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Where We’re Going is Not Where We Started

Posted: April 28, 2014 — Mary Donohue

The FM Library turns 50 on Sunday, May 4th – and for those of us who love the library, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on those origins as we witness a future no one envisioned so many years ago.

The library’s first book was a magazine index, “The readers’ guide to periodical literature,” purchased by the newly-hired librarian, Eleanor Sutliff. During the summer of 1964, Mrs. Sutliff worked to set up a library of “basic college-level materials” with the intent to create a collection of reference books which would be used by students in the library, rather than those that would be loaned out.  Magazine subscriptions followed and soon a collection of 3,000 books were ready for use by the first enrolled class of 362 students in September 1964.

From that modest beginning at the old campus through to the late 1980s, there were changes in the library and there was growth.  The staff moved the now 20,000 volume collection to the new library building in 1969 where the collection grew to include books, magazines, records, filmstrips, microfilm, and 16mm film. One of the library’s greatest strengths during those decades, and particularly in the 1990s, was the work in ‘bibliographic instruction,’ in layman’s terms – library class.  In addition to instruction for students enrolled at the college, the library hosted a number of regular visits from regional high schools.

Jump ahead to the late 1980s and early 90s where the introduction of the computer changed not only our library, but libraries around the world. The addition of the FM online library catalog in 1993 was instrumental in bringing an internet connection onto campus. This link provided unexpected opportunities for growth both inside and outside the library and changed the face of learning for students as well as FM faculty and staff.  In 1995, FM’s library was one of the first libraries in the state officially designated as an “Electronic Doorway Library” for its “pioneering use of computers and telecommunications technology.”  The library staff were early adopters of campus technology and even maintained one of the earliest campus webpages in 1996. In 1998, the generosity of The Richard and Rebecca Evans Foundation resulted in the naming of the first building on campus, The Evans Library.

The next two decades saw a paradigm shift in the way students utilized libraries, with the solitary use of physical in-house materials bowing to the now-ubiquitous desire to work collaboratively in a virtual environment.  The creation of the Learning Commons on the library’s first floor in 2008 facilitated the creation of both physical and virtual spaces where students could work on class projects in groups or individually as needed. Faculty assignments shifted from the basic research paper to more visual endeavors such as poster presentations and video storytelling, with the library evolving to ensure those changing needs were met.  Library instruction, now “Information Literacy,” and still one of the most popular services, shifted focus from teaching students how to locate information to encouraging and facilitating their use of all (not just library) resources to create knowledge.

And so the journey continues, with shifts and course corrections to come. Will the library of 2014 be the library of 2064? Not likely.  However we can be sure that where there are people, there is knowledge.  And where there is knowledge, there are libraries.

Mary Donohue is Professor and Library Director

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