WASHINGTON SPIRIT • Spring 2002  

Shirly Baker, Vice Chancellor for Information Technology and Dean of University Libraries

Minding the Storehouse of Knowledge

By Donna Kettenbach

Shirley Baker leads a life of collaboration, both at WU and beyond. From her work in the Peace Corps after college to chairing prestigious national and regional professional associations, she is a conduit of cooperation among sometimes competing factions.

As vice chancellor for information technology and dean of University Libraries, Baker is a pioneer in successfully meshing the latest technology with traditional library management and operations. "I left computing to become a librarian—which is a good joke because libraries are now inundated with technology," Baker laughs. "And, I'm doing things I never thought I'd be doing as a librarian."

One is forging alliances between WU and universities across Missouri to advance interlibrary loans and resource-sharing. Library members can now borrow books from universities statewide, thanks to her work with MOBIUS, a consortium of 56 Missouri academic libraries all on the same software system. "We really revolutionized interlibrary loans in Missouri—we made it 10 times faster and one-tenth the cost," Baker says. "Everyone wins in this—being the largest research library in the state, WU's being in MOBIUS is a bit unusual, but it was the right thing to do and the University borrows as much as it lends." MOBIUS quadrupled WU's resources.

Baker believes libraries comprise three important things: buildings, services, and collections. "In each of these areas we work closely with students and faculty," she says.

Today, when students, researchers, and readers can download oceans of information in seconds from the 'net, some may see no need to set foot in a library again. Baker begs to differ. "People may think library buildings aren't necessary because of information technology and the Internet, but less than 3 percent of all knowledge is on the Web," she points out. "When you think of several thousand years of knowledge, it is a relatively small portion that's available online." And most of the best Internet resources are not free; they are licensed for the University by the Libraries. Baker sees no decline in the demand for printed materials; people still want their paper—WU Libraries buys 30,000 volumes and 10,000+ newspapers, magazines, and journals yearly.

"Library buildings still have important roles on campus: Anyone is welcome; they are a haven of quiet in a normally noisy dormlife; students and faculty can come here to study and research quietly and get away from busy offices, classrooms, or homelife." Overseeing 10 of WU's 14 libraries, Baker says, is like living in a house with 2,000 teenagers. About 2,500-3,000 people visit Olin Library daily, probably only second to Mallinckrodt in foot traffic, she notes, "and, we circulate 300,000 books a year."

She is spearheading renovations to Olin Library, increasing that building by 17,000 square feet. Updates include wiring the building for Internet access throughout and creating a cyber café/24-hour reading room, all to be completed in 2004.

WU library services have expanded under Baker's guidance, including international library loans, online offerings, research databases, and other 'nonbook material.' One project, ITeach, a symposium University Libraries presented with Arts & Sciences in January 2001, worked with faculty in incorporating technology into their teaching.

Besides buying books and negotiating licenses, WU librarians amass other collections. Visual and film collections are becoming increasingly important. "Faculty and students want to use film and TV as part of their learning, since this generation has grown up with that," Baker says. The University won a competition for the late documentary filmmaker Henry Hampton's (A.B. '61) film archive, beating the Library of Congress among other prestigious institutions. The archive is a rich collection of Hampton's materials, including the award-winning civil rights film Eyes on the Prize. "We won because of the special care we would give the collection and the large number of faculty who want to use it in their teaching."

WU Libraries recently have made some exciting hard-copy acquisitions as well. "We've had an embarrassment of riches," Baker says. In the past few years, the Libraries acquired the Triple Crown Collection, a major collection of rare Arts & Crafts-era books and related ephemera, which attracted the annual meeting of the American Printing History Association to campus in 2000; illustrator Al Parker's collection, with the assistance of the School of Art; and digitized the famous Dred Scott trial transcripts.

With the Dred Scott transcripts, the Libraries had the charge of digitizing them and then making them available to the world via the Web. "Faculty and students helped discover these precious documents in the St. Louis Circuit Court files. The State Archives flattened and preserved them," she says. "The Web site had 150,000 hits on the day we announced it—including heirs from the jurors, lawyers, etc., from around the globe!"

Baker's résumé is as impressive as many faculty—she had worked at MIT, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, and AT&T before joining WU in 1989. She holds two master's degrees (one in library science) from the University of Chicago and a B.A. in economics from Muhlenberg College. Well-respected by her University colleagues and peers around the country, Baker served as president of the Association of Research Libraries—the prestigious top 120 in the United States, of which WU is 40th. She also is active in SPARC, Scholarly Publishing in Academic Research Collaboration, which works to make scholarly journals more affordable.

She believes libraries need to continue their collaboration in the future, concentrating on resource-sharing, archiving electronic materials, and following Congressional action on intellectual property rights legislation that affects education.

Recalling her work in the Peace Corps (two years in India with her husband), she says that experience made her a better informed person. "I learned about another country in depth—and, of course, being a librarian, I think acquiring knowledge of any sort is a worthwhile endeavor."

Donna Kettenbach is a free-lance writer based in St. Louis.

 

 

 

PEER REVIEW

"Shirley has been a tremendous force for the library—Olin is a much more viable and vital part of the University since she's been here. It's wonderful to have a librarian willing to do things and ready to take initiatives ... there's been a lot of support that many of us have benefited from, especially those of us in humanities."

—Derek M. Hirst, Chair of the Department of History in Arts & Sciences and the William Eliot Smith Professor of History

 

 

"Even before MOBIUS came into existence in 1998, Shirley played a key role in Missouri, actively pursuing cooperative projects with the University of Missouri and Saint Louis University in 1995-1996, for example. As library director of one of the premier academic institutions in Missouri, Shirley established an important precedent. MOBIUS is an enormously cooperative organization, and Shirley's example and national experience have been very important."

—George Rickerson, Executive Director of MOBIUS

 

 

"Washington University is very fortunate to have a leader of such national stature—Shirley brings a blend of strong professionalism, leadership skills, a keen sense of critical success factors, and a strong technical background to the table."

—Duane Webster, Executive Director of the Association of Research Libraries

 

 

”Dean Baker has been an extremely effective leader for us and the nation. She has dramatically enhanced the University Libraries and brought to our collections impressive additions such as the Civil Rights Archive and the Triple Crown Collection, which will greatly impact scholarly research. Further, as vice chancellor for information technology, she has contributed to the development of technology to advance access to research resources here and elsewhere, and has enabled new teaching methods."

—Mark S. Wrighton, Chancellor, Washington University


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