Ottenheimer Library celebrates progress
Since its 1976 opening, the Ottenheimer Library has moved from card catalogs and typewriters to electronic databases and multimedia tables with outlets for laptops.
Before its construction, the library was in the Administration South building, according to a document from the time. When it was built, the library looked about the same as it does today: a five-story building at the heart of campus.
“The shell was what it is now,” said Wanda Dole, library dean. “There’s not much you can do to the shell except tear down interior walls.”
The first floor contained the “‘keys’ to library use,” it said, like the card catalog and periodical indexes. At that time, the library had only two computers, located behind the circulation desk.
The second floor featured a multimedia center, which included a viewing room for films, a projection booth for slide shows and a darkroom for reproducing archives, it said. “Now we would just scan them,” Dole said.
The fifth floor was meant as expansion space to house the library’s growing collection, the document said. It also housed the conference room for the office of lifelong education, now defunct.
That floor now houses the graduate school and the office of research and sponsored programs, Dole said. She added that the library has made some structural changes since the 1970s.
The library shortened the first floor shelves to let in more light, she said. They also replaced some carpeting and furniture, although Dole said some original furniture remains. The library also added self-checkout.
In 2012, the library removed a second floor wall, giving the area more space for furniture, particularly its five new AGATI Elements Media Tables, she said. The group tables have four laptop outlets, as well as a central flat screen for sharing screen content.
The library has also been making external improvements, Dole said, like washing the exterior and improving signs and landscaping.
Over the years, Dole said that the biggest change has been the shift to digital media. “That’s the big thing in terms of journals and whole collections,” she said. “I library like this couldn’t purchase that in the past.” The electronic resources allow the library to purchase fewer print books, she said, which saves shelf space and labor.
Online resources are also easier to use, and users do not have to come to the building to access them, she said. Rather than relying on grainy, black-and-white slides or microfilm, users can see original documents in detail and color, often accompanied by sound and visuals, she said.
The shift has also presented challenges for the library. One challenge is sustainability and making sure that technology purchased today will continue to be usable in the future, Dole said. Online media also raises questions of ownership; owning database collections is not as straight-forward as owning a book, she said. In addition, keeping up with changing technology is expensive, on top of the rising cost of replenishing library resources, she said.
The improvements are well-worth the effort, Dole said. “Our surveys and national and international resources have shown that having a library as a place is very important to undergraduates,” she said. “We still see lots of students coming in.”
Dole said the library hopes to be a place where students can work alone or in groups, electronically or manually. She added that students should not be afraid to ask librarians questions; it is their job to help.
“Our mission has always been to connect the user with the material they need as efficiently as possible,” she said. That, at least, has not changed. Dole said the library is committed to teaching people how to research, helping people transition into college and anticipating future needs. “We want to teach people to use a library anywhere in the world,” she said.
From 6 to 8 p.m. April 4, the Ottenheimer Library Development Board will present a celebration of its progress. Tickets cost $50. The event will have a 1970s theme, Dole said, and will include music from the time, food and drinks, a slide show with historic pictures, and tours of the library.
“It really is very exciting the changes to the library,” she said. “It doesn’t seem radical to me because I saw the first wave from paper to CD-ROMs to complete online collections. But if someone hasn’t used a university library since the 1970s, it seems so.”