Bowdoin: What exactly is a library in the 21st century?
The best way I can describe today’s library is to call it multi-dimensional. Libraries of our time will continue to have both a physical as well as a virtual presence, housing extensive print collections (yes, the printed book is still very much in demand), and providing access to online resources anywhere there is connectivity. On a campus like Bowdoin’s the physical library is also a hub for students who are studying, collaborating, and learning and where they will find the myriad tools they need—including those driven by new technologies—to support their academic work. It’s also the place where faculty, librarians, and technologists work together to develop discipline-specific resources to support teaching and research.
What do you see as the strengths of Bowdoin’s library and collections?
I could talk about the strength of the library’s collections or its focus on providing innovative services to support teaching and research (both certainly deserving of praise) but what I’ve been impressed by the most is the expertise and dedication of the library staff. The level of commitment to the students and faculty is extraordinary and results in collective striving for excellence and a willingness to take on new challenges.
What projects are underway that you’re most excited about?
We’re in the process of implementing a combined online catalog with Bates and Colby, with whom Bowdoin has been collaborating on shared catalog and collection development projects for a number of years. This new version of the catalog will make it possible to browse the shelves of all three libraries virtually and provide a convenient way for faculty and students to request materials held by our partners. We’re delving into unexplored territory technologically with this project and it’s been both exciting and challenging. With funding from the National Historical Publications and Record Commission (NHPRC), this spring we will begin a project to digitize one of Special Collection’s most significant holdings, the papers of Oliver Otis Howard (Bowdoin 1850). Howard’s distinguished career touched on many of the significant events of 19th century U.S. history including the Civil War, education reform, and race relations. His papers consequently are of value to scholars world wide and providing digital versions of these materials will enhance their access immeasurably. I’m also very pleased to be a part of the effort to support the College’s Digital and Computational Studies Initiative. Several library staff are working with colleagues in IT and with the DCSI directors to develop support services for faculty and students involved in DCSI-related projects.
What’s on the horizon?
It’s good to remember that the horizon is something you can never reach! So the planning never ends. A day doesn’t go by that a new app, online archive, or “cutting edge” resource doesn’t cross my desk. Emerging technologies are transforming the way faculty teach, students learn, and scholarship is both created and disseminated. Our increasingly online and mobile world challenges us to think creatively about the nature of our collections, physical spaces and services. I know that the library staff is excited to join me in confronting these challenges and embracing the new opportunities they present.
Marjorie Hassen began as director of the Bowdoin College Library last July, succeeding Sherrie Bergman, who retired as Bowdoin’s librarian in 2012 after 20 years of service to the College. This Q&A originally appeared in Bowdoin Magazine, Winter 2014.