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University Librarian's Blog

Published: 2009-10-06T16:50:12-05:00


Transitions (continued): The Student Experience of the Library


The rush of activity at the beginning of the school year subsides eventually into a fast-paced rhythm that signals this really is fall. Aside from a short visit for a conference at Berkeley last week when the superabundant produce in the San Francisco Farmers Market was redolent of fall but the blazing heat was distinctly unseasonal, the working rhythm of my life at this time of year settles into a busy routine. The routine is deceptive this year, as each regular activity is happening to me for the last time at Yale: the year’s first meeting of the Advisory Council on Library Policy; a panel to determine on recommending Yale candidates for Marshall and Rhodes scholarships to the UK; meetings with freshmen advisees; arrangements for forthcoming semi-annual meetings of the University Librarian’s Development Council and the Yale Library Associates, and a whole set of other regular committee meetings. Focusing on Yale but with one eye now on my approaching transition to Oxford, I find myself taking a special interest in working with Yale students. Students at both Oxford and Yale expect a great deal of themselves. I never cease to be amazed at the talents and accomplishments Yale students notch up, from the time they are admitted and throughout their careers. I know freshmen who are taking classes in Chinese or other languages five mornings a week, and then planning to join singing groups, dancing groups, try out for sports teams and/or the Yale Dramat, explore the possibilities of community service supported by Dwight Hall…and all this in addition to the regular daily and weekly load of classes and paper-writing. By the time they reach their senior year, which is the stage at which most potential candidates for Rhodes and Marshall scholarships emerge, some have already set up successful charities among communities in different parts of the globe and have become expert in the regional politics of far-flung nations or the artisanal techniques that provide a precarious living for whole villages, some are proficient in five or six languages, some have worked as assistants to high-level advisers of foreign governments or United Nations agencies. This year there is a crop of talented people planning careers that may take them into academe or politics, who gave up large amounts of time to work for the Obama campaign in different states. And all have managed to sustain stellar grade point averages. Engaging intellectually with students of this caliber, even in the brief space of an interview, is energizing and makes one feel full of hope. I’d be thrilled to encounter each and every one of them at Oxford in the next phase of their careers. The Yale Library is now much more closely involved in the educational experience of students at Yale, at all levels, than it once was. See Barbara Rockenbach’s earlier post on this blog site for some examples of the way librarians work with faculty and students to tap into new technological opportunities. Barbara’s work in the Bass Library’s Collaborative Learning Center and her Teaching w/ Technology Tuesdays are among many ways librarians work with students to support their educational experience. The Personal Librarian program now provides all incoming freshmen with a link to a librarian they can ask for help with any aspect of using Library resources. Senior essay writers [link] can find invaluable help with using source materials and discovering new sources from librarians in many different parts of the system. Manuscripts & Archives, where the staff have long experience of digging up material each year for seniors, and then working with them to help shape their research topics, award prizes for the best senior essays based on the collections each year. The Social Science Library’s Applebaum Prize for the best senior essay based on government documents is now entering its third year. Beinecke Library curators give an enormous amount of time and attention to working with students and faculty on collections. They are also responsible for running the annual V[...]

Getting the New Year Off to a Flying Start


This week's post is supplied by Barbara Rochenbach, Director of Undergraduate & Library Research Education.

Barbara Rochenbach:

Welcome back to the new academic year! As the semester begins, the Library is busily engaged in the support of teaching and learning across campus. The Teaching w/ Technology Tuesdays will be returning for the fourth semester with upcoming sessions on Twitter, new online presentation software beyond PowerPoint, and the mobile web and handhelds. Teaching w/ Technology Tuesdays are for those teaching at Yale (staff, faculty, and students) interested in innovative instructional activities that utilize technology. They are held in the Bass Library, L01 at 11:00am every Tuesday September 15 – November 24. For a full schedule for the semester, please see:

The Library Research Education Program is also gearing up for the fall semester offering course-integrated research sessions, discipline-based research services, and research clinics and consultations. Librarians, archivists, and curators work closely with faculty to design library research classes tailored to specific courses. We encourage instructors to contact us to schedule a research session to meet the needs of a specific course or student research assignment. For a list of the Library subject specialists see: http://resources.library.yale.eduedu/online/selectors.asp.

