An interview with Cheryl Ziegler (MS ’14), director of library and archives at the Union League Club of Chicago

Posted: May 30, 2018

ziegler.jpg?itok=DefMZR3L Cheryl Ziegler very nearly wasn't the librarian at the Union League Club. She had applied for several jobs, but on the day of her interview at ULC, she got a call saying that she had been selected for an independent contractor position on a project with Chicago Public Schools. "Well, I can't have two jobs," she thought to herself, and canceled the interview. 

But the CPS job turned out to be unsatisfying. Not only that, it was in CPS facilities down by Sox Park, and she had to pass the Union League Club every day to get to it: she'd take the train from Naperville, then walk across Jackson Boulevard on her way to her train south. After working for CPS for months, she discovered that the ULC job was still posted, and decided to check if she could still be interviewed. "We hired somebody yesterday," came the reply. 

As it turned out, that person only stayed a week. And luckily, her call was remembered. And, by extension, we have her as a member of the Caxton Club. She learned of us from Don Krummel, who has directed many a University of Illinois library student toward our Club, and who nominated her in 2016. She was seconded by Meredith Gozo, interim head of metadata at Purdue Libraries, who was a fellow student when she pursued her library studies at Urbana. 

But we've managed to get way ahead of our story. To begin at the beginning: Ziegler is from Columbus, Indiana, the "Athens of the Prairie," home of Cummins Engines, where over seventy of the public buildings have been designed by famous architects. She went to college at Miami University of Ohio, where she received her BFA in printmaking and sang in a British-influenced folk-rock band called Widdershins. She went back home after college, but didn't stay long: soon she embarked on her first major career, working in the trade publication division of McGraw-Hill (now mostly gone), starting in 1979. She was an advertising sales district manager for Architectural Record, which involved developing building product advertising sales in an eight state territory. 

During that peripatetic period, she established the first of her two serious collecting habits: purchasing prints by local artists. "Even surprisingly small towns have galleries. Sometimes they're only open on weekends, but people everywhere want to make art and share it with others." Small town art tended to fit her pocketbook as well, not to mention that she's a printmaker herself. 

With two "late in life" (her words) daughters, a move from Chicago to Naperville seemed sensible. And librarianship looked like a potentially good second career. Soon she was an elementary school library assistant working the same hours her daughters were in school. Before long, she was a middle-school library assistant working...you get the idea. When the kids were off to college, she enrolled in the largely remote-study LEEP program at the University of Illinois in Urbana. Among the things she liked about remote study was the variety of other students (around the country and around the world: Germany, Egypt, Boston) it exposed her to, some of whom are still friends. She received her MS/LIS with an additional special collections certification in 2014. 

Special collections study was the stage where she became friends with Don Krummel. Though much of her coursework could be done remotely, he offered one specialized class only in person. Ziegler made him a special appeal, and he agreed to let her take the class remotely, using a speakerphone and extra conferences. "I was very grateful to him for that, and in the process we became friends." 

Hence the very special collections of the Union League Club, which she has found to be a perfect fit. Unless you're a member, you probably don't know of its 33,000-volume circulating library that just happens to have a priceless collection of archives relating to the ULC's origins in the Civil War, as well as its place in Chicago history. Not to mention ambitious programs: outreach to the families of members, outreach to other regional special collections, exhibits, and other events. And, naturally, she is the liaison between the library and the Club's Library Committee. 

But – especially in summer – there is still time to indulge in her other collecting activity: plants. "My garden is not a landscape-architect-designed sweep of manicured exterior rooms," she confesses. "But I have a very large variety of plants that manage to tell a story in our hot-and-cold climate." It's a very comfortable hobby to pursue in Naperville. 

What's left to conquer? "I would be pleased if I could research and write a book," she admits. She's considering two topics. One is the Women's Building at the World Columbian Exposition, which had many interwoven interesting stories. The other has a family connection: her father flew repeated (and extremely dangerous) missions through the Himalayas during World War II, the so-called "hump."

And people at the Union League Club tell her she has to stay at the club until its 150th anniversary in 2029, so that she can write that history too!

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