Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

University Librarian John Popko Enters New Chapter


    John Popko’s office is tucked away like a book perched on the top shelf of the stack, hidden from everyday view—the kind of book only librarians know how to find. It’s on the sixth floor of the Lemieux Library, or what the University Librarian describes as the “jewel of the crown.”

    John Popko
    John Popko

    Photo via Seattle University

    Come July, Popko will descend the spiral staircase of his encyclopedic fortress and end his 22 years as University Librarian.

    Popko spent the first half of his career as Serials Librarian and then Head of Cataloguing at University
    of Missouri.

    “I was getting tired of the carpet in the library,” Popko said, joking about his reason for leaving.
    In 1994, he transitioned to Seattle U.

    During his 22 years of leadership, Popko was an instrumental player in Lemieux Library’s renovations. He says that he was a “co-project-manager” of sorts.

    The planning stage of the ten-year renovation process began in 2000. In 2010, Popko was able to see his vision fully realized.

    “I think the most accurate term is probably exhilaration,” Popko said of the first time he saw the completed renovations. “It was an extremely exciting, collaborative experience for me.”

    The renovations were not limited to new carpet and paint; the entire building was gutted. At the end of the ten-year process, Lemieux became the library that it is today.

    “What I take away is this long, historical process of evolution and becoming. And I really appreciate the opportunity to have been a part of that,” Popko said.

    As the University Librarian, Popko serves on the Dean’s Council, working closely with Provost Isiaah Crawford.
    “He’s got a great attention to detail, he’s got a wry sense of humor, he makes me laugh, and we just really enjoy working with one another,” Crawford said.

    The two have worked together for the past eight years.

    “I think he’s a gentle soul—he treats everyone with great respect and care. And I think he’s a patient man as well,” Crawford said.

    When Popko was a child, he dreamed of being several things, including a detective, a forest ranger and an archaeologist.

    “Now more recently, I’ve wanted to be a weatherman on TV,” Popko said with laughter.

    Lynn Deeken is the Director of Public Services and Coordinator of the Learning Commons. She spoke of Popko’s attention to detail and his ability to analyze critical situations. Deeken recalled when Popko interviewed her in 2008.

    “He asks such great questions. Like, really good! And hard, on your feet, not just the standard ‘tell me about yourself’ or ‘answer this scenario’ question, or whatever those things can be,” Deeken said. “It’s a memorable hour, and I still remember some of the questions he asked me.”

    As for Popko’s legacy: “Clearly, a strong commitment to excellence,” Crawford said.

    Stepping down from his leadership position after two decades makes Popko feel an array of emotions.

    “It’s an interesting combination of anticipation for my future, but a kind of melancholy over leaving this place,” Popko said.

    In July, Popko will embark on his next adventure: he and his wife are moving to Corrales, New Mexico, a village on the northwest tip of Albuquerque.

    “There’s lots of places in New Mexico that are sublime and sacred and mysterious and it’ll be a ball to take the train up to Santa Fe for Indian Market or Spanish Market. It’ll be nice to drive up to Taos, explore parts of New Mexico that we haven’t seen yet,” Popko said.

    As for the next steps in the process, “I’m going to take a deep breath. I’m going to take another deep breath. Believe it or not, I actually hope I have time to read,” Popko said.

    Popko intends to finally read the magazines he’s been subscribing to for years, including The Economist, The New Yorker, and The New York Review of Books. He’s also excited to read author V.S. Naipaul.

    “He [Naipaul] made this comment somewhere in there that most great literature can’t be appreciated when you’re young. That, we make a mistake if we expect high school sophomores to keep up with and understand “Crime and Punishment,” or even lesser works than that,” Popko said. “I’m looking to go back to reading some things that I’ve read in the past that I might not have appreciated.”

    Popko is also itching to dig into his collection of several hundred baseball books.

    “Somewhere between baseball and Shakespeare, I’ll find my reading groove.”

    The university plans to form a committee and hire a firm to assist in the search for Popko’s successor. A celebration of Popko’s retirement will be held on Thursday, June 2 from 3:30-5 p.m. in the Lemieux Library Faculty Lounge.

    Tess may be reached at
    [email protected]

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