On Homecoming Friday, Dean of University Libraries, Judy Russell, rode the one-mile route down 13th Street to University Avenue on a float covered with gators dressed up from different decades. This year’s Homecoming theme, 100 Years of Traditions, was near-perfect timing for the Smathers Libraries, whose first branch was established in 1925. The float featured images from all six on-campus library branches and recreations of the last 100 years of UF yearbooks. Russell has been on the float since she started at UF in 2007 and is the only dean to participate in the parade consistently. “We are so engaged with our students. This is their celebration and we love joining them,” Russell said.
Jami Beserock, head of the Libraries float committee has worked the parade since 2010. “The actual construction takes place the week of the parade and the day of the parade, but some painting, crafting or printing is done in the weeks before. Maybe a total of anywhere between 10-20 hours over several days. It varies each year depending on how much needs to be done,” Beserock said. Other Libraries employees pitch in to make the event happen; the Libraries have in-house printing capabilities and a facilities team to help construct the float. One of the employees’ favorite floats was from 2011. The “Club West” float, highlighted the popular Library West branch, complete with an escalator and disco ball.
The Smathers Libraries are the keepers of UF traditions. Aside from participating in Homecoming each year, the Smathers Library building holds the University Archives. University Archivist, Sarah Coates says, “Homecoming is a way for alumni to celebrate their time at the University of Florida by returning ‘home’ to traditions and a campus they spent a a great deal of time in while they were preparing for their future. The traditions of Homecoming bring the alumni experience full circle–these traditions like the parade, Gator Growl, and of course, the game, have not changed much since they graduated, and as such, allows alumni to reconnect to the campus they knew then to the campus as it is now.” Under the umbrella of Special & Area Studies Collections, the Archives protect and preserve significant University public records, yearbooks, photographs and memorabilia. Many of the collections are digitized and available for curiosity-seekers and researchers alike. Homecoming photographs throughout the decades can be found here.
When asked what Russell would want students to know, she says, “They’re always welcome. We have many ways to help them with their studies.”