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Memories of SSU

Barbara Biebush

Librarian, 1962-1994
Head Reference Librarian 

Librarian Barbara Biebush

Librarian Barbara Biebush

           In 1956, when I received my Master of Library Science degree from UC Berkeley, I applied for a position at San Francisco State College. Their Acquisitions Librarian, Steve Pickett, interviewed me. He told me that at that time there were no vacancies, but he was the library’s representative on a committee to develop an Off-Campus Center in Santa Rosa whose purpose was to train elementary school teachers, and they needed a librarian. If I would agree to go to Santa Rosa for a year, San Francisco State would probably have openings in its library and I could reapply at SFSC. I then met with the Director of the Santa Rosa Center, George McCabe, and accepted the Santa Rosa position. Needless to say, I never went back to SFSC.

            At that time many North Bay teachers had been teaching for years without the state required general elementary teaching credentials or the courses leading to the bachelor’s degree in elementary teaching education. Many of the incumbents could not afford to commute to a teacher education college.

The Center faculty was composed of educators in its various facets: Herb Fougner (education), Mario di Gesu (science), Wright Putney (art), Ed Rudloff (PE), Red Thomas and Gordon Tappan (psychology), Cheryl Petersen (social science), Dorothy Overly (English) and later Chuck Rhinehart (math).

            The small library collection was supplemented by duplicate copies from San Francisco State’s library. Steve and various administrators from parent campus would occasionally visit and bring whatever books, materials, and equipment were needed. There were different locations for the Center’s library, the most memorable of which was in the card room of the Odd Fellows Hall. On Wednesday evenings the library was filled with the card-playing, cigar-smoking odd fellows.

            Initially many in the local community looked upon what we called the “Off-Center-Campus” with suspicion. (San Francisco represented Beatniks, or maybe even Communism.). As a result we became an especially close and compatible group with most of our socializing among Center faculty, staff and students. It took a long time to achieve community acceptance. I loved my job and Sonoma County, but after a couple of years I succumbed to an urge to travel. I resigned and signed up for two years as an army librarian in Germany. I was able to visit many places in Europe, and the Middle East but I missed the Northern California atmosphere and people and was ready to return to Sonoma.

            In my absence the Center morphed into Sonoma State College in Rohnert Park. All but one faculty member and almost all of the students chose to transfer from SF to Sonoma State. Steve Pickett left San Francisco State and became Library Director. In 1962, SSC’s second year, he hired me to be Head Reference Librarian.

            The administration offices and classrooms were housed in rented apartments on College View Drive in central Rohnert Park. The library was located across the street in a commercial space that later became a shopping center.   

In 1966, with the completion of the first two buildings, Stevenson and Darwin, the college moved to its current location on East Cotati Avenue, with the library crowded into several rooms on the second floor of Stevenson. The library collection was rapidly expanding to support the needs of the growing number of students and the academic curriculum of liberal arts and science classes. It was obvious that a separate library building was required. Campus landscaping was in its infancy and the stark exterior of Stevenson and Darwin Halls instigated the common description of Sonoma State as “San Quentin North.” The blueprints for the new library building were more attractive, and I was pleased to see the statement that the walls would be made from aggregate rock. I was shocked when the workers started applying concrete on the outer walls. I ran to the office of the Building and Planning Coordinator (Norm Thiesfeld) to complain about the concrete facing. He looked at me and said “What do you think concrete is?”

            The next step was to name the new library. The students, with the support of the Academic Senate, lobbied for Emiliano Zapata which the Chancellor’s Office rejected. The name finally accepted by all was Ruben Salazar; the Mexican American reporter for the SR Press Democrat, Los Angeles Times and the first Spanish language TV station. He was killed by L.A. police while he was covering the moratorium march against the Vietnam War.

There were a few Vietnam War protests at SSC; except for a boycott by some students and faculty, several of whom, as a substitute to classroom instruction, met off campus or had students do research on various aspects of the war. This had an impact on the library because reference librarians were able to initiate research techniques courses for credit.

In the 60s and 70s smoking was permitted almost everywhere on campus unless there was someone in the class or office who objected. On the other hand, when we posted a “No Smoking” sign in the media room, I had to defend the meaning of no smoking as including marijuana as well as tobacco.

            Another library remembrance of mine was of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. I was in the library that evening and tried to clear the building. One student ran down the stairs proclaiming, “The Bay Bridge collapsed.” This caused a surge to the media room where a large group was gathered, glued to the television. No one wanted to leave. I continued walking around and in the oversize book section there was an art book on the floor open to the painting “The Scream” by Edvard Munch.