AMHERST, Mass. - Margo Crist, new head of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library at the University of Massachusetts, is making it her job to merge the future with the past.
A 20-year veteran of library management, Crist is both a former assistant director of the Boston Public Library (1987-90) and the University of Michigan Library (1990-97), the latter of which is known for its cutting-edge use of technology in its services.
In joining the University of Massachusetts, Crist wants to make the Du Bois library more user-friendly. Toward that end, she plans to integrate the latest in digital technology alongside the present print resources.
"There’s a great deal of information available on the Internet, but our users will need help to organize and utilize it effectively," Crist says. "I see our role in part as fulfilling that."
Crist notes that a large public area on the main level of the library is being cleared for 10 computer stations on which users will have the ability to browse the World Wide Web. She also mentions that one station is being outfitted with an electronic tutorial which will allow undergraduates to take a virtual tour of the library. In the future, Crist envisions computer stations located at various spots throughout the library.
And yet, Crist is adamant in stressing that technological advancement is only one facet of her job.
"While some people claim print libraries are going to become a thing of the past, I don’t think that’s true at all," Crist says. "There are unique offerings you can find only in print media. Collections of papers, manuscripts, and letters, for instance."
At the W.E.B. Du Bois Library, the papers of the late U.S. Rep. Silvio O. Conte of Pittsfield give a fascinating view of Massachusetts politics from an insider’s perspective, Crist says, while those of Polish ethnologist Jozef Obrebski look at the history of the commonwealth from an immigrant’s viewpoint. Similarly, the papers of W.E.B. Du Bois are a treasure trove for students of race relations in the United States, while those of famous poets William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens attract critics the world over.
"We’re in a new era, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up the past," Crist says. "The W.E.B. Du Bois Library is indeed one of the premier research libraries in the country, ranking 50th in volume-count among members of the Association of Research Libraries. I want to take the library ahead, yet retain the elements that have made it such a force up until this point."