Sally Rhodus Lancaster: Admiring library technology as a 'new art form'

Sally Rhodus Lancaster
Sally Rhodus Lancaster

Sally Rhodus Lancaster '60, '79 marvels at the evolution of the University's libraries.

"I'm blown away by SMU's modern libraries," says Lancaster. "Making SMU's rare books, photographs and other materials available online is an incredible advancement that transcends technology; it really is a new art form."

Lancaster, who serves on the SMU Libraries Executive Board, remembers "spending a lot of time in the stacks" of Fondren Library as an undergraduate English major. While earning a Master's in educational guidance and counseling from the University and a Ph.D. from East Texas State University, she clocked many additional hours performing more complex research.

"The Internet was not available then. If we needed a journal article, we would have to look it up in the catalog, then turn in a request for it," she recalls. "My table would be piled high with books and journals."

The ability to follow a paper trail is a skill she continues to exercise in genealogical research. An aunt who compiled "seminal family history" in the 1920s-40s sparked Lancaster's serious interest in genealogy.

"I've been in courthouse rooms that were so dusty and disheveled that I've shuddered as I've looked around, not knowing what might be nibbling away nearby," says Lancaster, who has sifted through all manner of old records, some dating back to the 1700s, while delving into her distinguished family tree.

The roots of Lancaster's family and SMU have long been entwined. Lancaster, who has devoted most of her adult life to philanthropic endeavors, is a Director Emeritus of The Meadows Foundation, established in 1948 by her uncle, Algur H. Meadows, and his wife, Virginia. The Foundation supports numerous arts, health, education and public service initiatives. It also gives generously to SMU and the Meadows Museum, the core collection of which is the renowned trove of Spanish art assembled by the late Mr. Meadows.

Lancaster has served on the SMU Board of Trustees (1981-87) and the Meadows School of the Arts Executive Board (1986-91). She is the recipient of an SMU Distinguished Alumni Award in 1987.

She and husband Olin C. Lancaster Jr. are also Mustang parents. Their two sons graduated from the University: Olin C. Lancaster III earned a history degree in 1983 and is Divisional President, Menswear for Ralph Lauren, and George Lancaster graduated with a degree in communication arts and advertising in 1985 and is Senior Vice President for Corporate Communications with Hines, an international real estate investment firm. They also have a daughter, Julie Lancaster, an actress whose credits include numerous plays, commercials, and television and movie roles.

Lancaster clearly embraces technology – she took the selfportrait, which appears on the left, with her iPhone – and the new possibilities it creates for libraries.

"I've always been surrounded by books, and my fondness for libraries is a natural extension of my love of literature and history," she says. "Books are our cultural legacy, and SMU Libraries is using digital technology to preserve materials in a different form that maintains the integrity of the originals. They're doing fabulous work!"

Make reservations now to dine out with Friends

Jeff Whittington, a senior producer of KERA Radio's "Think" series and host of "Anything You Ever Wanted To Know," will speak at the annual Friends of the SMU Libraries dinner meeting. The event will be Monday, May 4, at 6 p.m. at Bailey's Prime Plus, 8160 Park Lane. Call 214-768-3225 for reservations.