Degree: Master of Library Science, 1983
Career: Library Director, National Baseball Hall of Fame
Best part of his job: Helping people get answers to their questions.
Sometimes dreams come true. Or, at least, dream jobs do.
Jim Gates was perfectly happy in Gainesville, Fla., where he had tenure as the Director of Technical Services for the University of Florida Law Library. It was the summer of 1995, and Gates had slowly worked his way up the ladder at law libraries since graduating from IU 12 years earlier with a Master in Library Science. There was a stop at Notre Dame, where he received a Master’s in Government and International Studies in 1981. In 1986, he moved on to become Head of Technical Services at the Boston University Law Library. It was June of 1990 when he took over at the Florida Law Library, and Gates was comfortable in his position.
Then he got a phone call from an old friend that would change his life.
“Hey Jim,” the voice on the line said. “Your dream job is available.”
Back in the 1970s, back in the days when Gates was at Notre Dame pursuing his Master’s, he had made a joke to one of his colleagues that the perfect job for him would be as library director for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Now, a decade and a half later, that dream had the chance of becoming a reality.
“He told me the job was open, so I tracked down the advertisement, I sent in an application, and I was lucky enough to be given an interview,” Gates says. “I was even luckier to receive an offer for the job.”
Gates accepted that offer, and he has spent the past 20 years as the Library Director for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Born in Maryland, Gates was a lifelong baseball fan, especially for the Baltimore Orioles. Although his family moved around a lot when he was young—his father was in the Navy—Gates stuck with the home-state team.
Brooks Robinson was his favorite player, and the 1970 World Series was a showcase for Robinson’s skills with the leather, solidifying Gates’ love for the team.
Gates never imagined that he would someday meet the man he cheered as a kid, let alone someday call him a friend. Then again, Gates’ days are filled with unexpected thrills. As part of his job, he helps solicit donations of artifacts—what most people would describe as memorabilia—for the Hall of Fame’s collection.
“Early on through a bequest in a will, we acquired the Mills Commission papers,” Gates says. “Those were thought to have been lost in a fire 80 years ago. The Mills Commission is the group that determined that baseball had been invented in Cooperstown. We recently had a gentleman donate a program and a ticket from the 1965 perfect game thrown by Sandy Koufax. He was 10 years old at the time, and it was a children’s ticket. He had scored the game on the program, which was a wonderful thing to acquire.”
Gates says although the job may seem glamourous to outsiders, the bottom line is his work isn’t really unique.
“It’s everything you do at every other library, except the topic is baseball,” Gates says. “When the phone rings here, it could be a third-grader with a homework project. It could be a Ph.D. candidate working on a dissertation. It could be any member of the print or broadcast journalism world. If the President of the United States is going to use baseball in his speech, the speech writing staff will contact us to confirm the information.
It could also be someone with a $20 bet riding on the question. A lot of times it’s a family member who discovered that Great Uncle Phil played minor-league baseball for the Cubs in Iowa in the 1930s and wants to know if we have anything. Quite often, we do.”
Earning his master’s from IU helped make it all possible. His work in the then-School of Library and Information Science—now called the Department of Information and Library Science at the School of Informatics and Computing—gave him the credentials to build a serious career in librarianship, and he encourages young people to pursue an MLS thanks to its utility.
“What I always like students to understand is that the MLS degree is among the most transportable degrees ever created,” Gates says. “There are libraries in every nook and cranny of American culture and geography and society. If you have that degree, you can find work. You may not get rich, but you can find work just about any place you go.”