My Journey from Print to Electronic and Back Again: a Librarian’s Tale

Beverly Dowdy

Long before I became a librarian I had a fascination with libraries.  They were always magical places for me, and the stacks in particular were magical.  The organization of knowledge on the shelves pulled me in, and all of it was available to anyone.  So as an undergraduate at Appalachian State University, I majored in Educational Media.  The major was created to supply librarians for the public schools.  But I quickly discovered my first year that working in a public school system did not suit me.

I found my niche in an academic library – at Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts.  I was hired in the Acquisitions department to order and receive all titles.  All those new titles bound for the stacks had to pass across my desk!  It was the height of the paper library era – all financial transactions, the card catalog, the books – everything was on paper.  A glimmer of the online world to come was a single OCLC terminal that provided the most recent cataloging information which we printed out.  The staff fought over time slots.  I still remember mine:  1:00-3:00 every afternoon.

After my husband and I moved from Massachusetts to Oklahoma, I worked briefly in the private sector.  I became a company librarian at Engineering Enterprises in Norman, Oklahoma.  They employed geologists and engineers to provide environmental remediation for contaminated groundwater.  I was hired to not only keep the company library but provide research on request.  Automated searching was now available, and I provided DIALOG searches for the geologists and their clients.  Utilizing the citations from those searches, I would drive across town to the University of Oklahoma Library to find the full-text printed articles and books.   I straddled this print/electronic divide many years before full-text online became a reality.  In that role I functioned as a sort of information detective, and I was Google before Google.

My cumulative experiences led me to think I should make librarianship my professional career.  I finished my MLS in 2000.   Another world opened at the same time as eJournals made their first appearance.  I jumped back into the academic world at the University of Central Oklahoma to order, process, and make available their eJournals and databases.   Electronic full text was another universe compared to print world and a true paradigm shift.  I remember many librarians with decades of experience were overwhelmed by it.  Perhaps because I was young and foolish, I jumped in and took on anything the Library Director threw at me.  I’m glad I did because it gave me a thorough grounding in this new format, and I could see how improved discoverability for patrons.

It also led me to a new job at Duke.  I came on board as the Head of Electronic Resources and Serials Management in 2008.  By that time full-text online had exploded.  It was imperative to decide on best practices, tools, and workflow for managing the fire hose of electronic text coming at us.  On top of this, print world didn’t die.  In fact, it still grew – just not at the same pace.  Over time ERSM became SRM (Serials and Retention Management) when the electronic pieces were shifted to other departments.  My own department focused on projects for older print (Papyrology collection) and something new:  collaborative print retention.  This was a new paradigm administered by multiple libraries to insure that aging print texts would always be available to patrons within a geographic area.

Last year I stepped out of the department head role and into my final position at Duke:  government documents.  Collaborative print retention took hold in government documents through ASERL (Association of Southeastern Research Libraries).  We began a project to resize our own documents collection in light of other TRLN document collections.  We also committed to acquire and retain all publications from six government agencies.  So I came full circle, from print to electronic and back to print with a different twist.  In July 2020 I will retire from Duke Libraries and am ever appreciative my experiences and learning.  I picked up a Master’s Degree in Graduate Liberal Studies along the way.  That also opened new worlds for me.  Keep growing, keep learning, and don’t be surprised in your career if you shift back to something you knew in an earlier time and see it with new eyes.