By Deborah Jakubs

I didn’t mean to stay this long. I started my first job at Duke on September 1, 1983, as a “general bibliographer.” I had never lived anywhere longer than ten years, and even that was punctuated by a lengthy research trip outside the U.S. That was thirty Septembers ago. Hardly anyone around here even uses the word bibliographer anymore.

It’s not that I haven’t had other opportunities. But Duke’s energy and entrepreneurial spirit exert a strong pull. So does the fact that Duke’s Libraries are so widely appreciated as the intellectual center of the university, critical to the academic success of students and welcomed as partners in so many scholarly initiatives.

Deborah Jakubs (center) with the library Executive Group and Rubenstein Library renovation team, summer 2013.

Deborah Jakubs (center) with the library Executive Group and Rubenstein Library renovation team, summer 2013.

It is not like this everywhere. My colleagues at other libraries around the country often remind me of that. Nowhere else have I seen a staff so talented and agile, or a university administration so supportive, or a broader community of library friends so generous. We say it all the time, but it bears repeating: Duke truly is a special place.

Another thing I love about our Libraries: they’re always changing. Change has been a constant these last thirty years. For example, when I started working here, the books and journals in the library weren’t selected by librarians themselves, but by faculty “library reps.” None of our books had ever been digitized, because there was no such thing as digitization. No one came to us for advice on intellectual property or data management, let alone multimedia editing and production. Not only do we cover more subject areas now, we also cover more physical area. Back then, you had to come to the library if you wanted our help. Now librarians offer virtual “chat” consultations practically around the clock, and hold office hours in departments and schools. We come to you.

Jakubs (right), then Head of International and Area Studies, at a library reception in 1995. Pictured with Richard Ekman (left), Secretary of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Peter Lange (center), then Vice Provost for Academic and International Affairs at Duke.

Jakubs (right), then Head of International and Area Studies, at a library reception in 1995. Pictured with Richard Ekman (left), Secretary of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Peter Lange (center), then Vice Provost for Academic and International Affairs at Duke.

Technology has been driving and motivating much of this change. The role of the research library has become more complex, requiring different skills and presenting new responsibilities. We are still the place you go to check out books (print circulation continues at a good clip), but we are so much more than we used to be. We are open around the clock five days a week, and 24/7 during reading periods and exams. We partner with students, faculty, and departments on interdisciplinary initiatives. We design and demonstrate ways to access, preserve, and visualize mountains of complex data. We manage websites, hundreds of databases, and thousands upon thousands of e-books. We curate, archive, and digitize our distinctive special collections, enabling us to share them with researchers far beyond Duke’s campus. We still help people find what they need—but we do it in ways unimaginable thirty years ago.

The debut of the first electronic library catalog at Duke, 1980s.

The debut of the first electronic library catalog at Duke, 1980s.

Yes, I still remember the card catalog. I am in good company, with other library and faculty long-timers (not to say old-timers!). I may have been in one institution for thirty years, but my job has often changed and has always challenged me. Duke has given me wonderful opportunities to keep learning, experimenting, teaching, sharing, and growing. I didn’t mean to stay this long, but I am awfully glad I did.

Deborah Jakubs is the Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs at Duke.

 

 

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