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Managing research information

Mississippi State University’s Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss., includes 4,100 acres, almost a hundred employees and a 30,000-volume library, the latter of which is directed by Rhonda Watson.

“We are fortunate to have a library at DREC to aid our researchers and scientists in their research. This is State’s only off-campus research facility equipped with a professional library, and our researchers appreciate what it provides,” Watson said.

The library at DREC began evolving over forty years ago with journals and books dumped in an empty room. Researchers at both DREC and at the nearby USDA’s Agricultural Research Services had been discarding duplicate or complimentary copies of their printed resources. These form the basis of today’s library, which is now located on the second floor of DREC’s original building.

In 1966, the DREC administration employed professional librarian Julia Pugh to catalog and organize the disarrayed materials. She stayed for six years, and was followed by the duo of librarian Charlotte Pierce and librarian assistant Mary Horton. Pierce handled the ordering and cataloging of books and periodicals while Horton managed the serials. Together, they catalogued DREC’s library according to American Library Association standards.

When Watson became DREC’s librarian in 1992, the library was extremely busy.

“When I first started here, a great deal of traffic came through but because of the Internet, researchers and others at Stoneville can obtain most of what they need at their desks. Now, we serve as a repository for storing information locating those hard-to-find references and using interlibrary loans,” Watson said.

Becoming a librarian had not been Watson’s first career choice, but her present work at DREC is a natural fit for the Alabama native. After graduating from Mississippi University for Women, she moved to Greenville, Miss., and taught fifth grade. Desiring a career change after four years, she did some soul searching and a little research, and decided to go into library science. Nearby Delta State University offered such a program.

In the summer of 1977, Watson began working toward a master’s degree in library science at Delta State. She took full loads that summer, fall, spring and half the next summer. Upon receiving her degree, she walked into a librarian’s position in the Greenville Public School system where she worked for another 11 years.

After those years in the public school system, she wanted a change. A friend had seen an advertisement for a librarian at DREC that had run only once in the Greenville newspaper. Watson applied for it and was hired.

“I’ve never seen myself as a librarian, but as a teacher of words and sharer of information. I don’t regret changing careers at all. I like helping people and I like sharing with them,” she said.

Every day, several DREC staff members gather in a room between Watson’s office and the library to eat lunch. When questions arise and answers are needed, Watson jumps up, runs to her office, and returns with a book or reference in hand having located the answer.

When Jimmy Smith headed DREC (1994-2005), the library was running out of storage space and more room was needed. Deciding what books and sources to keep and what to discard was difficult. Smith assigned the library some third floor office space which had been previously occupied by the weather service. Smith and Watson determined to dispose of materials that Mississippi State had in its libraries on the main campus. Today, Watson still has about 1,000 books remaining to be catalogued.

“This library continues because of the researchers who have supported it. They have been great to keep it going by using their funds to order books they need for their research and papers,” Watson said.

At the end of the harvest season, the library becomes extremely busy when researchers need background data and information to compile their reports.

“The caliber of our doctorates is exceptional. Our researchers not only expect but demand a library and they support it. We are especially appreciative of the backing of ARS, which has always helped support us financially,” Watson said.

In 2005, DREC’s Library Committee decided not to renew subscriptions to hard-print journals and periodicals, which ARS had been underwriting. The committee obtained permission to use that money that year for shelving to store past issues of the journals and periodicals. Installed in 2005, the polished wooden shelving closely matches the pre-existing shelving.

“We asked that the shelving be as close as possible to what we already had. It’s gorgeous, and we truly appreciate ARS for it,” Watson said.

The Delta Research and Extension Center is fortunate to have access to a part of Mississippi State University’s library system. Not only can DREC personnel obtain materials on-site, but patrons can request materials from the Mississippi State University library system, and from other libraries through interlibrary loan.

“This facility is used by station personnel, USDA, ARS, Delta Council, Yazoo-Mississippi District, and other agencies in Stoneville, as well as all local industry research farms. This library provides a valuable service to all our agricultural researchers,” Watson said.

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