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July 26, 2004

Emerita psychology professor contributes major planned gift to support history research at UCSC Library

By Scott Rappaport

Psychology professor emerita Melanie J. Mayer has established a $150,000 endowment to benefit history research in Special Collections at the UCSC Library. The donation is one of the largest planned gifts in the history of the University Library.

Psychology professor emerita Melanie Mayer (above) has set up an endowment to support the library's Special Collections in honor of her parents, Edward J. and T. Jewel Bond Mayer, below.
Photo above: Scott Rappaport
Photo below: Courtesy of Melanie Mayer

The endowment was created in honor of Mayer's parents, who inspired her appreciation of books and libraries and their enduring importance to research and scholarship. It was also established to commemorate Mayer's own lifelong involvement with UCSC, where she served with distinction as a professor of experimental psychology, specializing in the emerging field of vision research, from 1972 until her retirement in 1995.

Since the mid-1980s, Mayer has also been conducting research in western and women's history. She is the author of two books focusing on the influence of women in developing the Yukon and Klondike areas of the American/Canadian Northwest--for which she depended heavily on original source material assembled by special collections departments in libraries throughout the United States and Canada.

"I use the library all the time in different areas of research," Mayer noted. "Especially as I got into writing about history, I began to greatly appreciate the role of materials found in special collections that would be unavailable any other way. They're not printed materials usually, but rather things like diaries, photographs, unpublished manuscripts, and interviews that are preserved, organized, and made available to researchers and the general public only through special collections."

Mayer said she established the Edward J. and T. Jewel Bond Mayer Special Collections Endowment at UCSC in her parents' name because they gave her encouragement and a solid foundation for becoming an academic scholar.

"I have these great memories as a child of being taken to Lane Public Library in Hamilton, Ohio," Mayer recalled. "My mother would make a real effort to get me to the library regularly, so I had a constant cycle of books when I was very young; even in the first and second grade. The library became a special place for me, and my parents too."

Mayer received her B.A. in chemistry from Cornell in 1967, and a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from UC San Diego in 1973. During her 23 years of teaching at UCSC, she did extensive research in psychology, psychobiology, and sensory perception. Mayer's final projects before retirement focused on age-related macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. Her most recent book, Staking Her Claim: The Life of Belinda Mulrooney, Klondike and Alaska Entrepreneur, was published in 2000 by Ohio University Press.

Mayer said her gift is designed to support Special Collections at UCSC with a special emphasis placed on obtaining resources needed for historical research--including photographs and collections related to western, women's, and local history. Income from the endowment will also be used to enhance archival methods of preservation, as well as to improve accessibility to the collections when a planned library expansion project is completed in the near future.

"The library is going to build a whole new area for Special Collections," Mayer said. "People will first walk into a main research room that will be named in honor of my parents, and it will have a reference librarian who will help visitors access materials. The endowment will help provide whatever is needed to increase the accessibility of the collections for the general public, as well as researchers."

"It isn't just academic," Mayer added. "In Santa Cruz, people often come up to the library to research materials about their family history, or to find out about the history of their property. I've looked at early photos of the section of town where I live and actually found photos of my own house being built in 1890. It's really a wonderful resource for everyone."

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