The Magazine of the University of La Verne

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He’s a work in progress

With four academic degrees and a 42-year career as a librarian to his credit, Marlin Heckman is most excited about what’s yet to come.

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  • November 8, 2011

Marlin Heckman, longtime University of La Verne librarian, now devotes much of his time to publishing, including one book about interesting front doors in La Verne.

If there is one thing Marlin Heckman lacked when he retired after 31 years as head librarian, it was the mentality of slowing down. He didn’t have it then, and he doesn’t have it now. Between prepping for his upcoming books, attending book signings, traveling the world and working on his new iPad, Marlin has lived up to the mission he shares with the University of La Verne: lifelong learning.

“I read about a book a week, usually have two or three going sometimes. I read you have to keep your brain active,” Heckman said. “Too many people sit down in front of the TV and never move again.”

For Heckman, a resident of Hillcrest Retirement Community, being on the move is as important to staying active as it is to lifelong learning. He is adamant about going on daily walks, he practices Pilates and enjoys aerobic exercises in the pool. He also spends time raising turnips, tomatoes and cucumbers in his garden, and shooting nature photographs with his Nikon D40. Although he admits, he’s still learning.

Preserving history through postcards

But if Heckman is spotted sitting on the couch, especially recently, he is likely to have a mountain of postcards by his side and his Flip-Pal portable scanner on his lap. He’s working on what he plans to call “California at Night from Sunset to Sunrise” — one of several books he has composed entirely out of antique postcards.

“I call postcards the e-mail of that day,” Heckman said, referring to circa 1890 – 1915, when postcards grew to prominence.  Since 1990 Heckman has accumulated thousands of postcards from antique shows, shops, yard sales and gifts. “You never know what you’re going to find.”

Postcard books are Heckman’s way of documenting California’s history. Once he has identified a theme, such as California scenes depicted at night, he’s ready to start planning for a book.

Why the portable scanner? Heckman is also the designer of his books.  Using self-publishing services available on the Internet, specifically and, he uploads scanned images of the postcards and strategically lays them out on pages. He writes his own captions and selects the appropriate stock for each project. It’s an efficient and cost-effective process that gives Heckman design and production control. Though, it wasn’t always like this.

The majority of his earlier books were published the traditional way with Arcadia Publishing based in Chicago. “Lordsburg/La Verne,” “Santa Barbara,” “Long Beach,” “Santa Catalina Island,” “Pasadena” and “Santa Monica” make up the heart of his vintage postcard history series.

“I chose areas that would be of interest. Someone vacationing in Santa Barbara might want something to take home,” Heckman said. To this day he still receives royalty checks for his vintage postcard history series.

For Heckman, the perks of being an author and a self-publisher are spontaneously pleasant.

“Last summer, I got a call from a publisher saying there’s a new bookstore that moved to Belmont shores in Long Beach and he wondered if I would come and do a book signing. This is for a book (“Long Beach”) I published 10 years ago,” Heckman shared. “I came and signed them all.”

He received another special call last summer, this time from a lady who read in the paper that he would be doing a book signing in Long Beach. She had an old picnic basket full of vintage postcards she had accumulated and she wanted to donate them to Heckman.

Thanks to a kind lady’s generosity and Heckman’s creative edge, he is equipped to create a short series of postcard books that will feature California in winter, at nighttime and in classic sunshine in the near future.

Drawing inspiration from home

It’s no secret that the city of La Verne has been a source of inspiration for many of Heckman’s projects. He has published five picture books that focus on the city, the university and the La Verne Church of the Brethren.

Currently, he is gathering photos to create a book showcasing the unique stained glass and woodcarving present inside Dean Kieffaber Chapel at Hillcrest, such as its iconic hand-carved oak doors.  He plans to call this project “Beauty in Glass and Wood – The Kieffaber Chapel at Hillcrest.”

Heckman’s ability to shed light on the unnoticed and inspire passion from the past is a testament to his aspiration for learning and the rich history he shares with the University of La Verne.

“I first came to ULV thinking I was going to be a forest ranger,” Heckman shared. “But I was always interested in library work. I studied sociology and worked in the library as a student worker all through college.”

Heckman ended up going to Bethany Theological Seminary after earning his undergraduate degree in sociology from ULV, but he never lost sight of his passion for books. He found himself working as a librarian at the seminary for nine and half years. At the conclusion of his seminary education he decided to pursue his masters and doctorate degrees at the University of Chicago’s Graduate Library School.

When it came time to officially settle into a career as a fulltime librarian, there was no other place Heckman wanted to work but the University of La Verne.

“It was home. My wife and I both graduated from here, and my parents. My grandfather was on the board of trustees for 19 years. And the weather is great,” Heckman said.

By 1971 Heckman was back in La Verne and began what would become more than 30 years of a fulfilling career as university librarian.

Continuing to learn

Although Heckman has been retired since 2003, his passion for books and learning lingers on. He is a regular volunteer librarian at Hillcrest, where he encourages residents to stay active and participate in the many educational programs offered.

He enjoys soaking up culture by traveling with his wife Shirley.  In the last couple of years they’ve explored Switzerland, Hungary, Austria and Alaska.

On any given day it wouldn’t be unusual to find Heckman at a library with a book in one hand, his iPad in the other.

“I’m still learning how to use it,” he modestly shared. He’s never been afraid of new technology. “When I was librarian, we used to produce catalog cards on Xerox machines, that was new in the 70s,” said Heckman. “When we [Wilson Library] remodeled in ‘95, we left the card catalog behind and made the shift to digital.”

Throughout the advent of Xerox machines, digital archiving and the power of Google, Heckman has learned to tackle and adapt to new technologies, especially when it enhances the learning process.

Heckman appreciated the ease of use computers provided when it came to searching for new books and journals, and enjoys it more now, as there is endless information available 24/7 at his fingertips. He does admit, however, that there are some reservations he has.

“It’s scary when I go on Google. I find my name everywhere, things are misstated, I see misquotes, and it’s there forever.” Heckman believes there is still a lot of information missing online, when it comes to books for instance, because “not everything will be scanned because there’s too much volume.”

For this reason, Heckman believes libraries and archives will continue to have their place, as long as there is proper funding. “One thing that computers can’t do is physically go through books and archive,” Heckman said.

When it comes to ibooks, ebooks or any other technological means of reading in this digital age, the top pick for Heckman will continue to be the old-fashioned page-turner.

“I love holding the book in my hand. I don’t think you get quite the same experience without the book in hand,” Heckman said.

Whether he’s reading a book or publishing a book, Marlin exemplifies what it means to be a lifelong learner.



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