Emory Report
April 28, 2008
Volume 60, Number 29

By the numbers
• 1,572 students and visitors came to MARBL for an instruction session, class or gallery talk in FY07, a 159% increase from FY06

• 88
MARBL staff members participated in instruction and outreach sessions in FY07

• 1,269 students, staff and visitors interacted with MARBL/Emory University Archives materials, up 241% over the average for the past five years

• 63 class sessions took place in MARBL in FY07


Emory Report homepage  

April 28, 2008
Banner year for Emory Libraries

By Elaine Justice

By any measure, Emory Libraries have had a banner year. Alice Walker announced the placement of her archive at the University, as did the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Some of the nation’s most revered poets gathered for “A Fine Excess” and the first major exhibition of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library, “Democratic Vistas” — called the most important 20th century English language poetry collection in existence.

No wonder that Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, during an interview on campus earlier this month, opined that “right now Emory is probably the library with the most dynamic vision behind it.”

But what makes a great university library? Is it special collections, the numbers of books and journals offered, high-tech wizardry? Rick Luce, vice provost and director of Emory Libraries, thinks he knows the answer for Emory.

“What we’re not trying to do,” he says, “is compete with our peers on who can hold the most volumes.”
The Emory Libraries are unfolding a very ambitious strategic plan to put the library in the top echelon of university research libraries in the country. And yes, part of that plan is building strength in special collections — but with a crucial difference.

“These collections aren’t just static. More than anything else, they are living, active and focused,” says Luce. “Many of them are linked to living writers who have become a part of the Emory family and visit campus regularly. The collections energize the people around them; they energize discussion and research; we program content around them in ways that help them come alive.” The Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library reports use of the collections is at an all-time high.

“That’s different from what you’ll see at many universities, where a collection is acquired and goes in a back room and that’s it,” Luce says. “The experience that undergraduates can have here with primary materials can’t be matched anywhere; it is unique to Emory.”

Ronald Schuchard, Goodrich C. White Professor of English, agrees. He has been telling the story of Emory’s unique approach to special collections, and says other world-renowned libraries are beginning to follow Emory’s lead: Just this year Oxford’s Bodleian Library and Yale’s Beinecke Library began opening up their collections for use by undergraduate teachers and students.

Digital innovations are also at the heart of Emory Libraries’ vision — again, with a difference. Emory’s MetaScholar Initiative in Woodruff Library’s Digital Programs and System Division is leading the MetaArchive Cooperative, a community-based digital preservation network funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, affiliated with the National Archives.

The goal is to encourage digital preservation across the United States. With funding from a $300,330 grant from NHPRC, the MetaArchive Cooperative is offering distributed digital preservation to culture memory organizations nationwide.

“We are essentially doing for digital materials what libraries and archives have done for paper collections for millennia,” says Martin Halbert, director of digital programs and systems at Emory. The grant is the latest in some $4.5 million in support that Woodruff Library has received for projects and programs that promote new ways of conducting research in the digital age.

Digital content is changing not only libraries, but also the way knowledge is created, says Luce. “We’re using the strengths we have in special collections and in digital innovations to begin to understand those collections in new and different ways.”

Luce points to new forms of journals such as Southern Spaces, supported by the Woodruff Library, “which use a sense of place to make the connection between place and content.” Luce predicts that others will emulate Southern Spaces’ use of technology and media to explore ideas in innovative ways. The Salman Rushdie archive is another example of intertwining special collections and digital innovations, since large parts of it were born digitally. “Researchers can examine the creative process through these new tools,” says Luce.

Emory Libraries “really is the intellectual and social commons,” says Rosemary Magee, vice president and secretary of the University. More than just a place to hang out, says Luce, “it’s a way to draw the community into a common space to think deeply about the kinds of things we can learn from the knowledge here, and from the discussions it sparks.”