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The history of Wendt Library ... abridged

Kurt Wendt, seen here at the library dedication

Kurt Wendt, seen here at the library dedication, served as dean of the College of Engineering from 1953 until he retired in 1971. Much of the planning for this library was done during the Wendt administration. (19K JPG)

Wendt Library under construction

Wendt Library under construction (38K JPG)

Twenty-five years ago, the heavy brown doors of Wendt Library swung open for the first time. As Wendt celebrates its quarter-century anniversary this year, the library's dedicated staff is reflecting on the massive changes and revealing the library's next chapter.

On Oct. 8, 1976, as the College of Engineering celebrated the annual Engineers' Day, university dignitaries, alumni and students gathered at 215 N. Randall Ave. to dedicate a new library. Named for former College of Engineering Dean Kurt F. Wendt, the building had opened a few months before and was already filled with activity.

For the first time, students and faculty could access all of the college's periodicals, books and journals in the same location. Almost overnight, the library became an information mecca, but bringing it all together was no easy feat. In years past, the college's collection was housed in several different locations on campus. Enid Simon, who served as the associate director of the library from 1967 to 1998, helped organize the massive move into the new space.

"It seemed like we moved a million volumes," said Simon. "It was hard, dirty work, but everything was finally in the same place."

Then, just about the time everything was situated, change was upon the staff once more. Simon explained that the staff began hearing about electronic databases and the Internet before most. She was there when the first computer arrived at Wendt in the early 1980s, and soon the staff was discussing how novel technology would help librarians further their goal to connect individuals with information.

Wendt Library Director Tom Murray

Tom Murray has served as the director of Wendt Library for more than 12 years. (35K JPG)

Patent volumes shelved at Wendt Library

These patent volumes, which are now stored electronically, will be removed this summer to make room for student study space. (24K JPG)

"University libraries were in the vanguard at that time," said Simon. "We were always thinking of new ways to share information."

The advent of the personal computer, the Internet and a virtual technical revolution changed all libraries, including Wendt, forever, but the goal still remains the same. Today's library staff, under the leadership of Director Tom Murray, is dedicated to providing a wealth of information, both by printed sources and through the Internet.

"The Wendt Library collection still includes about 300,000 volumes, but more and more information is offered online every day," said Murray, who's held his position for more than 12 years.

Since it started offering electronic resources in the 1990s, library staffers have seen a decline in the number of books checked out each year. This trend is also illustrated in the number of photocopies made at Wendt. Six years ago, visitors made over a million copies a year. Last year, they made about half that many.

"People can get what they want without physically coming to the library," said Murray. "We want to do everything we can to make the library easier to use, and by offering a good deal of our collection electronically, more people are able to access it."

Wisconsin TechSearch, the fee-based information outreach program located in Wendt Library, plays a role in this area too. TechSearch offers document delivery and reference services to business and industry, including on-line literature, patent and trademark searches.

But technological advances like these mean implementing new strategies to help people locate information. Murray explained that Wendt offers 1,000 journals online and many other types of electronic material. Searching through that number to find the one you're looking for can be a challenge.

Enter "My Library," a web portal that allows Wendt users to create personalized pages by selecting various links. Currently in the prototype phase, "My Library" helps people find what they're seeking online.

These advances beg the question, "Will the libraries of the future exist only in cyberspace?" Murray doesn't think so.

"The library will always be a place," he said. "We need a facility that provides technological access to all of the electronic information, and students need a place to come together to learn."

These thoughts are helping the Wendt staff plan for the library's future. Through a new $1 million proposal, Murray hopes to make the library more conducive to tutoring and group study. A recent renovation on the fourth floor converted the balcony area to 700 additional square feet of study space, and impending removal of patent volumes (now stored on CDs) will offer more room.

These steps ensure that the next 25 years will bring even more adaptation for Wendt. But Murray promises one thing will never change: "Wendt will always be a place where individuals can connect with information."