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Diane Johnson: A Year of Celebrations!

This has been a year of celebrations for Diane Johnson, a bibliographic searcher in the music and fine arts department of the UGA Libraries.


Diane Johnson with some of her memorabilia from the two universities where she has studied and worked (UGA and UF) and Buford the Buzzard, Music Library patron.

Diane was gearing up to celebrate the seventh anniversary of a liver transplant – an astonishing accomplishment by anyone's measure -- when she fell gravely ill in May and spent weeks in Emory Hospital. She celebrated her return first home and, then, yes, to work. This fall she is celebrating her 60th birthday, knowing that the liver disease she has had since birth should have taken her life in childhood. As the calendar year winds down, Diane will celebrate her retirement after 25 years with the same job title, although the responsibilities have changed drastically. After a mandatory month off work, she will celebrate a return to her position, and surrogate family, until she can sell her home and move to be near relatives (“and I always have to be near a transplant hospital”) in Virginia.

Diane Johnson didn't intend to become a library professional. After graduating from the University of Florida with a degree in music education, she was traveling around Florida, playing the saxophone professionally in jazz bands, rock bands, dance bands. She rode a motorcycle and dressed in leather. (“I was a performer, after all.”) She took a clerk position in a library for the health insurance benefits. She ultimately was “drafted” into managing a medical branch library suffering through a period of unrest.

“They thought – since I rode a motorcycle and dressed in leather – that I could handle it,” she laughs. “It turned out to be an awesome experience. The students had a great sense of humor; I got to watch surgeries. It was a great experience. And it was very helpful later when I got sick (and knew how to do medical research).”

The liver disease, which had gone undiagnosed, made itself known and Diane eventually had to resign her position. After one and one-half years, the illness relented somewhat and Diane bounced between a couple of jobs before coming to Athens to visit a friend, who suggested checking the library for jobs. Calling on the music department on a Friday, the department head asked if she could begin work the next Monday.

“I have loved it all 25 years. It's been great,” she said. “That turned out to be a great story!”

It wasn't until 1993 that her liver disease was diagnosed and it was five years later when, minutes before leaving for the day, she received a call to get to Emory immediately for a transplant. The notice and activity that followed at the hospital didn't follow protocol, but it wasn't until after the transplant surgery that Diane learned the first recipient died during the operation, making it urgent that she get into surgery in short order.

It's “very unusual” for a transplant recipient to live for five years, especially without other devastating side effects such as the failure of other organs, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and cataracts. “Every year you make you can say it is a very, very big step. But, each year seems to get more difficult in some ways.”

As she gets ready to “pack up and start a new adventure,” Diane stopped to tell us about working at the UGA Libraries for a quarter-century. “I'm thankful for what I've had; I'm thankful for what I've been through; and I'm even more excited to see what's coming.”

 Job Responsibilities : “I assist music patrons, students, faculty and staff with music reference questions and the location of materials; I compile the bibliographic information for ordering music materials; I see if requests from faculty and students are available for ordering; and ‘other duties as assigned.'”

What's a typical day like? “Chaos. The fun part is the enjoyment of the staff. They have great humor. I've seen people come and go but regardless of who comes and goes, we've always had a great staff. That's the pleasure of it. I enjoy the combination of reference and research and I love working with students, I always have; it keeps your mind young.”

What's the most rewarding part of your job ? “The people. Just having contact with the (music) staff and the whole library. The library and individuals have come through and helped me when I needed support. The positive reinforcement I've always gotten from everyone here – it's more than just a working environment, its colleagues and families combined.”

What's the most challenging part of your job? “Answering music reference questions. You have to know the materials, know the library and know where to go. Ordering is a different, technical, type of challenge. You have to know how to order pieces of scores, such as vocal scores, full scores, or conductor scores, for example.”

If I weren't doing this job….. I look forward to having more free time, not to be idle, but to do things I consider productive. I can't perform any more, but I would like to become involved in a community choir or something. I love the outdoors; I love animals; I love to read; I'm active in my church. I would like to be more contributing to other people.”

Off-the-job interests : Music is her avocation, as well as her profession. “I was born for it,” she said. Her mother, an accomplished guitarist, steered her toward music and in the seventh grade she joined the band. Not wanting to play her assigned instrument, Diane asked the teacher what instrument he played. When he demonstrated his saxophone to her, he made it vibrato, a skill developed over years of practice. Young Diane hit the difficult notes the first time she put the horn to her lips.

“I could improvise before I could read music. I was playing in faculty jazz bands in the seventh grade. I was still learning to read music, but I was in the faculty band,” she said.

Favorite music : “Classical. I love listening to classical music and I love playing classical music. I love jazz, but I don't care for some of the modern jazz sounds.”

A book I'd recommend : “The Bible. Some people aren't going to believe I said that! The reason I do is in the Bible you can find so many things about life itself and, even without the religious belief, how it applies to you. It might make your life better; it may even help you with some life problem-solving. Caring for one another would make life better for individuals and countries. Love is better than hate.”

The person I admire most: My mother. She reared me by herself. She was a very strong person and extremely intelligent and she was way ahead of her time. She was a feminist but she didn't alienate people even when she was waking them up to certain causes. She taught me to stand up for my beliefs. She taught me strong discipline, which helped me when I was sick. She was a survivor and she taught me to be a survivor.”

The issue that concerns me most: “Oh man! I would have to say the way we treat each other and the way we treat the world we live in. How we as people don't always stand up for what we believe in. There is a lack of respect, a lack of compassion. We seem to be more self-centered than each other-centered. In politics, there is so much hate. We can get together for the Olympics, but sometimes I wonder whether we really want world peace. Prejudice – religious and non-religious – causes a lot of struggles in the world.”

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