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Wise Library Rededication

Posted by
October 4th, 2003

The invitation:


On October 2, 2003, the WVU Libraries rededicated the newly restored Charles C. Wise, Jr. Library. This is a record of Gerald Lang’s speech, remarks, and photos from the following reception.

myra lowe photo
Myra N. Lowe
Associate Dean, WVU Libraries

“We are so fortunate to have this beautifully restored facility. It’s something that gives us so much pride. I recently read that antiques and beautifully restored buildings lend grace to our lives and lift our spirits. I believe that even though this library was built in 1931, there was so much quality, character and beauty restored during the renovation that our users will enjoy what this library has to offer for many, many years.”

Armand Singer
Professor Emeritus, Foreign Languages

“I’ve been around since 1940. This library was quite young, only nine years old – the paint hadn’t even started to peel. Since then, I’ve inhabited the library like a second home. I’ve always had an apartment or a house, but I only half needed it.” “This old part of the library is wonderful. I’m proud of it, and I hope you all are too. We’re a lucky bunch.”

David C. Hardesty Jr.
President, West Virginia University

“I believed in my first year as president and I believe now that a strong library system is critical and undergirds the quality of a great institution. Discovering, absorbing, and transmitting knowledge is still the primary task of students who work here today. This is the next great generation of students and they are seeking to understand the world in which we live and all its problems. And I have great confidence that they are going to get the job done. They’re working hard and they’re using the library to do it.”

Frances O’Brien
Dean, WVU Libraries

“The Library has become a destination for WVU students. Information is easy to come by these days; good public spaces are not. This building has the old fashioned juxtaposition of intellectual riches and luxurious marble, brass, and wood. Far from being an abandoned space, it is alive with readers who want to be here.”

Gerald Lang photo
Gerald E. Lang
Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs and Research,
West Virginia University

“I believe we have shown what quality facilities can accomplish on a campus. Namely, we can change the attitudes and habits of students and focus attention on the academic learning environment that is fundamental to student success. The power of place on a campus is important and cannot be overlooked. Whether at the Evansdale Library, our new library, or the renovated Wise Library, we have reached out to better serve our students.” The text of Gerlad Lang’s entire speech follows the photos below:

Frances O'Brien photo
Dean Frances O’Brien speaks with James Milano following the rededication ceremony. The ceremony was held in the Milano Reading Room, which honors alumni James and Ann Milano who met in the room while students more than 60 years ago.

group photo
Ann and James Milano, along with their family and President David C. Hardesty, Jr. and Libraries Dean Frances O’Brien

Robinsons photo
Susan and James Robinson pose outside of the Robinson Reading Room, which honors the former president of the WVU Foundation.

Guihers photo
James Guiher, Elizabeth Guiher, James Hornor Davis III, and West Virginia and Regional History Collection Curator John Cuthbert pose in Davis Family Gallery I.

Provost Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs and Research,
West Virginia University, Gerald Lang’s Speech

Where Do We Go Next?

Thank you and good morning. What a great day! I thank you all for being here.

I want to begin with a question: What do I have in common with Laura Bush and Charles Vest? We were all invited to speak this morning. Mrs. Bush was unable to commit to being with us today. I believe she is in France on business regarding our national state of affairs. Dr. Vest, a Morgantown native, WVU graduate and now President of MIT, was unavailable due to a prior commitment. I, of course, am most pleased to be here. On behalf of the three amigos, I bring greetings from Laura and Charles.

The Charge And Our Accomplishments

In January 1996, then newly appointed President David Hardesty announced in his State of the University address that we would spend $25 million to build a new library, and he charged me as Provost to oversee the task. In the intervening time we have spent much more and done much more than build a new library – we made a commitment to enhancing all of our campus library facilities, and for this we can take great pride. We built an off-site depository or storage facility, completely renovated Evansdale Library, built the new downtown library, and completely renovated Wise Library. The new library you entered to walk to this stunning reading room exemplifies our work.

We have also invested in improvements to our Law Library and our Math Library. And now our Health Sciences Center is planning its new health sciences learning center, which will include state-of-the-art technology-driven facilities along with a renovation of their library. I am confident in the future success of this project as Ruthie Nellis will help guide the process, just as she did for us over the past six years in the general university. In these difficult economic times, this institution has shown its commitment to the intellectual core of learning – the storage and access to knowledge and information in first class facilities. But I would note – we have done more than create these wonderful facilities. These facilities only serve as surrogates for our real goal, namely to create state-of-the-art technological and physical learning environments to nurture student learning, to foster research, and to support economic development – all part of the University’s land-grant mission. Now nearly eight years after my charge from President Hardesty, I declare the task complete.

