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  • Synopsis: Introduction and Early University Career
    Keywords: Peace Corps; apartheid; librarian; sociology; anthropology; degree; geography; Center for Women’s Studies; Center for Latino Studies; Founders Memorial Library; murder; Dr. James Beaudry; LGBT; Bill Monat; NIU Foundation; Law School; bought; magazine; indexing; The Advocate; California; Los Angeles; West Hollywood; Homophile Movement
    Transcript: MOORE-MOAURO: My name is Jeremiah Moore Moauro. I'm here with narrator, Professor Robert Ridinger, researcher and subject specialist at Founders Memorial Library, located at Northern Illinois University. The date is Friday, October 25th, 2019. We are here in the sound studio of DeKalb Public Library, located in Downtown DeKalb, Illinois to conduct an oral history interview with Professor Robert Ridinger, for Northern Illinois University's 125th-anniversary oral history project. Thank you professor for being with us today. Please, introduce yourself by saying a bit about who you are in your life before coming to NIU.

    RIDINGER: Well my name is Robert Ridinger. Before I came into NIU in 1981, I served for three years as a Peace Corps Librarian at The National University of Lesotho in the mountains of Southern Africa. There, I was engaged in working with weeding and cataloging projects for the university libraries and in the process, I got to travel over a fair degree of that end of the continent. I got to see apartheid working up close and personal and it was a totally transformative experience. I cannot imagine who I'd be today if I had not gone to the Peace Corps. When I came to NIU in 1981, I was hired as the subject librarian for sociology, anthropology, which is what my degree is in, and geography. They also tacked on The Center for Women's Studies. The Center for Latino Studies at that time did not exist, that program was developed later. I was also given the department, which now is known as Family Consumer and Nutrition Sciences, but at that term time was still known as Home-ec. The good part about that was that a lot of my areas interpenetrated, I could buy something in sociology that would also bear on anthropology. I could do something in social geography that dealt with urban anthropology, it was very useful. One book and went a lot farther than you might otherwise think. At that point in time, the contents in the library had been moved over from the old Swen Parson Facility and the new building, the Founders Memorial Library that we have now, was completely filled with what we had had, with one exception. There was a whole bunch of Indian government documents which were sitting over in the stack tower of Parsons. They were on very poor-quality paper and the question was, what should we do with them? Should we preserve them? As the geography librarian, I went through and pulled out all the provincial atlases, which meant I took a book cart and went up in the stack tower with a very rickety old elevator, pulled these things out by going literally through shelves and shelves and shelves of the stuff, pulling it out, blowing the dust off it, putting it on the cart and taking it back across the street. I figured the atlases had geography material we could use. One of the earliest things I got involved with was the LGBT community here, because at that point in time you had only two out faculty on the campus, both in the department of sociology, Dr. James Beaudry and Dr. Joseph Harry. Beaudry was going to be murdered in 1982 in Florida when he went to do a piece of research in Fort Lauderdale. He was coming out of a bar and went to his car to get something and he was murdered, by someone, they took his money, they took the gold chain he was wearing. I don't remember if they ever caught anyone about it, but that issue had been revisited, recently, by someone who's doing the history of the LGBT community in Florida who contacted me and said, "Is there anybody at NIU who would have any information on this?" and I gave him information from the Northern star and I sent him to Dr. Robert Sootner, who used to be the chair of sociology at the time Beaudry was here. Joseph Harry lived a long and rich research life, he was focusing his attention on the LGBT community in Chicago. He did a book on the gay bars of Chicago, bar culture actually, and after that, he continued to work with a good number of courses that it was always brought into the subject of deviance. That's how they folded it into the sociology curriculum. Nowadays, it's, uh, openly discussed as LGBT studies or LGBTQIA on beyond zebra, depending on how many other additives you want to put on to it. But, in those days it was just if it's going to be discussed, it's going to be discussed within certain limited parameters. After Dr. Harry left the university, his bequest was to create a scholarship for people who wanted to major in LGBT studies, that, I believe, is still being done through the NIU Foundation. So, it was an interesting time to be on campus, it was also the age of when NIU decided to redo itself in several ways. Back then, it was Bill Monat who was president. One of the things that was most interesting to me was that I think the second or third year I was here, this would be about eighty-three or eighty-four, he went out and bought a law school. Prior to that, NIU had no faculty of law, but Monat went to the suburbs, I believe that he found a private law school that was in financial difficulty and basically said, "Come to DeKalb, we will create a faculty of law." So, from one year to the next, Parsons, our old empty library, was filled with lawyers, moot court, and a complete law library, which we had not had before. I was very pleased about that because so many of my criminologists and sociology were forever trying to get things from law reviews which we had to send for. Now, we finally had them here across the street. That brought a lot more material to NIU than we had ever had before, which was kind of neat. I didn't know you could go buy a law school, but apparently you could and he did.

    MOORE-MOAURO: It does seem strange.

    RIDINGER: I don't want to know what the price tag was. I'm not sure the money was ever made public. But, uh, the whole idea that, how do you go buy a professional college? That said, it was very nice to have them here and to have people who were specialists in the field of law because, otherwise, my colleagues and I were having to try to sort of hang out over the abyss and try to deal with professional literature that has its own terminology with which we might really not be that familiar, therefore our service would be limited. In those years, there was something else that got to be very interesting, the university library faculty, are first of all, we are faculty and we are tenured. To go for tenure, you have to have a tenure project in addition to demonstrating your usual research agenda, you have to come up with something that basically proves that you're worth keeping. My project was to index the first 15 years of a news magazine known as The Advocate, which was and probably accurately referred to as The New York Times of gay America because it was the only thing that was circulating nationwide for a lot of years. When I first came here, The Advocate was being received in paper format and that the issues were inventively embellished by the students. They either were preserved or they would come back in pieces and or they wouldn't come back at all because I was having them sent to me to try to get a handle on what we actually had. So I bought a fleet backset on microfilm with state money. That put back all the stuff that had been shredded, drawn over, carted off. So I operated on that basis for the next few years, finished the index, and I had to take it to the publishers in Los Angeles to have it produced. So, I was flying out there and we went through Minneapolis, I was on an airline which has long gone the way of the Dodo Bird called Republic Airlines. We were delayed by a thunderstorm getting to Minneapolis and they say, "Oh yes well, your flight's already gone to Los Angeles, and the next one isn't for six hours." So I called Los Angeles and whined to the publisher and he said, "Not to worry, I'll come pick you up when you fly in." Eventually, we're flying over the Rockies and I have the manuscript with me and there's another thunderstorm and I was beginning to wonder, ya know, It seems like something out in the universe does not what this manuscript to ever get to the publisher. That said, we finally came down over nightline Los Angeles with the golden grid work reaching to the sea, I come down and get my bag and there's RIDINGER McQueen, the editor. We walk out and I know I'm in California because his car is a black Toronado. All I could think of was, "My, my, my, I must be in Los Angeles." We went out for dinner and the next morning I took the manuscript to the editorial offices because they were going to take the discs, put them on the computer there and do all the cross setting. I looked like an academic bag lady because I was carrying all the manuscripts in paper and the discs in large plastic market sacks. I was very happy to walk in and when I gave my name they said, "oh yeah we know all about your project." My first thought was, "Wait a minute, how is this true?" I had been emailing, uh, to as much as I could keep RIDINGER McQueen up to date on what was going on with the project. What I did not know until I got to Los Angeles was he was sharing all of this information I was feeding him with all the staff of the magazine at every monthly meeting. So when I walked in the door, they knew exactly who I was and exactly what I had done and all I could think of was, "Thanks, you should have warned me." But in terms of more primary sources, at that time, there was someone who had been involved in the old Homophile Movement, Jim Kepner, and he was managing what was known as the Barney-Carpenter Library and it was there in West Hollywood down on the street of Hollywood Boulevard so that afternoon, I went over and I met him. It was sort of like meeting an elder of the tribe and he was very interested about this and that evening, the publisher of The Advocate and the editor of The Advocate and I went out to dinner at a Belted Adobe Restaurant, in, somewhere in West Hollywood. All I could think of was the song from Sweet Charity, If They Could See Me Now, because it was so totally unreal. In terms of the Midwest versus California, we're peanut butter in their pate and to be sitting in this lavish West Hollywood Restaurant with the head of the magazine, the editor, I think the production editor was there too, people whose names I had known very well because I had been indexing their stuff for all those years, it was unreal.
  • Synopsis: The Battle for Tenure
    Keywords: NIU culture; coming out; homosexual; faculty; conservative; liberal; UCPC; homophobia; Homosexual in Society; John La Tourette; University Council Personnel Committee; tenure; appeal; The Avocate; The Macttachine Review; lesbian; The Ladder; homophile movement; magazine; tenure; administration
    Transcript: Then I got a letter receipt from them the next morning and flew back across to San Bernardino. Then we had our tenure battle at NIU, it was interesting.

