SMU libraries embrace merger mentality of print and technology

Guest columnist for Annotations is Camila A. Alire, Ph.D., a member of the SMU Libraries Executive Board and dean of University Libraries at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

Recently I was asked to give the wrap-up speech at a conference on the electronic book. In preparation I was reflecting on the latest wonders of our library profession. As a novice professional, I never thought that our profession and academic libraries would experience the transformation we are now experiencing. It is, indeed, the most exciting of times for information professionals and services.

"Academic libraries have gone from a repository of printed knowledge to the virtual digital library."

If one would accept the broadest definition of culture as the development or improvement of the mind by education or training, then I maintain that academic libraries have experienced the merging of two information tools - print and technology - as cultural mediums. The use of these tools is primarily to provide the best services available for our academic users. This integration has led to an exciting life for academic library administrators, librarians, teaching and research faculty, and students.
What makes it so exciting? It's about our evolutionary change in the information age. Academic libraries have gone from only being a repository of printed knowledge to embracing the virtual/digital library concept to expand the formats for sharing that knowledge.
SMU's Fondren Library Center is a beautiful facility. And yet, library administrators understand that time is money. If it is more convenient for our users to do their library research remotely via electronic means, then so be it. The Fondren Library Center, through its new integrated online library system, its network connections for laptops, and its digitization projects, has assumed this print and electronic merger role.
What else does this merger really mean for the academic library? It has serious implications for academic library human resources. Our staff has to be retooled and retrained as mediators, navigators, and instructors of new information formats that support the curricular and research needs of our students and faculty. For example, as television commercials continue to perpetuate the notion of a librarian as a dour, bespectacled female, the reality in our academic libraries is that our librarian is navigating seamlessly through a myriad of databases and online records and printing out exacting results. She hands over a printout to the uninitiated user without ever going to a shelf, opening a book, or batting an eye. That is what all the excitement is about.
Obviously, there are other challenges such as the diversity of formats, fiscal constraints, copyright, intellectual property, and privacy issues.

There also are well-intentioned campus administrators who equate the virtual library concept with the elimination of print materials and physical facilities. This will not happen in my professional lifetime nor many lifetimes after me!
In today's world of merging knowledge formats, SMU's Central University Librarian Gillian McCombs coined the phrase that best describes the academic library. She describes the academic library as "the center of the spotlight on the information stage."
This point of convergence can only happen if the academic library is willing to merge various formats to access information successfully. As an academic library administrator and member of the Executive Board of the Central University Libraries, I am truly impressed by the merger mentality of the SMU library leadership.


Friends of the SMU Libraries programs feature rare books and remembrances

The Friends of the SMU Libraries have spent the fall learning how to preserve photographs, documents, and tapes; touring the homes of well-known authors in the Hudson and Connecticut River Valleys; and hearing from Gregg Cantrell, author of a new biography on Stephen F. Austin. Winter and spring programs will include a look at rare books and a remembrance of Eleanor Roosevelt by her granddaughter. Following are the remaining Friends programs for 2000:
Great Books for Great Owners: Notable Provenances of Bridwell Treasures
January 31, 7 p.m., Blue Room, Bridwell Library
Eric White, curator of special collections at Bridwell Library, discusses the earliest owners of some of Bridwell's treasures, including a wedding gift from the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1418.

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Members of the Friends of the SMU Libraries enjoyed their second "Leaves and Literature" trip this fall, which included visits to several notable homes and libraries in the Hudson and Connecticut River Valleys. The trip also included a tour of the country's first law school in Litchfield, Connecticut (above).

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