Humans of Flagstaff: Hank Hassell

Hank Hassell standing in front of a picture of Glen Canyon in the Lost World exhibit

Hank Hassell taught music, psychology and physics before getting a scholarship to the University of Chicago’s master’s program in library science. It’s been almost 45 years, and he’s found his home in libraries. He talked to The NAU Review about his favorite part of his job and the “Lost World” exhibit he curated that isn’t quite what you think.

What brought you to NAU? 

There was a job opening at NAU for a reference librarian with a math/science background, and I, just out of library school and in a most unsatisfactory work situation, applied for the position. Interestingly, I was not the selection committee’s first choice. I was actually the third choice, but the first two turned them down. 

Hank Hassell, Cynthia Childrey and Peter Runge cut the cake at the opening of the Lost World exhibitWhy did you become a librarian? 

I taught math, music, psychology and physics in the public schools of Utah and, lastly, New Mexico for about eight years previous. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching, but the physical and emotional punishment occasioned by a lack of decent school discipline, inadequate administrative support and the punishing work schedule left me drained and ultimately broken. Library science provided me with an “out” in that it is exclusively a graduate degree, so I didn’t have to start over with an entirely new educational program. My math and science background fits very well with the librarianship curriculum; plus, the University of Chicago offered me a half-scholarship and a student job in the law library. Hence, I grabbed at the opportunity, and now, 44 years later, here I am. 

What is your favorite thing about your job? 

I love being around books and learning. I found that I have been able to use all of my academic training and my several avocations to good purpose in whatever situations at NAU in which I found myself, and so the work has been rewarding and gratifying. It is a “plus” that the University of Chicago gave me exceptional training in all facets of the library profession. 

Tell me about the experience of curating the “Lost World” exhibit. 

Having assisted Special Collections in doing accession work on a number of photographic and documentary collections related to the Four Corners region, I was aware of the quality content we had in the way of information concerning pre-dam Glen Canyon, almost certainly the best such collection available anywhere. It, therefore, became a dream of mine to put together a display showing the human history of Glen Canyon, its impressive archaeology and spectacular scenery. Once I persuaded the “powers that be” of my dedication and the wealth of resources available, it became a somewhat simple matter to put the exhibit together. Fortunately, Special Collections has an expert photography specialist, Jess Vogelsang, who was able to manufacture spectacular prints from 35-mm slides. 

What did you want to be when you grew up? 

When I got to be the age to “get serious” about a vocation, I thought I had the talent and the interest to be an astronomer. However, astronomy at theHank Hassell talks to a group of visitors at Cline Library time was a very niche academic offering and not available in Utah. I was never able to find a way to financially support my goal via an out-of-state university, so I ended up studying mathematics at the University of Utah instead. 

What have you been most proud of recently? 

Certainly, the Glen Canyon exhibit has to rank high on the list. I am also particularly proud of a Green River/Colorado River slide/lecture series I put together at the Cline Library this past summer. 

What is your favorite way to spend a day off? 

I seldom take days off for recreation or relaxation any longer. My two little girls and duties at home take precedence over all else. 

What are the three things on your bucket list? 

I had three main goals that I wanted to wrap up this year. First was to complete the river route Major Powell took down the Green and Colorado rivers in 1869. I finished that this past summer when I did Cataract Canyon. Second, I wanted to find a good, permanent home for my slide collection. This was accomplished when Special Collections agreed to take my collection, archive it and digitize a portion. Third, I wanted to put up a display of NAU-owned Glen Canyon photographs. That was accomplished in July of this past summer. Hence, my bucket list is now complete. It would be nice if I could find two violinists and a cellist to perform with me the entire Bach Art of Fugue in a concert. That seems a very remote possibility right now, however. 


NAU Communications