Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Bonnie Brown: Q&A with Julia Rholes

The latest interview in the Ole Miss Retirees features Julia Rholes, former Dean of the Libraries at Ole Miss. The organization’s mission is to enable all of the university’s faculty and staff retirees to maintain and promote a close association with the university. It is the goal of the Ole Miss Faculty/Staff Retirees Association to maintain communication by providing opportunities to attend and participate in events and presentations.

Julia Rholes found her spot here in Mississippi after several stops along the way at other institutions.  She considers serving as Dean of the Libraries at Ole Miss to be the highlight of her distinguished career.  Rholes chose to return to her native Texas in retirement.

Brown:  Where were you born?  Where did you grow up?  Tell us what was special about that place.  

Rholes:  I was born and raised in Houston, Texas. Houston was much smaller when I was young, and it was a pleasant place to grow up. I lived in an older, central neighborhood where one could easily walk or take buses to most things.

Brown:  Please talk about your parents and any siblings.  

Rholes:  I grew up in a family of six: my parents Mac and Liz McCarthy, older sister Kathy and two younger brothers, Terry and Tim. My parents moved from Washington DC to Texas shortly before I was born. My dad was from Massachusetts and my mother was from Kansas, but both were in DC during part of WWII. My dad was in the navy for a number of years.  They chose Houston as my father thought it had great potential for growth. He started a small blueprinting business in Houston.

Brown:  Tell us about your childhood.  What’s your earliest memory?

Rholes:  I believe I was about 3 when I had my first memory which was my first pet, a kitten. I was thrilled to have that kitten. Many pets have followed over the years. Big part of my childhood and life. I also loved books and learned to read at an early age. I was also introduced to libraries at an early age—a great discovery! I also spent considerable time outside playing.

Brown:  What was your high school experience like?  Were you a good student?  What was your favorite subject?

Rholes:  I liked school and was a strong student. I did well in all subjects but probably enjoyed history and art the most.  When it was college time, I received a large scholarship from the insurance company where my mother worked.  That allowed me some freedom in choosing a college.

Brown:  You attended Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts for your B.A. degree in biology, then you received your M. A. degree in Zoology from the University of Texas at Austin, then on to Rutgers where you got your MLS in Library Science.  Tell us about these college experiences and why you chose each university.  

Rholes:  I chose Mount Holyoke, one of the oldest and best women’s colleges.  I chose that for several reasons. My dad was originally from Massachusetts where Holyoke is located.  Holyoke is especially strong in the sciences and that is what I intended to major in.  And finally, my high school counselor was a graduate and I thought very highly of her as she gave me wise advice in my high school years. 

I chose University of Texas at Austin for graduate schools as it has an excellent reputation in the sciences and is located in Austin, my favorite city in Texas. My choice of Rutgers for my MLS really had to do with my first professional position as an Information Scientist at American Cyanamid.  They hired me for my strong science background but also wanted me to have knowledge of library science.  They asked me to take some courses in the evenings and they offered to pay my tuition.  Rutgers is about an hour from Princeton, New Jersey where Cyanamid is located.  I did complete my MLS while working full-time for Cyanamid.  

Brown:  Who influenced your career choice?  

Rholes:  The greatest influence on my education was my father. Due to financial circumstances, he was not able to attend college but really wanted it for me.  He really believed in education for women.

Brown:  Tell us how/when your Ole Miss “story” began?   Talk about the interview (who you met with, your impressions of campus, etc.).  

Rholes:  My story begins with my job interview in January 2003.  The night I arrived, an ice storm hit Oxford, which complicated the interview somewhat, but I was still able to meet with many library faculty & staff, teaching faculty, Friends of the Library members and University administrators, including Provost Carolyn Staton and Vice-Chancellor Gloria Kellum. I was impressed with those I met with and how friendly everyone was. I was especially impressed with the number of women in senior positions! 

Brown:  What did you know about Ole Miss before you accepted a position here?  

Rholes:  Obviously, I knew it was a major university and a sports power, but I didn’t know much else. Being a librarian for many years, I did a fair amount of research after I learned about the position and interviewed. I learned a great deal more after coming here and meeting so many people. The University and the town of Oxford have a fascinating history. 

Brown:  What were your responsibilities as Dean of UM Libraries?  

