Grand Central Station: Inside Duke’s Library Service Center

Ten years since it opened, the Libraries’ high-density repository is bigger and busier than ever. A look behind the scenes puts the work of running a modern-day research library in perspective.

The stacks in the Library Service Center are three stories tall and almost as long as a football field.

Welcome to Marvin Tillman’s world, where the forecast is always 50 degrees with 30 percent humidity. Those are ideal conditions for preserving books and paper, says Tillman. He should know. As head of Duke’s Library Service Center (LSC), he oversees a state-of-the-art, high-density repository designed to extend the life of printed materials by fifty years or more.

Most students and faculty at Duke never see the LSC. “A lot of people don’t know we even exist,” Tillman says. But those who do venture out here are inevitably surprised by what they find. Tucked away in an industrial park a few miles south of downtown Durham, it might look like just another warehouse. But inside, a massive steel door rolls back to reveal the biggest bookshelves you’ve ever seen. Each one is three stories tall and almost as long as a football field. Aisles and aisles of densely packed volumes seem to go on—and up—forever. The air is cool and dry, and mercury-vapor lights (which won’t damage paper and ink) cast an orange glow over the awe-inspiring scene.

The LSC houses more than four million books, documents, and archival materials belonging to Duke and the library systems of several other Triangle area institutions. A new addition is currently being constructed with room for three million more. At full capacity, the LSC will be able to accommodate nearly nine million volumes—more than all the materials in Duke’s ten libraries combined.

Most of the items kept here see only occasional use, so housing them off campus in a controlled environment makes sense. It also frees up valuable library space for students and researchers while still maintaining quick and easy access to everything.

But the LSC is more than a glorified storage depot. “It’s more like Grand Central Station,” Tillman says.

"We don't believe in making patrons wait," says Marvin Tillman, Head of the LSC.

Indeed, the most important job for Tillman and his staff is rapidly finding and delivering materials requested from those colossal stacks. And they take pride in meeting the heavy demand.

“We don’t believe in making patrons wait,” he says.

Let’s say you’re interested in some obscure, out-of-print tract you find mentioned in a footnote. You look it up in the online catalog and see that it’s somewhere in the LSC. With the click of a mouse, it can be pulled and delivered to the Duke library of your choice within 24 hours, and typically less.

“Last week, under a publication deadline, I struggled to track down some elusive articles from the 1930s and 1940s, in French, by some of the lesser-known pioneers in my field,” wrote one Duke professor of statistics recently. “Without much hope, I submitted a request on Friday for a book I knew we had, but alas it was in the off-site storage facility. Early Saturday, I learned that the book was being held for me in Perkins. I had expected to wait days or even weeks. The library got this material for me in hours!”

Such testimonials are common. On any given day, some 1,500 items are checked in or out from the LSC. The facility has special hydraulic lifts for fetching items from the highest shelves, and a delivery truck makes runs to campus every morning and afternoon.

Daniel Walker, Library Assistant at the LSC, uses a special lift to retrieve and reshelve items.

What’s even more impressive: even with four million volumes to keep track of, nothing ever gets lost.

In a regular library, items can drift from their proper places. Patrons sometimes put things back on the wrong shelf, or leave them behind in strange places. “That doesn’t happen here,” Tillman says. “We never have to do inventory, because nothing comes in or goes out without being barcoded and scanned. So you never have to go looking for it.”

Although Duke manages and staffs the Library Service Center, the facility also provides storage and access services for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, and North Carolina Central University. (Duke and UN C actually split the cost of the first LSC expansion in 2007. Likewise, UN C has signed a thirty-year storage agreement to secure half of the capacity in the current expansion project.) It’s one more example of how all four institutions benefit from their close geographic proximity.

The consortial universities pay Duke the cost of having their materials processed, shelved, and retrieved. The LSC also stores materials at no charge for the Durham County Library, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, the American Dance Festival, and the Duke Forest History Society as part of the university’s service to the community.

Library Assistant Emmanuel Senga sorts books and journals into trays. Items in the LSC are grouped by size, rather than call number. Each item is barcoded, and each barcode is associated with a specific tray and shelf.

Ten years ago, when the LSC was built, it played a crucial role in the initial phases of the Perkins Project, the multi-year expansion and renovation of Duke’s main library complex. All of those books and materials had to go somewhere while the hard-hat work was being done, and everything had to remain quickly and easily accessible to students and researchers.

