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| Through the
We don't shhhhhhh anymore
outside looks the same. Books still line the shelves and knowledge reigns.
But really, this isn't your father's library.
By Rick Waters '95
In the "old" library, quiet was good and silence better. A swift tap of
a pencil and a stern look suppressed talk above a whisper. Books were
campus treasures and couldn't be taken from the premises. Even the stacks
themselves were immobile, bolted into the building's foundation.
In the earliest
days, back when men and women were segregated to different tables, if
you wanted a book, you requested it through a reference librarian and
a runner would fetch it. No browsing. No borrowing.
Burnett Library is certainly less austere today. The collection, once
consisting of a few hundred books, has more than 2 million items now,
from online archives to traditional bound journals.
of shushing undergraduates under Miss Nell Andrews' "Rules and Regulations"
has given way to a new philosophy: Our students and faculty are not
an interruption. They are our reason for being here. Placards with
that motto are prominently displayed in the reference and checkout areas.
it's not your father's library anymore. But it's not even your older sister's
either. Beethoven is piped in over the periodicals. Color LaserJet printers
have made their dot-matrix brethren obsolete. Students converse among
themselves -- and with professors -- over lattes in the lobby's coffee bar,
words, controlled commotion is in.
sounds a lot like a neighborhood chain bookstore, that's because it's
supposed to, said University Librarian Robert A. Seal, who has guided
the library's metamorphosis since 1994. The traditional academic culture
of dusty books and researchers immersed in self-directed study has been
transformed into a service-oriented, multimedia world of Web publishing
software and full-text searchable databases.
with a PowerPoint presentation? The library can help.
problems? There's an expert for that, too.
tips for the latest e-journal on Shakespeare? Someone will show you.
users may still regard TCU's library as a cathedral of learning with its
trademark Palladian windows, but today's users are making it a meeting
place for group study.
quiet zones do exist and serious study still prevails, but now students
can get a double hit of espresso with the latest copy of Psychology
Today. As 30-year reference librarian Hugh Macdonald puts it, "We
don't need the library to be a mausoleum."
arguing with the results. While other collegiate libraries are experiencing
faltering attendance, turnstile counts at TCU have doubled. Library traffic
has grown from about 8,500 visits during a typical week in 1997 to more
than 17,000 visits per week in fall 2001.
yields another amazing fact: Almost two-thirds of the TCU community visits
the library at least once a week.
the name of the Dewey Decimal System is going on here? The omnipresent
computer and modem were supposed to keep students in their dorms, accessing
the archives through fiber optic lines.
Not so. The
addition of technology and infusion of creature comforts have made the
library the place to hang out at TCU as never before.
began when the computer lab was moved out of the basement to the main
floor in 1998. Students began to crowd the remodeled space to check their
e-mail between classes. Now, they can also create spreadsheets for course
projects or write papers at an annex of the Writing Center.
are also taking advantage. They are working with reference staff to add
links to lecture and reference material on their home pages. They're getting
electronic reminders when the latest issue of an academic journal in their
of the old library can still be found -- like the giant light-up globe -- many
vestiges of the the past have been assigned new uses. Empty card catalogs,
for example, are used as a backdrop at one of the most visible and celebrated
signs of the changing library -- Bistro Burnett.
nine-table lobby cafe -- opened in September 2000 -- teems with traffic
all morning and afternoon. Operated by the campus food services vendor,
it features Starbucks coffee, juices, fresh fruit, Krispy Kreme donuts
and other non-crumbly snacks specially selected for easy cleanup.
has been brisk.
transform the traditional academic library into a modern facility," Seal
said. "The library already was the campus center for information resources,
but now it's a popular place for social activity and intellectual interchange
it has kept students inside the library. In the past, many left to get
a bite to eat and never came back, but the bistro allows them to grab
a snack and keep working.
sense. After all, students are eating around books when they go home.
is the trendy feature that has garnered attention in publications such
as The Chronicle of Higher Education and Christian Science Monitor,
but Seal is quick to point out that the bistro is only part of a larger
effort to make the library a more desirable place to study and conduct
to a cafe, Seal wanted classical music in the periodical reading room
with comfortable sofas and chairs that people could sink into and stay
awhile. He envisioned a larger computer lab with plants and lots of space -- not
the rows-and-columns approach everybody else was using. Ultimately, he
wanted undergraduates to see the library as more than a warehouse for
So far, mission
accomplished. Walking into the periodicals area (the old reading room)
is like entering your grandparents' den. Symphonic music wafting in the
area has actually quieted the room as students are hesitant to talk over
tables and chairs adorning either side of the aisle are neighbors to cushy,
high-backed seating arranged around small tables in the corners. Grab
The New York Times and decompress.
periodicals, signs in the west wing mark a designated quiet study area
where students lumber in, unload their backpacks and go to work among
columns of old bound journals.