Rholes:  As Dean, you are responsible for providing direction, planning and oversight for the many different areas of the Library. While many think of libraries mostly in terms of their collections, academic libraries offer a wide variety of services as well. There is a growing emphasis on the digital collections now and new support and services that are needed for the digital collections. Library faculty and staff have a wide variety of skills and responsibilities. They are highly trained professionals.    

Brown:  How long did you work at Ole Miss?

Rholes:  I worked at Ole Miss for 12 years.  I’m proud to say that during my tenure, there were many projects that took place, including renovation to several areas in the library to create common areas, the website was improved, and there was expansion of public services.  There were also additions to this critical research collection and digital humanities collections along with the digitization of many critical archival and accountancy collections.  

Brown:  Describe your most memorable days at work.  

Rholes: A memorable and unusual day was when the Library hosted the memorial service for Dr. Chuck Noyes in the fall of 2008 on the third floor of the Library just outside the newly dedicated Noyes Reading Room. Dr. Noyes was a much-loved retired English professor and University Administrator. He also had served for many years as the Membership Chair of the Friends of the Library. He was devoted to the Library and to raising funds for collections. He was also a delightful, witty man who wrote wonderful notes to so many, especially Friends of the Library. The service was a wonderful gathering of people who cared about Dr. Noyes and the Library. 

  The late Chuck Noyes (right) and his close friend and colleague, John Pilkington, senior professor of American literature, examine documents in the Archives and Special Collections department of the J.D. Williams Library. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Brown:  What do you consider to be the highlight of your career?  

Rholes:  Serving as Dean of the Libraries at Ole Miss was the highlight!

Brown:  What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

Rholes:  While I don’t have a particular one in mind, I was so pleased that library use increased a great deal while I was dean.   

Brown:  If there was something in your past you were able to go back and do differently, what would that be?  

Rholes:  I would travel more. I definitely would have tried to travel more when my sons were young. 

Brown:  What habit do you have now that you wish you started much earlier in life?

Rholes:  Consider YouTube when you don’t know how to do something. They seem to offer videos on everything! 

Brown:  Tell us about your sons, where they are and what they are doing.

Rholes:  My older son, Ted, lives in Austin and works for Emergency medical company in the budget area. My younger son, Eric, lives in Kansas City, Missouri and works for United Healthcare and coordinates medical services for veterans.

   Julia’s sons, Eric and Ted Rholes. Photo provided

Brown:  What is the best advice you ever received?

Rholes:  Be yourself and be kind.

Brown:  What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Rholes:  Take chances. You will sometimes fail but you will learn from your mistakes.

Brown:  What one question can you ask someone to find out the most about them?

Rholes:  What brings you happiness in your life?

Brown:  What life skills are rarely taught but extremely useful? 

Rholes:  I think they need to teach cooking & nutrition to all students as part of the school curriculum. The pandemic probably put a spotlight on this need. 

Brown:  Given the recent pandemic and need for homeschooling and virtual classes at colleges and universities, what are your thoughts about on-line education?

Rholes:  Online has been around for quite a while now, especially at the college level. When done well, it can work well in many subjects and for many students. It does require that the student have access to the internet and a computer. Internet access varies greatly across this country and is now a basic part of infrastructure. 

Brown:  If money were no object, where would you like to go on vacation?

Rholes:  Australia, New Zealand, and East Asia. Haven’t been there.

Brown:  Tell us something about yourself that not many people may know.  

Rholes:  Heights bother me.

Brown:  What “old person” thing(s) do you do?

Rholes:  I still send birthday cards.

Brown:  What gives you great joy?  

Rholes:  My sons.

Brown:  What do you do to relax?

Rholes:  I read, watch lots of international television, enjoy nature and talk to friends and family.  

Brown:  What has become your routine since you retired?  Do you have hobbies?

Rholes: I walk my young dog Hopper and take him to the dog park; I read books and follow the news. During this pandemic, I’ve cooked more than ever before! 

Hopper – Dachshund mix rescue

Brown:  To quote Katherine Meadowcroft, Cultural activist, and writer, “What one leaves behind is the quality of one’s life, the summation of the choices and actions one makes in this life, our spiritual and moral values.”  What is your legacy?

Rholes:  I tried to be responsible and caring.

Bonnie Brown is a retired staff member of the University of Mississippi. She most recently served as Mentoring Coordinator for the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy. For questions or comments, email her at