By Justin A. Smock
Nestled in the heart of Holman Library, one will find the second home of Mckendree’s very own Technical Services & Government Documents Librarian. Debbie Houk, a McKendree Alumni, has a passion for history that is a compendium in itself. With elephant trunks pointed to the east, Hello Kitty as the main decor, and a bowl of candy on stand-by, Houk invites all who are hungry and eager to learn about the rich history of the University and the surrounding areas.
Born and raised in Belleville Illinois, Houk is no stranger to our quiet corner of the world. During her summers, Houk found joy participating in seasonal programs at her local library. “I would go every year, we played library scavenger hunts and we learned the Dewey Decimal system”, Houk said with a smile on her face. When young Houk was not enthralled in a compelling novel, her time was spent in the classroom of her father at Belleville Area College, formerly known as SWIC. It was here that Houk truly began to unwrap her love of history; partnered with her love of reading.
Sitting at her father’s desk, behind his opened briefcase, Houk would listen to lectures pertaining to Native American and Illinois History. For fun, Houk would take the exams her father would be giving to his class. “I would take the test and I would actually do better than some of his students!” she boasted proudly. Her father’s lectures made a lasting impression. However, her dream job was to be a librarian. Houk spoke highly of a woman by the name of Jane Kramer, someone she met through her parent’s bookstore. Kramer mentored Houk into wanting a career that would encompass her passion to the fullest capacity.
While attending her first two years of undergrad at the Belleville Area College, Houk worked as a part-time librarian. Finishing up at BAC, Houk began a search for an institution to further her education. Given that her father had taught part-time at McKendree University, then McKendree College, Houk’s father felt that the small campus would be a good fit. Transferring to McKendree in 1989, Houk knew she would have to get a bachelor’s degree in something that would be able to partner with a master’s in Library Science in the future; of course, it was history.
Houk graduated from McKendree in 1991 with her bachelor’s degree in History. Wasting no time, Houk went straight into graduate school in 1992. Working thirty-two hours a week, Houk continued her passion in the field of Library Science, working in libraries between BAC and McKendree. In 1996, Debbie Houk landed her first job as a Technical Service Librarian for the Holman Library. It would be ten years after starting that Houk would find the perfect marriage of her two passions.
In 2010 Houk officially took on the role of operating the Universities Museum, Archives, and Special Collections. Preserving the history of Illinois’ first college and assisting students with government document needs, Debbie knew this was the right job. After twenty-two years, Houk is still a faithful employee of the University. With big changes to come for the future.
Houk has strong goals and ambitions for the place that she has not only called her place of work but undoubtedly calls her second home. Looking forward, Houk strongly supports the campaign for renovations to the Holman Library, which would mean major advancements to the museum, archives and special collections. A renovated library would include a state-of-the-art archival offices with countless glass cases, allowing the Universities history to be displayed throughout the building.
Debbie Houk is quite incredible. Following her passions, Houk was able to obtain the job of her dreams. Through her hard work and determination she was able to make her dreams a reality. With mentors like her father and Jane Kramer, Houk was able to put her foot forward and became something that she knew she could be. It goes without saying: Debbie Houk is nothing short of a McKendree success story and vigorously continues to show students that hard work does pay off and dreams really do come true.
Photo courtesy of Debbie Houk