Dennis Trombatore, UT's Geology Librarian for 35 years, passed away on July 18, 2020. Dennis was the heart and soul of the Walter Geology Library, and he continued to work tirelessly to serve the geosciences community at UT throughout his long illness. He was an irreplaceable resource and a fount of knowledge of geology information, who had a boundless enthusiasm for his work and a true dedication to the Jackson School.
The origins of the Walter Geology Library, like those of many of the branch libraries at the University of Texas, are clouded by the decentralized nature of the early University. The Department of Geology was created in 1888. Robert T. Hill was invited to Austin by the Regents to start a "School of Geology" with offices in Old Main, where, by 1901, Geology occupied the West end of the Third Floor.
The library began its life as a room with books, journals and maps, occasional and part-time secretarial and student staff and nearly complete control by the faculty, who have continued to be a strong influence. From the time of its creation as a small office collection until the mid-1920s little is known. The collection was sparse, money was always tight, and staffing was erratic at best. In the first existing annual report, from 1926, the supervisor outlines problems that echo down through the decades. The Library was available to students only 36 hours a week, and closed during the summer terms. Typically hours would change every semester based on the schedules of staff. Several days a week, the library would be open 8-10 AM, some days 7-10 PM. The library was usually closed for lunch, except when it opened late and stayed open until 1PM. Most days the library was open from 2-5PM or 3-5PM, and Saturday hours were either morning or afternoon, but no Sunday hours. At that time the school week was Monday to Saturday.
This condition sounds more extreme than it was, since in those days, the departmental collections worked in cooperation with the University Library, and primarily served the needs of upper division undergraduate and graduate students and faculty, though even in the late 1920s and early 1930s, reports make note of outside users from industry, government and the law. Additionally, it appears that (most) purchasing and cataloging services were provided through the Library. One open question relates to the purchasing code for books, which seems to have been controlled by the Library for many years. Thus, the faculty would gather and determine what they wanted to acquire, and in most cases, the Library would purchase the materials and provide cataloging for them. In summers, requests for materials from Geology would be handled by staff from the University Library (which, like faculty, also had keys).
Staffing was sparse, and there was even less security. Early reports are filled with laments of the missing materials, poor condition of the shelving and record keeping, and inaccurate circulation or collection holdings information. Each department made library policies that were pleasing to the dominant faculty voices of the time, and not much is known about their decision making. Faculty and graduate students had keys, and materials would come and go without much oversight. Faculty also generally had office collections, many of note, particularly among the paleontologists, and the whole atmosphere appears to have been both casual and frustrating.
The first Geology Building was designed by Greene Laroche & Dahl and constructed under the chairmanship and supervision of Fred Bullard for $343,000 and was approximately 50,000 square feet. It was dedicated in the depths of the Depression in 1933. This attractive building, now named W. C. Hogg, and housing (among other things) the offices of the College of Natural Sciences, was designed with a terracotta frieze around it and the inscription "O Earth, What Changes Hast Thou Seen?". Dr. Bullard described the process of laying out the drawings of vertebrate and invertebrate fossils, crystals, and other image panels for the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company in Denver. The panels, he claimed, cost $1.50 each (shipping them to Austin by rail was actually the higher cost), and he was sent to Denver to approve the molds and first products. During the Depression, even these small costs seemed quite extravagant. When the new building was erected in the mid-1960s, the faculty wanted to remove the frieze from Hogg and take it to the new building - it was even said that the rather stark rectangular repeats on that building were designed to accommodate the terracotta panels. But the frieze remains on WCH.
The Library was in rooms 214 and 218 on the west end, with an area of about 1,750 square feet. The Alcalde from January 1934 indicates the library has room for "25,000 volumes, although at present the department possesses only about half that number." Users report the stacks were closed to undergraduates - others required stack passes - and all materials had to be paged. The librarian had no office. The reading room was seating only - no typewriters, so students had to sit quietly and take notes, and seating capacity is recalled as 20-35 people.
