News of the Collegespring2007

Librarian of the Future

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Victoria Hanawalt Photo Credit: Gay Walker

In the age of information specialists, “college librarian” sounds almost old-fashioned. But Victoria Hanawalt says that for her, it’s the “absolute favorite title of all time. It’s nice and simple, like Reed.” Nonetheless, thanks to Norman F. Carrigg ’46, the title is in for a bit of embellishment. Based on a generous gift from Carrigg, the college recently endowed Hanawalt’s position, which will be called the Norman F. Carrigg Librarianship.

Carrigg attended Reed for four semesters before completing a B.S. in biology and ultimately an M.D. at the University of Oregon. He practiced medicine in California and was an associate professor of medicine at UC San Francisco before retirement. He lives in San Rafael, California.

Hanawalt has been at Reed for 20 years, long enough to witness two major construction projects at the library. The first, in 1989, incorporated the science collections into the main building. The most recent addition, completed in fall 2002, added 40 percent more shelf space, new classrooms and offices, a computer lab, and enough study space to accommodate almost half the student body at one time.

More significantly, Hanawalt has been at the helm through the internet revolution, helping the library weather that massive wave of change in information sharing and storage.

“When Vickie arrived, students hovered around enormous card catalogues, taking notes and heading off in search of books that may have been checked out,” President Colin Diver says. “Now, students can access the library’s holdings from computer terminals within the library or anywhere on campus, reserve books, and call back those books that are checked out.”

Unless you’re a recent grad, you also may not know that many reserve materials and scholarly journals are now available to students electronically. And, thanks to the regional Orbis Cascade Alliance, students can search among the 28 million items held by regional collegiate libraries—right from their laptops. Any books they order will arrive within two days.

Across the country, libraries—both public and academic—have struggled to adapt to the latest technologies. Some have thrived; others have failed. While college and university libraries are not likely to close their doors, Hanawalt says there is still concern among university librarians that campus-wide internet access and ubiquitous search engines will cause library usage to fall, leading administrators to conclude that the library itself is obsolete.

But at Reed, says Hanawalt, “that’s not our problem.” Since the recent expansion, students have eagerly filled up all the added study space.

In fact, although Reed is one of the smallest members of Orbis Cascade, Reedies check out more books per capita than any other school. And Reed’s Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library loans out more books than it borrows, which speaks volumes about its collection.

Hanawalt says the Reed library of the future faces its share of challenges. For example, as students master electronic search engines, and online encyclopedias (such as Wikipedia) proliferate, fewer students approach the reference desk to ask for help. “At Reed, [reference resources] have always been a tough sell,” Hanawalt says. “Reed students are used to figuring things out for themselves.” In response, Hanawalt and her staff have developed instructional sessions that teach students how to use the library’s resources for a specific curriculum.

As a profession, librarianship is on the verge of a retirement boom, and with so much impending opportunity for young librarians, Hanawalt hopes to increase interest at Reed by starting an internship program for recent grads. “For a school that turns out so many students who love the library,” she says, “we don’t do much to promote what it is to actually be a professional in the library.”

Hanawalt is developing the internship idea during a semester-long sabbatical—her first since she arrived at Reed. What else does a librarian do on sabbatical? When she’s not researching web resources, Hanawalt is eagerly devouring novels, including new ones by George Saunders, and a smattering of the classics.

As for being named to the Norman F. Carrigg Librarianship at Reed, Hanawalt is characteristically humble. “It’s a wonderful recognition of the importance of the library in a Reed education,” she says. “It’s a recognition of [my predecessors] and what they did to make this library.”

—Johanna Droubay ’04