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  January 28, 2002

Health Center's Library Renovation Plans
Will Upgrade Information Technology
Pat Keefe

A plan to renovate the Health Center's Lyman Maynard Stowe Library envisages the library evolving from its 20th-century orientation toward paper and print materials, to the computer-based virtual realities of the 21st century.

The project is now under development and could cost more than $1 million. Work will start later this spring, once the plans are finalized and bids are solicited. Funding for the project will come from state bonding and the Health Center's capital campaign.

The library will become an electronic environment in terms of design, layout, facilities, equipment and capabilities.

The design also incorporates plans for a single point of service. In the new Stowe library, there will be no reference or circulation, cataloguing or information desks. When patrons come in, a librarian will help them. It's a simplified design, says Ralph D. Arcari, library director.

"The role of the library is educational - to instruct and to train," says Arcari. "The renovated library will be a storehouse of information, but also a facility for training students and faculty, to make sure they can effectively use the resources of the library, the institution, and the Internet."

The change isn't as radical as it might seem. Since the problem-based learning medical school curriculum was launched in 1995, the library has played an important role in enabling the changes. More computers were obtained, student groups were formed to approach problem-solving from a team perspective, and librarians were enlisted to help the groups learn where to go for information.

The renovations are a further step along that path.

New, upgraded computers will be run by newer, more powerful and versatile software. Librarians will help library users learn how to use the computer systems and access databases and information. Student teams will work in small group classrooms, using workstations, laptops or Personal Digital Assistants - small, often hand-held, devices capable of a variety of tasks including downloading databases or capturing satellite signals.

Information will flow into and out of the library electronically.

"I see the library renovation as supporting the initiatives the schools have already begun to bring more information technology into the curriculum," says Bruce Koeppen, dean for academic affairs and education.

The new electronic library environment will also offer better access to research and reference information.

"Print journals are rapidly becoming relics of the past, as more and more publishers are moving to electronic versions," says Dr. Koeppen. "The library needs to increase its capacity to offer electronic journals to the faculty, students, and physicians in the community, in order to continue to fulfill its role as a source of information to these user groups."

Renovations to the Lyman Maynard Stowe Library are consistent with initaitives during the last several years to equip all the University Libraries to serve users effectively in the age of electronic information. In 1996, a new library was opened at the School of Law, with state-of-the-art computer facilities. And extensive renovations to Homer Babbidge Library were completed in 1998.

"Libraries have been evolving from primarily repositories of information to gateways to information, making it easier for scholars to locate and retrieve information in real and virtual space with equal ease," says Paul Kobulnicky, vice chancellor for information services at the Storrs campus.

Still, with its face resolutely toward the future, the Stowe library is keeping an eye on the past: Although the orientation will be toward the information age and things electronic, print materials will still be retained.

Some libraries, in their haste to modernize, disposed of their older print materials. That's all right if the information is available electronically or digitally, Arcari says, but if it's too old, it probably won't be converted from print to on-line. And that means some information that could be vital in the future might be destroyed.

The wisdom of preserving print materials was driven home in the aftermath of September 11.

"Just after September 11, a chief of the state health department e-mailed me to ask about print journal articles concerning anthrax in Connecticut," Arcari says. "He had access to MedLine and the other electronic databases, as well as the resources of various state and local libraries, but he couldn't find what he needed. I went down to the stacks and looked up an index in a 1950 journal and it was right there: a table of anthrax cases in the state from 1915 to 1950 and everything about them. I sent the information off to him."

The 33,000 square-foot Lyman Maynard Stowe Library holds close to 200,000 volumes, books and bound journals, and can seat 180 patrons. The gate count is about 180,000 visits per year. That number may decline in the coming years, but one number seems guaranteed to grow in the virtual age: that's the number of hits generated by the website, databases and other e-services the library offers.