The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Janet Webster Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

November 14, 2014


Janet Webster (née Gray) was born in Portland, Oregon in 1953. Janet's father was John Gray, himself an Oregon State alum and a prominent regional property developer who later became a philanthropist of significant renown. Janet grew up in Portland until her college years, which she spent at the University of Chicago. Initially planning to study art history or studio art, Janet ultimately majored in geography, receiving her bachelor's degree in 1975.

Following the completion of her studies, Janet moved back to Oregon and lived on the coast in Lincoln City. She worked as a hand weaver there for four years, until 1979, when she became a partner with Siletz Boat Works, marrying around the same time. The following year, she began working as an art gallery consultant for Salishan Lodge, a resort owned by her father, and remained in this position for four years. During this time, she volunteered for the local library and her realization that libraries tended to be rather poor advocates for themselves spurred in her the idea to earn a library science degree and to build a career as a library administrator.

In 1985 Webster and her husband moved to New York City, where she engaged in her library studies at Columbia University. In 1987, her degree in hand, Webster began her career in librarianship in Vancouver, Washington, where she had been hired as assistant circulation supervisor at the Vancouver Community Library.

Webster's tenure at the Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) began in March 1989, when she was hired as assistant librarian. At this point, the new HMSC library was just being built, and during her first few months there, she assisted with the automation of the library collection, provided reference services, and ran the library in the absence of the library director. Webster became the interim head librarian at the end of the year when Marilyn Potts Guin, HMSC's head librarian, passed away. The new library facility was completed in July 1990 and named the Guin Library in Marilyn Guin's honor. That same year, Webster became the library's permanent head.

The early years of Webster's term as head librarian coincided with rapid changes in information technology, and Webster spent much of her time overseeing updates and additions to Guin's technical infrastructure, and spearheading fundraising initiatives to propel other improvements at the library. She likewise joined the executive board of the Oregon Library Association in 1992, and subsequently became very involved in OLA activities.

As a tenure track faculty member, Webster pursued a diverse research agenda, working on projects involving state library associations in the political arena, non-thesis master's programs and their contributions to universities' information legacy, and grey literature on Oregon's estuaries. In 1996 Webster chaired the annual International Association of Aquatic and Marine Science Libraries and Information Centers (IAMSLIC) conference in California, and edited the winter issue of the Oregon Library Association Quarterly, the theme of which was libraries and the political process. In 1997 Webster served a term as president of the Oregon Chapter of the Association of College and Research Libraries, and in 2001 she was elected president of the Oregon Library Association. Two years later, she was named Librarian of the Year by the OLA.

Webster was promoted to full professor in 2006, and in 2009 she became the head librarian for all of OSU's branch libraries, administering library activities in Bend from her office in Newport. That same year, she received both the OSU Professional Development Award and the Association of College and Research Libraries' Oregon Award for Excellence. In 2013 Webster served as interim director of the entire Hatfield Marine Science Center, became a board member for Oregon Humanities, and was awarded the Oregon Library Association's Distinguished Service Award. She retired from OSU and the Guin Library in January 2015.