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By Heather O. Milke

“We went through the stacks, climbing over piles of books and manuscripts and monographs and somewhere along the way he turned to me and said, ‘Dr. Elliott, we can’t buy any more books because we don’t have a place to put them.’”

It was Lloyd Elliott’s first real visit to the campus after being named president in 1965, and University Librarian John Russell Mason was giving him a tour of the old Lisner Library. At the time, Elliott thought, “I could just see students rummaging through all of those books and papers and not being able to find anything they were looking for.” New quarters desperately were needed.

By 1973, the Melvin Gelman Library opened its doors. Gelman boasted five times more floor space, three times more seating capacity, and accommodations for more than three times the number of books as its Lisner predecessor. More than one million volumes were housed under its roof. A major milestone had been achieved.

Today, GW’s library system is again bulging at the seams; its two millionth volume was acquired last year. While space is still an issue, Gelman and other university library systems are increasingly challenged by a new reality: the cost and efforts required to maintain a top-notch, electronically connected learning center. But with solid support from GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, Gelman is meeting that challenge.

No longer is the university library staff comprised of the head librarian and a few assistants. A full team of experts, including experienced information technology systems professionals, exists to coordinate the endless growth process of making information available to students.

“Library administrators today must be expert leaders and managers, flexible and adaptable, comfortable with a high level of ambiguity, and able to draw creative ideas and solutions to problems from a variety of sources. As a consequence, librarians are often the best administrators and managers on most campuses,” says University Librarian Jack Siggins.

Although he does not say so explicitly, Siggins is describing himself. It is he who leads GW’s Gelman Library System, which consists of the Gelman Library on the Foggy Bottom campus, the Eckles Library at the Mount Vernon campus, and the Virginia Campus Library.

Siggins knows better than anyone at GW how library management has changed in this information age. He joins previous librarians, like Sharon Rogers, who have guided Gelman through some of its biggest technology transformations, as the library has changed from card catalog stops to computer terminal stations with online assistance of the variety you might find on Amazon.com. Also, in 1998, he led the GW libraries’ election to the prestigious Association of Research Libraries, which consists of only 122 major North American libraries.

What began with wanting more computers and online search capability has evolved into a never-ending battle to stay on top of the fast-paced technology race. “Library managers no longer have the luxury of gradually introducing new technologies in library processes and services,” Siggins says. “Whereas in the late 1960s and 1970s, major technical innovations might have evolved over a period of several years, today even greater changes often are made in a matter of a few months, and even that length of time is being shortened.” The pressure is on to provide a much wider range of resources in a much shorter time.

The electronic transformation has affected libraries so much so that now some new libraries currently at the blueprint stage are scaling back their physical plant and using the saved resources to enhance online offerings. The trend in these libraries with smaller quarters means less shelf space and more space dedicated to computers and online searching. But even without scaling back other portions of the building, all libraries are finding they need more seating, more computers, and more places for students to hook up their own computers.

This shift in facilities parallels a shift in students’ and faculty members’ research behaviors that began occurring with the advent of mass information sharing via the Internet. “Today’s university library users expect instantaneous access to all resources,” Siggins says, explaining that many of today’s students have a greater desire for quickness and ease of access than for thoroughness and accuracy.

“The Internet has produced both positive and negative effects. On the one hand it meets the craving for instant access to a wide array of information. On the other hand, the information available on the Internet is notorious because it is often false and unreliable.”

So the challenges for faculty members and librarians are to require accuracy and encourage students to explore other, more reliable sources. The Internet is both this blessing and curse. Where a student can get online and download a bunch of nameless, useless resources that cannot be attributed to a reputable source, the student alternatively could be logging on through the library system and gaining a huge amount of research from amazing and reliable sources in a very short amount of time.

“The concomitant challenges for librarians are to keep up with the myriad of new resources becoming available, to train students to be more discerning in their evaluation of information from the Internet, and to teach them how to find and use other sources effectively,” Siggins says.

And this reality is why libraries are finding they have many shoes to fill. The physical world has not disappeared in favor of the virtual world—at least not yet, anyway. Both worlds exist and need all the resources of a multidimensional library team.

For what seems a daunting and unattainable task, Gelman has achieved several milestones. While Gelman administrators are not about to give up their building space in favor of an all-electronic format, they are making some impressive advances in the use of technology.

“We look for every opportunity to adopt effective uses of technology and electronic information sources into our services, processes, and planning,” Siggins says.

