Books, Bytes And Pixels

Like previous generations of SMU students, Jake Torres slips away to the isolated west stacks of Fondren Library Center when he needs to study. But today’s SMU libraries offer the busy student much more than a place to study without interruption.

Computer stations have replaced long wooden tables on the first floor of Fondren. And students now use the library’s soundproof group study rooms, video studios, podcasting booths and web-design stations to complete class assignments.

“The library has amazing research materials online and in print, and the personal study rooms are very convenient for group projects,” says Torres, student body president.

As a reminder of how much academic libraries have changed, a wooden card catalog with index-sized cards sits in the office suite of Dean and Director of Central University Libraries Gillian McCombs, though she never flips through those remnants of the past. “Students and faculty members access library information and resources in a different way than they did 10 or even five years ago,” McCombs says. “Even though libraries today are so much more than books, bricks and mortar, they still exist to put people in touch with information they need.”

Students and faculty now search SMU’s electronic library resources on a Google-like platform that, in one step, directs them to resources in books, journals, databases, media and newspaper articles.

TRUTH ONLINE

First-year students at SMU quickly learn that faculty members do not accept Wikipedia as a source, because volunteers, not necessarily experts, create the entries. Instead, students and faculty scholars rely on online materials available only through SMU libraries – approximately 20,000 magazine or journal subscriptions archived to the earliest editions available, 472 databases, 308,700 e-books and 8,330 digitized items from special collections, a number that’s growing monthly. Or they can always use the libraries’ more than 3 million books.

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Studying in the stacks in Underwood Law Library.

“Libraries are the gateway to accurate information,” says Patricia Van Zandt, Central University Libraries director of scholarly resources and research services. “If students use sources they find in the library catalog and from the library webpage, they can be sure that those sources will be reliable.”

Junior English major and Student Senate secretary Katie Perkins uses the digital archive JSTOR for the 10-15 papers she writes each semester. “I’ve used many of the databases the library provides for research,” she says. “JSTOR is the most helpful.”

JSTOR comprises more than 1,000 academic publications ranging from Africa Today to The Western Historical Quarterly. Created in 1995 as a resource for academic libraries, JSTOR offers the full-text back files of scholarly journals, the oldest dating to 1665.

Sifting through enormous amounts of data creates new challenges for students, says Alisa Rata Stutzbach ’99, director of Hamon Arts Library. Stutzbach served on the General Education Review Committee that designed SMU’s new general education curriculum that will start in fall 2012. The new curriculum will include a Nature of Scholarship course dedicated to research approaches to difficult questions.

“The hardest part is learning to evaluate information,” Stutzbach says. “Is it reliable? Timely? Applicable? The technology will change, but the core principles of research are skills that students will be able to apply everywhere.”

Digital collections:
worldwide accessibility

More than 5,000 images ranging from ancient Babylonian stone tablets to medieval manuscripts to Civil War photographs to Texas artists’ sketchbooks can be viewed on the SMU libraries’ digital collections website. The images represent items in special collections at Bridwell Library, DeGolyer Library, Hamon Arts Library and Underwood Law Library.
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Faculty members also face new rewards and challenges with the data explosion created by new technology. “While technology has simplified the searching process, the generation of literature from the scientific community also is accelerating,” says John Buynak, professor of chemistry and chair of the Faculty Senate Subcommittee on Libraries. “Our workload has changed from flipping through relevant volumes to assimilating and organizing an enormous amount of data.”

Twenty years ago Buynak began a research project by spending at least a week in the library looking at hundreds of science indices and tracking down print copies of articles. “By contrast, I now can perform this same background search from my office computer and download nearly all of the articles in a matter of minutes.”

Although students and faculty can access SMU electronic resources from computers anywhere in the world, the number of visitors to SMU libraries increases each year. By student request, Fondren Library has been open 24 hours a day since 2006. “I’m a night owl,” says Torres, a senior English major. “Twenty-four-hour access is a huge resource for me and many other students. I’ve pulled countless all-nighters in Fondren preparing for exams or finishing papers.”

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By student request, Fondren Library Center implemented a 24-hour schedule in 2006.

Students also count on SMU libraries for expert assistance and technical resources well beyond the software on their laptop computers. When a faculty member assigns a video, podcast or creation of a website, students head to the Norwick Center for Digital Services. The center features 12 iMac creation stations, two group project rooms with video editing software and two rooms with video projectors and cameras that allow students to practice and record classroom presentations. Staff is available for hands-on assistance.

Variations, new music software at Hamon Arts Library, enables students to listen to audio and view digital scores simultaneously. “In contrast, when I was a music performance major in the late ’90s, to do the same thing, I checked out an LP and a score, then read along as I played the LP on a turntable,” says Stutzbach. “After two hours I had to return the LP and score for other students.”

Music composition major Jason Ballmann also relies on Hamon for the Naxos Music Library, which provides streaming access to more than 50,000 CDs. “I have created advertisements using Photoshop, caught the tiniest error in my personal scores on the large-screen TVs and scanned a 60-page score in fewer than five minutes on the large-format scanner,” says Ballmann, a senior.

TAILORED FOR BUSINESS

At the Business Information Center in Cox School of Business, students can follow real-time financial and market data, pricing and trading on the Bloomberg financial wire; gather for group projects at one of 70 computer stations; or print résumés or business cards on designated computers. When Cox faculty member Amy Puelz assigns a class presentation in her Information Systems for Management class, students can videotape practice sessions in a library studio equipped with podium software that simulates a Cox classroom.

The number of annual reference inquiries to library staff at the center doubled from 2007 to 2009, from 659 to 1,220, says Sandal Miller, director of the Business Information Center. Nationally, academic librarians answer more than 72.8 million
reference questions a year, according to the American Library Association.

WHAT’S NEXT?

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SMU libraries bear little resemblance to the first campus library that was located in a room in Dallas Hall. The University system now comprises more than 3 million total volumes and seven campus libraries – DeGolyer Library, Fondren Library Center, Hamon Arts Library, Institute for the Study of Earth and Man, Business Information Center, and the professional Dedman Law Library and Bridwell Library, as well as off-campus libraries at SMU-in-Taos and SMU-in-Plano.

But the libraries are just as central to SMU’s academic mission as when the first students set foot on campus in 1915, McCombs says. “A library was formerly judged on the size of its physical collections. But today a library must be measured in terms of the access it provides to materials located around the world as well as its unique on-site collections.”

SMU’s Second Century Campaign seeks funding for renovation of Fondren Library Center as well as for continued expansion of book collections and electronic resources.

“This is the brave new world of information access – our students want and expect to have it all at their fingertips,” McCombs adds. “Meeting their needs is more complex, more challenging and infinitely more exciting than ever.”

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