From Raging with Rockstars to Running USF’S Rare Book Room

Before being in USF’s library swimming in a sea of 17,000 volumes of special collections-like family letters, manuscripts, diaries, and first editions -John Hawk was following rockstars’ limousines, going to concerts, spending his time at the record store, and being an active member of the Ten Club (Pearl Jam’s fan club).



“I remember seeing the Grateful Dead up close a few times, watching Jerry Garcia strum on his guitar. I have a lot of memories of concerts because I love them”, said USF’s Head Librarian of Special Collections and University Archives, John Hawk, age 49.


I had the privilege to sit with the librarian and listen to his musical past for an hour, in the quiet glass enclosure of the Rare Book Room (located on the third floor of the library), surrounded by rows of glass cases of antique books, from writers like Shakespeare and Charles Darwin, while the tall trees danced right outside the large glass windows.


“Side story, but I collected autographs in high school. I had a system to get them”, Hawk leaned in laughing.


In high school, Hawk would wait by rockstars’ hotels, then follow their limousines on his bike when they left the hotels to get their autographs.


“Freddie Mercury, Jerry Garcia, The Who, Aerosmith… I got all of their autographs.” Hawk smiled leaning back in his chair crossing his arms.


Hawk is a huge music fan; some of his favorite musicians include The Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam, The Who, The Grateful Dead, Nirvana, Queen, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.


“Most people were into videogames, Pokémon, sports, movies, or whatever they were into, but I was into music and concerts growing up”, Hawk smiled.


Hawk frequented concerts in the seventies and eighties. When asked how many concerts he thinks he attended, he laughed and crossed his legs and admitted he has been to several dozen concerts.


“I had a paper route growing up to pay for concerts. Concerts used to be ten bucks back then, only two bucks more than a record”, Hawk said.


He has seen The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Pearl Jam, and many others. He even told me he’s been to San Francisco’s Outside Lands a few times to see Pearl Jam and Paul McCartney.


Since most of Hawk’s concerts he attended were in the seventies and eighties, I decided to ask him what it felt like going to concerts in today’s era now that he is older.


“It’s crowded, people are screaming in your ear, and it’s a bit expensive but it’s all about the music for me. It’s a fun experience. I love bouncing around to the different stages”, Hawk explained.


Hawk also loves Outside Lands because it is his connection to today’s music. It has got him interested in bands like Beck, The Black Keys, and Foo Fighters.


He even said he would love to go to Coachella one year in the future.




But, when Hawk began his career and a family after getting his M.L.I.S. and M.A. in history from Berkeley, his concert adventures began to dwindle.


Hawk joined the USF community in 1993 after leaving Portland, Oregon where he grew up.


He’s always known he’s wanted to work in a library, and, that’s what he’s been doing since the nineties.


Some consider working in a library quiet and boring, but Hawk loves his job.


“That’s okay if they consider it boring. I really do love my job. Once researchers came in looking for a family letter for someone… The library is an important place. In the seventies and eighties, it was a conservative thing, but now it’s an exciting period to be a librarian”, Hawk smiled.


Hawk commutes to USF’s library, from his family’s place in the Richmond neighborhood, by walking while music fills his ears.


He, his wife, and his two daughters split their time between their home in Portland and their place in San Francisco.


In his free time, he still loves listening to music and going to record stores.


However, with the cost of living in San Francisco Hawk said he has made concerts and other forms of entertainment just a special treat.


Hawk also admitted to being afraid of earthquakes.


“When I hear something loud or a creak, I think something is happening. Earthquakes give me an unsettling feeling. It feels like a giant shaking the house. It’s unearthly”, Hawk said sitting up straight in his chair.


In his decades in California, Hawk has never experienced any large earthquakes, just small ones.


Besides the possibility of earthquakes in The Golden State, Hawk loves the state of California and the city of San Francisco.


He especially loves USF and its library and has goals for the Rare Book Room.


He says the Donahue Rare Book Room used to be invisible.


“There used to be a large concrete wall with a heavy dark door and a tiny little window. Now it’s more open”, Hawk laughed.


Now the Rare Book Room is more open after being renovated in 2013, and now his goal is to make the collections more available and visible.


He hopes to digitize more of the special manuscripts so students can have access to them from their computers.


“They’re hidden collections to the students if they’re not online”, Hawk said.


Besides just creating access for students, Hawk simply enjoys preserving and protecting the manuscripts for future generations.



He says the best thing about his job is preserving and protecting the manuscripts for future generations.


“It’s not about now and today. Well, it is but it’s bigger than that. It’s doing something for the future”, Hawk said assertively.



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