Marian Armstrong’s greatest pleasure in life was learning, but it is what she taught generations of students that will be her lasting legacy.
“Marian the Librarian,” a former assistant professor of the then-School of Library and Information Science at Indiana University, passed away Sept. 23, 2016, at the age of 87. Armstrong was a teacher at SLIS for 35 years before retiring in 1993, and she was an integral cog in helping the program evolve from a division of the School of Education into a self-sufficient graduate program.
Born in Bedford, Indiana, June 24, 1929, Armstrong graduated from Bedford High School in 1947. She spent some time working on a daily newspaper immediately after high school, but she decided to pursue a college degree and earned her Bachelor of Science from IU in 1952. Following graduation, she spent time as a teacher in Gary, Ind., but she returned to Bloomington to earn a Master of Arts in 1958.
She landed a part-time teaching job at IU that same year, and she was shown her path from the beginning.
“On my first day on the job in 1958, practice students were waiting for me at my door,” Armstrong said upon retirement. “It has been the same ever since. It often becomes a lifelong mentoring relationship.”
Armstrong helped students earn jobs in school, public, academic, and special libraries, continuing to serve as advisor far beyond the normal role of a professor.
“I know all of us could write volumes about Professor Armstrong,” says Patty Lunsford, a SLIS alum who graduated in 1976. “We loved her quick wit, her often sardonic but whimsical and delightful mannerisms, her wisdom and love of our profession, her expectations for excellence both in the classroom and in our profession, her love for basketball, her honor for and friendship with Coach Bob Knight, and all things IU.”
Ginny Richey, a former adjunct faculty member at SLIS who once shared an office suite with Armstrong, says Armstrong made it a point to keep her ears open for opportunities that could help her students.
“She was deeply interested in people,” Richey says. “If she knew of a job that one of her students was perfect for, she would make the connection. She would also spend hours matching up people with the perfect learning opportunity. She was interested in her students more than just as a teacher. She was interested in their success and their trials in the field.”
That devotion to her students helped maintain a family atmosphere at SLIS.
“She cared about people,” says Shirley Fitzgibbons, another former faculty member. “She wanted to make it a welcoming community.”
Armstrong also served as the librarian of the University High School from 1958-69, and she helped design the libraries in the Herman B Wells Library. Armstrong was instrumental in organizing the Monroe County Community School Corporation (MCCSC) librarians and developed cooperative programs such as collective purchasing of expensive reference sources and centralized cataloging.
Armstrong was an active member of several organizations with a lifelong devotion to the spread of knowledge and education, not just on campus but throughout the community and state. She served on the board of the Monroe County Public Library, including serving as president, and her role with the Indiana department of Education advisory committee helped revise the guidelines for Indiana School Media Programs.
Her early newspaper days prepared her to serve as an editor or advisor for the SLIS Alumni News magazine starting in 1969. She also was the school librarian for years at the University High School and would routinely attend class reunions to catch up with her former students. Armstrong was active with the Athletic Committee during the 1970s and earned a citation for her work.
In 1990, SLIS and the Indiana University Alumni Association recognized her commitment by awarding her with the Louise Maxwell Award for outstanding achievement in the field of library science. Armstrong also was elected to membership in the Beta Phi Mu honorary society and served time as president and secretary of the organization.
Her efforts outside the classroom also made an impact. She organized a lounge area where people could gather for lunch, and she persuaded a faculty member to lead exercises in the area. Armstrong also published a weekly calendar of events that would include humorous entries, including an announcement listing the oft-traveling dean of SLIS, Herb White, as a “special visitor.” She would also welcome students to her family farm in Bedford to collect leaves, and she donated a pecan tree to the IU Arboretum.
“She was a dynamic sort of person who made things fun and interesting,” says Ralf Shaw, another former dean of SLIS and a professor emerita. “She had an impish sense of humor that really added a spark. It was her sheer joy of life and other people that made it exciting to be around her. She found people who fit her level of enthusiasm.”
Following her retirement, she traveled, hiked, and worked on her farm, and she was active with the emeriti faculty.
Above all else, it was the impact on her students that will remain.
“I think there are a lot of librarians in Indiana and beyond who have a sense of the excitement of the profession and connecting it with real people,” Shaw says. “That comes from her.”