Alice Spitzer is not the stereotype of a shy librarian, lifting her nose out of a book just long enough to shush talkative students. A humanities and social sciences librarian at Holland Library since 1975, she says librarians are interesting people.
She should know. Spitzer is an experienced world traveler who is multilingual, people-friendly, service-oriented and has an extraordinary commitment to public service and the Pullman community. She has been places and done things that people usually just read about. And she is a member, contributor and participant of more than seven community organizations.
From hand-sewing most of the Renaissance costumes each year for WSU’s Madrigal Singers on her own time and money, to co-chairing the Campus Arboretum Committee, this lively librarian has enough energy to make a teenager jealous.
“I really like living here, as opposed to a big city,” she said. “A person can easily get involved here and really make a difference.” In recognition of service spanning over two decades, she has received the 2003 Sahlin Award for community service.
The arts area in which she takes special interest. The walls and shelves of her office covered in pictures and artifacts she has collected on her travels from Ethiopia to El Salvador. She has also been a member of the Visual, Performing, and Literary Arts Committee for years. There, she contributes ideas and frequently opens her home to visiting artists. She has also been involved in Festival Dance and Performing Arts, an area group that hosts a variety of shows each year, including ballet, modern dance, and musicals.
“If people stop to think about all the opportunities available here — workshops, arts, etc. — there is so much to do, and most of it is free,” she exclaimed. “If you lived in a place like Seattle or another big city, it would probably cost $30 or $40 to go to some of these performances.”
She is also a mover and a shaker in outdoor activities. As co- chair of the arboretum committee, she and other members are working to establish an arboretum on Wilson Rd. across from the alumni center on campus. She is also the vice president of the Pullman Civic Trust organization, which developed the Pullman Greenway and Chipman trails, and is currently working on the new Downtown Pullman Riverwalk project. In addition to that, she is also serves on the Campus Trails Committee, which works to create and maintain bike and pedestrian trails throughout the college.
“I like to walk; I usually take several long walks of three to five miles or so each week,” she said. “It’s nice to have options of different places to go — that is why I am interested in these committees.”
Even though Spitzer is being recognized for her public service in the Pullman/Moscow community, she has also spent a great deal of time helping others abroad.
Starting in 1966, she traveled to Tanzania with the Peace Corps and taught English to secondary students for two years. It was there that she discovered her life’s passion to be a librarian after managing the school library during her stay.
“What makes librarians so interesting is that they are involved in all areas of knowledge,” she said. “They cover the ‘waterfront of knowledge,’ so to speak, on every subject.”
Spitzer returned to the United States soon after the Peace Corps and earned a Masters of Librarianship degree from the University of Washington in 1970. After that, she traveled to Ethiopia for two years to work at the national university library there. Subsequent library work has also taken her to Indonesia, Lesotho, Sudan, Romania, El Salvador, Russia and, most recently, a nine-month stay in Honduras.
During a sabbatical from WSU from August 2001 to May 2002, she consulted on development of public libraries, and helped create model graduate department libraries at the National University of Honduras. She also helped to organize an architecture library at the Centro de Diseo, Arquitecturay Construccion where her husband, WSU architecture professor Mike Owen, taught and conducted research under a Fulbright award.
Home sweet home
Still, Pullman is her favorite place to be, she says, and plans to keep on working to build and improve this community.
“I think it is crucial for everyone to be involved in some kind of public service that is useful and appropriate for them,” she said. “And it is not one-sided — public service is life enriching for those about you, but it also enriches your own life tremendously.”
Congratulations Alice Spitzer!