    MOORE-MOAURO: You use the term battle to describe it.

    RIDINGER: I do.

    MOORE-MOAURO: Let's hear about the battle then.

    RIDINGER: Well, let's see it was, I think, part of the problem that it wasn't so much what I had done, it was simply the NIU culture your culture at that point in time. There were conservatives, there were liberals and there was a lot of back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. I wound up uh, appealing to the UCPC.

    MOORE-MOAURO: Back and forth why and about what?

    RIDINGER: Back and forth, the best way I can describe it is, my faculty departments were in total support of what I had done because I had been out to them from day one that I should be treated as something perfectly normal and so did they. There were conservatives elsewhere who did not, and it got rather interesting. That's really all I can say about that without getting into some legal areas. But I do remember going to talk to the University Council Personnel Committee. At that time, the provost was John La Tourette, so he was chairing the committee, and uh,I walked in and I had received information from a publisher that I had a second book contract. One of the books that I was going to do was another bibliography on issues, it eventually came out as a Homosexual in Society. That information was brand new the day before I was going in. So I talked to the Dean of Libraries at that point, Ted Welch, and said, "How do I play this?" and he said, "Well, use the information when you think it will do some good." So, I walked in and in the course of the conversation, it became very clear to me that the UCPC wanted to get me through and they wanted me to help them do that. I remember the last question they asked me was, "What is your research agenda from here on?" and I said, "oh I have a second book contract," the butter in my mouth freezing solid. They said, "What's it on?" I looked at them, I smiled sweetly and said, "eight common types of homophobia." And that was on a Thursday, and on the Monday I got the letter that said they had voted to reverse themselves and I was to be tenured and the next day, I flew off to a conference in Baltimore and I partied my fanny off. I think I had earned it. That being the case, since I had tenure, I had already begun adding material to the collection on the Homophile Movement. We had The Advocate, so I bought the Mattachine Review which covered the Manichean society and the lesbian publication, The Ladder. They had been reprinted on acid-free paper, they went into our special collections area and that was the beginning of the gender studies collection we have now with something else I'll get to later.

    MOORE-MOAURO: What year would that have been?

    RIDINGER: In terms of when I bought those things, that would be between 1981 and 1985. Then I added one, which was the magazine from California on microfilm. We had the core homophile material here already
  • Synopsis: Expanding LGBT History, Creating an Academic Presence, and Fighting Discrimination
    Keywords: LGBT communities; LGBT; Midwest; OCLC database; Gerbert Hart Library; newspaper the Gay Life; tenure; AIDs; Windy City Times; Chicago Outlines; Canada; outsourcing; microfilm; discrimination; ombudsman; Tim Griffin; committee; commission on the status of LGBT people; Certificate in LGBT studies; experiments; Gay Justice; book; lesbian literature; anthropology
    Transcript: Once I had tenure, I decided to expand the pool, I went looking for the newspapers of record of the LGBT communities of the Midwest because this was a prime source and this was a region that wasn't supposed to have any history, or if it was out there, you didn't know what the sources were. Were they preserved anywhere? is anybody doing anything with it? I spent a lot of time crawling around in the records of microfilm companies to see what they had done, going through the OCLC database to see what they had on the list, then finding out ok this was produced by company X, contact them, "Yes, we still have that," "You have the microfilm master number?" "Yes, we'll sell it to you." Every year I would add two or three more titles, a little bit at a time, and so the pool began to expand. Also, I begun working with the Gerber Hart Library and Archives in Chicago with Joseph Gregg, may he rest in peace. He was the archivist and librarian in there, and they had a duplicate of the Chicago paper, Gay Life, which was the paper of record at the time for the city's community. He let me borrow the duplicate copies which I then sent to Duncan McClaren in Toronto to get them microfilmed. It was a sad commentary, I had to send the stuff out of the country to get it filmed, I couldn't find anybody in the Chicago area who we thought could be trusted with this material. When it's the duplicate set of a paper and there's only two sets of it left that you know about, you have to be very careful with it. Nothing came through, he sent me back the two sets I asked for. One set went to Gerber Hart, but Joseph had died of AIDS by that time. The other set is with NIU, as far as I know, we are the only university that has Gay Life on microfilm. I kept collecting the city papers as well and uh, we did microfilm Windy City Times and Chicago Outlines. Again, I was focusing on the primary source material that would be necessary if someone wanted to sit down someday and write the LGBT history of the Midwest. This is stuff that had to be saved, it had to be preserved, and there was no one library anywhere in the Midwest at that time that had more than one or two pieces of it. So I figured, why not create a collection at NIU that has a whole lot of it, and it wasn't that expensive to do either. I think I spent more effort hunting down the stuff than actually, doing, um in terms of, trying to find the money for it, but every year came more reels of microfilm, softly and silently got added to the collection. The limitations on what you could do in research of that kind at NIU began to expand and expand and expand until they basically were no longer significant. Now where that fits in the overall evolution of the campus is that in 1993 there was an effort by a group of people going to the president and saying, "Look, we need to make some changes, there are certain things that have been happening at NIU versus LGBT people. We don't like this. We need to stop it. The campus needs to do an assessment of where we are.”

    MOORE-MOAURO: What kind of things?

