Librarian Joe Crotts had a reputation on campus. He was a stickler for Robert’s Rules of Order in Academic Senate meetings. He was an innovator who helped drive Meriam Library into the digital age. Moreover, he wore the brightest and boldest clothing combinations one could ever imagine. When he retired January 31, he left a legacy as one of Chico State’s longest-serving employees and campus icons.
Crotts first walked into Meriam Library on October 31, 1974, when he was hired as an entry-level librarian to work with the government documents and map collections. Despite his decades devoted to the Dewey Decimal System, librarianship was surprisingly not his intended career path.
As an undergrad at Vanderbilt University, he studied geography and geology. After earning bachelor’s degrees in both, he continued on to Louisiana State University, where he pursued a master’s degree in geography.
“First and foremost, I always used the library,” Crotts said. “If nothing else it was a quiet place to study—libraries were a little quieter than they are now.”
He also had another reason to visit the LSU library—it’s where he met his future wife. Pursuing her master’s degree in library science, Brenda worked in the university library and would often help him navigate its resources.
“We just started up a social relationship,” Crotts said. “So, I started learning about more than just using libraries and more about employment and how libraries run.”
During the ’70s, the federal government was reducing support for research and institutional employment, and Crotts saw his job prospects steadily diminishing. Brenda suggested he too pursue a professional master’s in library science. He took her suggestion to heart and embraced his first librarian job, working alongside her on campus.
After graduating from LSU with both degrees, Crotts found himself behind bars at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, but not as a prisoner. Working in the library for what he describes as “Louisiana’s San Quentin” gave him fascinating insight into prison life and valuable experience as a beginning librarian.
Less than a year later, he saw a job ad for the Chico State library.
“I said, ‘Hey, this sounds good!’ In fact, it sounded almost too good to be true,” said Crotts, his Baton Rouge accent still lingering. “I came here sight unseen. I had not really been more than a few miles across the Mississippi River.”
Once in Chico, life fell into place. He worked at Chico State as head of access services, Brenda took a job at the Chico Branch of the Butte County Public Library—working her way up to branch manager, and they bought a lovely home, became very active in local theatre, and joined just about every museum and museum association in California.
During his tenure, Crotts proudly helped Meriam Library come into the digital age and widely expand its resources. Many of his largest projects were building and then digitizing a document collection. He is also credited with the library’s extensive and comprehensive map collection, a task that took him 20 years to establish.
For many people, Crotts’ role extends far beyond the Meriam Library walls. For more than 30 years, he served as an officer and secretary for the Academic Senate, helping set policy, drive decision-making, and navigate consultation between administration, faculty, and staff. He was elected to serve one term as Academic Senate chair and was awarded the first Academic Senate Excellence in Service Award in 2016, an honor he said he will cherish forever.
“I like to think I brought the Academic Senate and collegiate governance on campus into the 21st century,” he said. “I always thought it was nice that all my colleagues supported that.”
At this month’s meeting—the first without him in an official role in three decades—those in attendance gave him a standing ovation.
Karla Camacho, Associated Students director of university affairs, recalled the first time she witnessed his governing of the Senate meetings.
“I was really lost, I didn’t know what was going on. He spoke, and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, his voice commands attention,’” she said. “I think that was the moment I knew Joe Crotts was someone to learn from.”
Fellow senators said not only has he taught everyone how to abide by meeting laws, but he shared an encyclopedic knowledge of all procedures, University policies, historical records, and so much more. The sentiment that he was leaving a gaping hole was echoed wholeheartedly by many colleagues, among them faculty member and senator Paula Selvester.
“I don’t think there was any one of us who was Senate chair who would have done the job without knowing Joe was going to be there every step along the way,” she said.
Chico State is in a better place because of Crotts’ leadership, said senator and faculty member Betsy Boyd.
“We have depended on you in some of our hardest times, to get through and maintain order and conduct ourselves in a professional way,” she told him before the audience. “We are all indebted to you. … Thank you so much for your mentorship, your leadership, and the heart you showed here to all of us.”
Several noted they would be remiss to not mention the brightness he brought to campus, with the red and white motor scooter he rode rain or shine, his jovial personality and, of course, his wardrobe. Every day, for almost the entirety of his tenure at Chico State, Crotts sported whimsical and colorful attire in hopes to not only brighten his day, but others’ as well.
“I enjoy it. It makes life more interesting, more colorful,” he said. “People say, ‘You have made my day,’ or ‘You have made me smile today.’
The fondness for vibrant clothing is another passion Crotts and Brenda share, and it started with one simple realization—everyone dressed in the same drab fashion.
“I didn’t grow up this way. For the most part, after I got out here, I just started noticing that everyone dressed in dark colors,” Crotts said. “One day, I said I’m not going to do that anymore, and she said the same thing. So, I gradually started seeking out things alternative to what I called ‘funeral attire’ and stuck with it.”
The couple retired on the same day, and now he and Brenda plan to do more of the things they love, such as visit museums, attend lectures, and travel. But after 43-plus years, he knows retirement and time away from campus will take getting used to.
“I’m worried that when I’m gone, I’m going to really reminisce about being here,” he said. “I’m going to find myself so happy, now being able to attend lectures and things of that nature, that maybe it will fade away. The longing of working here will fade away.”