Alberta Comer Named Dean, Indiana State University Library
By Jennifer Sicking
Condensed by Native Village

Indiana:  Alberta Comer was recently named the Dean of the Cunnigham Memorial Library at Indiana State University.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be dean," she said.

Libraries weren't part of Alberta's world when she grew up in eastern Oklahoma. Her parents were Cherokee and Choctaw farmers, and they lived in a remote area. "It's very rural and extremely poor, I mean extremely poor," she said. "There were no local libraries."

Instead, a mobile library rolled into a nearby community once a month. Alberta and her dad traveled 30 minutes across the reddish dirt roads to visit the bookmobile. Inside, Comer entered a new world.

"I can remember going into that bookmobile, smelling those books, you know that smell you get in libraries, the feel of books, the look of the books, and just being overwhelmed every time I walked into it," she said. "Every time I walked into it, it was a new experience. I would think, 'I just can't believe how lucky I am to do this.'"

Alberta's was an only child. The books became almost like companions that educated and entertained her.

"We had no TV. We had no telephone. We had no indoor bathroom," she said. "Growing up in a very, very poor area and my parents being farmers, my only way out was through books."

Comer first worked in a library when her English teacher established a small one for the school. Alberta cataloged the books and helped with the organizing.

" I just found it fascinating," she said. "The world of books and that organization of knowledge fascinated me since I was a child going into the bookmobile."

Since then Comer has worked in many types of libraries and almost every department within a library. She's earned degrees in general studies and library science. Now after six years at Indiana State, Alberta will not only oversee research materials, but also literature and media that provide relaxation and enjoyment.

"We have a large number of people come in and use the library," she said. "That's a trend you don't see at other libraries. A lot of people tend to use them at a distance. We've tried to make the library like our motto says - the campus living room."

That relaxed atmosphere includes a coffee shop near the entrance and overstuffed chairs throughout the building. The first floor also features an activity area for campus groups to hold programs.

"I personally think it's good for students to be with each other, not to be alone in their rooms but to get out and socialize and do their academic research," Comer said. "Students often grow up having the TV on in the background and brothers or sisters talking and that's what they feel comfortable with. Then those who want it very quiet have other floors."

As dedicated as Comer is to books, she is also passionate about running. When Alberta was born, she had many leg problems, and doctors told her parents she would never walk.  They wanted to try experimental treatment, but her parents said no. Instead, she wore braces on her legs.

Comer took up running five years ago to strengthen her bones. In the beginning, she could barely run a block. Now she runs 10 to 13 miles on the treadmill four days a week. Her focus and dedication are evident -- she trains and runs regardless of outside conditions or physical health.

"I take great joy in the fact that I can walk and run, especially since my parents were told that I couldn't," she said.

During an Alaskan vacation, Comer ran mile after mile on rural roads as she trained for a mini-marathon. Her husband, John, drove slowly alongside her.

"My husband's driving really slowly along the road so just in case there are any bears I can jump in the car. It started sleeting so I'm running in the sleet and rain going uphill," she said with a laugh about her hardest run.

Comer also had a broken rib as she kept her stride on the road. In the warm car, her husband shook his head.

When she returned home, Comer still had the broken rib and had caught pneumonia. The mini-marathon was coming soon, and she was worried. "I had trained for a year," she said. "I asked my doctor 'Am I going to hurt myself or am I going to cause further damage?' He said no."

She ran and beat her previous year's time by a mile a minute.

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