April 8-14 is designated as National Library Week, so this month is a great time to make the public aware of the many ways libraries serve our communities. For the staff of Beaman Library, our community is basically our faculty and students. However, in the largest sense, we also serve the community around us in various ways.
Libraries are the first and most important institution in all of civilization to embody the concept of lifelong education. University Provost Craig Bledsoe refers to us as the “largest classroom in the university.” Civil War historian and author Shelby Foote said “a university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library”.
With all the changes that have taken place in the educational environment in past decades, libraries have absorbed and facilitated more change and began it earlier than most realize. While the stereotype of libraries and librarians remained one of keeping the reading room quiet and preserving a lot of dusty old books, librarians were busy engaging in networking across the world sharing bibliographic information and preparing for resource sharing in a changing environment of library automation. At that time, few knew anything about networking that was not connected to ABC or NBC or CBS.
Despite a common perception that libraries are obsolete and have no relevant function in today’s world, the facts show that libraries of all types and in all areas are enjoying the highest use of any time in history. There are many reasons for this. Along with being humankind’s collective memory and furnishing inspiration for the future, libraries have become the gateway for information services. We have become imaginative tour guides to assist our patrons in finding their way along the electronic highway in this complex new system of interfaces.
Beaman Library is dedicated to serving our students in all ways. We are an academic library serving a scholarly mission. We must take our students beyond the world of Google and Wikipedia into the numerous resources that meet the demands of their courses in a university setting. We must instruct them on how to use these resources, what they are, how to find them, and we spend many hours in both classroom situations and individual instruction to this end. We must stretch our resources infinitely to meet these needs on a limited budget. With the various challenges we face in providing print and electronic access we must make informed decisions regarding all.
To this end we are currently upgrading our library integrated system, Innovative Interfaces, to a discovery platform called ENCORE SYNERGY, which will facilitate better retrieval and searching of subjects. We will be replacing our Millennium operating system we have used for twelve years with a much more efficient and expansive product called SIERRA beginning in the summer. All of this is designed to provide our students with the most recent and effective technology available in libraries today. Our staff is dedicated to making this experience meaningful and productive and we are spending long hours implementing these changes daily.
In addition to providing our students with the support for their scholarly endeavors,
We want them to know our library as a warm and friendly place to come to study, to get the help they need, and to enjoy. Each semester on the first night before exams begin, we open the library to late hours and provide snacks on a continual basis. Our kitchen and staff lounge is stacked with soft drinks, coffee, hot chocolate (in the cold weather), fruit, homemade cookies and other refreshments provided entirely by our generous staff. The past fall we initiated our first “Spooks in the Stacks” when some of our braver librarians dressed in costumes and facilitated games, some learning experiences and, of course, provided ample refreshments for the afternoon of Halloween.
Indeed, the face and the function of libraries today is an ever-changing one, but the primary mission is still one of service to our users. Considering all that libraries offer to our patrons, we are a bargain. The late Walter Cronkite said it best when he said:
Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.
Carolyn T. Wilson
Director of Library Services