Beyond research sessions the Library also offers personal consultations or 30 minute informal group sessions help faculty and students develop skills such as: creating bibliographies and proper citations; presentation skills (using PowerPoint and effective speaking techniques); finding, citing and presenting images; using Google Earth; and utilizing information management software (Zotero, RefWorks, Endnote). To find out what classes and workshops are being offered this fall, visit:

Some Reflections on Library Spaces


My connections with the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) set me off last week on the topic of special collections, which are close to my professional heart, the subject of a report by a working group of which I have been privileged to act as chair, and the centerpiece for a forthcoming forum in Washington, DC, in October. A recent discussion on the ARL directors’ list prompts me to reflect this week on quite another topic, that of physical library spaces. I personally can claim no special role or expertise here, though my predecessor Scott Bennett is the author of a fine report on the subject, Libraries Designed for Learning published by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) in 2003. When I arrived at Yale in 2001 I inherited from Scott the plans for a renovation of our intensive use underground library, which eventually bore fruit in the transformational Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Library, opened in October 2007. There has been so much new building in the Library system at Yale during the past decade that we have decided to devote the first volume of our new annual, Yale Library Studies to the theme of “Library Architecture at Yale”. ARL directors are asking and informing each other about the problems of dealing with limited spaces during times of economic constraint. How can we save money and staff resources by compressing our collections and services into fewer or smaller spaces? How can we continue to provide high-quality service to students and faculty members on our campuses even if we have to move some collections away from where they have been most convenient for users to reach? Can we tap into the abundant ingenuity and dedication of library staff, to do more with less, without creating unacceptable strains? The compression of separate subject libraries into a single space is one obvious solution; and when there are adequate resources to facilitate the work, it can bring dramatic improvements. In the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library at Yale, we have consolidated our Visual Resources Collection, Arts of the Book Collection and our Drama Library into a newly renovated and slightly enlarged Arts Library. The Visual Resources Collection consists of over 250,000 slides all of which have been digitized, with the originals going to our off-site shelving facility. These new configurations have enabled us to create a new special collections reading room and exhibit area in the Arts Library (with space that would have been taken up by slide cabinets), give back space to the Drama School, and create a new Global Reading Room in the space in Sterling Memorial Library that was vacated by Arts of the Book. We also gained a new digital service, much used in teaching, and got it funded by the Provost in order to free up the physical space. Another local solution now being designed at Yale will be the consolidation of the Kline Science Library with the Social Science Library and the Statistical Laboratory (run by Information Technology Services). Pressure on these library buildings arises from the University’s plan to build two new residential colleges on a site partly occupied by the Seeley Mudd Library and Social Science Library and the Statistical Laboratory. It is a tribute to the creativity of the managers and staff of these three separate entities that they have come up with a design that will bring together library and technology services for a number of formerly quite separate disciplines, providing a single reference desk and mingling staff in shared office space. Fitting them all into the existing Kline Science Library necessitates moving a high proportion of existing print collections to the Library Shelving Facility. The rewards will come first, in the opportunities for multi-disciplinary work, and ultimately, we hope, in a spectacular new library building, provisionally sited opposite the colleges. These and other building plans help us not only to bring together different configurations of research collecti[...]

