Wayne Gathright
Wayne Gathright

Our staff spotlight this month is Wayne Gathright, Library Services Assistant Advanced for the Preservation Department. Preservation Week may have ended, but the important work Wayne and his colleagues do is never over! Read on to learn more about Wayne’s work, his diverse array of passions and interests, and why he considers himself to be somewhat of a “Sherlock Holmes of Preservation.”

News: Can you tell me a little bit about what you do as the Library Services Assistant Advanced for the Preservation Department?

WG: The Preservation Book Assessment Section acts as sort of a triage unit for material that is damaged. The bulk of the material that comes into our department is identified through the circulation process. Once the circulation staff determines that an item is in disrepair and should go to us, they place it on a set of shelves up in the work room or behind the Circulation Desk. Preservation staff will then come up on a semi-regular basis to collect the books, bring them down here, and sort them according to the best way to deal with the damage.

Part of the department’s work is examining the items to determine where they should go. This requires taking many different factors into consideration. For instance, things that have strong paper and plain covers are usually sent for commercial rebinding.  Because original covers are usually lost in the commercial binding process, we occasionally photocopy valuable cover information that would otherwise be lost and bind that copy in because it is easier and less expensive to rebind the book rather than try to repair it.

If the paper is not strong enough for commercial rebinding then we sort it to the Conservation Lab, as long as the repair can be done effectively. So we examine the item, and Marta Gomez who is in charge of the conservation lab, will also evaluate it to see if it can be effectively repaired. If so, her staff will then do the repair work.

If an item cannot be rebound or repaired, we then send it to what we call our “search queue,” which contains things that have deteriorated to the point where it is no longer feasible to try to salvage the physical item. In that case, we investigate means of either replacing or reformatting the item. Sometimes this involves pursuing the out-of-print book market to see if there is another copy in better shape that we can replace it with, or sending it to a vendor to have a facsimile copy made. The vendor can then digitize the item, print it on acid-free paper according to library guidelines, and we basically get back a brand new book that is identical to the original in most ways.

Some other aspects of preservation include disaster response, and environmental monitoring.  Whenever we have a leak in the library, I have to do a lot of recordkeeping to track which books can be salvaged and which books will have to be replaced.  Part of the recordkeeping involves generating reports from Voyager using Microsoft Access.  The reports I generate are sent to Risk Management for their incident report files.

The environmental monitoring I do involves collecting data from temperature/humidity monitors set up in buildings across the campus.  I upload the data to a web site maintained by the Image Permanence Institute that analyzes the data and generates graphs of the temperature and humidity as well as reports showing how good or bad the environment is for the material stored there.

There is a lot more to preservation than meets the eye!

News: How did you get interested in preservation?

WG: I guess I kind of fell into it. When I was in library school here at the School of Library and Information Studies, my main areas of study were reference and cataloguing. I graduated in May of 1991, and in September I got my first library job as a Library Services Assistant in the Bindery Department here at Memorial Library. Bindery is one of the departments in the building whose mission is closely related to preservation because binding is a form of preservation. So I was hired by them and that was my first taste of the preservation side of things, because I had not been exposed to that in library school. I found that I had a knack for it and I really enjoyed doing that sort of work, so when my current position opened up, I applied for transfer and Andrea Rolich hired me in March 2000. It worked out well, because Andrea and I already knew each other quite well since our departments worked so closely together, and I’ve been here ever since! So I’ve been working for the library system as a full-time employee since September 1991.

News: Wow, going on twenty-three years! You must enjoy the work you do.

WG: I really do. I think my favorite part is the variety. Sure, there may be a lot of tasks that we do from week to week that are similar, but every book is different so we have to evaluate the book on its own merits. We never know what we are going to find when we open a book, or what kinds of things that we will need to look for. In some cases, in order to make a book whole again we need to request Interlibrary Loan from another institution to copy the pages that were missing; and of course not every institution catalogs things the same way, so there is a lot of variability in what we find. There is a lot of detective work that goes on to determine if items held by other libraries are actually a match for what we need.  In some cases there may be only a few total holdings in OCLC. So we do a fair amount of detective work and sleuthing, by performing Google searches and consulting printed union catalogs, to locate other copies we can use to replace what is damaged in our copy.  I sort of equate it to being somewhat of a Sherlock Holmes because we have to use deductive reasoning to figure things out. Sometimes we just can’t replace something, so we put a note in the record saying that the pages that were damaged cannot be replaced.

It can sometimes get tedious and frustrating when we can’t find a replacement for something, but the job is definitely not rote. There is this certain feeling of reward when we’ve found the solution to the problem and can move something out of the department and back to the shelf in much better condition than when it arrived.

News: Switching gears to your interests outside of work, I saw that you were recently featured in a story about Madison’s transgender community for the televised version of Madison Magazine. Can you talk more about your work with the transgender community?

