Profile: Jon Cawthorne

1991 University librarian

For Jon Cawthorne ’91, it all started with one of the toughest classes he took at Evergreen: American Fiction and Poetry Between the Wars.

His instructor challenged students to read 200 pages of poetry and a novel each week, and write a 25-page paper by the end of the quarter. Students were forbidden to read criticism; they had to interpret the poems on their own, then give presentations to the class.

"I was very nervous," Cawthorne recalls. "So I went to the librarian, Randy Stilson, and I said, 'listen, I have to understand what these poems mean, and they have all these foreign words and allusions. What can you do?'"

When he came back for a return visit, Stilson had a stack of books waiting for him: books about language, poetry and other subjects that helped Cawthorne get to the heart of what he believed the poets were trying to say.

His classroom presentations, which started out as daunting tasks, suddenly became an enjoyable venue to show off the fruits of his research. Every week he went back to the library, and every week Stilson had a fresh stack of books for him.

"I asked him, how did you know that these books answered the questions about the poems? He said he went to library school. I was flabbergasted, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense."

Cawthorne went on to earn his master's degree in library science at the University of Maryland, and interned at the Ohio State University library, where he got his first taste of what technology and the internet would mean for the future of the library. Today, he is associate university librarian for public services at Boston College, and is a national leader in library technology and information access. He previously served as dean of the San Diego State University Library, the largest library in the California State University system.

Cawthorne finds that students still value the library as a place, not just a site in cyberspace. Even in this age of Google, the library (at SDSU) receives nearly 3 million visits a year, and his work is a significant part of that value. "We like to think of it as the intellectual hub of the campus."