When Ben King started working for the University Libraries in 1977, conveniences such as computers, printers and scanners hadn’t yet made their way into the workplace. Identifying labels with call numbers affixed to books’ spines had to be typewritten, and King remembers doing so painstakingly on an old Remington typewriter.
“I’m so sorry I got rid of it,” King said. “It would be worth something now.”
Now, book labels are generated automatically, students and researchers access books and materials online, and a Robotic Retrieval System in Ekstrom Library, installed in 2006, houses seldom-used materials to free up study space. And, following a satisfying and storied career with the Libraries’ Technical Services department, King is retiring. Sometime this Friday, it will have been exactly 40 years to the minute since he first started.
He’s seen many changes, from Belknap campus infrastructure, to library service, to Ekstrom Library, which opened in 1981, and to the faces of student assistants who helped him sort books and stock shelves over the years.
“I’ll leave with a ton of memories,” he said.
By far the best part of his job has been working with student assistants, King said. “I feel uniquely honored to have worked with some amazing students. The students were my life.”
As a supervisor of shelf preparation, he has worked with UofL student assistants from more than 11 countries, including India, Bangladesh, Libya, the Philippines, France, Iran, Belarus, South Korea, Vietnam and Armenia. Some have become like family.
“We’ve played laser tag, board games. I get invited to a lot of stuff, like birthday parties, graduation, etc. That’s why I came to work. A student said to me, ‘You’ve been more like a father than my real father.’”
One young student complained to King that her vacuum cleaner had broken. He had an extra one and brought it to work to give to her. Five students made a tribute to him on YouTube.
“I probably have worked with a couple hundred students over the years,” he said.
Stacie Alvey, a former student assistant who worked alongside King from 2010-2016, now works as a librarian for McFerran Preparatory Academy. Her choice of career arose largely as a result of having worked with King.
“I knew after working here with Ben that I wanted to do this as a career. Anybody who has ever worked for Ben remembers Ben. He’s a storyteller extraordinaire. I could repeat his life story. I loved it,” she said. “He’s like family to me.”
Technical Services held a retirement ceremony for King earlier this week, with Technical Services Head Tyler Goldberg inviting him back to volunteer any time.
King’s future plans include volunteer work with the Parklands of Floyds Fork and traveling with his family.