Alice Tear Copeland, 1926-2010

Alice on deck, photo for obit Alice Copeland was a wonderful boss.  I began to know her when I started my first professional position as a cataloging librarian at Drew University Library, 1986-1993.  She really taught me librarianship, and the art of academic leadership and strategy.

Granted I had been exceedingly fortunate to have experienced a tradition of excellence in librarianship at Columbia University 1985-1987 –Alice made all of that real in the workplace in a way I had not anticipated.  Her eye for cataloging detail was sharp and her attention was vigilant and yet she never succumbed to trivialization that occasionally has come to caricature catalogers.  She always sought the simplest, most elegant, and most clearly communicated information for the convenience of the user.

Over Alice's desk was a motto from Vergil Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit, (Aeneid i.203) loosely "Someday perhaps it will be pleasing to remember even this" –an apt quotation during that era of retrospective conversion of cataloging records from cards to OCLC MARC records, and eventually to Drew's first generation of an integrated library system (DRA classic).  We all worked very hard, very long days to see our database go live on a day in August 1988 –and immediately thought, "is this all there is?"  Midstream in conversion OCLC or PALINET unwittingly changed settings for diacritics –and Drew held a lot of German and French texts.  Suddenly all the learned treatises which begin with "ΓΌber" began with "huber" –this required additional hours of work.  One day we all might look back on it with pleasure.  Now I do.

Alice lived with the music of J.S. Bach and often brought in Bach on the radio around the holidays.  Her love for hymnology showed in her consistent attention to the Creamer collection, given to Drew in 1868 and never hitherto really cataloged or explored.  Her amazing ability to listen and discern what's important, her love for her church (Presbyterian), her family, her friends, and her alma mater (Oberlin) were all well attested at a gathering of friends and family in her memory in Madison, New Jersey on Saturday, September 18.

I can only say how profoundly thankful I am to have been able to work with Alice and all the staff of the cataloging department then –Lessie, John, Elise, Annie, Marcia, Agnes, Cheryl, Susan, and Lucy.  It was a great start in librarianship, and real bread for the journey.  In Alice's favorite words from Hamlet, "The readiness is all."

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