Campus News

Librarian bookends her career by teaching history and playing music

Nan McMurry fashioned a way to combine two things she enjoys, working in a library environment and teaching history classes, when she joined the UGA Libraries in 1988. Spending her free time engaged in challenging musical pursuits is a bonus she couldn’t have predicted when she entered the professional world.

Neither could she have predicted the difficulties libraries face today as escalating publishing costs have combined with dwindling revenues to create unparalleled financial hardships.

After earning a doctorate in history, McMurry pursued her love of music with a master’s degree and gained knowledge about herself. “I learned I was not fit for a concert career,” she said lightheartedly.

“All the time I was in grad school, I had a job in a library,” she said. “That’s when I learned I really love the library environment. I also really enjoy teaching. So this allows me to do what I like best: be based in a library and get to teach part time.”

McMurry’s area of interest is the history of medicine, and she teaches a survey course on American medicine each fall. She also guest lectures in other departments.

Originally hired at the UGA Libraries as the history bibliographer in collection development, McMurry branched into preservation work selecting books to be microfilmed through cooperative projects, including materials from the libraries’ special collection relating to Georgia history.

In 1997, McMurry was recruited to the nascent digital preservation program by the director, who was planning his retirement. After assisting his successor during his tenure, McMurry jointly supervised the program, now known as the Digital Library of Georgia, until the current director, P. Toby Graham, came on board.

McMurry added administrative work to her duties in 2003 when she was named head of the Collection Development department.

“What I like most is seeing all the new material come out and catalog shopping with someone else’s money,” said McMurry, who selects books in political science, sociology, criminal justice, women’s studies and history.

Her biggest challenge—funding—is one faced by libraries nationwide even though the UGA Libraries has a record of generous supplemental support from the UGA administration. 

One battle the Libraries face is the perception that many electronic resources are free, when high-quality scholarly journals are among the most expensive items in the Libraries’ libraries’ budget.

“It is a serious matter for everyone on campus if the library doesn’t have enough money,” McMurry said. “The libraries we want to emulate are getting increases—they may be small, but they are getting them.”

To support a major research university, the Libraries must have the capital to provide the information resources on which all disciplines depend.

“We’ve dodged a lot of bullets, but each year we face a big gap between the base budget and what we need. Every year we don’t know what we will get—that makes it really hard to plan,” she said. “We ought to be going out and buying new products, new journals, and we’re just trying desperately to keep up with paying for what we already subscribe to. If we have too many more lean years, we’ll evolve—devolve—into a different and lesser kind of library.”

McMurry’s music activities include co-directing a church choir with her husband, Kevin Kelly, the supervisor of the music library. Kelly also directs the Athens Chamber Singers in which McMurry participates. An interest in early music led her to learn the recorder and play in a Renaissance music group. She also has learned to play the folk harp.

“What I really like about Athens is that it is perfect for my level of talent,” McMurry said. “There’s room for everyone. Athens is small enough that you see people in all different guises. You keep seeing people over and over again in different contexts.”