In my remarks from the groundbreaking ceremony on June 20, 1999, West Virginia Day, I referenced a book titled Library the Drama Within. I shared a few visions from that book as a way to bring alive our vision for the future. The opening line of the Introduction to the book stated: “Libraries are exciting and inspirational places that change lives.” Oh how true for Jim and Ann Milano who met in this library, in this room, named for them in recognition of their generosity. Clearly their lives were changed. As I walk through this room on a typical school day, I can’t help but wonder who next will be influenced by this place.

A second image I referenced was the classical reading room lined with bookcases. The two quotes I used were: “A bookcase is as good a view, as the sight of a city or a river.” Or, “There were many hours when I never quite knew how I’d gotten there or why I stayed.” Looking around this room, it is easy to see why the view is spectacular and why people choose to stay. Yes our WVU libraries are places of knowledge, transforming people, changing lives.

Let me talk briefly about our other investments in our libraries. New technology abounds, for example. Rush Miller, Director of the University of Pittsburgh, University Library System, served as a consultant for us throughout the past six years. When he was here for a visit last spring to see the fruits of our labor, he noted that our technology was more advanced than that at most academic libraries throughout the country. We made the choice to invest heavily into technology, and it is evident to those who use our libraries and to those who visit and have a broader frame of reference with which to judge. 200 computers are available for our students, plus special multimedia project rooms. Often all of the computers are in use by 10:00 AM, sometimes with students waiting for access. 1000 of the 1200 user seats are “hot” and ready for Internet access if you bring your personal laptop. Our students and faculty have access to 10,000 full-text journals on-line. For them these journals are available anytime, anywhere, even in their offices and in their homes. This was not the case a few years ago, as we did not have the capacity to handle this amount of digital information.

We have also not forgotten our roots, namely printed materials. For the past three years we have committed offline an additional $100K each year for new monographs from a special account in Academic Affairs in spite of budget reductions. And Dean O’Brien has matched that investment. Together, we have been able to purchase approximately 4100 additional new University Press monographs annually. Not to do so would mean another opportunity lost in support of our academic programs for future generations. I remain committed to making this annual investment for several more years.

At this time, I want to acknowledge Dr. Nancy Lohmann, former Senior Associate Provost. Nancy worked on the library initiative from its inception. She oversaw much of the conceptual development early on, negotiating with the library staff on what would be our collective vision. A story might help at this point. Either Nancy or I or both of us would walk through the former facilities counting patrons. On most occasions, the library was underutilized. There were few patrons. Nancy and I were told that we had come at the wrong time. So we went back – in the mornings, afternoons, evenings, weekdays and weekends. The library was rarely crowded. The case for a new library could not be made on use. It was our belief, however, that the facility was underutilized because it was unwelcoming – it was worn and tired; it was a technological dinosaur; it did not provide an environment where students wanted to go to read and study. It was not the place where Jim and Ann Milano met nor where David and Susan Hardesty studied. One faculty colleague even told me she would not encourage her students to use the library because it was so outdated.

The famous line from the movie “Field of Dreams” – build it and they will come – clearly applies. We did; they have. This building is filled daily. As Dean O’Brien noted earlier, we have had our one-millionth patron just yesterday. Students are waiting to use the computers. We have even extended the hours until 2 AM five nights (mornings) a week to accommodate demand. Here is what the undergraduate students say.

* It is amazing. I think it is great.

* I love the study area in the downtown library. You know the two huge rooms in the back, with beautiful wood tables, chairs, statues and personal lamps. It is always quiet, peaceful. This place incites me to study.

* Wise Library is by far one of the most welcoming useful libraries that I have encountered over the years.

Users also say:

* Cell phones are always ringing…. they should not be allowed. [This is the number one complaint.]

* Longer hours, please.

* More computers.

We have done well. These challenges are good ones to face.

I believe we have shown what quality facilities can accomplish on a campus. Namely, we can change the attitudes and habits of students and focus attention on the academic learning environment that is fundamental to student success. The power of place on a campus is important and cannot be overlooked. Whether at the Evansdale Library, our new library, or the renovated Wise Library, we have reached out to better serve our students.

My daughter never used the old library; she now has her “spot” at the Evansdale Library, which she uses routinely.

