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Newsletter: 45 Years of Service and Change

Forty-five Years of Dedicated Service and Change

by Laura Uglean Jackson, Archives & Special Collections Librarian

Imagine this: The year is 1976. You go to Michener Library to do some research for a class assignment. At 221,000 square feet, the newish building (completed in 1971) looms large. Upon entering, you pass the guard who is stationed at the main entrance checking students’ backpacks on their way out. Around you are rows and rows of card catalog cabinets and print indexes, an information desk, and a circulation desk. You’re not sure where to begin, so you ask a friendly face at the information desk who tells you to start at the card catalog. They show you how to use some print indexes that may be helpful for your assignment. The card catalog and print indexes, they explain, provide location information for the books, microforms, media, periodicals, and reference texts held by the library. You head to the card catalog and thumb through subject headings, title cards, and authors, and then search your topic in the print indexes that the librarian showed you. Forty-five minutes later, you’re armed with a list of resources spanning books, microfilm, and video tapes. You’ll have to visit each of these departments—Microform, Media, Periodicals—and then browse the general stacks area to find what you need before checking out your materials at the circulation desk.

Craig McWhirter, Michener Lib circ desk, Fall 21
Craig McWhirter at the Michener Library circulation desk, Fall 2021

Some of the items do not circulate and will require you to use equipment in the library to view them. You take notes on paper in a three-ring binder. There are a couple of articles for which you pay 10 cents a page to copy on the Xerox machine, but not too many pages, so you can save 25 cents to buy a soda from the vending machine. However, food and drinks are not allowed in the library, so you save it for later, and finish your research in the expansive and hushed space (as loud talking was not permitted either).

Except for the friendly faces available to assist, visiting Michener in the 70s was a much different experience than today. Craig McWhirter, who has worked at the library at UNC for 45 years, knows this firsthand. He can recall the original building’s layout, departments, and even some coworkers’ names. Craig started working in Michener as a student in the Reserves Department in 1975. He accepted a full-time, library assistant position in 1976. His first assignment was staffing the Microforms and Media collections which included microfilm, microfiche, microcard, and other audio-visual formats. He moved to the Reference Department afterwards, helping patrons find information and giving library and subject-specific tours. Tours were a popular and necessary way for students to learn about the library’s many services and collections. After graduating, Craig was promoted and began working in the Circulation Department, supervising the student employees.

Students use the Michener Library card catalog, 1970s
Students use the Michener Library card catalog, 1970s

Craig went on to receive a master’s degree in computer information systems from DU, and he continued at Michener Library as the library’s Information Technology Department manager. Craig’s position changed over the next decade as the library adapted to new technologies and added computers, networks, and electronic catalogs. As the manager of the library’s Information Technology Department, Craig was instrumental in expanding, deploying, and maintaining the ever-changing technology that became vital for accessing library resources. In 1978, OCLC cataloging terminals deployed the first computers and networks in libraries, and then the Public Access Catalog terminals (1984) connected to the CARL (Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries) system in Denver. A version of CARL still exists as the regional catalog called Prospector. It supports and facilitates resource sharing between the libraries in the state of Colorado and beyond.

Craig held this position until he retired in 2009. The library’s IT Department was centralized into campus IT in the early 2000s. Like the IT department, other library departments have come and gone since 1976, including Reserve, Interlibrary Loan, Microforms/Media, Periodicals, Microforms (publishing), Educational Materials Services, Government Publications, Computer Based Reference Assistance, Library Information Technology, and the Laboratory School Branch Library. Most of these areas are still necessary, but they have been absorbed by other departments. University Libraries also has some departments today that did not exist in 1976. These include Archives and Special Collections, Collections Services, the branch Skinner Music Library, and Information Literacy & Undergraduate Support.

As the manager of the library’s Information Technology Department, Craig was instrumental in expanding, deploying, and maintaining the ever-changing technology that became vital for accessing library resources.

All the departmental changes and many of the original building’s design features are documented in University Archives. There are library tour scripts, promotional flyers about departments and old services, an original master plan for the building, and many photographs. We even have a video created sometime in the 1980s or early 1990s that oriented students to the library and its services. It was digitized earlier this year and can be viewed online here.

While departments have been formed, altered, or dissolved, interior walls have been built and torn down, and linoleum tile has been uprooted and replaced with carpet, many things at Michener Library remain the same. According to Craig, “The heart and soul was and still is in helping people meet their needs and working together to accomplish that.” Maybe that is why Craig stuck around for 45 years. Today, Craig works as the night supervisor in the Access Services Department, not unlike one of his first gigs here in the 1970s. He plans to permanently retire in December, but something says he won’t stay away for long!

Many thanks to Craig McWhirter for his time being interviewed, finding photographs of the Library, and assistance with writing this article.

Michener Library circulation desk, 1970s
Patrons at the Michener Library circulation desk, 1970s