    RIDINGER: I believe there was some anti-gay violence, there was graffiti. I don't remember exactly what it was, it's in the report. What that led to was the president's commission on the status of LGBT people, I’m probably mangling the title, but that was 26 years ago. The ombudsman at the time, Tim Griffin, chaired it, and I was the only member of the library faculty that went to participate, one of us had to. Of course, after the first meeting, I realized if we don't have coherent minutes of this work, we're going to be reinventing the wheel, so I became the secretary of the commission and I worked with Tim all the way through. I was able to tell them in terms of what we could do in terms of changing the future of NIU for people who are LGBT, that there was no major microfilm collection relating to the field we did not know own, a little bit at a time goes a long way. We had also picked up the collection from the Bay area, which was someone going around literally and finding every issue of every old paper of that community ever produced from San Francisco to Oakland and every place in between, it was huge and we got the state grant money. We have it, Urbana has it, I'm not sure how many other people do, but when you add that to what I'd already added here, suddenly we had a huge collection. One of the recommendations of the commission was that there be an academic program picking up on what Joe Harry had been doing all those years before, to create something in LGBT studies. Now, this is where the Certificate in LGBT Studies that we have now in 2019 began. I was able to point out to them that it's not a question of do we have adequate resources to support such a thing, we have them, we don't need to spend a lot of money on this, we've already got the stuff, thereby removing one major objection to the whole idea. They needed someone to coordinate the first three experimental courses, they were being offered through the honors program. Uh, I'm blanking on the name of the man who was running honors at that time, and I can see him, I know he's passed on, but I'll think of him, and so these other people on the commission said, "We're all teaching, we have this” and all I could think of was, "Oh no, here it comes." I said, "Okay, I'll do it" and I coordinated the first three courses. The first time, we had invited Richard Moore from Urbana who had written a book called Gay's Justice, to be our opening speaker. We had 27 students sign up for that first class, that did several things, it proved the course could fill, that we could bring a significant speaker to the campus and the honors program gave us the money to pay Richard Moore's fee. By the end of the class we had had one woman come out as having been a lesbian in the air force and the dialogues were interesting because we had faculty come in and speak about their expertise. For example, I can remember Diana Swanson from English was coming in and talking about lesbian literature we had people from history, I did it for anthropology, we were simply showing that this has a component in many fields of study. Then we gave them an exam with five different questions, they had two essays on. Nothing like that had ever been done at NIU before.

    MOORE-MOAURO: That style of exam?

    RIDINGER: No, not the style of exam, treatment of LGBT information on that scope.

    MOORE-MOAURO: Oh sure, ok. We weren't limiting it to one discipline, we were looking at cross-disciplinary. The fact that those courses filled three times, granted the numbers kept falling off, but I think we had pulled out everybody we could for maybe a three or four year period, but we still had people sign up for the next one the next year and the one the year after that. That was significant in terms of laying the groundwork for the certificate because it proved people would sign up for these classes, which prior to them, to that, if you weren't in sociology or anthropology or possibly in law, there was no way to tell would this be a draw. But this proved that it was, after that they decided to go and work toward getting a certificate of LGBT studies and that has gone and changed into where we are now. What a long strange trip it's been.
  • Synopsis: LGBT Certificate and Returning to Academic Library Life
    Keywords: LGBT Certificate; library life; Chicago; students; research; anthropology; HRIF; The Advocate; tenure; sociology; geology; Davis Hall; map boxes; collections; transferring collections; archive; map collection
    Transcript: MOORE-MOAURO: It's a fascinating trip. Was there any push back after it was announced that there would be the creation of these classes and the path was being laid to one that would ultimately end up resulting in the creation of the certificate?

    RIDINGER: Nothing that I remember as significant, mainly because we didn't propose them as the forerunners of a certificate. At that point in time, we were simply looking to see, can these recommendations of the commission be actualized? Can we take it out and do something with it or is it a nice idea and we'll try it out and it's going to fall flat? Well, it didn't fall flat and the fact that we're able to do with three times, then laid the groundwork for people coming back later and saying, "Well you know we have the data that people will sign up for these classes, how do we build on the framework that was originally there?" It wasn't so much that we're going to do this as part of an overarching strategy, it was simply, "Let's see if we can get this much done and having that done, then okay, we have this, what can we do next?" It wasn't so much the long term plan. Then, of course, the LGBT certificate proved to be quite popular actually with people coming back to add it to their professional certifications and then we were going for it online and right now in 2019 I believe the idea of an LGBT's major is working its way through the curriculum committee and it should be going into the board of trustees for hopeful approval, and if that happens, that will be a major milestone on a journey that I got to witness the beginnings of back in 1981. I hope it does get through, of course, then five years from now, there'll be something else to argue about.

    MOORE-MOAURO: It sounds like this LGBT studies has been really a foundational experience for you in coming to NIU.

    RIDINGER: Yes, and none of it was planned.

    MOORE-MOAURO: So, when you're saying none of it was planned, then what did you come to NIU for, originally?

    RIDINGER: I came because I wanted to go back into the academic library life. I had figured out this was the type of environment I needed to have to flourish, to shine. I enjoyed being out there coping with the faculty and the students and the graduate students who would come in with questions ranging from everything from supernovas to zebras and everything in between. I always enjoyed the academic environment and it was where I thought I could do something significant. I didn't realize that when I got here I would be in a time when the university was moving toward change, on its own, and there would be opportunities to do things that were unique, to make changes that were maybe not major at the time, but when you had them in place, you could then see that they were opening doors for other things that might happen at NIU. And the fact it was near Chicago, I could get to the city whenever I wanted to and I didn't have to live in there, which I couldn't have afforded. It was just nice to get back into the Midwest having gone to college in Cleveland. I had very pleasant memories of the civilized behavior of people in the Midwest, and we're not talking Minnesota nice. But it was simply a region I found, "yup, yeah, I could live here, this is comfortable." When I came to Northern, it turned out there were so many things that could be done that we simply didn't have here. For example, the massive database, the human relations area files, we have it on microfiche now, it's a major source of primary material in anthropology. We only had a few pieces of it, but I was able to arrange that we got all the rest of the microfiche. Now it's a database so we can't possibly afford it although we had it for a while and it wasn't used sufficiently to keep, but getting the HRIF material all here massively strengthened the anthropology field. Being able to add The Advocate strengthened sociology, Geography, at that time there was a separate map library on the second floor of Davis Hall at the south side and I got to be the supervisor or the person who was running that. It was most interesting. About 2007, we moved the map collection out of Davis to the second floor of Founders, which is where my office is now. I think we did it because people were worried about weight and load-bearing on the floor. The atlases and maps were in heavy metal cases. The more maps we bought, the higher the stacks that cases got, they were getting toward the lights. The Department of Geography and Genealogy's computer lab was right underneath. We never had to have the phone call to find out that the map library was in the computer lab when the floor collapsed but the weight was going to be a problem long term so we figured Davis was a very solid old building, but we really need to get this out of there if we can. Space became available so we shifted everything over so the maps and the books of geography are all in one building now. It makes a lot more sense, but those map cases were really getting to be rather tall. Maybe they weren't quite to the lights, but they were getting up there, it was going to be a problem, we had to do something about it. So it was always interesting just to see how the ideas of the faculty, in terms of the research, would suggest things, we could try them and the more we did, the more we could do, that's probably the best way to look at it.
  • Synopsis: Working with Academic Departments as a Research Librarian
    Keywords: 1980; FCNS; Center for Black Studies; center for Women’s Studies; Center for Latino Studies; race; department; collections; research; TK Daniel; Vanessa Daniel; LaVerne Gyant; Black History Month; purchase; book; journals; LGBT; Australia; faculty
    Transcript: MOORE-MOAURO: Since starting here in the 1980s then, how has your role changed at the library, over time?

    RIDINGER: Well, over time I came in as an assistant professor and I was able to climb the academic tree and achieve the rank of full professor at the University Libraries. I began with the seven departments; the three I've been hired for, FCNS, and the Center for Black Studies, and the Center for Women's Studies. Over time, the portfolio and departments changed they gave me the Latino Studies program when it first began, this has been spun off to someone else, but over the years, what's happened is that I've held on to the social sciences, a good number of them. I have three core disciplines, and Black Studies. I always found that very interesting that it's been something on the order of 38 years now, and I was in a very strange situation all those years. I was a biological male and I was doing the business for the Center for Women's Studies, I was a white male and I was the librarian for the Center for Black Studies, and I was an Anglo and I was buying the books for the Center for Latino and Latin American Studies and nobody squawked.