In the east
wing, stacks of reference books have been moved to make room for the library's
technology muscles -- the expanded computer lab and the newest wrinkle in
library services, the Information Commons.
this is a work zone. There's no music, but there is plenty of activity
and noise of a different kind. Keyboard clicking and muted conversations
permeate the spacious layout as students dart from computer terminals
to four high-speed printing and multimedia stations that feature scanners,
Zip drives and Web publishing software.
information and innovation are king, 100 Pentium-powered computers loaded
with Windows software are constantly in use. Available terminals are at
a premium during the lunch hour and late evenings in the expanded lab,
which interior design students helped design.
inside the reference section is the innovation that has put TCU at the
forefront of academic library service -- a combination reference help desk
and computer information services center called Information Commons.
located between the computer lab and checkout desk, this multipurpose
help desk has become a one-stop shop for research and computer assistance.
scores of questions about password problems and slow computer servers,
the library staff brought in the university's computer brain trust, Information
Services, and created a technology center in the middle of the reference
idea was simple: location, location, location. This "Super Help Desk"
eliminates time-consuming cross-calling between departments and serves
students and faculty more efficiently.
helps students navigate the ocean of information available deep inside
the library's impressive computer and Web-based resources.
are more than 900,000 books on the shelves, but thanks to full-text databases
and electronically scanned and downloadable reference materials, a student
could conceivably get through four years without cracking a library book.
with TCU's Internet jewel, My Library, a customizable Web site that every
student and faculty member can tailor to their needs. From that site,
a nursing major looking for information on smallpox and vaccines can click
"online resources" and access the database MedLine for full-text
medical abstracts. Or click on "services" and check out data a professor
posted on electronic reserve, request materials from reserve storage or
borrow a book through inter-library loan.
find that My Library is better and more reliable for scholarly material
than the rest of the Internet.
a lot of students come in and say they did a search on Google and came
up with 10,000 returns, and most of those aren't any good," said Marianne
Bobich, head of reference and online services.
information avalanche that keeps the students coming back to the library -- and
If the library
is the campus' intellectual heart, its librarians are the brains. Cataloging,
material acquisition and selection development are behind-the-scenes work
that makes life easier for researchers. But because information technology
is moving so swiftly, information stored in any format is quickly dated.
Relying on it for long-term scholarship is problematic. Sources available
today may not exist tomorrow, which makes librarians who keep up with
all the changes a valuable commodity.
also work with faculty to acquire materials that match their curriculum,
ultimately making database searches more fruitful.
the library allots about $2.8 million annually (or roughly half the library's
overall budget) for acquisitions, librarians must purchase materials judiciously.
The goal is to maintain the most comprehensive archives but also to pick
the best of what's available.
also the process of teaching information literacy -- training undergraduates
to discern which Web material is solid. It's a role librarians are happy
to take on. They've become information social workers and knowledge counselors
because students still need and want the guidance of an expert, even though
TCU's electronic resources are available from any computer terminal.
who oversees the library's administrative services, calls it the "Hey,
standing in front of the refrigerator and knowing where the food is, but
you still want Mom to help you make it," he said. "A lot of students want
some validation. They want to know that they're on the right track."
on the information fast track isn't something only serious students do.
These days professors require it for even the most basic classes.
it's pressure from colleagues or superiors, or just a fear of falling
behind, professors have felt compelled to adapt to a technology-infused
curriculum. A 2000 survey by the national Campus Computing Project, which
conducts annual studies of computing in higher education, reveals that
more than 40 percent of all college courses now use Web resources, up
from 11 percent in 1995.
professor Andy Fort has his upper level and honors students keep a computer
journal, but he requires all of his students to write papers based on
Web and database material and get their assignments off his Web site.
a business management professor, expects students to get "heavy, heavy
use of electronic resources" and produce slick presentations using PowerPoint
Diane Hawley and Lazelle Benefield require extensive use of the MedLine
database in their courses.
a challenge facing Mary Couts Burnett Library. As more people use it and
resources grow, technology will play an ever more important part in making
the library pursues the purchase of the latest electronic journals, it's
also updating backwards. Back issues of journals and periodicals that
used to be on shelves are now online, freeing up areas which can be turned
into people spaces.
If the library
continues to expand its innovative service model and require more room,
the staff will have to consider moving more materials to storage or use
high-density compact shelving or a robotic storage system, which would
be a return to the old days of limited browsing.
all the technological advances, the library will never return to the impersonal
days. Modern-day librarians may struggle to keep up with the latest computer
software, but face-to-face contact with people who can empathize is still
mission of the library is service," Seal said. "We're not just
a buyer of books. The fundamental tenet of a library is finding a way
to bring the user and material together."
the Mary Couts Burnett Library of the future look like? Students may be
able to use PalmPilots to access databases. The library will initiate
new partnerships with groups on campus, such as Career Services and Instructional
Technology. Library users will be able to seek reference help in online
everyone will be using the computer more, and we'll buy more electronic
resources," Seal said. "But we'll still need real people to evaluate collections,
offer research guidance and help you with your password."
has to serve cappuccinos to the early risers.