Information Today regularly reports on the products and opinions of information vendors. But what about their most important customers: libraries? What issues confront them today, and how, as information and library services become increasingly digital, do librarians view the future? I sought the opinions of librarians at Pennsylvania's Swarthmore College, one of the top three liberal arts colleges in the U.S.
Founded by Quakers in 1864, Swarthmore College lies some 20 miles southwest of Philadelphia. With an enrollment of just 1,400 students, it's a small school. It has, however, always punched above its weight. Three former graduates are Nobel Prize winners, and other prominent alumni include novelist James Michener, former Massachusetts governor (and one-time U.S. presidential hopeful) Michael Dukakis, computer visionary Ted Nelson (who coined the term "hypertext"), and Thomas McCabe, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board from 1948 to 1951 and former president of Scott Paper Co.
It was McCabe who donated the main library to the college. Built in the late 1960s, the McCabe Library is a formidable, large, stone fortress dominating the college hill that overlooks the tree-lined avenue. Its dominance is intentional. The architects believed that an academic library should form the "very heart of a college" and so "occupy a vital position" on the grounds.
There are also two small subject libraries on campus--the Cornell Science Library and the Underhill Music Library--and a number of special collections, including the Friends Historical Library, the world's largest collection of books and manuscripts related to the Quakers, and the Peace Collection, a research archive devoted to materials covering nongovernmental efforts toward peace.
Including faculty, the Swarthmore library serves around 1,800 users, and it employs 35 staff members. What distinguishes Swarthmore, says head of reference Anne Garrison, is the personal service it can provide. "Compared with an ARL library--which is likely to have 20,000 to 30,000 students and where you may see a student just once during …