Library Dean and History Alumna Cheryl Truesdell’s IPFW Legacy

truesdell-cherylIPFW student, alumna, and dean of IPFW’s Helmke Library, Cheryl Truesdell, has been on our campus for thirty-seven years: three as a history major (B.A., ’78) and thirty-three as a librarian. After receiving a masters in library sciences from Indiana University Bloomington, Truesdell returned to IPFW in 1983 as the head of document delivery services and liaison to the history and political science departments. In January 2017, Dean Truesdell will retire, so we want to spend a moment to reflect on this alumna’s IPFW journey.

Truesdell considered other careers before discovering her passion for history and library science. She originally dreamed of becoming a doctor, taking premed courses at St. Petersburg College while working part time at a hospital. About two years into her premed program, her husband Walter (an Air Force medic) relocated to Okinawa, Japan, where he worked in a Well-Baby Clinic. Truesdell put her education on hold during the overseas posting and worked in the clinic with Walter.

After her husband’s tour, the couple visited family in Fort Wayne and fell in love with the city. Soon after they moved to Fort Wayne, she enrolled at IPFW. However, Truesdell had realized that she didn’t want to be a doctor. She shared, “I just got too upset about people dying. I would walk in one afternoon and my patient would be fine, then the next day they would be gone. It was heartbreaking.” But even undecided, she was still determined to finish a degree program.

Truesdell enrolled in general education courses hoping to discover a new interest. One was a history class taught by Mark Neely, a Lincoln scholar and director of the Lincoln Museum at the time. The course focused on the American Civil War, and Neely’s passion resonated with Truesdell: “I just felt like, this was it. This is really it. I knew right then I wanted to be a history major.”

Although she planned on pursuing a Ph.D. in history, during her senior year Truesdell found her future career almost by accident. While researching a final paper on The Society of American Friends of Russian Freedom (SAFRF), Truesdell found a footnote reference to an SAFRF newsletter, but she could not find any copies of the newsletter. So Truesdell made an appointment to speak with Ruth Harrod, the interlibrary loan librarian. “Ruth was so helpful. She found the newsletter at the University of Chicago library. I thought they would just send microfilm copies of it, but they sent bundles of the physical newsletter tied together with string. It had just been sitting in the library basement. After that, I was fascinated about how libraries worked: how they knew what was in other institutions, and how did they obtain the resources for researchers? I decided I liked the mystery and the ability to ferret out sources more than I liked actually writing research papers. So I found out more about becoming a librarian, and I decided that was what I truly wanted to do.” Upon graduating from IPFW’s history department, Truesdell applied and was accepted into the Indiana University School of Library Science.

Truesdell returned to IPFW in 1983, and in the thirty-three years since, she has witnessed many changes in Helmke Library, especially with the emergence of the digital age. When Truesdell started, access to the library materials was much more difficult. Patrons had to come to the library and use a card catalog to locate resources. Now, faculty and students can research from home using online systems. Truesdell embraces these advances noting, “My whole goal as a librarian has been to make access to information as seamless as possible.”

According to Truesdell, these technological advances also brought new challenges for researchers: “Before the internet, all of the information was already vetted. The journals were peer-reviewed. The books were from reputable presses. Now there’s just so much information out there, and most of it isn’t vetted. Anybody can say whatever they want on the internet and make it sound true.” Truesdell has been integral to the development of IPFW’s librarians’ role as information literacy scholars, which is increasingly important as researchers are flooded with so many novel forms of information.

As head of document delivery services and as library dean, Truesdell also developed a robust interlibrary loan office for IPFW faculty and student research: “ When I first started [at IPFW], one of my goals was to make sure that no matter what faculty needed for research, we could get it to them. So, document delivery had to be a top service. We’ve never been a large library, and we don’t own everything. But with document delivery, we can get access to what we need. As we developed this service, we’ve become a library without walls.”

Truesdell also ensures that IPFW students, who often work on faculty research projects or in faculty labs, can also take advantage of interlibrary loans. She notes that “one of most unique things about our campus is that the students have access to the researchers, the Ph.D.s.” As library dean, Truesdell and her staff worked with IPFW’s Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) and the Honors Program to develop an annual Student Research and Creative Endeavor Symposium to share our students’ research with the campus and wider community. In 2016, over one-hundred undergraduate and graduate students participated—more than any previous symposium!

Though Truesdell has accomplished much during her tenure at IPFW, her proudest is also the most recent: the renovation of Helmke library that will be completed in January 2017. She enjoyed “being able to take all of the ideas of the past Helmke Library directors, current staff, faculty and students to design a library that reflects the twenty-first century needs of our campus. It contains something for everyone: quiet study, group study, high-end computing, a media wall, one-stop help in research, tutoring, writing and IT services, and print and electronic collections that fit the needs of our curriculum.” (See a preview of the renovations in this Endeavors feature.)

In her retirement, Truesdell plans to “keep busy” with travelling and education. She’s going to spend time with her children and four grandchildren. She and Walter also want to travel the world, especially St. Petersburg, Russia. And if that isn’t enough, Truesdell plans to take classes through the Allen County Purdue Extension office to become a certified master gardener (no easy task!). Leaving IPFW and easing into retirement will be “bittersweet” because Truesdell “loved being a librarian.” But she’s proud of her time at IPFW, and the work she’s done here has created a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten.

Update: On December 2, 2016 Truesdell was bestowed with the Sagamore of the Wabash award from Indiana Governor Mike Pence during her retirement celebration. The award is the highest civilian award given by Indiana’s Governor and is a personal tribute given to those who have rendered a distinguished service to the state or the governor. In addition to receiving the Sagamore, December 2, 2016, was declared as “Cheryl B. Truesdell Day” in the City of Fort Wayne by Mayor Tom Henry.

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