Now, with the final phase of the Perkins Project about to begin, the LSC is gearing up to receive some 20,000 linear feet of books and archival materials that must be moved for the renovation of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. That’s almost four miles of collection material, much of it irreplaceable and requiring careful handling. Another 10,000 or so linear feet will move to the Rubenstein Library’s temporary renovation headquarters on the third floor of Perkins Library.

Tillman and his staff are ready. The new addition to the LSC is on track to be completed by October 2012, just in time to absorb the mountain of material coming their way.

In the meantime, they’ll continue to keep the Libraries’ “Grand Central Station” running smoothly, and every item on those enormous shelves accounted for.

When completed later this year, the new addition to the LSC will increase the facility's capacity to nine million volumes. That's more than than all the materials in Duke's ten libraries combined.

Giving Back by Giving Books

When John Hoy T’67 was a student at Duke, the library wasn’t a place you could simply browse around. The stacks were closed to undergraduates, and librarians weren’t always trained to be as warm and friendly as they are today.

Nevertheless, the Florida circuit court judge has fond memories of the countless hours he spent studying in the Gothic Reading Room, absorbing the lessons of American and world history. And his ties to the university remain strong today. He volunteers with the Alumni Association to interview prospective students applying to Duke, and he and his wife Alesia are the proud parents of one son who is a Duke graduate and another who is about to be.

Their older son Alex earned a bachelor’s degree in 2009, double-majoring in political science and history and minoring in economics. Their younger son Logan will graduate this spring with a double major in electrical and computer engineering and economics. Logan has also been accepted into Duke’s Master of Engineering Management program. He has already started coursework in that program and expects to complete the degree in 2013.

According to John, both boys practically lived in Perkins Library. “So why wouldn’t I say thanks?” he said. The Hoy family has supported the Duke Libraries for many years, and in many ways. A group study room in Bostock Library is named in honor of John’s parents, Franklin and Margaret Hoy. And John and Alesia regularly contribute to the Libraries’ annual fund.

John Hoy (right) with wife Alesia and son Logan in the Gothic Reading Room

This year, John wanted to do something different with his annual donation. He still wanted to support the Libraries, but he also wanted to personalize his gift in some way. John looked into the Libraries’ Honoring with Books program, which allows you to pay tribute to a special person by naming a book in their honor. For $100, the library will purchase a book in a subject area of your choosing. An electronic bookplate will be added to the book’s online catalog listing, noting that the title has been provided in recognition of the honoree.

John liked the idea so much he named books in memory of each of his parents, and in honor of his wife and both sons. “It was a way to say thank you to my parents, to tell my children how proud I am of them, and to express my love for my wife,” he said.

Best of all, it’s a gift that has a lasting impact. And it comes with the satisfaction of knowing that the people who have enriched our lives will continue, in some small way, to enrich the lives of others.

“The Beach Boys said it best,” John said. “Be true to your school.”


About the Honoring with Books Program
Honoring someone with a library book is a wonderful way to thank and acknowledge parents, grandparents, children, friends, colleagues, and others who have enriched our lives. It’s also a great way mark important milestones, such as birthdays, births, weddings, anniversaries, retirements, and personal achievements. Visit the Honoring with Books website to find out more.

A Lifelong Love of Words, Poetry, and Libraries

On November 6, 2011, the Duke University Libraries lost a longtime friend and cherished colleague. Myrna Ruth Kanner Jackson, 76, worked in fundraising for many years at Duke and served as the Libraries’ Director of Development from 1991 to 1999. During that time, she helped usher in a period of tremendous organizational growth and change.

Jackson was responsible for raising much-needed awareness, and financial support, for the Perkins Project, a multi-year library renovation project that began with the construction of Bostock Library and the von der Heyden Pavilion, followed by the complete renovation of Perkins Library. (The final phase of the Perkins Project will begin this year, with the upcoming renovation of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.)

She also established and recruited the first Library Advisory Board, a group of library friends and advocates with the means, expertise, and dedication to bring the Libraries’ needs to the attention of the wider university community. Several of the board’s inaugural members still serve on it today. One of them, Virginia Barber G’60, recently said of Jackson, “She was an outstanding human being, and I have always been immensely grateful to her for recruiting me to the Library Advisory Board, the best board I’ve ever served on or could ever imagine.”

