Information service supports Dallas businesses

On his first day in graduate school for library sciences, Devertt Bickston asked why librarians did not sell their services to the business community.
"I was told it would never work," he recalls.
But Bickston has made business service work as director of the Industrial Information Services (IIS) program sponsored by the SMU libraries. The IIS makes available the vast resources of the libraries to businesses throughout North Texas.
Bickston was named the director of IIS in 1970. It was formed in 1966 as part of a government initiative to channel the results of tax-supported industrial research to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

"Basically we do for the business community what county extension services do for farmers. We've helped a lot of companies generate new jobs, products, and cash flow."

In its 33 years of operation, the IIS has provided Dallas-area businesses with nearly 117,000 requested publications and completed nearly 5,000 confidential custom research reports to help solve problems or take advantage of business opportunities.
Originally the IIS program was funded equally by members' user fees and the U.S. Department of Commerce. Today users pay an annual membership fee in addition to paying for specific services they use. A variety of industries use IIS, including electronics, telecommunications, oil and gas, food, aerospace, and legal services. Current members of IIS include Texas Instruments, Mobil, Exxon, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and Dallas Semiconductor.
Although the service supports the research needs of small businesses that do not have in-house libraries, companies of all sizes benefit from IIS. "No company can have everything it needs in its own library," Bickston says.
Bickston and his four-person staff take advantage of the resources of all SMU libraries to fill requests. The most common requests are for information on electronics technology, patent infringement, and on the geology of countries such as Russia and China, he says.
The service not only provides access to more than 3 million books and periodicals in SMU's libraries, but also it acquires information resources from anywhere in the world through partnerships that SMU maintains with other libraries and through the Internet.
With the growth of the Internet, many people mistakenly believe they can find everything they need there, Bickston says. "What they don't know is that much of the most valuable, reliable, and authoritative information on the Web is only available for a fee. We can help clients access that information as cheaply as possible."
For more information on the Industrial Information Services, call 214-768-2271.

Historian uses SMU libraries to research U.S. ethnic history

In the preface of his book, Americans, A Collision of Histories, (1996), historian Edward Countryman thanks colleagues, students, editors, and loved ones for their help with his book. But first he thanks SMU and its "fine library system."
"I spent all my career in libraries that were struggling," says Countryman, University Distinguished Professor of History in Dedman College. "The SMU collection is strong in the ways it ought to be."
In Americans, Countryman chronicles the emergence of an American identity, born from the ethnic collision of Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans. His detailed social history explores the experiences of Europeans, slaves, abolitionists, voteless women, and Native Americans and how they ultimately came to share an identity.
To write the book, Countryman delved into the huge body of work on American social history, with an emphasis on books published by university presses found in the collections of SMU libraries.
"I read as much and as intensely as I could and saw repeating patterns of ideas," he says. "The identity we share comes out of conflicts." Countryman is an expert on Colonial American history and American social history. He has taught at SMU since 1991 and held faculty positions at the University of Warwick in England and the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. His many awards include the 1982 Bancroft Prize and fellowships from the Royal Historical Society and the American Antiquarian Society.
Countryman's current research, "Mississippi: An American Place," uses the premise of colliding cultures to study the development of American society in Mississippi from 1790 to 1860. "This is a rerun of Americans using intense primary sources," he says. Sources such as microfiche records of Mississippi state archives, plantation and church records, U.S. mortality schedules, and historic medical records fill his office shelves.
A native New Yorker who has spent many years abroad, Countryman is fascinated with the theme of "being American." "If I, a white American, would understand what shaped me, I must understand people who may not look like me but whose history is fundamentally, inextricably, and forever intertwined with my own," he says in the preface of his book. "Indeed, that history is my own."

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