At breakfast Dean O’Brien thanked our faculty and staff for their support in creating book endowments. Through the Building Greatness Campaign – faculty, staff, friends, alumni – all have contributed in multiple ways to allow us to have the facilities we have today. I too want to say thank you to our donors who are here today for your commitment to the intellectual soul of our campus. I use “soul” because like our current Dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, Duane Nellis, I too, as the former Dean, would refer to the College of Arts and Sciences as the heart of the University. Where there is a heart, there must be a soul and that is our libraries. It gives value and meaning to the breadth of the academic experience.

I want to thank Dorothy Dotson – she established an endowment in my name, and for it I have a study room named in the new facility. My wife and I made the library a recipient of our campaign gift, and we created two book endowments. We dedicated a rocker to our daughter and granddaughter. Yes, it is personal! I am invested in and concerned for the future success of our Libraries.

Where Do We Go Next?

Paul Metz, a bibliographer at Virginia Tech wrote in journal Change: “No one involved in higher education today can afford to ignore the revolution now beginning to transform scholarly and scientific communication. This revolution will with increasing speed utterly recast our research, our instruction, our libraries and computer centers, and even our institutional identifies.” Remarks of today? No. These remarks were made in 1995. Was he not right? Absolutely, without question. If my remarks had a title it would be the question: where do we go next? Libraries have changed substantially since even a decade ago. Card catalogs are gone. Technology is here. Theses and dissertations are now housed electronically. In fact, all information about the WVU library and its holdings is now web-based. Where will academic libraries be in another 10 years?

The Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken, speaks to our challenge. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” I suggest this idea is the challenge we confront as we move our libraries forward from a historically solid print-based foundation to one of less certainty as we confront technology. Clearly the advent of technology is providing the road less traveled by and the one for which we do not know the journey’s end. We are on a journey with an unpredictable end, but we must keep moving forward.

What will be the structure and function of academic libraries a decade from now? Many are asking that question, but no one has the answer. Unfortunately, our visions of the future library are set in the constraints and debates of today. Think back for a moment – the Internet did not exist 10 years ago. Today, we can’t imagine life without it. We cannot know what the future brings a decade from now, either in terms of technology or in terms of the uncertain fiscal realities we face in higher education. But nonetheless, it is valuable to imagine.

It is important that we continue to ask and attempt to answer questions like: How will technology further change academic culture? What will be the function of the place we call “The Library”? What will our patrons expect? What will be the role for librarians in the future? Let me briefly address each.

How Will Technology Change Our Library?

Prevailing wisdom would suggest that technology will drive change in academic libraries. But, where will technology take us?

* Technology will provide a richer information environment than today. As such, our electronic resources will command a larger percentage of the budget.

* The transformational forces of technology that have both burdened and reinvented our libraries will continue – we will see growth in our digital content but also demand for print-based publication as well.

* We will not see an orderly progression of change. Instead, we can predict that change will be interrupted by a technological explosion now and again as technology takes another leap forward. As with the advent of the Internet, some new means by which we will access digital depositories will revolutionize our ways of learning.

* We must begin to think of our libraries as more than physical collections. Oh they will continue to be that. But at the same time the digital age will change the modern library to a vast global collection, serving an international knowledge commons. We will begin to see a robust collection of information assembled in this global commons. We will see global partnerships for information sharing.

Technology is the wild card in the plan for the future library. The evolutionary growth in technology will change our libraries, to the chagrin of some and to the delight of others.

What Will Be “The Library”?

If we hearken back to Ralph Waldo Emerson, he writes in his journal in 1873, “Be a little careful of your Library. Do you foresee what you will do with it? But the real question is, What will it do with you? You will come here & get books that will open your eyes, & your ears, & your curiosity, & turn you inside out or outside in.”

I believe Emerson’s words remain true today. We have created a special place that challenges our soul and our emotions.

Our libraries will continue to provide a place for legacy collections, a place to read and wonder, a place to work in teams, a place to access knowledge, a place to obtain personal assistance. I want to suggest, however, that a change in structure of the library will also occur and at a rapid rate – from one defined strictly by physical location to one defined by its functions through technology, something Emerson could have never imagined.

* Libraries will become the entity that manages documents and access to information.

* Collections will change – they will become patron-selected, provided through consortial arrangements with other libraries and information providers.

* Consortia will be formed to collaborate on the creation and publication of academic journals.

What Will Our Patrons Want From Our Libraries?

Our key patrons are the faculty and student of West Virginia University. Each, I suggest, will want something different.