For example, Gelman first began to test wireless delivery of computer services about three years ago, almost a year before anyone else on campus seriously began to think about such innovation.

And when GW introduced the classroom support software called Prometheus, library staff worked closely with the programmers to develop an electronic reserves function, which made Prometheus the first among its competitors to offer such a feature.

The Gelman team also has focused more attention and resources on the instruction of students and faculty members in the uses of information technology and on the development of effective skills in research and writing. Librarians call such programs information literacy. “Our view is that GW’s students need to have gained two primary skills by the time they graduate: one, a high level of cognitive and analytical ability; and two, the ability to find answers by research using both electronic and traditional resources,” Siggins says.

As an example of the library’s technical prowess, the University selected the library to be the first campus department to make use of a new network infrastructure that’s being implemented on campus to upgrade to the latest advances in Internet connectivity. “This new connection, called a gigabit ethernet, will increase the available network bandwidth by a factor of 10,” says William Mayer, assistant university librarian for information technology. “In all cases, this will mean increased potential for applications like netmeeting, streaming audio and video, as well as virtual reference and similar applications.”

The temptation of many students now to simply “check the Web” to complete a research assignment is the library’s biggest challenge. It has to be admitted these days that there are some students who barely set foot in the library during their college tenure.

The technology behind the Internet can be one of the most powerful forces in generating a higher level of research but also one of the most detrimental forces in learning. The library needs to be the place where students come to learn how to research properly, whether in person in the stacks or in the online world.

Siggins sees librarians’ role as helping students to understand the difference. “Students graduate into a complex society that requires new skills and knowledge,” he says. To support student learning, Gelman’s instructional librarians and staff have created a variety of instructional packages, including for-credit classes on information literacy that are currently offered to students.

Additionally, library administrators continue to focus on electronic delivery of services. Gelman now offers electronic requesting of services and materials, Web renewal of library materials, Web delivery of articles, electronic reserve services, and digital reference services. In the fall of 2001 Gelman also began delivering instructional, research assistance, and document delivery services to distance education students.

Further advances are possible with the new gigabit infrastructure. A virtual reference librarian tool, which was tested in the spring through a Washington Research Library Consortium initiative, should soon be a permanent feature on Gelman’s Web site.

And with Gelman’s continuing association with the WRLC, the offerings to a GW student are expanded to what’s available not only from GW but also from several other Washington-area universities.

While Gelman is pioneering in the world of electronic information, it has not left behind the world of the precious printed word—a world of stacks of books and rare collections, where the heft of an impressive volume weighs heavily in a student’s hands, and the eloquent typefaces of historic records reward students who take the time to visit the library and discover such resources. Gelman’s Special Collections Department is one area in which Gelman still concentrates some of these traditional efforts (see “Did You Know?” sidebar).

Yet, clearly, the electronic world cannot be ignored. Library managers now have to master two kinds of crafts. And in searching for a way to expand such diverse and increasingly expensive endeavors, many university libraries have entered into unfamiliar territory: the land of the development office. “This trend grows out of the fact that traditional academic library budgets, and overall campus budgets, can’t keep pace with the skyrocketing costs of serial subscriptions and the explosion of important electronic resources,” says Lizanne Payne, executive director of the WRLC, of which GW is a member. “Consortial purchasing does help, however; and raising funds externally helps also, especially to cover more specialized needs or subject areas,” she says.

But the consortium cannot provide everything, so Gelman recently established its own development office, funded with part of its 2001 voluntary library fee funds. The office will be working with library administrators and the Friends of the GW Libraries to increase the charitable donations available to the library.

While university presidents like GW’s own Stephen Joel Trachtenberg place library budgetary priorities among the top of their lists, the increasing expenses libraries are incurring make it difficult for a standard university budget to fulfill all its needs. Association of Research Libraries Executive Director Duane Webster acknowledges that President Trachtenberg has been a particular champion of GW’s library efforts. “He has been a principal factor in getting GW’s library into ARL. It was part of his vision, and from the outset, he made that vision happen, particularly with turning to Jack Siggins, who has experience from Yale, Maryland, and Chicago. This is the sort of leader we need to bring this library into research library status.”

Siggins acknowledges that seeking outside support for library needs is a necessary move. In addition to the growing cost of electronic resources, the amount of recorded knowledge is growing at a much faster rate then ever before, he says; “In the 1990s, the volume of material published worldwide was far greater than anyone anticipated when Gelman was built 25 years ago.”