Working with Special Collections in North America


One of the many gratifying experiences that have come my way as University Librarian at Yale has been my connection with the Association of Research Libraries. From start to finish of my career at Yale, the connection with other directors of the leading research libraries of North America has offered a sustaining community, some great friendships, and countless opportunities to learn more about the issues we all face in common. It has been a special privilege for me to work on the role of special collections in research libraries, first as a member of the Task Force that was set up under the leadership of Joseph P. Hewitt (now retired as Dean of Libraries at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill) and more recently as chair of the successor Special Collections Working Group. During the time I have been connected with ARL, there has been a mounting recognition of the distinctive importance of special collections at the heart of our libraries’ work. I think it is also fair to say that the definition of “special collections” has changed to accommodate the enhanced role of these distinctive and unique materials in academic life. The phrase was always a term of art, opaque to most scholars and varying from institution to institution. When I first visited the Library of Congress, bringing treasures from the British Library for a collaborative exhibition under the title "John Bull and Uncle Sam: Four Centuries of British-American Relations" in 1999, I sought out the individual I took to be my counterpart as Director of Special Collections. This was the inimitable Mark Dimunation, Chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, whose responsibilities have expanded since then. Mark’s role at that time encompassed precisely the sort of collections that did not fall under my charge at the British Library. He was responsible for the Library of Congress’s rare books in western languages, but not at that time for manuscripts, maps, music or other unique resources. At the British Library, the “national published archive” of printed material, including rare books in western languages, came under another director; and I was responsible for manuscripts, maps, music (including published maps and music, just to confuse matters), the National Sound Archive, Philatelic Collections, and the Oriental and India Office Collections including manuscripts and rare books in languages from Armenian eastwards to Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Much has changed in both libraries since then: the title Oriental and India Office Collections at the BL, for instance, has been retired in favor of African, Pacific and Asian Collections and the library no longer has a director of special collections. At all events, while Mark and I, happily, now share membership of the ARL Special Collections Working Group, our respective domains ten years ago bore little relationship to each other. The changes that individual libraries and librarians have experienced during that time are reflected also in a broader and more ecumenical approach to the definition of special collections. The celebratory volume that Susan Brynteson edited for ARL’s 75th anniversary, Celebrating Research: Rare and Special Collections from the Membership of the Association of Research Libraries, includes audio-visual material and maps, as well as printed and manuscript collections of many varieties. Our Special Collections Working Group has spent a considerable amount of time discussing vexed problems connected with the preservation and stewardship of born-digital materials, including vanishing and protean web sites. If special collections librarians as a group include archivists (a matter of some professional controversy) then between us all we bear a heavier responsibility toward posterity than ever before. There falls to us no less a task than to select and often also to create those collections that will survive to tell the tale of human experience; and then to en[...]



The derelict blogger is like a reformed smoker who falls off the wagon. Each week or deadline missed makes it more difficult to return to a life of virtue. So then I ask myself, well why did I start blogging anyway? Part of the answer to that is that I wanted to find a way of giving some exposure to the work of the Yale University Library that would present my own perspective on the many wonderful activities of the staff who make this such a special place. Now that I am preparing to make the long-drawn-out transition to a new position as Principal (president in North American terminology) of Somerville College Oxford in 2010 (see I have had plenty of opportunities to reflect on the qualities of Yale University Library. My message to staff announcing my impending move (which can be found on the extended entry page of this blog) expresses some of the pride I feel in working with this extraordinary organization, and why I will be as sad to leave as I am excited about new pastures. In future blog posts I will try to sum up a few of the exciting prospects for the future of the Yale Library even in a time of financial crisis and constraints; and I may offer a few reflections on the links, differences and similarities between Oxford and Yale. I also plan to invite some of my colleagues here to write from their own perspectives about the programs they run.