    MOORE-MOAURO: Could they have?

    RIDINGER: They could have if I had failed in my duty toward them.

    MOORE-MOAURO: I see.

    RIDINGER: I don't think I ever did.

    MOORE-MOAURO: So, it was the completion of your duties that prevented any problems being raised with race or gender in association with the jobs?

    RIDINGER: I don't think it had more than to do with my duties, the fact that I was simply in the faculties here constantly. It was not so much the faculty versus your librarian, it was faculty working with your librarian. For example, when I first got here, what had been planned, collection development policies were supposed to be written for all disciplines in terms of what the library would collect, what we would not collect, how far back in time we would go. The person who was here before I was, had left in May of 1981 and the areas I took over for had not had the policies written and the deadlines were coming up, that was the first major thing I had to do when I got here. What I did was call the chairs of my new departments, introduce myself and told them we have a problem. It was never a confrontation, it was always not you, and us but we. Working with that philosophy of finding out why faculty were interested in what, keeping them up on new material, when the internet came along it was, "Thank you, God" I can email them every day. I can send them links to the BBC or whatever I find, it was a constant dialogue, I wasn't their librarian they were to play with, I was their colleague, Rob. I would go to the cafeteria and have lunch with some of them, different days and find out things over lunch, "Okay, well, if you're working on that, I think I can find something for you, I'll send it to you by email." It's always been a constant back and forth dialogue. I remember I was invited to be in the committee for Black History Month, one year. This was back when, back when TK Daniel, and Venessa Daniel were the heads of the center, they were the ones who were running when I first got here after that, I was trying to remember that, after that, I think that was when LaVerne Gyant took over. We were sitting there trying to come up with a theme for that year's Black History Month, and I came up with something that I shamelessly stole from George Gershwin, Rap City in Black. I was being facetious, they loved it, and they took it and they ran with it for the whole Black History Month. So, I couldn't help thinking, "This is crazy," because I just gave them a theme for Black History Month and the last time I checked, I'm a white man. It was always that kind of thing, put it in situations where as an anthropologist I could move through cultural patterns, be aware of that and always the fact that I don't think there were ever as many racial or ethnic tripwires for me to possibly running into as there could have been mainly because it wasn't, "He's not hearing what we need," it was, "We're easy with him because he's always in contact with us, we know what's going on." If they have questions, I've always felt, keep them informed because 90% of the static flares up between faculty either diff(erent) departments or versus us and the library has always come from the fact that people don't have all the information they need. They may not like the picture of it anyway, but if they know they're not being deprived of certain points of a discussion, they may not be happy about it, but at least they're going to understand that whatever the issue is, you're trying to address it as well as you can. If there's some things we can't do, they will know why. It wasn't the case of ever been put in the situation where, for example, I could go to the Center for Black Studies and uh, talk to sister Gyant, and see what she would need. For example, they never had enough money to buy a lot of stuff. I asked her, "Okay, this is how much money you have this year, what areas of African-American Studies do you want me to concentrate on this year?" She would say, "We need more here, here, and here." I said, "Fine. I'll see what I can find." The next year we'd move to another area, she was doing the directing, all did was buy the books. Having that kind of healthy relationship with her and with all my other faculty over the years, one, it was invigorating, I got to hear about their research and sometimes it was, "Okay I have no idea what you're talking about but it sounds very interesting." For example, the geologists one day were talking about what was then new, the discovery of the crater at Chicxulub. This basically the meteorite that ended the dinosaurs, they knew people who have been working on that, and I got to hear all about this thing in the Yucatan and what was going down and I couldn’t help thinking, "That's a good lunch hour, that's cool." There's always been that dialogue back and forth and always the idea of, what are they going to come up with next? Of course, if they find something in The New York Times, something major in a new book, I better have it on order. If I don't have it on order, they will indicate “well now you really should have done that.” I have to tell them I was there. The real problem was keeping up with the journals, journal prices have completely become obscene, especially in the sciences. We can never buy them everything that they want. This is why all the libraries in the academic world have opted for access rather than ownership.

    MOORE-MOAURO: For those who don't know, can you give an example of a yearly subscription for a journal, price-wise?

    RIDINGER: I'll try. It depends on the field, the hard sciences are the ones that are the most expensive, their prices for an average year can run up to $85,000 a year for one journal, which will publish maybe 6 to 10 times a year. It's totally ridiculous, what that has driven is the rise of open access journals because what the publishers were doing, was basically having a faculty member publishing their journal, and then charge them for access to their own material. They said, "Listen, we've had enough of this, we're going to create open access online journals, we'll put our information out there, we'll publish ourselves, we will control the access, not the publishers, and we will not sign away copyright." The two things I ever had published in a professional journal of that kind, I gave them the copyright because I didn't want to bother with all the fuss if somebody wanted reprints or that sort of thing. When I started writing the column for the GOVT round table of ALA off the shelf, I kept the copyright all of those, we're now up to, we have over 25 of them so far. To do that, I simply picked a subject that I knew there were one or two books off. I'm like, "What else is out there?" Make up a list of things, show how they're interrelated, send it out. If you want to build your collection in this area, start with this, I'm not claiming this is everything, but this is what I could find it. It was interesting because I did one on LGBT life in Australia and I was trying to figure out where can I do this and how can I get this information out because it's going to be going out within America, I really should try to get this down to Australia. I thought ok, "Where can I send it?" There's the Australian gay and lesbian archives, I can at least send them an email with his information. They're perfectly free to ignore it, but I think they'll find it useful. I did that and I didn't hear and I figured it was a nice idea, at least I got them told. Then I get this email that basically says, "Thanks so much, we're very happy this information is available in North America,” putting us in our provincial place, and “we put it up on our website, we put it out on several sites on Facebook." My article had gone nationwide in Australia. I can think of, it actress Molly Pecan years ago in the U.S. theater that someone asked her about her reputation and she said she was known from edge to edge, I'm thinking, "I'm getting out on the edges," It was that type of thing.
  • Synopsis: Working with Students as a Research Librarian
    Keywords: students; faculty; reference librarian; research; resources; teaching; student interaction
    Transcript: MOORE-MOAURO: Very good. You've talked about your beginnings at NIU, you've talked a bit about making the collections and working with departments. A little bit about how technology has affected your role as well. Let's talk about student interaction. In what capacity do you work with NIU student body, and what impact do you think that you've had on student experience at NIU?

