When Ben King started working for the University Libraries in 1977, conveniences like computers, printers and scanners hadn’t yet made their way into the workplace. For instance, identifying labels with call numbers affixed to books’ spines had to be typewritten, and King remembers doing so painstakingly, on an old Remington typewriter.
“I’m so sorry I got rid of it,” King said. “It would be worth something now.”
Now, book labels are generated automatically, students and researchers access books and materials online, and a Robotic Retrieval System in Ekstrom Library, installed in 2006, houses seldom-used materials to free up study space. And, following a satisfying and storied career with the Libraries’ Technical Services department, King is retiring. Sometime this Friday, it will have been exactly 40 years to the minute since he first started.
He’s seen many changes, from Belknap campus infrastructure, to library service, to Ekstrom Library, which opened in 1981, and to the faces of student assistants who helped him sort books and stock shelves over the years.
“I’ll leave with a ton of memories,” he said.
By far the best part of his job has been working with student assistants, King said. “I feel uniquely honored to have worked with some amazing students. The students were my life.”
As a supervisor of shelf preparation, he has worked with UofL student assistants from over 11 countries, including India, Bangladesh, Libya, the Philippines, France, Iran, Belarus, South Korea, Viet Nam and Armenia. Some have become like family.
“We’ve played laser tag, board games. I get invited to a lot of stuff, like birthday parties, graduation, etc. That’s why I came to work. A student said to me, ‘You’ve been more like a father than my real father.’”
One young student complained to King that her vacuum cleaner had broken. He had an extra one and brought it to work to give to her. Five students made a tribute to him on YouTube.
“I probably have worked with a couple hundred students over the years.”
Stacie Alvey, a former student assistant who worked alongside King for over six years from 2010-2016, now works as a librarian for McFerran Preparatory Academy. Her choice of career arose largely as a result of having worked with King.
“I knew after working here with Ben that I wanted to do this as a career. Anybody who has ever worked for Ben remembers Ben. He’s a storyteller extraordinaire. I could repeat his life story. I loved it! He’s like family to me.”
“I feel the same way,” said King. “I was so glad she came to see me. I was so sorry when she left but really happy that she was able to work with JCPS, and nearby, too.”
Technical Services held a retirement ceremony for King on Monday morning, with donuts, coffee cake, fruit and lots of memories. Paying tribute to King, Technical Services Head Tyler Goldberg said, “We’ve all worked with you for many years, and we’re truly grateful for your many, many years of service.”
“And we want to welcome you to come back and volunteer with us at any time.”
“If I’d known we were going to have a ceremony, I wouldn’t have taken down all the stuff the students have given me over the years,” he said.
King said Alvey, the last student assistant he’s worked with, helped him research some of his family genealogy. While he knew much of his mother’s history (she is one of 13 kids), he knew little of his father’s background until Alvey’s research uncovered some interesting facts, including that he is one of six other paternal relatives named Benjamin Franklin King.
“I’ve been here through many natural disasters,” including the 1981 sewer explosion when Ralston Purina leaked hexane from its former soybean processing factory into the sewers around Old Louisville and the Belknap campus; after a car’s engine ignited the gas in the early morning, major explosions along the sewer lines decimated cars, streets, and buildings, but surprisingly left no casualties.
The Libraries administration gave King several gifts for his service: two vinyl record albums: one the newly remastered Sgt. Pepper’s album by the Beatles (first released the year King entered high school, 1967), Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, and, in an apparent reference to King’s timeliness, a UofL clock with the Cardinal bird’s wings pointing to the time.
King’s future plans include volunteer work with the Parklands of Floyds Fork and traveling with his family.