September 17, 2011
News from the Library
The Arboretum Library Legacy of Brian L. Norbury
by Susan Eubank with help from James Henrich, photograph by Emily Green
“Susan, I need a book with great color photographs and descriptions of all the acacias, both African and Australian.” Now that was an intimidating reference question, even for a botanical librarian with almost 20 years of experience. It came from a robust, white-haired, sometimes, red-faced gentleman with a beguiling British accent. Of course, I didn’t have that book even if it existed. My first reference interactions were none too successful. I feared failure. I hadn’t learned enough about possible southern California ornamental trees. How quickly could I learn in order to help the customers? Slowly I had a glimmer about what Brian was up to. He spent most of 8 years of Wednesdays here finding trees that needed identification labels. He would then submit a request for labels to the Senior Biologist to make the labels (his requests generally went to the top of the request list). When the labels were ready, with drill driver, screws and mallet in hand he placed the engraved plastic labels on the nameless trees. Brian was nearly single-handedly responsible for labeling the entire tree collection! Another, more challenging task, was working through problem tree identifications which he relished. He methodically compared printed descriptions with specimens from several locales before making a recommendation to staff about what he thought the tree might be.
Slowly, I was able to help with his reference questions. It wasn’t really a question of me learning more about the possible plants that could grow here. It was a question of us deciding to work through all our preconceived notions of the reference librarian/library customer interaction. What Brian taught me over and over is that reference always works better if it is not a one shot, “Tell me the answer to this question” sort of deal. His work enabled me to really explore the collection here as well as help him explore on-line resources. He was a reluctant adopter there, but in our last interaction he was the one who prompted me to look at the Flora of China online when we weren’t finding the answer he needed.
We learned that Brian had died on a Wednesday. Jim Henrich, the Arboretum’s Senior Biologist and I had both just assumed that we had missed him early in the morning and that we would see him later in the day. We learned about his death from our colleague, Tanya Finney, at South Coast Botanic Garden. Brian hadn’t shown up there on Monday, his normal day there. One of the many things that was incredible about Brian was that what he did for us he also did at South Coast Botanic Garden in Rancho Palos Verdes, the Mildred E. Mathis Botanical Garden at the University of California, Los Angeles, Lacy Park in San Marino, Old Santa Monica Forestry Station (established in 1887, now abandoned) in Rustic Canyon, and the Huntington Botanical Gardens. He had a busy week going from garden to garden.
Brian had started his career in the wood products industry at a firm in Great Britain, but had moved onto the insurance industry when he had moved to southern California. When he retired he took up trees again. One day he brought me a list of his books on trees. I gulped and had a volunteer go through the list to see what we had in the Library and what could be potential purchases to augment the Library collection. There was a preponderance of books that we needed to purchase. Brian had traveled extensively to Great Britain and Mediterranean climate areas to see gardens, botanical gardens and especially arboreta. He loved to chide us with the belief that Kew Gardens spaced their trees so that each individual tree was allowed to show off its full potential. He felt the Arboretum’s were, in many cases, too closely spaced for their ultimate beauty. He had also browsed the book stores where ever he was to find any books that would help with his volunteer work. That’s where the gulp came from.
The legacy to the Arboretum Library is that when he died, I saw the list again. It had been carefully photocopied and the appropriate sheet had been placed in each box of books. His niece and executor of the estate, Jenny McQueen, decided that the Arboretum Library was an appropriate recipient of all the books. About ½ of the books were new to the Arboretum Library. Those generally were tree books, including identification guides of specific genera, from South Africa and Australia, as well as a good selection from Great Britain. When we started to catalog them we were astonished at how he used them. Some of the books were literally worn out and taped back together. He underlined in red pen appropriate distinguishing characters on the sticky identification problems. The red pen also disputed photograph identifications as well as some textual problems. I showed the author Brian’s copy of The Exceptional Trees of Los Angeles (Donald R. Hodel, Arcadia: Los Angeles Arboretum Foundation, 1988) and both he and I were astonished that Brian had been to see every tree and had marked the date and any outstanding features he had noticed on his visit. That was one of the books that had been taped back together.
Brian Norbury’s volunteer work left an incredible legacy to the public gardens in the Los Angeles area and his book collection will benefit many generations of Arboretum Library customers. To peruse his Arboretum Library legacy use this link and click on “New Books, Late Summer, 2011” and know that all the trees books were his, well-loved and well-used..
If you really want to see Susan’s wacky world of plants check out the “New Magazine Articles, Late Summer 2011” at the link. That is where the cutting edge knowledge happens.
Here is the list of upcoming books for October-December 2011 for the Reading the Western Landscape Book Group
Our current book for the October meeting, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011, 7:00 p.m., is Craig Childs’ Secret Knowledge of Water (Boston, Mass. : Back Bay ; London : Little, Brown, 2000.)
Here is are the books and questions we have finished. Join us. Tell your friends.
The Bookworms story time themes and dates for four months are below:
The story time is recommended for children ages 3-8.
This is a free program for members and free with admission for non-members.
All sessions will be held Wednesdays at 10 am.
September 7 and 21 Working Worms
October 5 and 19 The Plant Children See the World
November 2 and 16 From a Tiny Acorn
December 7 and 21 Vegetables Taste Better Cold
The Arboretum Library hours are:
Open Tuesday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Open Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Open Sundays, 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. (New Time!)
Remember we are circulating to Arboretum staff and members. The circulation period for books is 3 weeks with 2 renewals if no one else wants the item. You can renew by e-mail, phone or in person. The circulation period for current magazines is 3 days with 2 renewals if no one else wants the item.
Our Botanical Information Consultant (for plant advice) is available Tuesday-Saturday, Frank.McDonough@Arboretum.org, or 626-821-3239.
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