November 27, 2012

Campus Voices: David Carlson


David Carlson

Meet David Carlson: David H. Carlson is dean of the Texas A&M University Libraries and holds the Sterling C. Evans Endowed Chair in Library Administration. Carlson oversees five on-campus library facilities including the international Qatar Campus Library. From 2001 to 2012, Carlson served as professor and Dean of Library Affairs for Morris Library at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) in Carbondale, Illinois. Prior to SIUC, he served in leadership positions within academic libraries during the last 32 years at Bridgewater State, University of North Carolina, University of Louisville and University of Evansville. Carlson received his Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Connecticut, a Master of Library Science from the University of Michigan and a Master of Computer Science Education from The University of Evansville.

One of the very first impressions I had in College Station is a simple one: the impression of the campus and its physical size. The vastness of the campus makes an initial impact that is compelling and impossible to miss. I immediately knew I had come to an exciting and vibrant place just from the infrastructure of the campus and the physical diversity of the landscape and architecture.

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the physical impression the libraries make as well. The Sterling C. Evans Library presents a bustling, state-of-the-art interior space that is modern and energetic, thanks to a recent renovation of the first floor. In sharp contrast to Evans, you can wander next door and see the original, restored 1930s architecture of Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, the first physical library on campus. Cushing stands as a stately landmark and elegant reminder of the history and tradition at A&M, but the past is preserved there using the latest digital and scanning technologies.

These two juxtaposed buildings gave me a crash course on the distinctive, yet complementary roles of the libraries. And very much like these two buildings, the University Libraries projects an image of a modern place, harnessing all available technology to information resources, while also working deliberately and meticulously to see that our past is preserved and maintained for future generations.

Well-designed, inviting library facilities are critical to our mission of facilitating learning and delivering services. Most recently we completed two renovations on West Campus at the Medical Sciences Library and at the West Campus Library. While electronic resources are becoming essential tools for students, physical library facilities remain vital; and we’re busier than ever. Spaces for housing professional expertise, as well as our instructional and consultative services, have become increasingly important to our on-site users.

Of course, I was eager to meet and get to know the faculty and staff of the library.  In my first weeks as a new dean, I had extensive (usually 90-minute), private conversations with each Libraries faculty member and many staff. The interviews took a lot of time, but it was worth every minute! These private discussions gave me a good sense of the history, values, and priorities of the Libraries, as well as the strengths of our services. Priorities are not static, but from those initial conversations I set three immediate goals:

  • Establish a preservation program of national stature at the Libraries to ensure conservation of materials, of which we’re stewards, for future generations. To accomplish this: we must first hire a full-time, professional preservation librarian. After that we will need to purchase necessary equipment for a preservation lab to do the careful and painstaking but rewarding work of preserving materials.
  • Work with faculty across campus in the challenges of scholarly communication, particularly changing the system to make it more cost-efficient and effective, thus ensuring scholars and researchers access to the information they need.
  • Spend more time with Former Students by engaging them in the work of the Libraries and showing them the value we bring to the campus culture through our services and collections, both print and digital.

As with all organizations and institutions, libraries everywhere are facing challenges primarily based on changing technologies and formats. Confronting the challenges is both exciting and demanding. In many respects, libraries exist in a hybrid environment where the trend and future of information is clearly electronic. However, I believe paper will always play an important role in our society. We must  move forward aggressively with technology – investing only in meaningful opportunities and avoiding  the ephemeral “shiny trends” of gadgetry or fleeting fads – but not neglect the important role of print.

In an equally challenging area, like all institutions, we are judged by our ranking among peers. The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) publishes an annual index of rankings. During the last decade, Texas A&M has moved up in those rankings. Currently, among publicly supported libraries in the ARL index, Texas A&M ranks 12th. This impressive ranking reflects the stature of the Libraries and its collections, but we’re not done yet! Moving up in rank at such a high level– and, indeed, even staying at the current rank – presents a challenge that will require continued investments and constant attention.

Over the last few years, I have become increasingly involved at the national level with issues surrounding scholarly communication. I believe technologies present unparalleled opportunities to improve the breadth, cost, and currency of information available, not just to scholars and researchers, but also to the general public. We need to make quality, vetted information – the kind of information supported by university research and scholars – available to people more widely so they can make better, more informed decisions. Technology, especially networking technologies, enables us to do this in ways not previously possible at minimal cost. An example of a good policy change is one that requires researchers who receive taxpayer funds from government-granting agencies to deposit the results of their published research in openly available library repositories on the Internet. The National Institutes of Health has had just such a policy for several years now, and it needs to be extended to all federal grant-funded agencies. The policy has also been adopted by a number of private granting agencies, such as Autism Speaks and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

It’s appropriate to conclude with this: I think that my most exciting adventure upon coming to Aggieland was my trip to Fish Camp. I can think of no better experience for a new dean coming to Texas A&M than the cultural immersion, enthusiasm, and camaraderie of that revered tradition. The Libraries has long been enthused about Fish Camp; several Libraries’ deans and librarians have been among the Fish Camp namesakes, a coveted honor! For the last several years, librarians have been actively engaged in being a part of Fish Camp. They conduct brief orientations, welcome new students, and establish bonds with them. We assure them that the Libraries is their home-away-from-home and their go-to place for exceptional resources and people who can contribute in meaningful ways to their academic success. The partnership with Fish Camp is the starting point for a lasting relationship between the Libraries and our students.  I was honored to participate in Fish Camp, treating those new Aggies to the same great “first impression” I received in Aggieland. Gig ‘em!

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