Librarian, marine biologist finds niche at Hopkins

L.A. Cicero Wible

Joe Wible holds a doctorate in marine biology from the University of Southern California, and he has served as a field assistant for various studies around the world. He is chief of the Hopkins Marine Station library.

Barbara Butler Joe Wible

Joe Wible, the head librarian and bibliographer at Hopkins Marine Station, smiles before a dive at the Great Barrier Reef. He said he uses vacation for many of his dive trips, during which he often doubles as a semi-active scientist.

Joe Wible has worked in libraries for more than 30 years and logged more than 1,000 dives in his life, making him perfectly suited for his job as head librarian and bibliographer at Hopkins Marine Station—this, despite a salvaged sign he keeps in his office window: "No wet suits in the library!!"

Wible's considerable experience in and out of the water makes him a valuable resource for the Pacific Grove research center and its fledgling marine biologists. While he can log on to the network and nimbly hunt down an obscure journal in a matter of seconds, he also has been known to log another dive and collect specimens for a student.

"I do actually sometimes collect for people when I'm in Southern California and they need organisms that are down there," said Wible, who is a member of the International Association of Aquatic and Marine Science Libraries and Information Centers. "When I go on these dive trips, I actually use vacation. They don't pay me, but like I said, I get to dive in wonderful locations—and sometimes, in areas where other divers are not allowed to dive."

Wible holds a doctorate in marine biology from the University of Southern California, and he has served as a field assistant for various studies around the world. Interacting with scientists and other peers keeps his contacts and his own knowledge base fresh.

"He's one of the few librarians who's also a semi-active scientist," said Michael "Moose" O'Donnell, a graduate student at Hopkins since 1999. "He really does understand our research."

O'Donnell is a doctoral candidate and expects to finish his research this summer on how waves affect marine life in inter-tidal zones. He recalls occasions when he failed to locate journal articles online that Wible would track down in an instant—using exactly the same search terms.

"He's an amazing resource," O'Donnell said. "He will look for books specifically for students, buy it for the library and put it on the student's desk when it arrives."

In 2002, Wible won a Graduate Service Recognition Award for his contributions to enhancing graduate student life and fostering a sense of community among the university's graduate students. At the time, George Somero, the David and Lucile Packard Professor in Marine Science and director of Hopkins Marine Station, praised Wible for helping the field station operations run smoothly and for taking on a wide array of tasks. Wible also serves as assistant to Somero.

Wible has been the chief of the Hopkins library since 1993, taking over for the center's outgoing head librarian, Alan Baldridge. Wible had come down a few years earlier—shortly before the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake—to help his predecessor move the collection from its former home in an old boat-repair shop across the property to what is now the Harold A. Miller Library. The library's current collection includes some 44,000 volumes, with the first scientific student paper dating back to 1947.

Before coming to Hopkins, Wible was head librarian and bibliographer for the Falconer Biology Library. He started there in 1987, at the time also serving as acting head librarian until 1989 for the Swain Library of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. From 1982 to 1987, he worked on information systems and computer equipment at Lane Medical Library, where he assisted doctors, researchers and students.

Prior to Stanford, Wible worked for two years as a reference librarian at the Beverly Hills Public Library. In the late seventies, he was a librarian at the Catalina Marine Science Center on Santa Catalina Island, where he also belonged to an on-call crew of operators for a hyperbaric chamber that was used for research on marine mammals and dive accidents.

At Hopkins, another feature he helped secure was the new library's expanded online capabilities. Before he accepted the position, he successfully lobbied for the library to have a conduit that would allow the facility to fully interact with the university's network. Originally, the library's access would have been through a dial-up modem.

Wible now maintains the websites for the field station and its library. Several times a week, he adds titles to the library's list of electronic journals. Keeping him abreast of even the most obscure studies, a steady stream of mailers about new journals comes across his desk. Students tend to "overuse him because he is so efficient," O'Donnell said.

The first year Wible was at Hopkins, he fielded requests from students for 1,500 articles that weren't in the collection. In 2004, he received 318 requests. Electronic access has changed his job?just as it has for librarians in general—by making it easier for students to find what they need online, without the help of library staff.

On one hand, the trend makes Wible's job easier as well. As the library's budget planner, he must decide which journal subscriptions to cut that won't adversely impact faculty. On the other hand, he also negotiates license agreements for other journals and oversees expenses for everything from landscaping around the building to the furniture and display cases inside that contain historical artifacts.

Wible became a certified medical librarian in 1975 and earned his master's of librarianship degree at Emory University in Atlanta. The year before, he had earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Georgia State University, where he served as a library intern. His first library job was in high school shelving books at a library where his sister also worked. He remained there all through college and library school—his back-up plan after not getting into graduate school to study marine biology on the first try. He eventually went on to earn his Ph.D. at the University of Southern California in 1984.

Wible has two part-time assistants at the library, and as assistant to the director of Hopkins Marine Station, he deals with the press, coordinates tours of the field station, plans special events and helps out with fundraising. Currently, he is writing to prospective donors in hopes of creating an endowment for his position.

He hasn't discussed retiring anytime soon. But when he does, whether he's in Monterey or Palau, the seasoned scuba diver will most certainly still have the ocean itself to fall back on.

"It's a whole different world," Wible said of being underwater. "It's relaxing, and just to think that all this life is going on and most people don't even realize it's there."