In addition, “There have been concurrent changes in the economies of research libraries in the last decade. Scientific, technical, and medical journals have had about triple the increase as compared to the increase in the cost of living at the same time that the process of investing in electronic resources has increased. This new format is an unfunded mandate for libraries today,” says Webster. To cope with this world order, ARL made fund development a major theme of its 2002 annual meeting.

The world of fund raising can be a tremendous opportunity for the library, Webster says. “The library is a treasure for the whole campus—a treasure that many alumni, who do not feel an affiliation with a department or segment of the university, may want to express support for. The library, in fact, is an attractive source of investment for alumni who care about the university.”

So now Gelman casts another eye on its changing landscape; honor the traditional acquisitions efforts, scan for new technologies, and be on the lookout for new friends in new places. It is a leadership test for libraries, Webster says, but a test that he thinks Siggins will pass with flying colors.

University Librarian Jack Siggins and Professor James C. King display the two millionth volume, a rare book, donated by King. The volume is a historic atlas, circa 1838, that shows the individual states, territories, and major U.S. cities, along with maps of Canada and the West Indies.

University Librarian Jack Siggins, President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, GW Trustee Estelle Gelman, and Friends of the GW Libraries President Walter E. Beach unveiled the wall of honor at the entrance to The Gelman Library to recognize donors to the library system. Estelle Gelman is the wife of the late Melvin Gelman, for whom the library is named. In 1980, Estelle Gelman endowed the library in the name of her husband with a $1.5 million gift for unrestricted library development.

Two Million and Counting

In October 2001, GW’s library system celebrated the acquisition of its two millionth and two million and first volumes. The two million volumes are the cumulative total of the collections of all five GW libraries: the Melvin Gelman Library, the Eckles Library at the Mount Vernon campus, the Virginia Campus Library, the Medical School’s Paul Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library, and the Law School’s Jacob Burns Law Library.

The official two millionth volume is a rare book acquired through a gift from James C. King, a grateful alumnus, professor emeritus, and an ardent patron of the Melvin Gelman Library. The volume, An Illustrated Atlas; Geographical, Statistical, and Historical, of the United States, and the Adjacent Countries by T.G. Bradford dates from 1838 and shows the individual states, territories, and major cities of the United States, with maps of Canada and the West Indies.

Marking the sign of the times, the two million and first volume, provided by an anonymous donor, is an electronic resource called the Web of Science, a citation database that combines the content of the Social Sciences Citation Index, the Science Citation Index, and the Arts and Humanities Citation Index. The Web of Science allows users to navigate among complete bibliographic references, author abstracts, cited references, author and publisher addresses, and full-text journal articles. The database covers more than 8,000 international journals.

In addition to presenting the two historic volumes, University Librarian Jack Siggins, President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, GW Trustee Estelle Gelman, and Friends of the GW Libraries President Walter E. Beach unveiled a “Wall of Honor” in the lobby of The Gelman Library to recognize donors to the library system.

Visible Progress

As many readers are aware, each semester every student account includes a $50 library fee. While most universities build such a fee into the mandatory portion of a student’s account, GW makes this portion of the bill optional. Although the fee is voluntary, library administrators say the contributions are critical.

As the student liaison to The Gelman Library, Matthew Tisdale knows the specific benefits students gain from providing the library donation. It is Tisdale’s job to ensure that the library’s services are meeting the requirements of today’s GW student as well as paving the way to meet the needs of future students.

“We encourage parents and students to visit the Library and see what a huge difference their $50 voluntary gift makes to our facility and services,” he says. “This year Gelman Library used the voluntary gifts of students to purchase badly needed new furniture, computers, shelving services, and crucial additions to the collection.”Some of that furniture can be seen here on the Gelman Library’s sixth floor.

Alfred F. Schmidt, University Librarian from 1906 to 1933, for many of his working years sat among the dark stacks of books at the old Lisner Library, where students would visit him to be counseled, both day and night, during his work hours that often ranged from 8:30 a.m. until 11 p.m. Before teaching an evening class, Schmidt could be found having a small snack in his quarters, where he usually was not alone. As his daughter, Martha Schmidt, wrote in a 1972 article in the GW Times, “Although father ate lunch at the Cosmos Club, his evening meal consisted of crackers and milk at his desk. Often he brought cheese with him, and in the late afternoon quiet, an occasional mouse or two were allowed to share the evening snack. Father was as interested in them as he was in humans, and one evening an older library student came early to talk with him before class and walked in just as Father was entertaining his friend, the mouse. General confusion resulted, and it was several nights before the mouse resumed his regular visits. I presume the student also recovered.”

