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What Makes a Library Big?

In 1929 the now legendary librarian S. R. Ranganathan organized a symposium and published an influential essay by Rabindra Nath Tagore, the National Poet of India. Tagore asked the question “What makes a library big?” and that question is even more important four score and a few years later. In Tagore’s day a library could be judged by the size of it building. A library could also be judged by the size of its collections. Tagore rejected both of those measurements. Today we can look at libraries that are well beyond buildings. There are libraries that are systems with facilities spread out over the country. The Library of Congress, for example, has a wide variety of buildings. Some universities have dozens of separate libraries. Some university systems may count all the materials in all their institutions as one library. Beyond that, even small libraries can provide access through electronic means to far more scholarly information in the form of electronic journals and databases than large research libraries offered a century ago. We think that Tagore would reject that metric as an answer to his question as well. Tagore’s answer to his question about what makes a library big–its friendliness–remains as true today as it was all those years ago. A large library is of little use to a researcher if they have to struggle to find the resources they need, while a small library with a helpful staff is able to support research by finding creative ways to obtain needed information.

So, how “big” is our library? We know that our building is large, and a little bit rambling. If you want to find certain items you may have to ask for help. We hope you do. We have hundreds of employees who have a goal to make your work here as pleasant as possible. If you have a large research project, or you need to do research in a field that is unfamiliar to you, we are happy to provide the support of specialized subject librarians. We also have a great team of dedicated student employees who work hard to learn how our library works so they can help you with day to day questions.They shelve our books, they deliver materials to faculty, and they digitize printed materials you you can access it from you home or office.

We welcome you to our library and we invite you to stop by any help desk or librarian’s office and introduce yourself. We are not the largest library in the world, but when you need help with your research we hope we can be the biggest.