Many have utilized the University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) Gulf Coast Library and seen the smiling face of Karen Shaw. She has been at the Gulf Park Campus since 1979 and has seen decades of transformation.
Each part of the library runs smoothly because Shaw has worked in almost every department including lnterlibrary Loan, Collection Management, Administration, Tech Services and Circulation. With determination, she started her career at age 17 as a Clerk Typist.
Back when the building was called the Richard G. Cox Library, research, cataloging and typing was a bit primitive.
“I used a manual typewriter for a couple of months then graduated to an electric typewriter with ribbons. My first computer replacing the typewriter, was run by a MS Dos program with documents being stored on 5 ¼” floppy disks,” said Shaw.
Stacks of floppy disks piled up on Shaw’s desk. Most staff did not have a lot of documents to save. Eventually, the office computers were upgraded to 3.5-inch storage data disks. Now she has 1 terabyte of storage space.
The library computers make research a quick and reliable way to type a paper or simply look up a quick fact, but it wasn’t always that way.
“Research was done by manually going through a card catalog, card by card. The Dewey Decimal Classification System was used during that time.” said Shaw
Shaw remembers students using the electric library typewriters to work on their research papers. Almost every student had to use bound volume of indexes to look up journal titles. The work was tedious and a time commitment.
In 1987, the USM library director at the time made the decision to change the library classification system. This allows for a more accurate retrieval of information.
The new system brought a new way of displaying how materials are located in the library. This also enables more cataloging options, bringing in a larger volume of materials. This new system is currently being used at the Gulf Park Library.
The Gulf Park Campus has experienced many internal and structural changes since Shaw’s arrival. Shaw provided input for the new library plans in 2002 along with moving the entire library into the new building.
She is integral in the donation and establishment of the Gulf Park College for Women archives and alumni.
Shaw has overcome swift changes in the library, but nothing comes close to experiencing tropical storms and hurricanes that threatened Gulf Park.
From Hurricane Frederic in 1979 to Hurricane Ida in 2021, she has seen 44 years of gratefulness for a minor hurricane season to devastation in 2005.
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and changed the Gulf Park Campus forever. Shaw was given an abundance of help with disaster clean up at the library.
Many remember her carrying every salvageable item and hundreds of books up and down flights of stairs.
From 2005 to 2008, Shaw remembers Katrina caused the entire campus to relocate to the old Garden Park Hospital building in Gulfport. She helped to organize temporary library sites after Katrina at the Gulfport Hospital. Later, helping to reopen Gulf Coast Library.
“The library took the opportunity to make some new and improved changes that helped the students,” said Shaw. “Nevertheless, it still took many more years to bring the campus back to its former beauty and to return the full campus faculty, staff and students back home to the Long Beach Campus”.
In 2021, Hurricane Ida brought damage to many campus buildings that were restored. However, Gulf Park recovered quickly. Shaw shows up every day ready to take on a new challenge and continue to help others. She is admired by her colleagues. Her work ethic speaks volumes about how the library continues to operate.
“University Libraries wouldn’t be the same without Karen Shaw. Her dedication, experience, and contributions have been invaluable to not only the libraries, but to the University,” said John Eye, Dean of University Libraries.
“When asked almost anything about the library and Gulf Park that I do not know, I find myself repeatedly saying, “Let me call you back, I need to ask Karen.” She is also loyal colleague I treasure for her service and dedication to our university,” said Jamie Stanfield, Head of Gulf Coast Libraries.
“Karen Shaw is the Gulf Coast Library’s living database to the campus, past and present,” said Allisa Beck, Collection Management.
Shaw was awarded the Outstanding Staff Award at the 2015 Employee Appreciation Luncheon. The award recognized Shaw as an integral employee to USM that exhibited outstanding commitment to the university.
“The most rewarding part of my job during all these years has been helping our students, faculty, and staff,” said Shaw. “As a matter of fact, it is still the most rewarding part of my job today and that has definitely made my career journey enjoyable.”
Visit the Gulf Coast Library website (https://lib.usm.edu/gulfcoast/) to learn more.