    RIDINGER: Ok well, as one of the reference librarians, I'm on the desk for quite a few hours per week and I am in mouth to mouth combat with the students when they come in. They come to us and many of them have never been in a library as big as ours before, it's a bit daunting. I try to put them at ease as much as I can, let them know, first of all, it's okay if you're not really sure what you're doing. Why don't you tell me what you need and then we'll figure out how to get you what you need, especially now in the electronic age, if there are things they can sign up for, they are able to do certain things. I make certain, "Have you seen this? Have you signed up for this? Let's do this right now." By the time they go out the door, they have search capacities and systems, IShare and Illiad and a few other things that they know how to use, and also, I point out to them that they're suffering from the myth of the internet. The idea that you have the internet, and you can use a search engine, you can come up with tons and tons of information. It's a wading pool, it's very broad, but it's not very deep and how do you sort it down to a manageable. I always point out of them, you may be looking for something where you already have the book and the two articles on it, and you don't find anything else. Your first reaction when you don't find more is “It must be out there, what am I doing wrong?” I tell them, "You may not be doing anything wrong, always hold this as an option, if you're not finding much consistently, maybe it's not there to be found." That's why I work with them and check that sometimes there's a lot of stuff but it's under a term that you didn't use, or sometimes I can't find anything either. I just say, "Okay, it's not you, it's your subject." You can just see the fear fall off them, that it's okay, I'm hearing them. It's a day to day and weekends and nights sometimes, we take on all comers when they come inside, we get the faculty, and we get the graduate students, and we get the undergraduates. We try to assure them that they can do this, I also teach bibliographic instruction courses for different departments where they'll bring me in and say, for example, we have a course in North American archaeology. Just today, I did a presentation for that class and I made a specific handout for the resources that fitted that, brought in specific things from the government listings of the sources that this course specifically could use to press or copy. It’s is now up on Blackboard and I gave them copies, we spent an hour talking about the resources, they know now there's a librarian who speaks their professional language, which is what my colleagues as a subject specialist have always been there for because when most people are coming in, they have a specific mental background. They're coming in as historians or music majors, they want someone who speaks their professional language. They don't want to have to say, "I really want to look at the problems of crystal meth dealing in Chicago," and get someone who's going to give them criminology, at large. Having us there relieves them of a lot of miscommunication. Although sometimes we can't find anything either, but the good part is that they sit with us, they see us working through, we explain what we're doing and they see by the end of it, "It wasn't me, it wasn't my subject, there's this one dissertation, there's this is one book and that's all," which means dissertation subject is a good idea to go with. But sometimes it’s uh, sometimes when the students come to us, they bring us situations where they have pinned themselves into corners, we cannot get them out of. My favorite example of that, and this is years ago, I'm usually in my office by oh seven thirty in the morning or so, I got a call from the circulation desk, there was a student upstairs who needed help, I figured I'm the only person in the building so far, I should go up and see who it is. It turned out to be someone from a sociology class. I said, "Okay," "I have to do a 15-page paper," "When is it due?" "At noon," that day and I said, "What do you want to do on?" "I want to do it on crystal meth," and I thought, "Okay." I showed him the proper database that can qualify by a full-text search and I walked away. All I could think of was, "Face it, honey, you goin down," because this was eight o'clock in the morning. They had to four hours to create a 15-page paper for a class I had done a VI instruction class for not three weeks but four. I knew the professor and I knew the professor was going to have words with this person. I never asked the professor if they received a truly horrible paper on crystal meth, I didn't have the heart, but I will never forget this person coming in. Give us a day or two, we can work with you, four and a half hours, I may look like Albus Dumbledore, but I am not a wizard. There are things we simply cannot fix and the problem is the students think, because of the myth of the internet, "It's out there somewhere. The librarian can help me, the librarian can save me." Sometimes there's not a single thing we can do except to tell them, "You're going down," even if you'd come in two weeks ago, you still couldn't have done this because the information is simply not there. That's when they stand there and they glare at you as if they're blaming us for what they didn't do, which, of course, is exactly what they're doing and so you learn to have, uh I believe the phrase would be, a nice thick hide. But we don't get that very often, most people are very appreciative of what we can do, but every now and then we get someone coming over the transom like that, where you do our best to help them, we really do that, but sometimes there is just nothing to be done.

    MOORE-MOAURO: This is a new phenomenon in student culture then?

    RIDINGER: No, that's been going on as long as I've been here.

    MOORE-MOAURO: Has it just changed form?

    RIDINGER: I would say it's become a little more prevalent in the sense that people now are so much more apt to go out onto the web on their own. They'll use something like Google scholar, they'll pick out their favorite search engine du jour or whatever they use regularly. They'll do a search on this, they'll go into something like Wikipedia, which does have its uses though it's a popular source and then they'll put all of this stuff down as the references for a paper and go into the faculty member and wonder why they get their clock cleaned. This is where we used to come in and say, "now what you need to do is learn what a peer-review journal is," that's a phrase I wish the faculty would explain more often than they do because once the students realized this means quality control of what's in the journal, then the students are much more apt to see, "Okay, this is why they want me to do this." I think it's the sense that so many of them sometimes got away with things when they were in high school, like pulling an all-nighter and turning up a reasonably acceptable paper. That doesn't work at the university world. You have to have all of the pots on your stove moving forward at the same time to keep for the sake of your sanity. Sometimes when they come into us, they have picked topics that I blame the faculty member for, who really should have sat them down and said, "It sounds wonderful, but that's not going to work." Sometimes I wonder did the faculty simply let them take the topic and go in and make it a learning experience? Sometimes it just gets to be severe, that's about the only word I can come up with for it. No, I think the fact that they have young minds who are becoming is a process that's never going to change. They go through certain things, all we can do is be companions on the journey. You can't do it for them, basically, if I had to give one piece of advice, I would say, "I can show you the road, but you've got to do the walking." Most of the time when they see what the road is, they do, and you have people like Mr. Crystal Meth.

    RIDINGER: As I say, that's the only reason I remember it because it was so exceptional and so totally impossible to fix. My colleagues have all had different people of the same ilk
  • Synopsis: Department Diversity and Internal Reflections on Race
    Keywords: diversity; race; gender; sexuality; LGBT; faculty; dean; department; college; Peace Corps; apartheid; Capetown; student; Zimbabwe; Black Studies
    Transcript: MOORE-MOAURO: On the topic of students still. In recent years NIU use become more racially, religiously, economically diverse both in student and faculty bodies, how has this impacted the library and has this changed the way that you've operated in your position?

    RIDINGER: Over the years we have made efforts repeatedly to diversify the university libraries faculty. For example, we had an assistant dean who was African-American at one point. He was hired away, we have had over the years several faculty members who are Hispanic, and I think we've done the best we could. Part of the problem is that recruiting librarians who are not Caucasian is a function of how many people of different ethnic groups and/or professional are out there to be recruited. We do try and we have had some folks come and stayed in us for a year or two or three then they went on to something else. They either got hired away, in one case, they moved out of state. It was just, it's been a mixture of things, we are the one place, I like to think when anyone comes in the door, they get the same quality service and no matter what their skin color is, no matter what their sexual orientation is. We're simply there to give them what we can give them. Sometimes I think they come in and they expect a push back because they've had it someplace else and when we don't give it to them, they're rather pleasantly surprised. In terms of, example, dealing with different groups as my clients, being an anthropologist, I don't think I ever had the baggage of race prejudice. The fact that I've been in the Peace Corps, and if you have any of that nonsense, the Peace Corps will knock it out of you so quickly, it won't even be able to be tracked how far it's gone. The fact that I saw apartheid working, I was one of maybe between 1,000 and 1,200 Caucasian people living in a nation of about 2.5 to 3 million Africans and the faculty at the university of where I worked in the Peace Corps were from all over the world. We had people who were, we had a range of faculty members who had run away from Idi Amin whose skin was so dark it looked blue-black, we had a Dutch statistician who was a redhead and burned in the sun massively because his skin was so fair, we had people from Zimbabwe, we had people from South Africa itself, a mixed-race couple, we had a priest who was going to have his hands blown off by a parcel bomb in Maseru, later on. He lived and he now, last I heard was living in Capetown and he has hooks instead of hands. When you're working in an environment like that, the one thing we all agreed upon was the nonsense of racism or apartheid stops at the border. Even if I had had that baggage, I would've had it knocked out of me just by the sheer environment, which I was living. I never had it because we were always dealing with so many diverse clientele, and I wasn't raised with that baggage. When you have people coming in, I recognize they're coming from different places. I don't know what experiences they've had before, but I know what experience I'm going to give them. The fact that on several occasions there is an intro to Black Studies class and they have me come in and do it. When I walk into that classroom, sometimes it would look like, "Mm-hmm," but by the time I've got through the first 5 or 10 minutes, they realized I'm giving them examples of these problems from their community. I was very happy to have President Obama in office because I could point out he's done this, if you're looking for stuff on him, you can go to this database, here's his speeches, here's the legislation. I knew enough about African-American culture, after all these years I certainly should, I was able to cite examples of people they knew, that they'd heard of, it wasn't the case of what is he doing talking about our subject. They could see, "Okay, he's down with this, he knows enough about this, and we can have an intelligent dialogue."
  • Synopsis: Motivating Students in their Research
    Keywords: students; research; librarian; collections; Stars and Stripes; future; motivation
    Transcript: MOORE-MOAURO: You found acceptance with the students at NIU?

