The Evolving Library Culture

University libraries in America have a rich history that reflects changes made in higher education and American culture. Central Missouri's Library Services has experienced many of the same changes.

In earlier days scholars and librarians believed that books should be kept as protected as possible. Up until the 1960's, for instance, many college and university libraries had closed stacks. In Ward Edwards Library all circulating books and bound periodicals were located in a five-floor stack area in the center of the building. Only library faculty, staff and a very small number of students were granted a "stacks pass," which allowed access to the collection. Most people wishing to look at a book had to present a slip of paper containing the item's call number, and a staff member would enter the stacks and retrieve the item for him or her. This philosophy of preservation could not extend to protection from the climate. Doris Brookshier, special collections librarian, remembers going regularly to the damp lower levels of the stack area to wash mold from books. The entire circulating collection became "open stacks" with three expansion projects that finished in 1969.

In the past Ward Edwards Library has performed some interesting services. For many years, all students on campus came to the library to borrow their textbooks. Showing how times have changed, until the early 1990's, the library boasted a large smoking room. It was first located in the northeast corner of the second floor, then moved to the student snack lounge on the first floor. Smoking was finally banned as a result of a conflict of interest between smokers and people eating.

Another way libraries have changed is through the kinds of materials they contain. In walking through any college or university library one almost always sees large quantities of books dating from the 1960's and 1970's, with fewer books from other decades. This is partly due to the sharp increase in material budgets at that time, which resulted from "baby boom" enrollment increases. Also, journals were then a comparatively smaller portion of the budget, as were video and computer resources.

A recent revolution is in Internet-based information retrieval. University libraries of today place equal emphasis on ownership of information and access to information (whether by interlibrary loan or Internet access). In Ward Edwards Library, as in other university libraries across the country, computers used to locate and retrieve electronic information surround the library reference desk. The modern librarian's role has expanded greatly to encompass the functions of research expert, information locator, information buyer, teacher, and computer troubleshooter.