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Brave New Library

"Historically, our libraries have housed collections," said Provost Barry Scherr at the dedication of the Baker-Berry Library in 2002. "They still do and they always will. But at the dawn of this new century, [their] role is to provide connections." Scherr observed that the change would have "tremendous impact on our faculties, our students, our librarians...and our patrons."

Fast forward to 2006.

The new library complex feels like home. Novack Café and Main Street, two of the most boisterous places on campus, are steps away from the hush of the Tower Room, the Sherman Art Library, and Sanborn House. Innovative hubs such as the Writing Program, the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning, Computing Services, and the Jones Media Center, all share space under Baker-Berry's broad roof.

Jeffrey Horrell, Cayelan Carey '06, James Bartholomew '05
College Librarian Jeffrey Horrell (left), Student Representative to the Dartmouth Council on Libraries Cayelan Carey '06 (center), and Digital Media Assistant James Bartholomew '05 in the Jones Media Center. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

And, when nearby Kemeny Hall and the Haldeman Center open later this year, much of Dartmouth's multidisciplinary work will be brought into the library's orbit.

"There was a point," says Dean of Libraries and Librarian of the College Jeffrey Horrell, "when people thought everything would be electronic and we wouldn't need physical libraries. We're seeing just the opposite. People just want to be around other people, and libraries are community spaces that students and faculty use at all hours of the day and night."

But the "profound shift" Scherr described continues to push the boundaries of what's expected of Dartmouth's libraries, and of its professionals. According to Horrell, keeping up with technological innovation, and finding ways to collect, organize, and preserve in the digital domain, are the greatest challenges.

"We've dealt with these issues in the print world," he says, "but in the digital world, information is fleeting and defies categorization. The curriculum is constantly emerging, and faculty members need new tools that reflect their teaching and scholarship."

One of those tools, "Borrow Direct," provides access to over 35 million items-within 72 hours-from libraries at Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Princeton, UPenn, and Yale. Another, "DartDoc," allows documents to be sent directly to a laptop, while a new agreement with WebFeat makes simultaneous searches across multiple databases possible.

"Technology is no longer just a service," says Horrell. "It's an integral part of the College's academic work and it defines the learning environment for students."

Cayelan Carey '06 represents students on Dartmouth's Council on Libraries. "The libraries are absolutely critical to us and we need to get to know the people there who make decisions that affect our educations," she says. To jump-start the process, she organized "Lunch with the Librarian of the College," a series that debuted last month. "Students should get together with senior library staff to exchange ideas."

This is essential, according to Carey, because even for today's students-members of a generation that can't remember a time before computers-the pace is dizzying.

"I didn't expect all these changes coming into college," says James Bartholomew '05, "but now I depend on them." Bartholomew is the Jones Media Center's first Digital Media Assistant, where he helps faculty and students integrate visual materials into their work.

"In this increasingly networked environment, Dartmouth also has a responsibility to share our most important objects with the world," says Horrell. "This brings the teaching and learning experiences more into alignment with the way students and faculty live."

"The College has an illustrious history of innovation in technology," he adds. "We're experiencing a natural progression from John Kemeny's vision of 40 years ago." (Dartmouth's 13th president, Kemeny co-invented the BASIC computer language with his colleague Thomas Kurtz, integrated computer language into the curriculum, and foresaw what would become the Internet.)

"We're using that legacy," says Horrell, "to build our future."


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Last Updated: 5/30/08