William Crowe, dean of Kansas University libraries, says it's easy for people to be impressed by the university's huge, gothic-style Watson Library and the more than 1.5 million books it houses.
But Crowe hopes that students are impressed with more than just the library's size.
"We buy books and magazines not simply to have them and count them. We buy them to be used," Crowe said. "We're trying to put people together with knowledge. That's the secret . . . to what makes this a great library."
Although 60,000 new items are purchased each year by KU libraries, Crowe points out that 60 percent of the library budget goes toward personnel.
"What we've got here is expertise and skill that has amassed over decades," Crowe said.
IN ADDITION to performing the challenging task of deciding what the library will purchase, librarians organize the holdings so they can be found easily and assist students when they do have problems finding something.
"The library's reputation is based more on the quality of service we provide than it is on the collection," Crowe said. "We're not some remote, cold and forbidding place. We're here to help people."
KU's library system ranks No. 1 among Big 8 schools in terms of the size of its collection, with about 2.9 million books and periodicals, said Assistant Dean George Gibbs.
Playing a big role in helping people get access to information from all those pages is technology.
For example, Watson Library has more than 50 data bases stored on computer. One data base that includes abstracts of nearly all doctoral dissertations since 1861 is stored on four computer disks.
"The real issue is not so much saving space, but how effectively you can research," Crowe said. "Scholarship is being eased substantially by technology."
THE COMPUTER system can be used to scan an entire data base for a specific author or topic in a matter of minutes. If the library doesn't have a book or document listed in the data base, it usually can borrow the item through interlibrary loans.
"In the last 20 years, there has been an increased emphasis on cooperation among libraries," Crowe said. "We carry on exchanges with libraries all around the world. We bring the world of information here."
Meanwhile, Watson's on-line computer card catalog shows library users not only which books are in the Watson stacks, but which books can be found at other libraries on campus.
There are eight other libraries besides Watson on KU's main campus. They are:
The Anschutz Science Library. Opened in late 1989, this library behind Hoch Auditorium is capable of housing 800,000 volumes.
The Art and Architecture Library, which is on level one of the Helen Foresman Spencer Art Museum.
Spahr Library, in front of Learned Hall, which houses the engineering school library.
The Government Documents and Maps Library, which is on the sixth floor of Malott Hall.
The Howey Reading Room, which is in Room 103 of Summerfield Hall.
The Music Library, in Room 448 of Murphy Hall.
The Kenneth Spencer Research Library, which is behind Strong Hall. The library's Kansas Collection includes more than 1 million photographs.
The Law Library, in Room 200 of Green Hall. Although on the KU campus, the law library does not fall under Crowe's purview as dean of KU libraries.
ALTHOUGH WATSON'S on-line computer catalog can be used to find many books and documents, the catalog lists only those works published since about 1971. To find earlier works, students need to use Watson's regular card catalog.
"It's not completely dead," Crowe said of the regular catalog. "If you want to see everything we have, you have to go to both the regular catalog and the on-line catalog. Maybe the old material on Aristotle is better."
Crowe said Watson librarians are working to place all of the library's holdings in the on-line catalog, starting with books published in 1970 and working backward in time. That process will take several years.
Crowe said book preservation is a big challenge facing libraries right now.
"In most libraries of our age, between 25 and 40 percent of what we own today will be dust by the time a present junior faculty member retires," Crowe said.
The problem is the acid content of paper in books and documents published since the mid-19th century. The acid causes a chemical breakdown of the paper, making it very brittle.
"Once it's brittle, it's gone. It becomes corn flakes," Crowe said.
But changes are being made.
"IN THE LAST 10 years, we've made a lot of progress in persuading publishers of scholarly works to use alkaline paper," Crowe said.
Older books can be transferred to microfiche, but the process is very expensive. A cheaper preservation process involves using a high-pressure gas to de-acidify the paper in books and documents. Crowe said he is excited about such methods of "rescuing the past before it's gone."
Meanwhile, Crowe said, the KU libraries will continue bringing people together with information, in part through an increased emphasis on educating people about how to use the library.
"It's something we've been doing all along, but we've got to do it more," Crowe said. "We can teach people research strategies, give them a good grounding in information way-finding.
"If we can help students in a systemized way to exploit the library's resources, we all come out ahead."