them for their perspective on what I should do to develop collections and services for our program in Logan. The answer was always, ‘Do whatever Vicki tells you.’”
And Robert Speth, formerly a professor in WSU’s Department of Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience who moved to Nova Southeastern University’s College of Pharmacy in Florida, may have summed up fellow feeling for Croft best:
“If there was a Nobel Prize for librarians, I think Vicki would be a shoo-in for the award.”
For more articles about Croft and the Animal Health Library, see https://news.wsu.edu/2012/01/23/animal-health-llibrary-thrives-with-service-teamwork/#.U36CuChCyVp and https://news.wsu.edu/2013/05/22/croft-receives-founders-award-for-animal-health-work/#.U3-OFyhCyVo.