A native Philadelphian and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Myrna Jackson came to Durham in 1965. She went to work for Duke in 1977, when she began editing for the Duke Press and took on freelance assignments for Chancellor Kenneth Pye, who encouraged her to pursue a career in development. To which Jackson characteristically replied, “But I don’t know anything about real estate.”

In 1991, former library director Jerry Campbell recruited her as the Libraries’ development director, a role she continued under former Vice Provost and University Librarian David Ferriero. In 1992, Jackson helped to select the Duke University Libraries’ landmark four-millionth volume, a 1633 first edition of John Donne’s Poems.

The choice had personal significance for Jackson, who was a poet herself. She was a member of a local writing group and published a number of poems throughout her life, including one that was recognized in the Independent Weekly poetry contest. She counted Donne, Marvel, and Yeats as her favorite poets.

Her love of language made her an effective communicator. She took pride in helping her staff become better writers, and helping them advance to better positions. Those same talents also made her a gifted teacher. After retiring from the Libraries, Jackson taught reading at Lakewood Elementary School, and she taught poetry for a semester at a charter school for at-risk high school students. Her passion for Shakespeare, opera, jazz, and the American songbook gave her a wealth of things to draw upon to reach her students.

According to Jackson’s partner Cheryl Thomas, “Myrna was fearless, funny, strong, and courageous. She could get people on board with an idea. She liked to use ‘jolly’ as a verb—as in to jolly someone along, and she was good at it.”

In addition to Thomas, Jackson is survived by her daughter and son-in-law, Laura Jackson and James Biddell of Raleigh; her sister and brother-in-law, Elenore and Phillip Weinberg of California; and her nephews, William and David Weinberg, also of California. Needless to say, she also leaves behind many friends in Durham, at Duke, and around the country.

A memorial service and reception in Myrna Jackson’s honor was held on May 6, 2012, in the von der Heyden Pavilion.

Foreign Exchange: Program Strengthens Ties Between Duke and Chilean Libraries

It has been two years since a massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake devastated central Chile. According to official sources, it was the sixth largest quake ever recorded. Over 500 people lost their lives, and nearly one in ten Chileans lost their homes.

Map showing the epicenter of the 2010 Chile earthquake, near Concepcion.

The financial aftershocks were also severe. The United Nations estimates that the earthquake cost Chile’s economy between $15 and $30 billion.

Among the many people and institutions affected, the earthquake had serious repercussions for Chilean universities and their libraries in the area near the epicenter, Concepción. Severely damaged library buildings had to be closed, books were moved to storage, and library services were suspended.

In June 2010, a hundred days after the disaster, a delegation co-sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the American Council on Education toured the affected universities. One of the members of that delegation was Deborah Jakubs, Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs at Duke.

Jakubs spoke with the directors of the five Chilean libraries hit hardest by the earthquake and discussed measures that would assist their recovery efforts. Everyone agreed that a formal exchange of ideas, expertise, and face-to-face collaboration would offer extensive benefits to all institutions involved.

The first of those exchanges took place this spring, thanks to a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Tatiana Morales, librarian at the Universidad del Bío-Bío, and Paula Díaz of the Universidad Católica de la Santísima Concepción visited the Duke University Libraries for three weeks in March. They are the first of five librarians from Chilean universities who will visit Duke this year to observe the workings of a U.S. research library and take back ideas to their respective universities.

A view of the new library building at the Universidad del Bio-Bio, constructed after the earthquake

Because Duke is a member of the Triangle Research Libraries Network (TR LN), the visiting librarians will also meet with colleagues from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina Central University, and North Carolina State University to observe different models of library organization and learn about TR LN’s collaborative interlibrary programs.

Meanwhile, in May and June, Duke will send four library staff members to Chile to see the affected libraries up-close, and consult on collection development, strategic planning, electronic resource management, and instructional technology.

“Collaborating with Tatiana and Paula has afforded us the opportunity to consider the universal needs of the academic community,” said Debra Kurtz, Head of Digital Experience Services and one of the Duke representatives who will travel to Chile in June. “We look forward to meeting the second group of Chilean librarians and to our own trips to Santiago and Concepción. If you want a fresh perspective on the truly collaborative nature of global research, there’s no substitute for immersing yourself in other cultures.”

In recent years, Duke has hosted librarians from Mali, Turkey, Chile, China, and South Africa, and other countries have played host to our librarians as well. It’s one of many ways the Duke Libraries reflect the university’s global outlook and support Duke’s many international academic programs and networks.

