8 No. 3
December 2005/January 2006
Library Past, Library Present
The age and angst of digitization
Copyright foul or access fair?
"You can never let up on the acquisition of printed materials. Print is fundamental to the humanities, and the visual images are far better than anything yet available through an electronic purveyor. "
"The pressure is on from our scholarly communities, who for certain tasks want print, but for convenience, access, and other reasons want electronic."
Reading Reading Lolita
Memory, memoir, and history
Ethics and Incompetence
Lessons from Hurricane Katrina
Academic Exchange: What are some of the major challenges for allocating library resources?
Sarah McPhee: From serving on the library policy committee, I’ve seen what an enormous job it is to decide how to allocate resources: how much should we invest in electronic media, how to balance the extraordinarily expensive medical journals that the medical school needs, and how to satisfy the continuing acquisition of printed materials that scholars in the humanities rely on for their life blood. My strong feeling is that you can never let up on the acquisition of printed materials. Print is fundamental to the humanities, and the visual images are far better than anything yet available through an electronic purveyor. But we must also keep up with electronics, because in the last ten years there has been a revolution in the way people conduct gateway searches to arrive at that odd article in that obscure journal. It used to be extraordinarily laborious when indices were bound and printed. You could spend hours going through them; now you can do it in a flash with the computer. That’s a huge advantage. The print collection is fundamental for me and my students. Much of my work and what I teach is based in periodical literature, which isn’t readily available online; it’s often in foreign languages. These materials are absolutely essential to collect. Judging the balance of new acquisitions is one of the hardest issues facing the library.
AE: How does the nature of the Emory library influence the way you teach?
SM: My research centers on seventeenth-century European art and architecture, and I encourage graduate students to work on books in our rare book collection, which is growing. Those kinds of materials have the value of transporting the student or professor to a moment in the past. You have the seventeenth-century binding, the type face, and punctuation—these books are artifacts from that particular historical period. Nothing can replace the experience of holding the original. Every semester I take my class to the rare book room, having asked the librarian to pull out a selection of volumes that relate to what I’m teaching. For a course on artistic biography, I can show students a selection of biographies written in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Italy. It’s one thing to look at a facsimile, it’s another to hold the real thing. The book may have annotations in the margins. That makes you wonder who owned this book. It’s a very exciting thing for students, and it never fails to fascinate them. Many of them will choose to work on original materials because of the access this gives you to the time.When I first came to Emory, I was involved in identifying and helping the university to purchase a seventeen-thousand volume collection of fifteenth- to seventeenth-century art history books—the Suida Collection, which is now one of the premier collections in Emory’s holdings. At one fell swoop, we acquired seventy full runs of some of the most important periodicals for the history of art, and two thousand rare books published before 1800. Overnight, this transformed the way I and my colleagues taught, and it gave our graduate students fodder for their training.
AE: What’s been your experience of sitting on the library policy committee?
SM: The committee consists of a dozen or so representatives from
different areas of the university, such as the law school, medical school, humanities, etc. You begin to understand some of the various perspectives and have a chance to debate people who don’t share your concerns, in order to advise the library. I think it’s incredibly healthy.
AE: How does library quality influence faculty and graduate student recruitment?
SM: Graduate students aren’t going to come here to study seventeenth-century art and architecture if we don’t have a library to support it. That’s why it’s part of our strategic growth. The university needs to make hard choices—to take a look at which departments it considers stars then to support them strongly so they’re peerless. I think that’s still possible. I have been dismayed during campus visits when candidates for faculty positions looked in Euclid and were disappointed when they didn’t find the materials to support their research. This focuses the mind about needs to be pushed for. The trajectory of the library is superb. Emory recently hired Kristin Gager, who has a Ph.D. in [early modern European history] from Princeton, as the humanities/history librarian. She’ll have a major role as a selector for the history department and humanities more generally. This is great sign of strength that the library is hiring such exceptionally qualified people, and I’m very encouraged by that.