Dorothy Ingram’s Latest ‘Reinvention’: Georgia State Library Advocate

Job seekers often agonize over whether to submit a résumé that’s one page or two. Dorothy Ingram’s would be more like a book. She’s got four degrees — two bachelor’s, two master’s — and that’s not even counting her non-degree art studies in ceramics or the naturalist program she took to join a conservation project near her home of Beaufort, S.C. She’s also worked everywhere from an advertising firm to an Omaha art museum to a moving company to a consulting firm to libraries at Georgia State, UGA and Southern Polytechnic.

“A former colleague ran into me at the grocery store a few years ago and said, ‘You reinvent yourself every five years,’” Ingram says, laughing. “I think that’s one of the reasons that lifelong learning is so vital to me — because I believe that it’s important to be able to explore different avenues and be constantly interested in taking on something new.

“And that’s what the University Library means to me. It’s not just someplace you go to write a term paper when you’re in freshman English; it is something that’s there for people after they graduate and is there for the whole community to use. And I want people to recognize that, to understand it and appreciate it.”

Ingram isn’t the kind of person to keep quiet about the things in life that are meaningful to her. And she recently created an endowment dedicated to library outreach, so that the Georgia State library could let the rest of Atlanta know what a vast resource of knowledge exists right in the middle of downtown.

It Pays to Advertise

As a member of the Library Ambassadors Board, Ingram makes regular visits back to the Georgia State campus. And even though this particular visit falls on a Thursday afternoon at the end of May, the library is still hosting plenty of students reading, studying and socializing. That level of activity in what’s usually a slow period on campus, Ingram says, demonstrates the library’s importance. “This building is staffed by 35 library faculty and 54 support staff, serving an average of 10,000 students every day. How many businesses can say that? The library’s gate count averages 200,000 people coming through that door every month, and 1.5 million people every year.

“It’s difficult to explain this,” she says, “but we so often take libraries for granted because they are such an integral component in the educational system. They’re always there for us, and we assume that they always will be. It’s almost like the electricity in our homes. We don’t think about it much unless the power goes out, then we realize how much we need it.”

Ingram decided she wanted to turn this situation around, so she asked Christian Steinmetz, the library’s former editorial and production coordinator, what he’d do if he had the funds to get the word out to more people.

“He indicated that he would do a lot more advertising, a lot more promoting, a lot more publishing of information that would let people know what we have to offer,” she recalls, “and also let people know what we could do if we had more resources.” Thus she created the Dorothy Stamps Ingram Fund for Library Outreach to help the library step up its public relations and communications efforts.

Ingram’s experience in the advertising industry is evident as she extols the virtues of the Georgia State library as an amazing knowledge resource — one that isn’t just contained in books. “The discovery by librarian Joe Hurley of a large collection of mid-20th century Atlanta city planning maps in a long forgotten map drawer was a marvelous find,” she explains, “because it led to a collaboration between the library and the Petit Science Center when Joe digitized and put that map collection on the Center’s ultra-high-resolution, digitized Visualization Wall.

“My husband is a retired civil engineer, and he remembered seeing those maps in a collection at city hall. He told me that there are engineers in town who are looking for those maps. Recently, the library received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to geo-reference the map collection, so that the digital librarians can use Google Earth to add buildings to those old maps. When we see how the city has changed, then we realize the value for sociologists, historians, and other researchers too. There are so many people out in the community who could use that collection and benefit from the expertise of the people who are staffing it. I just want to make sure everybody knows it’s there.”

In September, the library will introduce the university community to its own “Viz Wall” within the CURVE (Collaborative University Research and Visualization Environment) project. Ingram describes CURVE as “a mind-boggling initiative that will bring researchers together from across the campus and the community” — and as a longtime library donor, she says she’s thrilled to be a part of it.

‘The School Everybody Graduated From’

Ingram’s love and admiration for libraries goes all the way back to the first time she went back to school for an additional degree. After earning her bachelor’s in English from Vanderbilt University in the late 1960s, she earned a master’s in library science from Peabody College, now part of Vanderbilt. She’s worked at a number of universities, but Georgia State is particularly near and dear to her heart: Not only did she earn an additional master’s degree in human resources development here, she came back two years later to take a job as the library’s HR officer — and a few years after that she returned to Georgia State once more to earn a bachelor of fine arts degree.

With that broad educational base, Ingram knows whereof she speaks when she describes the library as “belonging to everybody — it’s the school that everybody graduated from.” Her experience on the Library Ambassadors Board has only reinforced that belief.

“I’m in charge of a small team that writes thank-you notes to our donors, so I receive the list of people who have given to the library every month, and I see what their affiliations are. And I’m so pleased when I see how many of them are my fellow alumni. This indicates to me that while they may have graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences or the Robinson College of Business or the College of Education, they also realize that the library was a huge component of their education and their future success, enough so that they want to support the library. From the very outset, I’ve been saying that we need to let people know what the library has to offer.”

Ingram certainly credits the library as a factor in her success, not to mention in building her wide range of interests. Now retired, she continues to exhibit her artwork and is a self-avowed “volunteerism junkie” whose range of interests continues to expand. In addition to serving on the Library Ambassadors Board, she is deeply involved with the sea turtle conservation project started by the Friends of Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina.

“We moved to the Beaufort area when my husband retired a few years ago,” she says. “I was just so inspired and fascinated by the Lowcountry that I wanted to learn a lot about the area quickly, so I took the Master Naturalist Program offered by Clemson University. I’m learning a tremendous amount about the environment, and I’m writing a lot for the Lowcountry Master Naturalist Association and the Friends of Hunting Island.

“But my first love nowadays is walking the beach on Monday mornings to look for sea turtle nests. I graduated to licensed nest prober and team leader this year,” she says, then adds with a smile, “I’m official!”