Geology Building B (left) and shell frieze (right)
With the move of the department to the new Geology Building on the East Mall in 1967, the library more than doubled to 10,000 square feet, including a dedicated space for the map collection. The building allowed the consolidation of the Bureau of Economic Geology, which took the 5th floor (B-5, later changed to 1-6), and the Library was on the third floor, room 302 A-D, at the west end of the building. Professor Clabaugh, the faculty member in charge of overseeing the design, repeated some of the more successful aspects of the old building - large auditorium classroom, library upstairs, etc. - and added more shop and lab space, administrative areas for the Bureau staff, and larger and better faculty and graduate student space, but the building was rather industrial in its appearance. At this time, the library was still closed stacks. Graduate students could request a stacks pass and faculty were entitled to a stacks pass and a key. User keys were finally abolished in the early 1980s, when the automated circulation led to tighter control of the collection. This collection had a large reading room on the east side of the building, with large windows, the map collection across the north wall, also with many windows, but the long, narrow space was not ideal for map cabinet layout. Guion commented that the map collection looked rather "ratty" when laid out in the new space, but she was happy with the improved organization and storage.
Geology Library stacks (left) and new Geology Building (right)
Early staff included Mrs. Mae Reeder Nelson, Rubie Vaughn, Arno Wendler, George Harris, Fred Goerner, and Sam Field, all pages and stenographers employed by the Department. It appears that there was at one point a librarian named 'Miss Eckert', who was later praised for her early organizational efforts.
Early UT catalogs from 1915 to 1926 chronicle some of this ambiguity from the Libraries side - descriptions of library staff mention a Nina Pauline Stehr, who is the botany/zoology, or botany, geology, zoology, and then botany and zoology librarian, and about whom nothing is known at this writing. In the 1926 catalog, there is mention in the Library Staff list of Mrs. Mae Reeder Nelson, geology librarian, and Mrs. Nelson is the author of the first extant library annual report from February 1926, though it is produced on Departmental stationary, and Mrs. Nelson indicates she is also the Department stenographer.
The University Library assumed control of the Geology collection in 1940 as part of a larger campus reorganization of library services, and Thelma Lynn (later Guion) came in to provide order, control, discipline and planning, as she did in a number of departmental collections on campus, including, it seems, biology (zoology), music, and chemistry. Thelma left for a time to complete her Master's degree in Library Science at Columbia University, and Mrs. Albert E. Sweeney supervised the collection in 1942 and '43, at which point Ms. Guion returned and supervised the Geology collection from the Biology Library. She returned to Geology permanently in 1952, stayed through the move to the current building, and was forced to retire for age reasons in August 1972.
There are many stories about Thelma, who called herself "THE" Geology Librarian. She was known to be a fierce steward of the library, and protector of her "cherubs," as she preferred to call her student assistants. These students were reputed to have included several Phi Beta Kappa's, but this did not save them from having to pick up discarded soft drink bottles to cash in for the deposits to add to the library's acquisitions funds.
Thelma Lynn Guion
Dr. Keith Young once said that he felt his day didn't get off to a good start until he had had an argument with Thelma. This is significant because Thelma's devotion and loyalty to the Department were to have long-lasting effects. The strength of the library over the decades was an outgrowth of Thelma's relationship with several pivotal faculty members. Professors Whitney, Adkins and Sellards, whose initial collecting and scholarship gave early support for strong library collections, gave way to the second and third generations of leadership. These included Sam Ellison, the founding faculty member of the Geology Foundation, Ronald K. DeFord, a strong library supporter both in words and deeds, who was particularly close to Thelma, and Keith Young, long chair of the Geology Library Committee and collection supervisor extraordinaire. Bill Fisher, long head of the Geology Foundation, oversaw huge growth in endowments, and was critical in including library support among his goals. Other involved faculty included Martin Lagoe, Doug Smith, and most recently Chris Bell, who (like Keith Young) also served a term as Chair of the University Library Committee.
