Alumnus celebrates love of libraries with gift to Wayne State

Alumnus celebrates love of libraries with gift to Wayne State
Mel Rosenberg (right) with his niece, Anita, and her husband Mel. In his retirement, Rosenberg has enjoyed singing, traveling and spending time with family.

Mel Rosenberg, B.A. ’47, first fell in love with libraries at Wayne State University. “I just couldn’t believe what was on the shelves,” he said. From classics to avant garde texts, and even the record collection, Rosenberg said Wayne State’s library was unbelievably well stocked.

The university library quickly became Rosenberg’s favorite place to hang out on campus. He explored the bookshelves and became interested in modernism. He paged through an issue of the Communist Party magazine with fascination—and promptly decided communism was not for him. He discovered a great publishing house and was inspired to buy a book for the first time. Rosenberg also loved spending time at the nearby Detroit Public Library, particularly in its poetry room.

“I wanted to know everything”
Born and raised in Detroit, Rosenberg said he was always a curious child. “I wanted to know everything,” he recalled. He reported for the draft when he turned 18, eager to serve in World War II. However, he was disqualified from enlisting because of his poor eyesight. Rosenberg decided to continue his education and enrolled at Wayne State with a major in English. “I loved Wayne from the beginning,” he said.

Rosenberg thought his humanities professors were great, as were many of the guest lecturers who came to the university. He added minors in humanities and the social sciences to his degree. When the war ended in 1945, Rosenberg enjoyed Wayne State even more because he was no longer one of the few men on campus. Enrollment surged when young veterans returned home.

Composition was always Rosenberg’s strength, and he attended a summer writing workshop in Utah as a student. He met some Californians at the workshop and was inspired to move there after graduation. He had always wanted to live on a coast. “I decided at an early age I did not want to spend my life in the middle of the country,” Rosenberg said. So he received his Wayne State diploma and left Detroit for southern California.

Rosenberg spent his first year in California writing and submitting his work to magazines. He wrote a series of verse plays, and one was accepted by a magazine titled Portfolio. The magazine pushed back its publication date for the piece multiple times and later went out of business. An editor returned Rosenberg’s manuscript to him 20 years later.

Having grown tired of the starving artist lifestyle, Rosenberg found a job in a nursing home. He then attended graduate school at Indiana University’s School of Letters and earned a master’s degree. He enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Minnesota, where he studied with U.S. Poet Laureate Allen Tate. Rosenberg enjoyed the program but decided to leave and pursue his passion for public service.

Discovering a career in libraries
Despite his love for writing and libraries, Rosenberg hadn’t considered working as a librarian until a friend introduced him to the career. Rosenberg joined the Los Angeles Public Library in 1965, and it was a perfect fit. He continued to work for the library system in various positions until his retirement 25 years later.

After several years working as an entry librarian, Rosenberg was asked to take over a struggling library branch in Venice, California. He took the assignment hoping he would earn a promotion. “I wanted to be a principal librarian like nobody’s business,” he said. He got his wish and was promoted to coordinator of young adult literature in 1971.

Rosenberg quickly became a star in his field. He got to meet famous authors. He was wined and dined by publishers in New York City. He traveled to American Library Association meetings twice a year (after 45 years as a member, Rosenberg said he no longer has to pay dues). Then, toward the end of his career, the Los Angeles Public Library closed its young adult department due to budget cuts. Rosenberg became head of the art, music and recreation department. He loved it, but he was disappointed about the young adult closure. “Children need libraries. Children need books,” he said.

In today’s technology-driven world, Rosenberg worries about the role of libraries but thinks they will survive. He believes strongly in the value of a liberal arts education, like the one he received at Wayne State. “What I learned at Wayne State is what every student should learn—that education never stops. You have to keep educating yourself,” Rosenberg said. “It is one of the joys of my life. I don’t want to miss out on anything.”

As one might expect, Rosenberg’s love of learning and service has not faded in retirement. He volunteered for 16 years as an ombudsman for nursing homes in California, which earned him a commendation from the White House. He continues to write articles for the library guild’s magazine, The Communicator.

“Wayne State was a great school. I’m so glad I went there.”
To ensure future students receive the same comprehensive education he did, Rosenberg has made a significant estate gift to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Wayne State University. His generosity earned him membership in the Anthony Wayne Society, where he joins Wayne State’s most dedicated alumni and friends. “Wayne State was a great school. I’m so glad I went there,” he said. The next student to fall in love with the university’s libraries will be glad such a generous man went to Wayne State too.

Posted November 21, 2013

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