    RIDINGER: Pretty much, yeah, pretty much, more in a sense that I always ask them, "Tell me, let me know what you need, let's see what we can do.” Sometimes, not much, sometimes, all right, let's see, you need books on this person, okay, I know there are these two, but there's also this and there's that, and could make, certainly, run away with at least something to go with. Even if they've found out it's not viable, "Let's work up a new subject for you." They went off with that, I was the one to send them off with something to give them a fighting chance because in the end they have to do their own evolving. All we can do is help them and equip them even if they're doing something like Stars and Stripes. The best way is for us as faculty to look at them as these are people who are becoming and how can we facilitate what they bring to us? They're tracking their own dreams, if they want to dream those things into reality, they want this idea to become a book, a video, a painting, a piece of music, a paper for a history conference, how can we do that? how can we backstop them? not so much do it for them, but give them the tools they need. The best tool is knowing there's somebody who speaks their professional language even to finding out ok, "There is no novel that you're describing," that looks at a life on the Northwest side of Chicago in the 1920s, the Polish community, why don't you write one?
  • Synopsis: Library Projects and Accomplishments Since 1981
    Keywords: library collection size; two millionth volume; Lord of the Rings; special collections; reference desk; faculty; students; technology; microfilm; library carpet; comfort animals; mission; digitization; digital access; digital collections; digital database; renovations; basement; café; collections management
    Transcript: MOORE-MOAURO: We've talked about a list of accomplishments that are well-connected with what you've done in the collections in building up the LGBT history collection. What are some accomplishments of the library as a whole since you took your position that you're proud of?

    RIDINGER: One of the things I think that's been most significant would be the fact that we've passed our 2 millionth volume and it was very interesting to see what we bought as the 2 millionth volume, an original set of the Lord of the Rings, first edition, of Tolkien. I couldn't help thinking that is an excellent choice because it's something everybody would recognize. I don't remember how the decision was made but when I heard what we had bought, I thought, "Oh, that is so cool." That is so cool and people could recognize the fact, one, that we have grown to this size, and we are a major research institution, but, also, the fact that we're adding special things, it's not so much that.

    MOORE-MOAURO: I must ask, did you put that in the rare books collection?

    RIDINGER: Absolutely, special collections is another area where I think we've developed quite a bit. The one thing that was useful out here, we had upper floor reference collections by subject areas, like islands of reference across the upper floors, by disciplines in the subject librarian's faculty offices were close to them. What we've done since is, bring everything down on the first floor, so there's one desk. We're still all around the building working with the faculty and the students and where I am now, I live in the map room which is good because I am a geography librarian, so people come in, they expect me to be able to do that. For example, the last couple of weeks we've had visitors from China. They're here through the exchange program and one of my colleagues on the faculty, who is Chinese, does the tour for them but she always brings them in and I show them the scopes to the planets that we have. The huge plastic globe that was originally done as a teaching tool for the blind, where they could learn the world by touch and it's always interesting to show them the sheet maps that we have, I always get out the atlases of China that we have and when they can see this, their faces light up because these are things they've probably never seen before, not so much the atlases, but the other stuff that's unique and fun, and they go away happy. The one thing that we did do was, we got rid of the microfilm readers, we had two for the simple reason that technology is aging and we cannot replace the parts, we still have them, the long-term solution to that will be to get digital scanners because microfilm is still valuable. The technology is aging. So far so good, the one thing we did though that I remember that we had more people comment about. I think that anything else in the last three decades was when we got rid of that godawful carpet from the first floor. When I first came here, the first-floor carpet was long striped carpet, orange, black, red, and I think one or two other colors. I was told that when that carpet was first laid down, when the founders was first built, there wasn't anything else on the first floor, except that carpet. People had come in and tried to walk across it and we're getting vertigo. I believe it, and of course, I was rather incredulous when I found out that the art librarian was the one who picked the carpet. It wasn't anything really wrong with it, it was just jarring. Over the decades, it proved to be almost immortal. It would not wear out, and we, eventually, took it up and replaced it with something less jarring to the eyes but it was only on the first floor that we had that. Then over the decades the question became, what do we do with all this leftover carpet? For a while, people were saying, well, when you retire, well, give everyone a square of carpet and that idea went down in flames rather quickly as you may imagine. It was so much easier on the eyes to have not this cacophony of color on the first floor just walk in something gray or blue, something easy on the eyes. Also, the fact that we've gone to the dogs, literally, we have had the Husky puppies coming over to sorta have a paw time, I guess you could call it. The public can come in and paw the dogs and the dogs are in there, sitting there looking at them saying, "Yes, I'm here, adore me." We also brought in Newfoundland dogs during the Christmas season, it's a stressful time for the students who wants a break for them. A lot of them don't have their pets here, they come into the library. Here are these two huge black, Newfoundland dogs if you're sitting at the reference desk, you can always tell when someone comes in because you hear this particular note and the voice that translates as, "Oh, what a sweet puppy." Of course, they come over, they're very popular and people are taking their phones out and taking pictures of them with this dog, whose tag is probably halfway over their face but that's an interesting aspect of things. Secondly, having the cafe come to live in the lower level of the library has been interesting because now, granted, shortly, the student center will be open again, but while it's being rebuilt, we've been the only place on the central campus where there was any place to buy food other than the machines. We got to be very popular, that and the fact that when it's 20 below outside when you go downstairs for a hot lunch, we didn't have to go out in the blizzard. We, also, have given up quite a lot of space in the library to other agencies on campus, the writing center, the tutoring center, and at the moment we're looking at the idea of a learning commons which is something common in the library world, having several different agencies that are working with the students, working in the library. It's a commons sphere, I’m not sure it's going to work out, I'll probably be retired by the time we do it, but it is being discussed. It has been proved to be quite successful elsewhere, that maybe something will be coming down the line. Moving the map library out of Davis and into founders would be one of the major things, the one thing that we have seen in the years I've been here was the opening of the branch campuses. When I came, we didn't have any except the one on Lorado Taft, Rockford and Naperville did not exist then. When we set them up we were going to have branch campus libraries. We had library staff who went out there, had to cope with patrons who brought them questions and database material, there is problem how do you get it from DeKalb out to the branch campuses. As they say in Ireland, "It's been grand," but the idea of having branch campuses, was modeled on the idea of the, we used to call it the outdoor education campus at Lorado, Taft. I thought it was a very good idea because a lot of our patrons in the area don't find it convenient. They have jobs, they want to get degrees, they want to take courses, but they can't all come to Dekalb, so take what we can out to them, and I think that's been one of the more interesting things. Of course, the part of the problem is, with the new technology, things like one card and being able to borrow and access from off-campus. We have the same problems we've seen with our on-campus people at large because now we have people emailing us, "I'm sitting at home in China and I'm trying to access this database and your database is letting me in and I'm doing all this, why can't I do this?" We're sitting there thinking, " Oh, dear, here we go again." Sometimes it's simple and sometimes it's not them, it's the technology, we have technology support people in the library now. We have our own tech department, but we also have the university IT people. We have to, I think at long-term they're probably going to move out to other space or become part of the learning commons, I'm not sure. It's been interesting just to see how it's diversified, also, the fact that we've introduced compact shelving. When I got here, the basement of the library was not finished, the floor of it was gravel literally furniture and all sorts of things were hidden down there. We turned that into storage space with compact shelving and, basically, gotten the entire floor of the library to put things down. Having onsite storage is wonderful, as anyone who's used our collection and had us fished something out of storage for them can attest. "We don't have to send for, it's not online, give us 20 minutes, we'll have it for you." When I got here, that did not exist.

