March 25, 2011 | Myrna Anderson

Barbara Sluiter cataloged the collection at Calvin's Hekman Library for 56 years. Photo from 1968

For 56 years, Barbara Sluiter made sense of the collection at Calvin’s Hekman Library. All through the decades—and through the evolution of systems—she worked as a cataloging librarian, classifying all of the material that passed through the Hekman system. It's a job that requires a lot of research in standards and rules. One bio of Sluiter claimed: “She has probably touched every book that the library owns at least one or more times.”

She started handling the books as a student worker at the library, one of the jobs that allowed her to pay her way through Calvin. (The other, coincidentally, was with the Hekman Cookie Company.) A Latin major, Sluiter was eyeing a limited career horizon when graduation neared in 1951.

“I thought all you could be was a teacher or a nurse,” she recounted in a 2006 interview. My senior year in college, I finally got to see an advisor. She gave me one of those punch-card things. I punched it, and she asked, ‘What do you want to be?’ I didn’t want to be a nurse, so I said, ‘A teacher, I guess.’ She said, ‘You don’t sound too thrilled about it. Have you ever thought of being a librarian?’”

One book at a time

Sluiter graduated, joined the Hekman staff full time, and enrolled as an extension student in the University of Michigan’s Library Science Program. She earned her master’s in library science in 1956. During her tenure at Calvin, the library collection would swell from 50,000 to nearly one million items.

In 1952, a year into her career at Hekman, the library began to shed its Dewey Decimal classifications and convert to the Library of Congress system, a task that took several years to complete. Sluiter cataloged every entry.

In 1970, the library shifted location, from the Franklin St. to the Knollcrest campus, and Sluiter shifted too. And in 1976, the Hekman began a different kind of shift—into the barely emergent electronic age—when an OCLC cathode ray terminal (a rudimentary computer catalogue) was installed in the cataloging workroom. Sluiter learned to use it. In 1990, when the library acquired its first online catalog, Sluiter entered the computer age in earnest.

Shifting mindset

“I’ve always been amazed at how well she’s swum through all the changes,” said Francene Lewis, a Calvin cataloging librarian and longtime Sluiter colleague, in a 2006 interview.

“It’s a huge shift in terms of mindset,” Lewis explained. “It’s not just the change from the typewriter to word processor, but it’s a sea change in one way. It’s a whole different way of thinking about stuff. It’s no longer tangible. It’s digital. We had librarians who worked with her who couldn’t hack the new system.”

Sluiter’s long knowledge of the Hekman collection was a big benefit for the library, Lewis said: “Knowing that you can go talk to Barb and say, ‘Barb, what in the world, I came across this weird thing. What do you think this means?’ That is a huge thing. There are a lot of places that don’t have near as clean a catalog as we do because we’ve had such consistency.”

On December 31, 1991, Barb retired from her role as head of cataloging. She did, however, continue to volunteer 20 hours a week in her old capacity. A year later, she resumed her job on a part-time basis. When not cataloging, Sluiter was often traveling to places like Alaska, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, South Africa, Australia, Turkey, New Zeeland, China. She was an avid reader of science fiction novels, particularly those by C. J. Cherryh and L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

In 2007, Sluiter was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, yet continued to work part-time. She retired completely that year and died in 2009. “She donated me her library when she passed away,” Lewis said.

Former president William Spoelhof greets Barbara Sluiter at her 55th anniversary celebration.

54 years

Donna Kruithof started working for Calvin straight out of high school in McBain, Mich. “I was 16,” she said. It was 1955.

Kruithof started out in the supply room in the basement of the administration office on the old Franklin Street campus. The mail was delivered there, and she sorted and delivered it. The mimeograph machine was there, and she would crank out copies of professor’s handouts.

Eventually, Kruithof made the move upstairs to the administrative office at Franklin Street. She handled certification of Calvin’s student teachers and of the schools that wanted to hire them. She also organized visits for the principals who came to Calvin from all over the country to do the hiring. “It was a demanding job,” she said.

In 1973, Calvin’s administrative office moved to the Knollcrest campus. “We were one of the last ones to go,” Kruithof said. She relocated to a cubicle in Hiemenga Hall.

As she raised her children (Mary, John and Amy—all Calvin grads), Kruithof severely cut back her hours. As her kids grew, she scaled back up.

In 1979 , Kruithof accepted a job as an adminstrative assistant in the philosophy and classics department. “I did a lot of typing up,” she said of the days when she worked on manuscripts for Nicholas Woltersdorff, Alvin Plantinga and Richard Mouw. “Once I made a mistake—changed something. You don’t do that with a philosopher. She loved her work: “I found so much joy in working at Calvin, and never really looked at it as a job. It was God’s calling to me,” she said.

As the faculty around her changed, Kruithof stayed in place, retiring finally on December 18, 2009. She was aware, throughout much of her career, that the idea of a working woman (especially a mother) was suspect. “Someone had to pave the way,” she said.

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