It is an honor and a pleasure to contribute an essay on libraries in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Hilton M. Briggs Library. I bring to this privilege an appreciation for the vital resources and services the library provides, but also a focused perspective of a four-decade career and professional experience in the pursuit of developing and improving libraries in serving their invaluable role within the university.
A week after I graduated from Brookings High School in the spring of 1965, I was hired at the old SDSU Lincoln Library for a summer job in the Periodicals Department. This initial summer job transitioned into a four-year work study job in various library departments. My work at the library not only provided me with critical funds for tuition at SDSU, but also gave me a basic introduction to the operations and service areas of a general academic library. It was while I was working at the Lincoln Library that I decided to pursue a career in librarianship.
After graduation from SDSU, I obtained my master’s degree in Library Science. My first professional position was as a Medical Reference Librarian at the University of Kansas Medical Center. This entry level position launched me into the exciting and challenging field of medical librarianship, which was to be my world for the rest of my career.
After my initial reference librarian position, I had the opportunity to progress to positions of increasing supervisory and administrative responsibility in academic medical libraries. Positions at the Medical College of Georgia, the Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Maryland provided a wealth of experience in library services, operations, and administration and helped prepare me for my 17-year tenure as Director of the Health Sciences Library System at the University of Pittsburgh.
At the University of Pittsburgh, I had the responsibility for directing the provision of information services to several hundred students, over a thousand faculty and clinicians, as well as a large urban hospital, specialty hospitals, and numerous affiliated community hospitals. Challenges in the provision of services to such a large and diverse group of users in the dynamic University of Pittsburgh environment were plentiful. However, I had the good fortune to recruit and retain a talented staff and we provided a vigorous level of service programs to our demanding users. During my tenure, the ranking of the library, as compared to other academic health sciences libraries in the U.S., rose to the top ten in the nation in several categories, including measures in the categories of collections, budget, educational programs, and staffing.
The time span of my library career bridged the era of old hard copy resources and the new digital information age. The health sciences library transition to the digital world offered opportunities to test and effectively incorporate new technologies in the delivery of information. It was an exhilarating time to be in medical libraries.
In 2000, I was elected President of the Association of Academic Health Sciences Library Directors, a national organization representing the libraries of the 130 U.S. and Canadian medical and health sciences schools. This role afforded me the opportunity to take the lead in working with the National Library of Medicine to implement a Future Leadership Program, designed to enhance the recruitment and development of first class leaders for academic health sciences libraries. This Future Leadership Program remains an active and successful program since its inception in 2002.
Working in medical libraries in large universities, I learned that although the academic medical library has a specialized mission, particularly in the clinical arena, the common bond with general academic libraries makes the library’s goals and role more similar than different to its counterpart. Like the general academic library, the academic medical library supports the critical pillars of the university’s mission and life-blood: the teaching and learning that takes place across the institution’s schools and departments, the research conducted by both students and faculty, and the administrative functions that support the overall operations of the university.
I am thankful for this opportunity to participate in the 40th anniversary celebration of the Briggs Library and recognize the essential role served by the library. I also wish to express my appreciation for the SDSU library’s role in providing me with an early work experience which served to point me towards librarianship as a career and note that my life has been substantially enriched by a highly rewarding career in libraries.
Patricia C. Mickelson '70 is an alumna of South Dakota State University and a past member of the SDSU Foundation Board of Governors and Council of Trustees