    MOORE-MOAURO: Where was that material kept then?

    RIDINGER: Most of what we put down there was across the south side of the main floor is the periodicals collection. There was a lot more jam than it used to be so we put stuff down there that was of low use, infrequent use because we do track what asked for. If it's something that's only asked for two or three times a year, it can go downstairs. If it's something that's asked for 10 times a week, it stays on the main floor. Titles like that had usually gone to electronic format app because it's more accessible. The paper will wear out, we know this, it's only a question of how soon and how badly it's going to get mangled before it does. So, there's that and the fact that we've now created a gallery on the main floor where we're having programming, we didn't have that before. We built the scholars stand, which I don't know how much it used to get, but that's where we keep a few newspapers we have. I'm just mentally walking around the library and trying to think what's mainly changed. The fact that we've had an array of technological changes come through for processing and making things somewhat easier because we've moved away from paper. When I came, none of us had computers, we had, as the French say, "Le typewriter," I typed up my book orders, now I sit at a computer, fill in the form, hit the button and its in. That makes life a lot easier because what people I don't think realize is that our craft is a very high volume one. We never know from day to day what is coming in the door, we just know we have to buy books, we have to monitor general usage, we have to rescue the historian or the sociologist who's coming in who hasn't been in the library before or hasn't been in there for ten years and doesn't remember where anything is and why are the microfilm machines are not in here anymore, and get them what they need so they go away having had a positive experience even if it only means they know that they couldn't find anything because it's not out there. No two days are the same, that's one of the reasons I've always loved my profession. You can never go stale, there's always something new, there's a new website, a new video on YouTube, yes, YouTube, or there's a new science posting on BBC emailed to two or three faculty around campus who might want to see it. There's always something new and it never gets old, which is why you see so many librarians working well into their sixties and seventies because we get addicted to the information game and we don't want to give it up.
  • Synopsis: Changes at the University and its Public Image
    Keywords: NIU Plaza; renovation; construction; Student center; Center for Women’s Studies; lilac tree; Sasaki architects; handicap accessibility; Steven building; Convocation Center; Chick Evans Field House; DeKalb culture; Center for Black Studies; minority expansion; LGBT; studies; suitcase university; image; Lisa Freeman; Husky Pledge; DeKalb Agricultural Firm; South East Asia Studies; Peace Corps; Maleya
    Transcript: MOORE-MOAURO: Then from your perspective, what do you think are some of the more important changes that occurred at the university since you arrived on campus and how have any of these impacted the library?

    RIDINGER: I would say the first most obvious one is the amount of construction that's happened since 1981. When I came, the Plaza between the Student Center and the library was a parking lot and there was a house out there, which is where women's studies was located and they had a gigantic lilac tree. The day they tore that house down, people came from all around the campus to take cuttings from that lilac tree for their home gardens. I also remember that when I got here, the student center tower was still faced in yellow brick. It was not covered with the stone that is there now. That all happened when we had this Sasaki group of architects come to campus and make an overall design, which resulted in the Plaza that we have now with the Martin Luther King Memorial and the bust. Although now as we're speaking in October, 2019, the redone Plaza area by the union has just been re-opened again, which means it's more wheelchair accessible than ever was before, but all of that done on the central campus. I've seen Steven's building be completely redone and my anthropologists have to refuge he lived in grant tower for a couple of years, but eventually they put anthropology back in the central part of the campus, which is where we need to be and the theater department had a brand new theater to work from. We, also, now have the Convocation center, which did not exist when I got here in eighty-one. I think it's been a useful facility because before that all we had was the Evans Field House, which is, there's no kind way to say this. It's an artifact. I'm sure it's still used for some things, but now we can have concerts, we have major events, we can have tractor pulls or something of that nature. We have a space in DeKalb that such things can come here and happen here. I'm trying to think of what else. In terms of the overall campus community, I think one of the things that's happened that's been very good is the emergence of more of the ethnic studies centers. Center for Black Studies and center for women's studies were the only ones that were here. When I came in eighty-one, there was a movement to establish the center for Latino, Latin-American studies, when they did that, our initial problem was we don't have a lot of money to buy everything we need to buy for them. Beyond that, you've never really had a center for LGBT studies. What happened was women's studies decided to expand and adopted, and that's how you've got what you have the center for, I'm blanking on it, gender sexuality and women's studies. I know that's not the right name, but it's, what we have now, it's the combined program. What I thought was interesting was the fact that you always had such a mixed ethnic population on this campus and the other problem that they had been wailing about for years, which I don't see any way to solve, is refusing to accept that NIU is a suitcase university. Then people would complain about, when we bring artists to campus, we have these programs on the weekends, and there's only a handful of people who show up for these programs. How do we get people to stay on campus for the weekend? The simple answer is you don't, while these folks have obligations elsewhere, they have jobs, they have family duties. They're not going to stay, now, that said, if you figure that in, there is a huge amount of diversity in what's on this campus. The fact that we have visual and performing arts, we have the symphony, we have vocal programs, now that we have an improved road network, it's easier somewhat to get around. I think overall the core of the campus has not really changed in that, NIU has always been a place where people came to follow their dreams. That is still going on, the question is where are their dreams going to take them and how is the university going to recognize that folks are going in this direction? How do we speak to that? Case in point, president Freeman has just made the issuance of something known as the Husky Pledge. The idea that we need to reach out to people who are qualified to come, but for whatever financial reasons, maybe not be able to make it. We're going to guarantee first-year tuition, which I think is a dandy idea. Of course, once they get here, you're also going to have other things that they helped with, but by the same token give them a chance, which I think is one of the things that Northern has always been about. The one other thing, I think, that is curious that people expect Northern to have had, that we never did have, was the relationship with the DeKalb Agricultural Firm. You see the logo, the flying ear of corn, which takes DeKalb's name all over the Midwest. When people come here, they're always rather surprised to find that we never had a relationship with the corporation, we don't have their papers and we do not have a huge collection of material in agriculture. That said, there is a database I can take people to that takes you the national agriculture library, which means I can counteract that. I think it's part of the fact that NIU's image has never been as bad as NIU has been afraid it is, in the sense that there are things that other universities in the state did that we didn't do. For example, since we did not get hyperextended with programs that might've been too expensive or not worth the effort. We had the center for Southeast Asian Studies, which began with Peace Corps Maleya, coming here in 1961 and training at what's now the old rice hotel, so there was a Peace Corps connection with NIU from the very beginning, and that's something that, I think, has continued, in the sense that when I got here, it was easy for me to find that there were other RPCV faculty here. They're only in the SCA faculty but by the same token there were other Peace Corps people around. We even talked about getting RPCV organization going in Dekalb but it turned out there were just not enough of us to make it fly. This description I can give Northern, it's practical, it's adaptive, and it's unpredictable.
  • Synopsis: The Tenure War, Coming Out on a National Stage
    Keywords: The Advocate; homosexuality; coming out; The Advocate; ALA; Barbara Gittings; tenure; Gay Task Force; NIU; LGBT; tenure war; university representative
    Transcript: MOORE-MOAURO: In one of my final two questions I have, I would like to know if there is anything that you want to share that I haven't asked about and that you haven't already talked about, anything about your relationship with NIU or some other story related to NIU that you personally want included in this interview?