Although he became known as an entertainer of mice, Schmidt carried the GW library tradition through a tough fiscal era. And as a teacher and counselor to students, GW was lucky to have him. His life at Old Lisner is just one example of how far the library has come.

Did You Know?

A U.S. bond issued by Paul Revere to President George Washington, a lottery ticket from D.C.’s first drawing in 1793, and holy land maps dating from 1493 are just a few of the many historic items housed within The Gelman Library.

From the University Archives: The Columbian College class of 1906.

The Special Collections Department of The Gelman Library acquires, preserves, and makes available materials in three particular areas of interest: Washingtoniana, the history of GW, and the University’s research and curricular needs. Highlighted below are a few of the major collections of The Gelman Library:

Gelman’s Washingtoniana Collection comprises books, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, and other photos and memorabilia that deal with the history of Washington, D.C. The core of the collection was formed from the W. Lloyd Wright Collection, acquired in the early 1950s, that includes items such as Benjamin Banneker’s 1795 Almanac, and 18th- and 19th-century letters dealing with the development of the District of Columbia. The Charles Suddarth Kelly Photographic Collection includes thousands of images of the city of Washington from the 1860s to the 1950s. Papers from Peter S. Craig show the development of transportation from the 1930s to 1975. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority collection illustrates the construction of Metro lines and stations. And the collection of the Capital Hill Restoration Society focuses on historic preservation.

The I. Edward Kiev Judaica Collection, referred to by The Washington Post as one of the best collections of Judaica and Hebraica in the country, contains more than 18,000 volumes on religion, philosophy, classics, and art. The collection was donated in 1994 by the family of I. Edward Kiev, who spent 32 years as the chief librarian of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. One of the largest of its kind in the District of Columbia and on the East coast, Rabbi Kiev’s personal collection contains not only books and journals but also manuscripts and artifacts. While most of the collection dates from the 19th and 20th centuries, there are also pieces dating back to earlier centuries. GW was a natural fit for the collection, as it already had developed a comprehensive set of holdings in the field of Judaic studies and Yiddish Literature.

The Slavic, East European, and Asian Reading Room is a reference and research collection focusing primarily on the post-World War II political, economic, and military affairs of the Russian Federation, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, China, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea. The collection’s history at Gelman began in the 1970s when it was transferred to Gelman by the Elliott School’s Sino-Soviet Institute (now the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies). Although a modest collection in the beginning, it has changed dramatically in the past several years. Researchers and analysts now can find more than 400 newspaper and periodical subscriptions on the Reading Room’s shelves or in Gelman’s ALADIN online catalog. Publications include titles from China, Taiwan, Japan, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Central Asia, Russia, and the Baltics. Full text of many of these periodicals are now available through the ALADIN online catalog.

From Gelman’s Washingtoniana Collection: Easter at the White House in the early 1900s.

The Africana Research Center, established in September 2001, focuses on resources defining the experience of African Americans in the United States generally and in Washington, D.C., in particular. Curator Francine Henderson is leading an effort with University Librarian Jack Siggins to build the new center by acquiring, preserving, and making accessible resources supporting Africana study and research. The center’s resources, facilities, programs, and exhibits will serve the University’s growing Africana program as well as the needs of others researching and documenting African American history in the nation’s capital and elsewhere. A particular focus will be on increasing the collection of materials by and about African Americans in Washington, D.C. The library plans to raise funds to endow the curator position and support the acquisition and preparation of resources to assure their accessibility for study and research. It also plans to make key documents from its collections available via the Web.

University Archives is the official repository for the records of GW, and the gateway to its past. In addition to its collection on the seventh floor of Gelman, an extensive Web site that includes the GW Historical Almanac provides information on GW’s history, selected campus publications, articles and chronologies about the University and descriptions of some of the University Archives’ holdings. Photos, official records, oral histories, and other memorabilia can be found on topics ranging from GW athletics (including now defunct sports like football) to the University’s ties to President George Washington. University Archives also maintains the Memorabilia Room, located near the front entrance of Gelman Library, that showcases the Unviersity’s history and its connections to George Washington and the city of Washington, D.C. GW Magazine owes credit to this arm of the library for many of the images it has published throughout the years.

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