Emory Report
December 5, 2005
Volume 58, Number 13


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December 5 , 2005
Ghost Story

BY eric rangus

Woody Woodworth is flesh, blood and bone, but on occasion he refers to himself as a ghost. Why?
“I feel like I’ve spent a good part of my life here at Emory,” said Woodworth, whose given name is Karl, although few on campus know him by it. “I’ve been here in many different roles—as a student, an employee and now as a parent. I feel like I’ve experienced Emory from many different sides, and there is a good piece of me that remains here.”

Since 1998, Woodworth has served as librarian at the Grady Hospital Branch Library, which is a part of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center Library. But his Emory professional career dates back to 1986 when Woodworth served as a programmer for the Computing Center (forerunner to the Information Technology Division, which is forerunner to Academic and Administration Information Technology). He was responsible for maintaining DOBIS, the University’s first online library catalog. EUCLID, the current library system, succeeded DOBIS, and Woodworth helped lead the team responsible for the transition.

“We average about 200 visitors a day, so I like to call us the busiest little library in Atlanta,” Woodworth said of the Grady Branch Library, located on the first floor of the Grady campus’ Glenn Building. The library serves not only Emory medical students and faculty but those of the Morehouse School of Medicine, as well as Grady staff.

“People down there are wonderful to work with,” he continued. “We support patient care because, while there are many prescribed procedures and therapies, there are also some other things that are not clearly known or controversial, so we help people find the literature in the medical journals that try and point the way to take better care of patients.”

As he mentioned, Woodworth’s connection to Emory doesn’t stop with his job. Two of his three sons are students here: Andy, the oldest, is in the Candler School of Theology; younger brother Michael is a senior in Emory College spending this semester abroad in Senegal. Youngest son Benjamin is a junior at Decatur High School. Woodworth’s father-in-law graduated from Candler. In fact, his wife’s family ties to Emory predate its move to the Atlanta campus.

Woodworth’s sons are following in their father’s footsteps; he graduated from Oxford in 1973, earned a B.S. degree in biology the following year, and in 1981 received a master’s of librarianship from Emory’s now-defunct School of Library and Information Management. Even though Woodworth worked for six years in the private sector, deep down he knew he wouldn’t stay away from Emory too long.

“After I got my library degree was really the time when I felt Emory was going to be one of the stopping places in my career,” Woodworth said.

“ I didn’t realize I would stay or what role I would play. I began on the computer side of librarianship, but I expected eventually to have a more traditional library post. But there is enough going on here that one can make a career out of just working at Emory.”

And Woodworth does his part to be an engaged employee. He is in the middle of his second year on the Employee Council and serves as its historian.

The council takes the past seriously. Previous council historian Cheryl Sroka compiled an in-depth chronicle of the council’s 30-plus-year history (Woodworth lugs the several-inches-thick binder to every council meeting), and Woodworth’s job is to augment it with further vignettes from the council’s past.

Woodworth does much of his research in Woodruff’s Manuscript and Rare Books Library (MARBL)—as a librarian himself, the job hardly qualifies as a chore. “It’s pretty easy to lose three hours up there,” he said. The research gives him a fresh outlook on his own past experiences on campus.

“As a student I didn’t feel really connected to a lot of the historical things that were happening at the time,” said Woodworth, noting that the council came into being just before he matriculated at the Atlanta campus. “I begin to feel like a ghost again. I’m someone who was here during these times, and now I’m looking at the history again.”

And history, he has found, keeps repeating itself. Paging through council notes from decades past, Woodworth has found that some issues (such as parking and benefits) have been concerns of Emory staff at least since the time he was a student.

Woodworth’s knowledge of the University’s history gives him an interesting perspective on its present and a strong desire to help plan its future. That’s one of the reasons he volunteered to co-chair the council’s strategic plan steering group.

Planning efforts are concentrated in four working groups—leadership, community and work/life balance, benefits and compensation, and internal career advancement and training—that emerged in late 2004 from conversations encouraged by Provost Earl Lewis.

At the time, strategic planning in each of Emory’s schools was well under way. The council took up the challenge to apply those efforts to staff employees. Then-council President Susie Lackey convened a small working group to address “what should the University do to attract, develop and retain excellent staff,” Woodworth said.

The final product, the “Strategic Plan for Staff Excellence,” was submitted to Lewis just before the new year (Woodworth wrote the plan’s narrative, tying together the ideas of each of the planners), and an impressed administration encouraged the council to move forward.

“The council is an advising body,” Woodworth said. “We aren’t empowered to act. We need to use moral authority and create partnerships to make things happen. With the strategic planning process, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but we also don’t want to move so slowly that we lose steam.”

Losing steam doesn’t look like a concern. Each working group is fully staffed (with four or five members), and those volunteers are compiling “people maps” to identify others on campus who are “owners” of the various themes sketched out in the plan. (For example, who might one talk with about work/life balance?)

“We are trying to figure out who the people are first,” Woodworth said. “From there, it will be a fairly easy process to make contact with those folks, share the plan with them and get their ideas about how we can move forward together.”

This partnership theme sprang from an Oct. 27 meeting Woodworth and current council President Louis Burton had with Mike Mandl, executive vice president for finance and administration. Meetings with top administrators like Lewis and Mandl show how much the University’s leadership has jumped on board with the council’s plans to transform Emory into a “destination employer.”

Woodworth’s work, family and history are only a few aspects of his persona. Perhaps the most prominent one—as well as the one he has to explain most often—is his name.

While nicknames are hardly uncommon at Emory, few are as ingrained as Woodworth’s. His e-mail address, for example, starts with a “w” (for “Woody”) instead of the customary “k.” He is known professionally on campus as Karl (Woody) Woodworth—with parentheses rather than quotation marks. It’s a moniker that owes its origin to his pre-Emory days.

“I was in the Navy for four years,” Woodworth said. He graduated from communications school in 1969. “Everyone with a name beginning with ‘wood’ was ‘Woody,’” he continued. “All Polish people were ‘Ski,’ and all Smiths were ‘Smitty.’” And one part of the ghost story is solved.