Thelma had a strong impact on students. This was partly due to her close association with Professor DeFord, her stern and frank presence as an information gatekeeper, and the many ways she worked to make the lives of students better, partly by fighting for resources for them. In the years before and after her death, visiting alumni, many of whom had been very successful in business, spoke fondly of Thelma, and her impact on their education. This helped draw backing for the endowments that help support the collections today.
Barbara Chappell became Librarian in September 1972, and left in January 1974. She was a UT Library School graduate, and left Austin for Washington, DC, where she eventually became head of the United States Geological Survey's Reston library.
Martin Smith arrived in October 1974. He had his MLS from Maryland, and came from the USGS Reston library. He left in December 1981 to return to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, where he worked until his retirement.
Chestalene Pintozzi was the unit's Library Assistant under Smith, and completed her MLS from the University of Texas School of Library and Information Science. She was promoted to the Librarian's position in January of 1982 and stayed until August 1984. After 1989 she was at the University of Arizona Library.
During this twelve-year period (1972-84), the Geology Library was suffering from serious space problems. The 'backroom' space was filled to capacity with Bureau surplus materials and unprocessed gifts (which some viewed as dangerous, due to concerns with floor loading). It was a struggle to find resources for new services like GeoRef searching (done at the time at very high cost with a teletype style machine and a 300-baud phone modem and thermal printer). Book circulation was not yet automated; copiers were inadequate and took up too much space; and there was no online catalog for the whole library system, so a great deal of time was wasted walking from unit to unit, or searching in the main library catalog. There was also a student population boom in this period. Nevertheless change was coming - by 1984, the Bureau was moving to its new facility, branch materials were being coded for automated circulation and the computer system and catalog were being extended to branch circulation desks. Endowment monies were beginning to make a difference in purchasing options, and the promise of even better computing systems was on the horizon.
Dennis Trombatore arrived in July 1985 from the University of Georgia, with an MLS from Louisiana State University. He was the beneficiary of many of these developments, and the pace of change began to accelerate. Dennis served in this position for 35 years, longer than any other incumbent, until his death in 2020.
Latter day Walter Librarians, from left to right: Barbara Chappell, Martin A. Smith, Chestalene Pintozzi, and Dennis Trombatore (with Library Assistant Jim McCullough)
One of the students inspired by Thelma was Joseph C. Walter Jr. Joe Walter and his family donated $500,000 in 1981 to create a library endowment, and the Walter Library was named after him in 1982.
In 1977, the library had three small endowed funds: The Whitney Fund for paleontology, the Wendlandt fund for German language or translated German geology materials, and the Map Collection Fund. After the Walter donation, the Map Collection fund was supplemented with funds from the Tobin Foundation in San Antonio, and the Tobin International Map Collection Fund was created. In the latter part of the 1980s during the crash of the energy business, it was discovered that the Walter Fund had suffered losses, and the Houston alumni community raised several hundred thousand dollars to bolster it.
At this time Tom Barrow and his family created the Barrow Periodicals Fund to help cover the costs of research serials in the geosciences, focused on energy and related materials. After Thelma Guion's death, a staff honors endowment was raised in her honor, which produces enough income to give a cash award each year to one or more people who have provided excellent service or assistance to the Walter Library.
In 2005, the Chernoff family and Carlotta Chernoff (BA 1992, MA 1995) set up the Chernoff Geophysics Fund, to honor Charlie Chernoff for his long career in geophysics. Faculty, staff, and alumni with the help of Mike Wiley (MA 1963, PhD 1970), the Barrow family, and others started the Library Hydrogeology Fund in 2008. Debra Sue and Brian Trinque and others established the Library Climate Studies Fund in 2012. Virtually all of this generosity springs in some way from Thelma's early indoctrination of faculty and students to the necessity of support for information resources, and to the dedication and foresight of the faculty and alumni friends who have provided support and materials for the library over the years.