Sharing Collections in Hard Times: The Center for Research Libraries


I have just come to the end of a two-year stint as chair of the Board of the Center for Research Libraries, one of those quietly useful organizations that modern scholars rely on far more than they know. Founded in 1949 by a group of thirteen research libraries as a response to economic exigency, the Center “seeks to foster and advance scholarly inquiry through cost-effective, cooperative programs that provide reliable access through traditional and electronic means to unique and unusual collections of library materials that are in all appropriate formats, international in scope, and comprehensive in disciplines”. For the past forty years it has been building up collections of the sort of material that few single libraries could justify purchasing on their own account, and lending them to a growing membership. Countless researchers have produced important work with the substantial assistance of CRL collections, which they borrow for as long as they need them and use intensively as primary sources. In 2009 the membership has grown to 250 libraries, almost all in North America. It has been enlightening to work with the CRL president, Bernie Reilly, and his staff, as they extend their coverage of world-wide materials that are often in danger of disappearing, and explore the best means of preservation and dissemination. Several recent successes rely on communities of interest within the membership. A World Newspaper Archive with 49 participants; a Liberal Arts Interest Group of six colleges that have worked together to produce digitized materials for teaching undergraduate courses; nearly 1.7 million digital pages of text and 800,000 fully cataloged dissertations, many from overseas: these are among the milestones recorded at our annual membership meeting. (The meeting took place as a webcast this year for the first time, to save travel costs.) In addition, the Center has been intensively cataloging its Chinese and many other collections, exploring the certification of trusted digital repositories, working on potential methods for preserving human rights archives, producing a study of disappearing political protest web sites, and working with the University of California libraries to preserve and make more widely available their print archive of JSTOR journals. A few years ago it took on administration of the Global Resources Network with its area studies microform projects and regionally based digital libraries, founded by the Association of Research Libraries and the Association of American Universities to assure access to scarce international resources. As I continue on the Board of CRL but stand down from the close involvement required of the Chair, I have two personal regrets. One is that the hectic schedule of a University Librarian’s working life never permitted me to give more time to exploring Chicago before I returned to my office at Yale. Chicago is a city of wonderful vistas, fabulous art museums, stunning architecture, and exploratory possibilities that I would love to know better; and the parting gift from Bernie, of a beautiful book of aerial view of Chicago only whets the appetite. Our tightly organized meetings at O’Hare airport hotels (flawlessly set up and documented by the Center’s administrator Yvonne Jefferson) always seemed remote from and yet tantalizingly close to the vibrant center of the city: never more so than at last fall’s meeting on 5 November, only hours after the extraordinary unfolding of the Presidential election celebrations in Grant Park. Oh, to have been a Chicagoan just then! My other regret is that I have not had the chance to get to know the remarkable staff of the Center better. As Chair of the Board I have developed a healthy respect for their professionalism and the extraordinary services they provide on a tight budget. I hope that at Board meetings to come, the CRL staff will have a chance to learn directly from Boar[...]

The Passing of Friends


The Yale University Library lost two dear friends within the past few weeks, both of them great ladies who brought joy and warmth to the Library and their many friends here.

Marjorie Wynne, who died in Hamden, Connecticut, on April 5 at the age of ninety-two, was a celebrated figure in the world of rare books and manuscripts internationally, a well loved figure in New Haven circles far beyond the Library, and a close friend and mentor to generations of Library staff. I personally will remember her generosity of spirit, her hospitality, and her wise counsel with gratitude and a strong sense of loss. Marjorie had no close family, but she was surrounded by friends and admirers, and her passing leaves a great gap. Here is the notice that I posted to the Yale University Library staff list shortly after learning of her death.

Betty Beinecke died in New York, in her sleep, on April 14 at the age of eighty-nine. She too lived a long and full life, vibrant to the very end despite ill health. Her husband Bill Beinecke and she had been married, he told me, for sixty-eight years and nearly eleven months. They had four children, numerous grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and they and their extended family have remained close to Yale University and hugely active on its behalf, carrying on a tradition of giving that now reaches back for at least five decades. Mr and Mrs Beinecke themselves visited Yale often, and supported the University throughout their life together with immense generosity. For the Library, their kindness and interest were unfailing and extraordinary. It was a pleasure to see them always when they visited, and there was always something to show them that excited fresh interest, not to mention the challenge of tracking down quotations, and explaining details of the Library’s history that I always felt I ought to have known. There will be many people in the University Library extending sympathy to Mr Beinecke and his family in their sad loss. Mrs Beinecke will be remembered with gratitude and great affection.

Celebrating the Power of Ideas


The first weeks of 2009 mark some extraordinary anniversaries, each one with a heightened resonance in the context of the seismic changes that are going on in the economic and political life of the nation. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been eighty years old, Abraham Lincoln was born two hundred years ago, and we are also celebrating the bicentenary of Lincoln's exact contemporary Charles Darwin. The Library will celebrate Black History month, and so honor Dr. King, with a notable trio of lectures coming up. Abraham Lincoln's anniversary will be celebrated across the campus in many different forums, classes, and symposia. Charles Darwin, meanwhile, that reclusive and reflective scientist and man of letters, never visited North America, but the impact of his work on this country's political, philosophical and theological discourse, let alone our science, continues to animate controversy and passions that Darwin himself might never have imagined.

