Walking into the library, the sheer size, not to mention the hours of work ahead, could make any student feel overwhelmed. On a recent night, a student pulled open the heavy doors, looked up with a tired grin and reached down into his jeans pocket to grab his EmoryCard — ready to swipe it at the entrance turnstiles of the library. But then he noticed the all-too-familiar man in the black swivel chair behind the large gray desk. The student reached out his hand in the air and gestured to the man with the sliver of a gold name tag reading “House” on his uniform to do the same. After that brief high five, the boy put his head back down, readjusted his heavy backpack and headed up to the stacks.
Usually found standing at the desk of Emory’s Robert W. Woodruff Library, greeting students with a friendly high five or a simple smile, 55-year-old Dennis House has been a security specialist since 1997.
Although most students do not relish coming to the library, it doesn’t seem like such a bad place to be when one is greeted in such an approachable manner, explained College sophomore Hannah Silverman.
“If it wasn’t for House, I wouldn’t probably come to the library as much. He gives me a sense of comfort,” Silverman said.
Although he has two sons and four grandchildren of his own, House said he considers all the students his kids. He mentioned that he knows students in college need a family to help them get through their four years.
“I have lived a good life, and I had a lot of people help me along the way. So whatever I can do for someone, for any students in the library, I do it,” House said.
House believes the Emory library is a great environment despite its forbidding reputation. The materials, seating and resources this school has given its students are amazing, he said.
“It is a great building to achieve your education,” House said. “You can come here for the moment to get your work done and then go have fun.”
Additionally, because it’s open 24 hours during the week and has a café in the basement, House said he sees no reason to leave.
“My mom always told me to be where you are happy, and I am happy here. I love this small, private institution,” House said.
Aside from the hours and benefits, he loves the connection he has with students.
“I didn’t ask for that relationship with the kids. I just adopted it, I guess. They look to me as someone they can come to when they have boyfriend problems, girlfriend problems. It’s like I am a counselor more than a security officer here, a lot of the times,” House said as his mustache crinkled above his smile. “It warms my heart when people can trust me, you know, with whatever they are going through in life.”
Because his mother died when he was 17, House, who grew up in Greenville, N.C., needed to care for his siblings. As a result, House could not get the graduate degree he desired.
Part of the reason he enjoys working in a university setting is because it keeps him young and eager to learn. He is currently taking a Korean class at Emory and has students help him with the material.
“Working in an educational institution where I can not only watch young people grow and achieve but continue my education and my growth in life is really great,” he said.
Sipping on Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, Michael Leonard, whom House met through a mutual friend, recalled that he has known House for 14 years.
“Out of our entire 12-person staff, he is the best,” said Leonard, a security officer who sports the same blue button-down uniform shirt that House wears. “He has really good people skills, and I still cannot believe he remembers everyone’s name.”
While sitting in the security office in a back room — which holds two desks, a large television and many computer screens — House sat silently for a minute, thinking back on his time at Emory. He boasted about the fact that he has a promising rapport with the staff and frequently gets asked specifically to work big events that happen on campus.
“I even know President Wagner on a personal basis,” House said as he sat up straight.
House, who was a former military man in the United States Army — working in logistics and transportation — now has the duty of making sure the students and faculty are safe five days a week from 4 p.m. until midnight. House strolls the building with a brown clipboard and pen in hand, occasionally stopping to pop into a student’s video chat as they call him over. He performs security checks on all the rooms and offices in the library, making sure everything is shut down and there are no security breaches.
Once his supervisor leaves, House is in charge. But not to worry — he is certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), first aid, suicide prevention and crisis intervention. He caught a group of students stealing laptops two years ago.
“We got ’em, we got ’em,” House said, nodding proudly as his walkie-talkie buzzed and a man said “10-6.”
One day, House hopes to be the manager of the security team and make the library an even better place.
“My thing here is to make sure you guys go to college, graduate and go on throughout life and have a good life,” he said. “And if I can be a part of that and someone can look back at their college days and say, ‘I remember Mr. House,’ that’s my satisfaction. I like that.”
—By Lily Weinberg