Garden of readin’

Jade plants, ferns, Christmas cacti, philodendrons, dieffenbachias and hoyas line the windowsills of Fischer Agricultural Science Library at WSU Pullman, thanks to Rhonda Gaylord, Fischer’s library specialist and resident gardener.

In a small library with limited staff, Gaylord’s job tasks are broad, including working at the circulation desk, processing reserve materials, checking in journals, overseeing binding and helping patrons with reference questions. Gaylord also has added her own task — caring for the 91 plants that call Fischer Library home.

“Libraries can be intimidating places,” Gaylord said. “Plants give the library a soft, homey touch.”

What began in 1990 as one plant donated to the library by a former grad student soon blossomed into a full-blown conservatory. Almost every plant in the library has been donated by grad students, the WSU greenhouse and Owen Library staff. Gaylord once bought plants from a fancy plant nursery, and they all died.

“I guess the moral is that only donated plants should live here,” Gaylord said. When Gaylord does her watering rounds each day, she looks at each plant and remembers its donor.

Having worked at Fischer for the past 18 years, Gaylord’s passion for the library, as well as the plants that inhabit it, is evident. Armed with a degree in botany from the University of Wyoming, Gaylord is happiest when she is immersed in plant life.

“It’s really meaningful to me,” she said. “I just have to do this.”

One would think tending to almost 100 plants would be time-consuming, but Gaylord insists it does not take her more than 10 minutes a day to keep library plants in good condition.

“I have it down to the minute and second,” she said. Caring for the plants is not an official library task; it’s a hobby she does on her own time because she loves to create a lush environment for library patrons. Gaylord waters, repots and even takes sick plants home to doctor them up. If plants need replanting, she comes in on the weekends.

“I do it for our patrons,” she said. “There isn’t a semester that goes by that someone doesn’t say how much they love the plants.”

The students who frequent Fischer Library benefit from the plants, not only because the plants spruce up their studying atmosphere, but because they give students a unique opportunity to learn. Teaching assistants lead students around the library, asking them to identify the various indoor plants.

“The plants are a part of their education,” Gaylord said. “The library has evolved into a teaching lab.

“Plants seem to do well in this space,” she said. “They seem to really like it here.”

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