Bob Hamilton said his job as reference librarian at the Hobbs Public Library has several things going for it.
Topping the list is giving him the opportunity to slake what he described as an “insatiable thirst for knowledge.
“Sometimes people will ask me questions,” Hamilton told the News-Sun. “I’ll find their books and see what they’re interested in. After they leave I’ll say to myself, ‘I didn’t know that.’
“So later, I’ll go back on my own time and research some more myself on what they were asking about to satisfy my own thirst for knowledge. Even with these gray hairs there’s still something to learn. At least once a week I learn something I didn’t know before in some field.”
Hamilton has been able to continually fill his cup with new information here for two decades now. He recently celebrated 20 years helping people find answers and new information at the Hobbs Public Library.
And that’s the other favorite part of his job — helping people learn things they didn’t know before. And sometimes those things they discover can improve their lives in some small way, Hamilton said.
“It sounds like a schmaltzy, ‘60s thing, but it hasn’t gone out of vogue,” he said. “Public service. When somebody comes in and you can actually do something to make their life a little easier.”
A lot of students use the Hobbs Public Library — both from Hobbs Municipal Schools and the community’s two colleges — Hamilton said. Helping them with their school work is satisfying, but helping community residents who might not have access to information on the web, for example, is at least as fulfilling, he said.
“Every once in a while somebody comes in here, other than a student, somebody who doesn’t know anything about how to contact the courts or how to contact a particular state agency,” Hamilton said. “You can see on their face what I did might not have completely solved their problem, but it at least put them on the right track.
“And the satisfaction what comes with assisting students who are lost, not knowing where to begin on assignments. Or as happens more frequently aren’t aware of all the online vetted resources the library provides.”
Hamilton was born and grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. His father worked for the railroad, but most of his neighbors worked either in the nearby steel plant or in one of two automobile plants just down the road, he said.
His story isn’t what you’d almost expect in a story, where he found refuge in the local library growing up. It wasn’t really until Hamilton got to graduate school that his world opened up at the University of Buffalo library.
“I spent a lot of time in the library,” he said. “I was interested in so many things. Part of it was (school) work, but once I got in there, I found all these books” covering myriad subjects.
Hamilton did his undergraduate degree in education at Buffalo State College. He switched to library science, he said, because of his love of knowledge.
“I had such a broad, such an eclectic mind, I didn’t want to narrowly focus on any one thing,” Hamilton said. “In librarianship you get to focus on everything.
“One day I might have somebody researching something about biology. The next day it might be economics, the next day politics. You get to deal with everything and keep up with all fields in librarianship.”
Hamilton came to the Hobbs Public Library in a round-about way. He was working in a bookstore in Buffalo and decided it was time for a change, he said.
“There was nothing against the job itself,” Hamilton said. “My family was in Las Vegas (Nevada) so I was looking for a job in the southwest.
“I saw the job advertised (in Hobbs). I thought to myself, ‘I don’t even know where that is. I don’t know that much about New Mexico.’”
He applied and was invited for an interview. While he was here, his car broke down and he had difficulty finding a mechanic who could access the vehicle’s computer to find and fix the problem. Hamilton ended up waiting three days for the repairs.
“I felt like I was in Mayberry, my car was broken down, and Goober was fishing,” Hamilton said. “I got stuck here for three days and I decided I liked it. Like everyone says, the people are friendly.”
In Hamilton’s time — he’s worked with books in libraries and retail for almost four decades — libraries have definitely changed, he said. With the profusion of online sources for information, libraries today have fewer physical reference books than they did when he worked at the main library in Rochester, N.Y. And a good bit of the time, Hamilton refers people with simpler questions to one of those online resources. And the subjects of the questions have changed, too, he said.
“When I first started, we used to questions from people wanting to know what’s the capital of Kansas, that kind of thing,” he said. “What’s the capital of Bolivia? I never get those questions now because people can just look it up online.
“The questions we get now are ones … that require more in-depth research. I’ll get people telling me they’ve been looking for something online for three days and can’t find it. Sometimes the answers aren’t readily available. You have to dig for them.”
And Hamilton also has to deal with the occasional difficult question, such as one he received not that long ago from a youngster here in Hobbs.
“I had one kid come in, probably not even 10 (years old), who asked me who invented the earth?” Hamilton said. “That’s kind of a — you have to be careful how you answer questions like that.
“My answer was different people have different theories on that. Why don’t you go home and ask your parents what they think.”
The growth of online information has, in some ways, been both bane and boon for public libraries. But, despite the changes, libraries remain relevant in society today, Hamilton said. They just have to be willing to grow and change with the times.
“I always mention what Charles Darwin said,” Hamilton said. “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.
“I think that applies to species, to human beings, it applies to any organization. If you’re going to survive you have to be adaptable to change. We need to see how the world is changing, … how people are changing, how their information needs are changing.”