* Undergraduate students will still want that physical place to come to read and study. They will, however, want Internet access at their study site and will move easily between printed and electronic formats as they do research and write papers.

* Students go on to become alumni. Graduates expect the kinds of facilities and capabilities they grew accustomed to during their college years. An informed public can no longer function without extensive access to information resources. Institutions will need to consider how to make institutional repositories part of a universal free and open scholarship program.

* Faculty will seek desktop access to vast stores of information and expect the library to deliver this anytime, anywhere. Those in engineering and the sciences will especially want access to the latest discoveries available in electronic formats from electronic journals. And although we identify humanities scholars with traditional print matter, even our humanities faculty rely on our full-text electronic journals, like those in the database Project MUSE.

What Will Be The Role Of Librarians?

In a 2003 survey of our library, we learned a couple of interesting facts. First, to confirm our beliefs, we learned that our librarians are viewed by our patrons as a true strength of the library. “Courteous, helpful, skilled, wonderful” are but a few of the adjectives used to describe our librarians. Both the library faculty and the library staff exemplified great patience during our building and remodeling efforts and they worked long hours in the final days to make this library a reality for our patrons. These individuals and Dean O’Brien deserve our recognition and thanks for the job they do.

On a day to day basis, librarians are the guides along the journey to access information both in print and digital formats. Our librarians are the keys to the new library. Our faculty and students, while comfortable with technology, will need specialized training to gain access to the vast amounts of information stored in digital formats and to evaluate its value.

We must ask what tools our librarians will need in 2013. Providing annual training for our librarians is going to be essential so that they can keep up-to-date. I predict our librarians will be teaching more, often having individualized contact with patrons both in person and at a remote site, as they bridge the world between technology and humans. They will be knowledge-providers. They will need to be skilled at going back and forth between print and technology. They will need to be versed in the most modern technology, the tool that will aid in the evaluation and organization of information. Within a decade, libraries will be overflowing with information. The task will be for librarians to bring order and access to the boundless body of knowledge, information, and imagination.

Issues We Face

I have directly alluded to the issues facing our academic libraries over the next decade:

* An unknown but explosive technology
* Fiscal constraints compounded by unrelenting inflation
* Increased patron expectations
* Lack of ability to build collections because of the vast information explosion
* Need to provide anytime, anywhere access
* Highly skilled knowledge-brokers

Of these, each academic library will respond to its technology and personnel needs within its budgetary constraints.

On the other hand, the development of consortium of libraries together with a global commons of free, accessible resources provides a solution to the inability for any library to develop fully its own collections and meet its patrons needs with anywhere, anytime access. This solution responds to nationwide faculty criticism regarding the lack of depth within collections. More libraries will be joining consortia to increase their holdings in a way none can do by themselves.

WVU Becomes A Member of PALCI

At this time, I am pleased to announce a very special partnership for West Virginia University. WVU has recently accepted an invitation to join PALCI, the Pennsylvania Academic Libraries Consortium, Inc. PALCI provides a virtual online union catalog using a web-based interface to search catalogs of member institutions concurrently and then facilitate the direct borrowing of materials. Our participation in this consortium opens up to our faculty and students access to the holdings of nearly 40 consortium schools including the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania State University, University of Pennsylvania, as well as Rutgers University. Or to put it in other terms, access to nearly 26 million volumes in the libraries of the consortium institutions is now available. We have, in effect, increased our holdings 25-fold. And if you go to the PALCI web site, you will see West Virginia University proudly displayed as a member institution. I want to thank Rush Miller and Dan Iddings, Director of PALCI, for inviting WVU into the Consortium. This means so much to us, and on behalf of our faculty and students a special Mountaineer thank you!

Concluding Comments

Germaine Greer, a contemporary feminist writer states, “Libraries are reservoirs of strength, grace and wit, reminders of order, calm and continuity, lakes of mental energy, neither warm nor cold, light nor dark. The pleasure they give is steady, reliable, deep, and long-lasting.” She could have been talking about WVU’s wonderful libraries.

We have a very fine library! We have great facilities and technology. We have a user-friendly staff that embraces a service delivery mission. We have 10,000 full text electronic journals. We have become part of a great 21st century consortium of academic libraries thereby increasing access to a richer monograph collection. We are committed to continue to change and adapt as necessary over the next decade. We are committed to pursuing new avenues for collaboration that might lead to a global commons. We have much to be proud of.

Thank you for joining us today.

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