“Libraries throughout the world are experiencing great changes, and the more we can share expertise, ideas, and models of service, the more we all stand to gain,” said Deborah Jakubs. “If previous programs of this type are any indication, the relationships formed between individuals as well as inter-institutionally will endure well beyond the grant period, leading to other joint projects in the future.”

Members of the Duke-Chile Library Exchange (left to right): Patrick Stawski, Paula Diaz, Aisha Harvey, Holly Ackerman, Debra Kurtz, and Tatiana Morales

The Duke-Chile Library Exchange: Participating People and Institutions

Duke University Libraries Representatives
Holly Ackerman, Librarian for Latin American, Iberian and Latino Studies
Aisha Harvey, Head of Collection Development
Debra Kurtz, Head of Digital Experience Services
Patrick Stawski, Human Rights Archivist

Chilean Library Representatives
Sandra Carrizo, Universidad de Talca
Paula Díaz, Universidad Católica de la Santísima Concepción
Manuel González, Universidad de Concepción
Carmen Gloria Herrera, Universidad Católica del Maule
Tatiana Morales, Universidad del Bío-Bío

In addition, the Pontifícia Universidad Católica in Santiago will host the Duke delegation for their initial two days in Chile.

What Does Your Doctor Know?

A new exhibit explores physician education from ancient Greece to Duke Medicine

Students in a 21st-century gross anatomy class at Duke University Medical Center

Throughout history, certain people have taken responsibility for healing the sick, the wounded, and the suffering. Medical knowledge that was once passed down verbally gradually became more codified in writing and professionalized through apprenticeships and university education. Over the course of centuries, the licensed physician of today emerged.

As the practice of medicine evolved, so too did medical training and education. Certain core subjects like anatomy have been part of the curriculum for over five hundred years. But educational methodologies have advanced from oral tradition to physical autopsy to video instruction and, now, virtual simulation.

But just how different is the training of a Duke medical student today from physician education in, say, Padua in the sixteenth century, or early nineteenth-century American universities?

A new exhibition spanning two Duke libraries traces the history of medical education, from the days of ancient Greece to the founding of Duke University’s School of Medicine. Drawing on a range of materials from the Duke University Medical Center Archives and the History of Medicine Collections in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, the exhibit explores the age-old question every person in need of medical care has asked at some point: What Does Your Doctor Know?

This 12th-century manuscript copy of Theorica Pantegni, or "The Total Art of Medical Theory," was the first comprehensive medical encyclopedia in Latin.

The exhibition, divided between Perkins Library and the Duke Medical Center Library, will be on display April 17 – July 31.

An opening reception will take place Wednesday, April 25, at 4 p.m. in Rubenstein Library’s Biddle Rare Book Room. The event will feature a lecture on medical education by Dr. Edward Buckley, Vice Dean of Medical Education in the Duke School of Medicine. The exhibition and reception are free and open to the public.

Check out the exhibit online.

Strap on Your Utility Belt: Library Party Brings Out Duke’s Heroes and Villains

The Library Party is one of the largest, most anticipated, and most unusual events at Duke. The entire campus is invited. Once again, the Libraries teamed up with the Duke Marketing Club to organize this year’s event, which took place on February 24 and drew over 3,000 students, faculty, staff, and alumni to Perkins Library for a night of sophisticated fun and entertainment.

The theme for this year’s party—Heroes and Villains—was inspired by a truly remarkable collection of comic books at Duke that was assembled over the course of forty years by two brothers who live in Durham.

Edwin and Terry Murray have been avid collectors of comic books and other articles of “pulp culture” since childhood. In 2003, the Murray brothers donated their comic book collection to Duke University Libraries.

It took five truckloads and nine months to move all those Green Lanterns, Fantastic Fours, and X-Men, which are now preserved in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke. The Murray Comic Book Collection includes over 65,000 comics from the 1930s to the present, making it one of the largest archival comic collections in the world.

Although not your standard research library fare, comic books provide a fascinating reflection of American society and culture. But comics are also a commercial art form. That’s why this year’s party was a joint production of the Duke University Libraries and the Duke Marketing Club, which offers experience to Duke students interested in marketing and advertising careers. And when superheroes, librarians, and marketing gurus unite—watch out, agents of ignorance and enemies of fun!