Though he did not visit, Darwin corresponded at length with scientists in North America, including Yale’s James Dwight Dana, Silliman Professor of Natural History and Geology. Darwin’s and Dana’s association as explorers, scholars, and pioneering scientists fostered a rich and rewarding correspondence between 1849 and 1863 and the display of Darwin’s letters to his friend and mentor (which are part of the collection of Manuscripts and Archives) in Sterling Memorial Library is one of a group of exhibits in different parts of the Library system, celebrating the Darwin bicentenary. Kline Science Library has mounted two displays, and there are others at the Medical, Music, and Divinity Libraries. They provide between them some fascinating insights, based on Yale collections, into Darwin's own life, times, and thought, and into the reception of his theory of evolution in the one hundred and fifty years since he published On the Origin of Species. They also give food for thought about the way ideas are transmitted, and the power of one man and his book to transform the world's view of itself.

Inaugural Africana


This Tuesday, Inauguration Day, was a day of terrific excitement everywhere, and Yale University Library was no exception. We screened the events on a large screen in Sterling Memorial Library, the Beinecke, Haas Family Arts Library, and the Science and Social Science Lbraries: not without mishap, because the CNN web site was overloaded and kept breaking up. In the end the BBC saved the day, at least in Sterling. We provided cake frosted in red, white and blue, as well as popcorn, but there was no need of any artificial aids to create a sense of jubilation. When the ceremony reached the point where Yale’s Elizabeth Alexander read her inaugural poem, a special cheer went up.

People were watching the inauguration all over the Yale campus, but the Library’s special contribution was a display of material gathered from Kenya in tribute to our new President. Our African Collection Curator, Dorothy Woodson, and her staff set out a wonderful array of stuff including two t-shirts, a rear-view mirror hanger, a baseball cap, a bottle of "President" beer (it used to be called "Senator" beer), an Obama bumper sticker and badges, a colorful kanga cloth with the new President's portrait, a DVD entitled "Obama by thy name," and an assortment of CDs with numerous praise songs to Obama in various African languages such as Luo, Kamba, and Kiswahili. We also displayed a dozen or so newspapers from throughout Africa which celebrated Obama's election.

It may be a challenge to preserve and catalog the t-shirts, baseball cap and rear-view mirror hanger among the Library’s archival collections, but they will be joining other rare African material that has come into the Library over the years, some very recently, including photographs, postcards, and publications in several hundred African languages that are currently being cataloged with the aid of a special gift from Arcadia, a United Kingdom-based grant-making fund. I suspect these items will not be the last to enter the Library’s African Collections under the subject heading of "Obama, Barack."

Happy Holidays from Yale University Library



This spectacular image of a ship is just one of the more than eight-hundred stained glass windows in Sterling Memorial Library. Completed over two years between 1930 and 1931 by G. Owen Bonawit, the windows depict disciplines of learning, scenes from literature, myth, and history, as well as images representing Yale's history, libraries, and student body. A former Library staff member, Gay Walker, has written two books on the windows, Stained Glass in Yale's Sterling Memorial Library (2006) and Bonawit, Stained Glass, and Yale (2000). Copies of both books are available in the Library.

This post also comes with warmest wishes for a very happy Holiday season.

On the Road: Reflections on Recent Travels


The life of a University Librarian in North America can be affected to a surprising extent by travel to meetings, conferences, and the like all over the continent and abroad. For the past month or so, I’ve been traveling far more than I’ve been in the office: a certain recipe for mistakes and over-hasty decisions made on the fly, and trying to fit too much catching-up into long days in between journeys. But there are rewards as well. As I write this, on the train from Leeds where I went to speak at the first conference of Research Libraries UK (RLUK), the successor to the Consortium of University and Research Libraries (CURL), I find food for reflection.