Adding to the pool of geologic information after 1909, when the Bureau of Economic Geology was established to succeed the Texas Mineral Survey, was the existence of a separate library under the control of the Bureau. This collection apparently was not part of the library services sharing program, though there was quite a bit of informal sharing of materials. The Bureau, as it is known, has had offices in a number of locations around and near campus.
Peter Flawn recalled that "on the Little Campus in old J Hall, the Bureau Library occupied a large room on the southwest corner of the first floor with perhaps 8 or 10 rows of floor to ceiling shelving that ran north-south. The door was kept locked but all of the research staff had keys. There was no check out system. We all took what we needed at the time and returned the books when we were finished. If what we wanted was missing, we just asked around. In those days, I used Interlibrary Loan a good deal. I don't remember if there was a list of what we had or any kind of catalog."
When the new Geology Building was dedicated in 1967, the Bureau occupied the top floor, where it remained until getting a new building in 1984 at the Balcones (now Pickle) Campus in North Austin. It appears from recollections and Thelma Guion's annual reports that the Bureau collection was stuffed into the new building's so called "Back Room," GEO 302D, along with duplicates from both collections. These materials were disentangled and in 1984 the new Bureau facility sported a Reading Room / Data Center, encompassing well logs, all of which went to the Bureau at that point.
The Bureau's library is now primarily a current literature collection, recently supplemented by the addition of the library from the Institute for Geophysics. In the late 1980s, after a particularly serious downturn in the Bureau's research funding, the decision was made to downsize the collection substantially. Some of these materials were added to the Walter Library collection.
The Institute came to Austin from University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston in 1982, beginning a long search for permanent housing. At first they were housed in a small commercial building directly across I-35 from the end of the Mueller Airport runway, and next door to the bus station. The entire building shook and conversations had to be suspended every few minutes as jet engines roared past the upstairs windows where the library was.
The Institute library was based on the collections of Lamar Worzel and Maurice Ewing, founding scientists at the Institute, and Josie York, the librarian at the time, was already fighting space issues. The space demanded that materials be squeezed floor to ceiling in every conceivable manner, and access was barely adequate. Over the next twenty years, the Institute attempted to hang onto its library through a series of moves around northwest Austin, but eventually some materials were transferred to the Walter Library. When the Institute finally got a campus property of its own at the Pickle Campus, remaining library holdings were consolidated in the Bureau's Information Center.
In the 1970s and 80s, the United States Geological Survey/ Texas Water Office had an extensive but cramped library in the Federal Building downtown. The library moved to Cameron Road in 1988. After some years, the Survey moved again to the Cross Park Drive area, and then back to Cameron Road. Before the first two moves, big downsizings took place. After 2000, the library was no longer staffed, and now is primarily a resource room for locally produced publication stocks.
The Texas Water Commission (now TCEQ, TNRIS and Texas Water Development Board) once had a large library collection with several librarians in the Stephen F. Austin Office Building near the Capitol. Initially they were on an upper floor, then moved to the basement, then subsequently to the current TCEQ facility off Parmer Lane.
Berry, Margaret Catherine. Brick by Golden Brick: A History of Campus Buildings at the University of Texas at Austin, 1883-1993. Austin, Tex: LBCo, 1993.
Elgin, Robert Warren. A Study of the Map Collections in the University of Texas Libraries. Thesis (M.L.S.)--University of Texas, 1954.
Ex-students' Association of the University of Texas. Alcalde. Austin, Tex: Published by the former students of the University of Texas at Austin, 1913.
Moloney, Louis C. A History of the University Library at the University of Texas, 1883-1934. Thesis (D.L.S.)--Columbia University, 1970.
University of Texas at Austin. Newsletter. Austin, Tex: The Dept, 1968.
Young, Keith. History of Geology at the University of Texas. Austin: University of Texas, 1967. (Bureau of Economic Geology. Geological circular GC-67-3)
written by Dennis Trombatore
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.