After 33 years at Mechanics’ Institute, we honor Librarian Craig Jackson upon his retirement | Mechanics' Institute

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After 33 years at Mechanics’ Institute, we honor Librarian Craig Jackson upon his retirement

It’s not often an employee puts in a lifetime of service to an employer. Mechanics’ Institute has been fortunate to have several long-serving, dedicated staff members over the years, but one in particular has set a high bar for his longevity and commitment to the Library. Alfred “Craig” Jackson has recently celebrated his 33rd year at Mechanics’ Institute and will be enjoying a much deserved retirement at the end of June.

Craig has a wealth of experience and institutional knowledge of our past and present. We asked him to highlight a few memories and insights into the changes he’s witnessed over the last 33 years. From the old paper card catalog to automated book purchasing, he has kept up with the latest innovations and has some key moments that stand out.


Tell us the biggest differences between library services in 1991 compared to now.

“Library services are today much broader in scope than in 1991. This is reflected in the much more abundant range of formats of materials in the Library collection. 

In 1991, most of the Library collection was in print format. The sole library resource to access information in electronic format in 1991 was Dialog (an online database). The Library had an account with Dialog, a gateway to many reference databases. The MI Librarian was the intermediary in obtaining information for members. Searching the Dialog databases was command-driven. A graphic user interface had not yet come about. The Internet had no presence in libraries until much later in the decade. Today, an extensive amount of information/content, e.g. e-resources and reference database subscriptions, can be accessed remotely.

Many more members visited the Library in 1991 than today, in order to access information and get answers to reference inquiries. There was no alternative. As a result, both membership usage, the number of active members, and the level of circulation of library materials were much higher in the past.”

What aspects of your work did you most enjoy?

“Working with colleagues and assisting library members at the Reference Desk, collection development, and teaching over a half dozen instructional classes, mostly covering business information sources, were the most rewarding aspects of the job.”

What was the grandest event Mechanics’ Institute hosted in your time?

“I would say that the 2004 MI Sesquicentennial was the most extensive event. With tour-giving in mind, volunteer docents were given instruction about the features in the construction of the MI building and about the permanent photo collection on the 5th floor. For two weeks in Fall 2004, the (docents) then gave a good number of special tours to both existing and prospective members covering the latter two topics in particular.” 

What are your most fondest memories of MI?

“My fondest memories took place during the first couple of years working at the Mechanics’ Institute.

The Library collections at that time encompassed fewer formats than today…. just print materials, i.e. books, periodicals, and newspapers plus audiocassettes. In 1991, a card catalog covering fiction titles was located on the 2nd floor while the nonfiction counterpart was located on the 3rd floor where the public computer stations are located today…. near the Reference Desk. It was a very time-consuming process to shelve card sets for new books and to withdraw books. In the latter instance, some nonfiction titles might easily have had a half dozen cards to file (or remove).

The card catalog was kept current until 1992. It was replaced by a catalog in microfiche format. The catalog in computer format (with monitors displaying green-colored text) was not introduced until around the year 2000. As an aside, it’s worth mentioning that the card catalog was transferred to the Basement Stacks after it was no longer updated. There was some thought that it could still be used as a backup resource in some way. The microfiche reader/printer was used extensively. We received back issues of just a few newspapers such as WSJ, NYT, and SF Chronicle, formatted as reels of microfilm…. while select back issues of just a dozen or so periodicals were in fiche format.”

Any other memories you’d like to share?

“Thinking back to 1991, there were just two speaker events in the year. They took place at each of the semi-annual members’ meetings. The Events Department had not yet been established. 

Many special librarians (law and finance) working in corporate libraries in the Financial District were extensive users of the MI Library in my early days, esp. utilizing reference service. MI Librarians handled their questions/research dealing with subjects outside or beyond the realm of their corporate collections. Online searching then was relatively pricey, so we were a great alternative. These special librarians usually visited in person to utilize our print collections, esp. business directories, for the same reason. It’s great that we were all on a first-name basis. The special librarians were all grateful that the Library had been established. We always received plenty of boxes of Sees chocolates at Holiday Time!”

--Craig Jackson


We thank Craig for sharing just a small reflection of his time at Mechanics’ Institute. The Library has come a long way since Craig first started and even though reference services have changed dramatically in recent years, Craig has always been the lead in the Library for these services and has gracefully overseen our entire collection during his tenure. We would not be where we are today without his hard work and expertise. 

Thank you Craig for your commitment to Mechanics’ Institute and to the Library. We will miss you behind the desk helping your fellow staff and the members, but we look forward to seeing you on the other side of the counter as a cherished member of MI. Congratulations Craig!

Posted on Jun. 22, 2024 by Bobbie Monzon