Libraries of the Future
Quiet still reigns
in the libraries of Binghamton University. But don't let that fool
you. A revolution is brewing. There's a loud tug of war going on.
Pulling on one side is library tradition, the notion that libraries should
be filled with paper books, journals and other research materials. Tugging
from the other side is technological change, in the form of digital access
Arbitrating the struggle is John Meador, director of University Libraries.
He relishes the challenge of helping the libraries embrace technological
change while maintaining vital traditional services.
"We're on the cusp of an information revolution," said Meador.
"For centuries, libraries gathered and preserved a scarce commodity
called knowledge. But information today has exploded. It's available in
a bewildering number of formats, and not just in libraries, but everywhere.
We're being transformed by the technology of network computing."
While they work to evolve, Meador and his staff are running two libraries
in one. The first is a traditional physical library. The other is digital.
Exemplifying its commitment to tradition is Binghamton Libraries' recent
acquisition of nearly 4,500 volumes of 19th-century and modern Chinese
books. "If you are in the humanities," said Meador, "98
percent of your materials still are on paper."
Not so in the sciences, where Binghamton's digital library serves the
needs of constituents on a quest for quick access to knowledge.
"If you are in physics or chemistry," said Meador, "you
want the latest journals delivered digitally to your computer. They contain
information you can manipulate electronically from anywhere, without ever
having the need to come to the library."
To provide such "e-data," along with other technical tools focused
on retrieving, evaluating and effectively using digital information, Binghamton
Libraries already have introduced numerous services. Others are planned
for the immediate future. These include:
Checkout and Renewal
A machine in the Glenn Bartle Library lobby makes checking out a book
as simple as running it through a scanner. Users can renew books online
through the University Libraries website.
As well as answering questions via e-mail, Binghamton Libraries now offer
live chat reference, a service enabling users to communicate directly
with reference librarians -- and receive guidance from them -- via computer.
In an effort to offer "one-stop-shopping," BU Libraries plan
construction of an Information Commons on the main floor of Bartle Library.
As well as facilitating access to the Libraries' print and digital collections,
the Commons will provide equipment needed to process information gleaned
from those collections into electronic papers, theses and dissertations
featuring multimedia and other digital components.
Scanning of Microfilm or Microfiche
Researchers at the Bartle Library can transfer selected microfilm or microfiche
files to a computerized machine called a reader. Once in the reader, microfilm
or fiche articles can be scanned as documents, burned to CDs or e-mailed
to the user's personal computer.
Delivery from Inter-Library Loan
Not only can users of the University Libraries fill out Inter-Library
Loan requests online, they also can request that the materials they seek
be delivered to them electronically. Institutions possessing the materials
will scan them and send them via e-mail.
Faced with the challenge of incorporating these and other digital innovations
into a library culture traditionally dependent on paper, John Meador put
it best when he said, "This is a very exciting time to be a librarian!"
Added Meador: "Wherever the future takes us, I want people to say:
'University Libraries are where I need to go, regardless of what kind
of format the knowledge I'm seeking is in.'"
Two Binghamton alumni recently shared memories of their time in
University Libraries, and the value they place on those hours.
Harris Tilevitz ’78 currently serves as chief
technology officer for Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
LLP in New York City.
Wrote Tilevitz: “Working in the Rare Book Room as part of
my senior honors thesis (history) proved an essential part of my
education. The experience not only instilled in me an appreciation
for detail, it allowed me to immerse myself in primary sources and
relive the events they described. All the while, I felt keenly aware
the work I was doing might provide historical insight for future
Ralph Blanchard earned his MA at Binghamton in 1970 and his doctorate
in history in 1972. The Georgia resident recently retired as CEO
of LDI Reproprinting Centers.
Wrote Blanchard: “I would have never been able to complete
my doctoral dissertation had it not been for the University Library
reference staff. They first helped me locate materials I needed
in the British Museum in London and in other European libraries.
They then made special arrangements to have these materials microfilmed
and sent to me for my research. I have always been grateful for
the library’s assistance. I couldn’t have done it without
-- Rick Marsi