Only last week I was attending the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) semi-annual meeting of library directors in Arlington, Virginia, and earlier this week, the Members Council of the Online Computer Library Company (OCLC) in Dublin, Ohio. Migrating among three separate communities, each one rich in its own acronyms, provided a crash course in the protean language of library-speak, where titles change continually, not to mention the latest acronyms of UK higher education (the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) is giving way to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) but I’m still not quite sure what UKRR stands for). Apart from that memory-stretching and educational exercise, I have learned a bit about different library cultures.

Yale’s New Office of Digital Assets and Infrastructure


At the beginning of this month, former Associate University Librarian Meg Bellinger took up her new position as the first Director of the brand new Office of Digital Assets and Infrastructure. The full announcement and description of Meg's new responsibilities can be found here.

Celebrating the OED's 80th Birthday


The Library and Oxford University Press are hosting a symposium tomorrow, Wednesday, October 1, in celebration of the Oxford English Dictionary's 80th birthday. The featured speakers include my colleague Fred Shapiro, Associate Librarian at the Yale School of Law, and editor of The Yale Book of Quotations; Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman; Jesse Sheidlower, the OED's Editor-at-Large; and Ammon Shea, author of Reading the OED.

When the OED was launched on June 6, 1928, then-British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin (best remembered on this side of the Atlantic for his role in the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936) called it "the greatest enterprise of its kind in history." Today, the print OED is a massive twenty volumes and weighs one hundred and thirty-seven pounds. Many library readers are also familiar with the online OED, available since 2000, or its somewhat older CD-ROM cousin.

Yale has an interesting connection with the OED that was documented in The Professor and the Madman: William Chester Minor, Yale class of 1864, was an army surgeon and convicted murderer who became a prolific contributor of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century quotations to the first edition of the dictionary during his imprisonment at the infamous Broadmoor Asylum in England.

The event is free and open to everyone and will start at 4:30 p.m. in the Sterling-Sheffield-Strathcona lecture hall (1 Prospect Street). It will be followed by a reception in Sterling Memorial Library (120 High Street), where attenders will have an opportunity to interact with the speakers over refreshments. I hope many of you will plan to attend.

Yale University Library Program of Public Events


The Library recently unveiled our program of public events, lectures, and exhibitions for the academic year. These programs are an excellent way to showcase our treasures to the Yale and New Haven communities and to reinforce the Library's important role in supporting and promoting scholarship and research by featuring talks by noted writers, many of them Yale faculty. Our first event, a panel lecture celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Oxford English Dictionary, takes place on October 1 and it has generated a great deal of excitement on campus.

All of our events are free and open to the public. The full schedule of events follows in the extend entry and I hope that you will have an opportunity to take advantage of many of them.



The Yale Library has just launched a beta version of Yufind, an experimental alternative interface to our library catalog. Yufind is not a replacement for the current catalog, Orbis, but it provides our users with a new kind of discovery tool that better fits their current search expectations while also incorporating a number of Web 2.0 features.

Orbis transaction logs show that users' searches often fail because of spelling errors, the use of natural language (versus controlled vocabularies like Library of Congress Subject Headings used to classify books and other resources), or information entered into the wrong search fields. Many of our users, students and faculty alike, also expect a Google-like interface that will suggest alternate spellings and faceted navigation to display and narrow search results.

Yufind offers a powerful keyword relevancy ranking algorithm, RSS feeds, formatted export of bibliographic citations, integration of cover art, book reviews, sample book chapters, tables of contents, and real-time circulation status. Enhancements over the coming while will include the ability to bookmark and annotate records and send them to an e-mail address, cell phone, or PDA, while our longer-term goals aim to integrate archival finding aids, visual image records, and new facets that will allow results to be narrowed by item availability and location.

Staff from a number of departments within the Library have worked very hard on the project. Their work is ongoing and they are making improvements to the Yufind software on a regular basis. Readers of this blog are invited to send feedback, questions, and suggestions to the Yufind team via Project Manager Daniel Lovins. You can also visit the About Yufind web page for detailed information about the project and its goals. Please let us know what you think.