Archive for Monday, April 2, 1990


April 2, 1990


Alexandra Mason shatters the stereotype of librarians. She's not a soft-spoken, bespectacled old woman sitting behind a desk, shushing rowdy youngsters. Rather, she's headstrong and motivated and extremely dedicated to her work.

Mason, Spencer librarian at Kansas University's Spencer Research Library, received the first Chancellor's Award for Distinguished Librarianship in February.

"MAYBE THE award will make people think about what librarians do," she said during a recent interview in her library office. "It's a highly technical business with a long history, ethical principles and a need for a considerable amount of training. It's rather important to the university and the function of society. What would we do if we couldn't control all this information? There's been a lot of confusion about librarians. People assume that everyone you see behind a desk in a library is a librarian.

"What I'm doing here is making sure we're not all a bunch of historical amnesiacs," she said.

Mason studied Greek as an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Mass. She never anticipated a future in libraries. In 1957, she answered "a most marvelous ad that made Kansas sound like heaven" and was hired sight unseen to catalog rare books for the research library, which was in the basement of Watson Library until 1968.

"Now, I do rather a lot more administration than I did then, but I still get to handle an occasional book, which makes it all worth it." she said.

Her responsibilities include keeping in touch with financial donors, assisting researchers and helping people who call the library with questions, which sometimes requires in-depth research on her part.

SHE USED to teach several classes in the English department and now enjoys teaching students how to use the library. "That's a lot of fun," she said. "You get to think about the material in a different way and discover more about it."

Outside the library, Mason, 59, participates in a number of national and international professional rare books organizations and was named to the KU Women's Hall of Fame in 1980.

Since Mason joined the staff, Spencer Research Library has doubled in size, now housing about two million books and millions of manuscripts.

"Building the collection is one of my biggest jobs," she said.

Mason also has built up a vast personal collection of books of every genre. "I'm addicted to reading. When someone else who might have had a hard day will go out and run, I'll go home and read a book," she said.

MARILYN Stokstad, professor of art history, frequently sends her medieval art classes of about 70 undergraduate and graduate students to study at Spencer Research Library.

"Sandy saw to it that there was an exhibit of facsimile manuscripts set up just for this class," she said. "People think the library is just for scholars and researchers, but I know my students have always felt welcome there. (Mason) is a distinguished scholar among librarians and has made a real significant contribution to the University of Kansas."

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