Magazine article American Libraries

The John Crerar Library; a New Director Tests Her Management Mettle; Two Vast Collections Are Fused into One Super Science Library

Magazine article American Libraries

The John Crerar Library; a New Director Tests Her Management Mettle; Two Vast Collections Are Fused into One Super Science Library

Article excerpt

"PUTTING TOGETHER A 900,000-piece jigsaw puzzle" is how Patricia Swanson, assistant director for science libraries at the University of Chicago, describes her management challenge for at least the next few years. Swanson directs the new John Crerar Library, created by merging the University of Chicago science libraries collections with thsoe of the old John Crerar Library.

The John Crerar Library was established in 1897 with funds from the estate of a Chicago businessman. Housed at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago for the past 22 years, it has a new home on the University of Chicago campus. It is a spacious, bright, attractively furnished four-story limestone structure that cost $22 million and opened to the public on Sept. 10, 1984. Funding came from the Crerar Library, the university, and contributions.

The combined Crerar/U of C collection numbers 900,000 volumes--400,000 of them unduplicated titles from the old Crerar--and the new building can hold half a million more. The university called the project the largest merger of collections ever undertaken by two science libraries.

Al talked with Swanson in late November about her approach to managing this unique collection and facility, and about her career in libraries and development as an administrator.

Decision made in 1981

The decision to combine the collections was made in April 1981, Swanson said. Much of the groundwork for the merger and for the building design and organization was laid out by university library administration and committees from the Crerar and U of C libraries. Swanson was then head of reference services for Regenstein Library, the university's main library.

She had work with U of C science librarians to define reference collections for the new Crerar before taking a year's leave from the library in fall 1982. She spent that year coordinating an Association of Research Libraries Office Management Studies pilot project on public services in research libraries.

When the science libraries assistant directorship was posted in 1983, Swanson applied. She reasoned that her knowledge of the university and the library were strong qualifications, although she did not have a science background (she holds a degree in English literature plus the MLS). The selection committee agreed: she was appointed to the new position in October 1983.

Many decisions were required before the first book was moved--faculty, students, and other users of both collections had to be apprised of the monumental change approaching; staff had to be hired or relocated; and the physical move of materials had to be orchestrated down to the last catalog card.

Luck was with the project in crucial wasy--building construction proceeded on schedule and the weather cooperated on moving days. But Swanson is proudest of continuing service to patrons during the move: "We stopped taking calls at the old Crerar building at 3:30 on a Friday and began taking them at the University of Chicago at 8:30 Monday morning."

"Faculty and students have really taken to this library." Swanson said. The library is open 24 hours a day, with only an entrance attendant on duty during the night and early morning. Some faculty members have been signing in as early as 5 a.m. to use the library before work. She likened the operation to a large family's moving and being able to find the coffee pot, but not the Christmas ornaments. "I worry about finding the Christmas ornaments," she laughed.

Straightening out the technical services and shelving aspects of the merger will take even more time. The old Crerar used Dewey Decimal Classification; the University of Chicago uses Library of Congress. No new Dewey-classified materials are being added, but the library will have both a Dewey and an LC card catalog for some time. Dewey materials are being converted to LC--an operation that will require pulling 50,000 sets of catalog cards. …

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