    RIDINGER: What a question, let's see, the problem is not do I have stories or but I have so many. The one story I would like to share goes back to 1985. This was the end of the project of writing The Advocate index. At that point in time, I had been in contact with Barbara Gittings who was the foundation person for the round table in ALA because I was afraid somebody else was going to do my project. I did not want to put in three years of work on a tenure project and suddenly see the same thing published and they put in a situation of now where are you? Barbara invited me to be a speaker at the ALA conference in 1985 in Chicago, I was not tenured yet, I was not that out yet. Of course, I agreed to it, I put the phone down and I realized what I had just agreed to do, come out on a national scale. I've got everything ready, I went to Chicago, and I thought, "Well, I did send her a picture of me for a flyer but there so many flyers in the publicity areas, nobody I know is going to see this." I get there and I'm not there an hour until I run into some friends from Texas, they say, "We see you're on the program." I got very, very quiet I said, "Where did you see this?" "Oh, there's a whole pile of them, right over there, the publicity area." I walk over and there is this stack of flyers for the programming and there's my picture on it and the speaker from California and right across the top in big letters, Gay Task Force. I'm like, "Okay, how are we going to cope with this?" I figured, "All right, well, suck it up." I went down the next day and came to the Congress Hotel and walked into the room or so to present, it was a ballroom. I was figuring, there maybe fifteen or twenty people there, I come up there and there's this room with a couple of hundred chairs and it's filling up while I'm watching, like oh, no, this is going to be real. Then I finally met Claire Potter who had done the lesbian periodicals index. We didn't even have a podium. Joe Gregg and the others got up and introduced us and all of a sudden, I'm facing several hundred of my colleagues, and from all across the country. Professor Robert Ridinger, Northern Illinois University, speaking about his project index, The Advocate. Sitting there, I took a deep breath and said a quick Hail Mary, which is a good trick for a Presbyterian and went right ahead and gave my presentation. I heard myself saying, our literature is being destroyed and I thought, "Well, there goes the last shred of my closet door, right at the door." After I was done, people kept telling me they want to wait until we get hold of the project, like, "Okay." That was where I met Joe Gregg of Gerber Hart because the first thing he said to me was, "Where the hell have you been hiding?" I had not really been hiding but I didn't want to get involved with Gerber Hart while I was working on this project. I brought all the resources to Northern, I wanted to get this done, it was important to me to get it through, but from that, Joe and I worked on a thesaurus of international LGBT subject headings, which never really went anywhere and that sort of brought me to the round table and things just turned into the thirty year furball. I don't think I will ever forget getting up in, walking into that ballroom and realizing, "Oh, my God. I've got several hundred people who are coming to hear this program." At least, that's how it seemed. What that meant was what I had done had hit a nerve. What Claire had done had hit a nerve, we had both addressed the major problems of primary access in this subject field. We had done something that a lot of other people, we're very happy we had done, and there I am up on the flyer with Northern Illinois University splattered, all over creation and I wasn't tenured yet. Nowadays, that would probably be called professional idiocy or a wish to destroy my career before it ever got started but it didn't happen because I didn't let it happen. As a matter of fact, I'm open with my faculties from the very beginning and with my colleagues. I had built an alliance that helped me ride through the tenure war but that moment of walking in and realizing just how many people I was going to have to talk to, not only do I have to describe the project, but I also have to do it with them, looking at those flyers, and those flyers are all over the conference, and god forbid how many people have seen that and, oh, my, like I said, "It was grand." I think if I had to pick one story, that moment of walking into the ballroom of the Congress Hotel, doing that, coming out, literally, on a national scale, in my own profession, as a representative of NIU, and I'm not tendered yet.

    MOORE-MOAURO: It sounds incredibly important.

    RIDINGER: It took my breath away, I'll say that. The fact that so many people afterward came up to me and said, "This is wonderful, when can we get it, when can we get a copy," "I just took it to California. It's not even in print yet, will you slow down." Having done that, as Tennyson would put it, "I am become a name." When you do something like that people, as they say in Yiddish, "They know from you," and so like, "He did that, that means you're going to be doing something else, aren't you?" You can't say, "No, it's just a one-off. I'll go do something else." No, it doesn't work that way. You run that flag up the flagpole, people come to the banner, not because they expect you to have all the answers, but because you broke trail, and over the years, I've kept on breaking trail a lot of different ways, especially with my work with leather archives at the museum in Chicago. One of my friends got me involved with that. He said, "We're putting this archive of material together, you're a librarian--" Anytime you say the word librarian, "You're a librarian," we all know, "Okay, what's coming?" We're being set up for something, I wound up on the board of that archives. Then beginning time, I like to think I was helpful and I still think I am but it's been a career path I could not possibly have foreseen. If someone had told me, "You're going to spend three years in Southern Africa, and then you're going to come here to the Midwest, and do all these interesting and fascinating and irritating things, I would have said they have been drinking whiskey from Kentucky.
  • Synopsis: Closing Remarks and the Legacy of LGBT Persons in NIU History
    Keywords: LGBT community; faculty; research; Husky tapestry; rainbow thread; minority inclusivity
    Transcript: MOORE-MOAURO: Very good. Well, that leads me into my last question I have for you. I would like to end the interview with this. If given the opportunity, what is something that you personally think the 125th Anniversary Committee should spend time, energy, and resources on and why?

    RIDINGER: One thing they should do that would be a benefit would be to include the recognition of the evolution of the LGBT community at NIU from the old days of the gay and lesbian union, which I believe was 1965 up to present day, not in terms of tracking our people or all faculty research, but looking at it in the sense of, there's always been a presence on this campus. This campus has maybe not had been as welcoming over the years as it could have been, but that's changing or has changed. Delineate the rainbow thread of the past of NIU. If they're weaving the story of the future, make sure someone goes back and looks and says, "This is where this aspect of the Husky tapestry got started. This is how it wove itself through all the years up to today."

    MOORE-MOAURO: Well, very good, thank you.

    MOORE-MOAURO: Professor Ridinger, I would like to extend not only my personal thanks but a thank you from the Northern Illinois University history department for participating in the 125th Anniversary Project. You have provided wonderful insight into, not only your time at NIU, but also reflected upon the changes this university has undergone in the many years since you arrived. The importance of change over time forms the central focal point for historical analysis. The contributions you have made today will be a valuable resource moving forward, and not only preserving the institution's history but showing how far the university has come. Professor Ridinger, thank you.

    RIDINGER: You're quite welcome

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