Interview with Madison Magazine TV
Interview with Madison Magazine TV

WG: As I said in the interview, I self-identify as a heterosexual cross dresser. I’ve been out since 2000 and I’ve been working with the transgender community in Madison since that time. Madison has a fairly moderate sized transgender community, but we don’t have the visibility that the gay and lesbian community has. There are very few transgender people that are as much in the public eye as a lot of the gay and lesbian people in Madison. We aren’t always as public about our transgender status as people that are lesbian and gay. You’ve got people like Mike Verveer, Tammy Baldwin, and Mark Pocan that are in the public eye and out about their sexual orientation, but you don’t always see the same thing with the transgender community.

I do a lot of work with OutReach, the LGBT center here in Madison. OutReach offers five meetings a month for transgender people, which is a far cry from what it was when I first came out, when we only had one meeting a month. The center is doing a lot to promote and reach out to the transgender community. Through a series of grants from the state and other organizations, OutReach has been able to generate various handouts and host events, such as the recent LGBT homeless conference held at the First United Methodist Church.  OutReach strives to educate the public on what it means to be transgender, as well as the trials and tribulations that the transgender community goes through.

In some respects, the society at large is fairly well-versed in what it means to be gay and lesbian, but when it comes to being transgender, there is a somewhat less of an understanding. Society as a whole tends to see gender as being one or the other—female or male. Most people are taught that your gender and your sex are the same. So when people start crossing the imaginary boundary between masculine and feminine, male and female, it sort of throws people for a loop because they have a hard time grasping that what you are like biologically does not equate to the way you feel about your gender as a whole. I’ll use myself as an example. I was born male, I am biologically male, and the way I feel about myself—the gender between my ears—is male. So I identify as a male, but there is a part of me that feels a sense of completeness when I dress in feminine attire. Since I don’t feel the need to pass as a woman, I like to say that I dress in feminine attire, I don’t dress as a woman.

My personal example is just one small part of the whole transgender umbrella, though. As you see in the Madison Magazine interview, there is a whole wide variety of people that would fall underneath the transgender umbrella, and not all of them are transsexual. That is another thing that we have to overcome as a society—when people think of transgender, they start thinking about people who are transsexual, who go through either hormonal or surgical intervention to get their body to match their internal gender. Not everybody feels the need or is able to go through that transformation, and not everybody feels the need to cross that line permanently. In some respects, I consider myself gender fluid; I don’t dress one way or the other full time. I move    between varying degrees of masculine and feminine presentations. That does not fit for everybody, but it works fine for me.

Wayne’s Wonderful Wall-o-Boots
Wayne’s Wonderful Wall-o-Boots

News: Thanks for sharing your story. Aside from work and your involvement with OutReach, do you have any other hobbies?

WG: I really enjoy rollerblading. Madison has quite a few nice paved bike trails that I like to use for rollerblading. Up until last fall I would take a yearly pilgrimage to Minneapolis, because there was a group there that rented the Metrodome for roller skating. For several days during the course of the winter, they would open the place up for rollerskating and rollerblading, so I was able to keep my skills up by going up there once or twice a winter. Now that the Metrodome is being replaced, I won’t be able to do that for a while.  Fortunately, the group that rented the Metrodome was able to persuade the owners of the new stadium to design it so that it could be used for rollerblading once it is finished. So there will be at least one, and probably two concourses, that will be available for rollerblading. I am looking forward to that opening up in 2016 and going there to take part in that.

Speaking of Minneapolis, making trips there once or twice a winter allows me to partake in my other passion…shopping! I always enjoy visiting the Mall of America and various outlet malls between here and there. I guess I fall into the stereotypical female role when it comes to shopping. I get kind of dangerous when I get into a clothes store, and as you can see from my office wall, boots are my passion. Get me into a shoe store and I have to really hold myself back!

News: Well now I have to ask a stereotypical librarian question: What do you like to read?

WG: I don’t read for pleasure as much as I used to, but as far as authors go, Arthur Conan Doyle is my favorite. I am a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. I think I have read every story of the original canon and I own the complete Sherlock Holmes, which is a very thick book as you can probably imagine! I also enjoy some of the take-offs on Sherlock Holmes, written by other authors over the years. Some of them are better than others, but I tend to prefer the ones that are more in the vein of the original Conan Doyle versions. Laurie King has a series of books that I enjoy. They are set in the early 1920s, and the main protagonist, Mary Russell, is this twenty-something who meets up with a retired Sherlock Holmes and the two of them partner up to solve mysteries. I think they are up to about nine or ten books in the whole series now. It kind of strays from the original feel, but the way that she writes the books sort of weaves in the original Sherlock Holmes mystique and updates it for the early twentieth century.

Want more?

  • Wayne says that “part of what Preservation does is to educate people about the proper care and handling of books to prevent the damage so the book doesn’t have to end up down here.” Check out this awesomely nerdy Sherlock Holmes-style video addressing this very subject!
  • Watch Wayne’s debut with Madison Magazine: The TV Show (You’ll see him in the March 2014 video)
  • Read the first book in Laurie King’s Sherlock-themed series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, available at Memorial Library

Know a librarian or library staff member with a cool skill or interest? They belong in the spotlight! Submit your suggestions to  We’d love to learn more about you!