BiblioBios: Creativity, nurturing spirit guide new Watson operations manager

Jack Hawthorn loves Gothic-inspired books featuring fascinating buildings, so what better place to work than a Gothic-inspired building full of fascinating books? As Watson Library’s operations manager, Hawthorn brings creativity and a nurturing spirit to one of KU Libraries’ most beloved locations and the staff who give it life.  

Jack Hawthorn in front of Watson Library

Throughout their career, Hawthorn has expressed great care for people, nature, and books, and all three intersect at the top of the Hill. Hawthorn first came to KU as a student, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a minor in women, gender, and sexuality studies. Watson Library was their favorite spot on campus, a place of welcome where they could focus in quiet corners filled with plants. 

As a senior at KU, Hawthorn completed an internship with a sexual trauma and abuse care center and worked at Willow Domestic Violence Shelter after graduation. Working every day with people experiencing trauma, they learned skills in crisis intervention, partnered with community resources, and gained advocacy support expertise. 

“Seeing the everyday reality of what people are going through gives you a very foundational understanding of caring for people,” Hawthorn said.  

The work was meaningful and important and also “emotionally heavy,” Hawthorn said. Their next adventure invited a change and helped them grow new kinds of nurturing skills at a native plant nursery outside Lawrence. 

“I spent a lot of time in the dirt,” they said. “It was very healing going from a place where you’re trying to help people going through the worst days of their life to just do something where I’m making things live, watching things grow.” 

With the seasonal shift in demand at the plant nursery, Hawthorn added a job working in downtown Lawrence at the Raven Bookstore, splitting their time between farm work in the mornings and the bookstore in the evenings. 

“It was very romantic. I would wake up at sunrise and pick strawberries, then I got to work in this old bookstore downtown,” Hawthorn said. “It was wonderful. I learned a lot about caring for things.” 

Hawthorn’s care for customers and the bookstore itself expanded over six years at the Raven as they advanced to take on manager responsibilities and operations duties. They connected to the Lawrence and downtown communities in new ways, getting to know bookstore regulars and the book industry. They also connected with authors, including the thrill of meeting writers whose work had moved or inspired them.  

“It’s like its own world of meeting celebrities, if you’re a book person,” Hawthorn said.  

Hawthorn is also a writer – they have published works of flash fiction and are working on a memoir. When reading, they enjoy works with elements of the surreal, dark or horror aspects and Gothic settings, especially mysterious old mansions or other unusual places.  

“In Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ I would love to explore the castle she created,” Hawthrone said. “Or in Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ I would love to be in that haunted house. I just want to go wander around these places they made up. They sound really cool.” 

It’s not too surprising that Hawthorn appreciates spending their days at a Gothic-inspired library with a maze of winding stairways, hidden coves, and unusual spaces as they work to keep 100-year-old Watson functional and welcoming.   

“The fifth floor is one of my favorite spots because it’s so quiet it can be eerie, as well as the stacks themselves when they’re empty and quiet,” Hawthorn said, “and the mechanical rooms can be a little dungeon-y.” 

Hawthorn remembers walking by closed doors at Watson as a student, wishing they could see what was behind them. 

“It’s been really cool having access to the places you’re not allowed unless you have a special key, seeing the viscera of the building,” they said. 

Since beginning their new position in September 2023, Hawthorn has even had their own spooky experience at Watson. In their first weeks at the library, they heard voices that sounded like they were coming from the next room or just outside, but Hawthorn was near an exterior wall in an area of the east stacks that made that impossible.   

“I heard a man talking and I was like, ‘Hello?’” they said. “There are spots in the library that connect to other areas in unexpected ways where you can hear people if they’re in an adjacent area, but if you didn’t know the building, you’d think it was a ghost.” 

It turned out there was a hidden mechanical room nearby with access from the outside of the building, and it was maintenance workers Hawthorn heard. Although the century-old structure has recurring challenges related to its quirky spaces and aging plumbing and mechanical systems, Hawthorn appreciates the way the character of the building shines through, giving the old library a life of its own. 

“There are certain places where if you put your hand on the wall, you can feel the machinery moving and it actually feels like the building has a heartbeat,” they said.  

A poetic sentiment, and fitting coming from Hawthorn whose role flows through all corners of the building, overseeing circulation services and connecting with staff and student workers to support the vital functions of the library. Hawthorn brings particular heart to their responsibilities supervising the student workers who help cover the service desk. 

“I struggled with many things at that age, and the people who offered me kindness made all the difference,” Hawthorn said. “So, when I get to do that for one of our students it feels like coming full circle.” 

While Hawthorn appreciates the dark and mysterious, they are excited to bring light and color to the library. So far, their collaborative projects with student workers have included decorative butterflies in the entry area, free coloring pages, propagating more library plants in study areas, and sewing flower garlands to hang from the ceiling. Student workers bring their ideas and learn new skills in the process.  

“I get to teach them about creating their own joy for the sake of joy itself,” Hawthorn said, “and also, how to thread a needle.”  

BiblioBios shine a light on the people behind the collections, programs and services in KU Libraries. Find your link to important information and resources by connecting with our faculty and staff through the KU Libraries Directory.