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winter 2018
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Reimagining the library

The beat of Wofford's liberal arts experience goes on

Hot, dusty, crowded. Wofford students in the 1960s weren’t all fans of the Whitefoord Smith Library, established at the college during the first decade of the 20th century and remodeled and renamed the Daniel Building in the 1970s.

Dreams of a new library came in 1966 when Wofford librarian Frank J. Anderson submitted a plan to President Charles F. Marsh, calling that the new library “must create by its appearance the impression of a new possibility for education in a new pattern at Wofford … where the primary concern is for a certain relationship between students and learning.”

This “new” library opened in 1969 and was named for Sandor Teszler, a native of Hungary and a Holocaust survivor who escaped Communism in 1948 by coming to the United States and later founding Olympia Mills. Three times larger than the Whitefoord Smith Library — and not as hot or dusty — the Sandor Teszler Library has served the students, faculty and staff of Wofford College, not to mention the Upstate community, since. 

“The library is the heart of the liberal arts experience,” says Luke Meagher, special collections librarian. “Here, people come together from different backgrounds to look at the problems of the world and come up with solutions.”

Archivist and adjunct professor Dr. Phillip Stone ’94 agrees. “I look at the library as the place people can come to learn and explore who they are, where they are from and who came before them, and then imagine what will come after them.” Both Meagher and Stone promote the accessibility of the college’s archives and special collections as well as the importance of artifacts as part of the educational experience. “We are privileged to provide physical manifestations of the past to our students,” says Meagher. “Here, you can hold a lock of Charles Dickens’ hair or a letter from Gandhi or a letter from Albert Einstein. Here you can touch real articles from real events and understand that the past is not an abstract concept but an actual thing.”

“By way of example, I take a collection of the letters the college received when it desegregated to many classes, including race and ethnic relations and religion in the South, and they are incredibly powerful and impactful with the students,” says Stone. “The archives allow you to see where you have been and where you are going.”

Emily Witsell, research librarian and instruction coordinator, also understands the value of the library in the classroom. “I’m the assigned librarian for many departments across the college, and I get to work with a lot of classes. We provide instruction of foundational research skills that are used by students in every department on campus. We also have great online access, which is particularly helpful for our students studying abroad or off campus,” she says.

This enormous volume of online information also can be overwhelming. “Research is no longer just finding things,” says Witsell. “Our students have to decide whether what they have found is accurate, whether it’s up-to-date, whether it’s published in a reputable journal. Today we are teaching students to be good consumers of information as well as just good finders. It requires higher-level thinking.”

The goal of the library set forth by Anderson 52 years earlier — for the library to inspire “a certain relationship between students and learning” — may be truer today than ever before.

“The library is not just a place to retrieve information, it’s a place to create and work with information,” says Kevin Reynolds, dean of the library. “It should have tactile aspects as well as an atmosphere that encourages its users to find and process information, collaborate with each other, produce thoughts and ideas and engage with — and in — scholarly dialogue. These things are achieved through a careful balance in the physical and virtual components of the library, with the library staff being the constant and critical core of our services.”

The concept of creating an Academic Commons in the library, an important goal within Wofford’s upcoming capital campaign, was first introduced by the college community in its 2014 strategic vision. The specific recommendation focused on redesigning the library as the “connecting point for student scholarship, learning resources and cutting-edge educational technology.”

“The Academic Commons will be home to a wide variety of student services, including the Writing Center, peer tutoring, the Center for Innovation and Learning, research assistance, technical help, practice areas and personal librarians,” says Reynolds. “We will have a coffee bar, spaces for study, areas for poetry readings. The Academic Commons will serve the entire college community with complimentary services, and it will be fascinating to see what grows out of these partnerships in this central location.”

Adds Meagher, “It’s about having the accoutrements of an educational institution available at your fingertips.” Witsell agrees. “It will be something from which all our students will benefit. They will be able to go from area to area to get the help they need, and everything will be convenient, collaborative and easy to find.”

In addition to the creation of the Academic Commons, other library needs include things as simple as more electrical outlets — the Terriers in 1969 didn’t carry laptops everywhere. “Simply watching students bring their own extension cords to run to power outlets to use their computers is very telling,” says Melissa Clapp, director of library research, education and outreach services. “Not having ready access to power is a foreign concept to today’s student.”

Meagher and Stone dream of more space, as collections are housed in four different places throughout the building. “We have to scramble to accommodate researchers, and we need to process materials in a private location,” says Stone. “Our archives and special collections need climate-controlled, fire-proof spaces, as many of the items are priceless. It is Wofford’s responsibly to protect them and make them last as long as we can.”

What will remain the same between the Sandor Teszler Library of today and the Sandor Teszler Library of tomorrow is its pivotal role within the liberal arts experience at Wofford as well as its sense of community. “The library is the one thing everyone has in common on campus,” says Clapp. “It doesn’t matter your role at the college, you can and should utilize the library.”

“Come here any Sunday afternoon, and you will see that we are packed,” adds Witsell. “Students value the physical space. The library is where students can focus and scholarly work is done. This is a place where students feel comfortable.”

BETWEEN 2015 AND 2018, THE SANDOR TESZLER LIBRARY HAS:

  • Assigned a personal librarian to every incoming first-year student.
  • Joined the Center for Research Libraries, providing students and faculty with extended access to millions of new items.
  • Created a working group to lead diversity and inclusion efforts.
  • Created a faculty newsletter.
  • Created a multipurpose academic collaboration space and a research consultation space.
  • Created a new, flexible working space for the Writing Center.
  • Upgraded furnishings and technology.
  • Created the Student Library Advisory Committee.
  • Created the Trey Kannaday Presentation Practice Room.
  • Entered into an agreement with PASCAL, South Carolina’s library consortium, to bring all new, state-of-the-art library management and discoverysystems to the college.
  • Established a liaison program for academic departments and programs.
  • Team-taught an Interim course on the digital liberal arts.
  • Made available nearly 5,000 unique items through the Digital Commons and Shared Shelf Commons.

By Annie S. Mitchell