October 10, 2013

Skillman Library Celebrates 50 Years of Providing Innovative Services and Resources

Skillman Library occupies a worthy place on Lafayette’s campus: the center. This academic year, it celebrates 50 years of being at the center of innovation in the way it provides resources and services and enables the high-level scholarship that is such an integral part of the Lafayette experience.

Retrospective of Skillman Library

View more images of Skillman Library on Flickr

“The 50th anniversary is an opportunity to celebrate Skillman Library’s long record of accomplishment, to recognize its many friends for their faithful support, and to mobilize for the opportunities ahead to work with faculty and students in the College’s core academic enterprise,” says Neil McElroy, dean of libraries. “If the best thing a college library can be is used by its students and faculty, Skillman Library has been immensely successful. And while Skillman remains essential to the College as a locus of scholarly information and a place for learning, today it is also distinguished by its robust program of instructional and research support. As a teaching library, we are focused above all on helping faculty and students be successful teachers, learners, and scholars.”

One of the library’s major initiatives is in the digital humanities. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded the College a four-year, $700,000 grant that will support the training of faculty and students in digital humanities methods, collaborative projects, and the integration of the digital humanities further into the curriculum. The grant also will help recruit, through the Council on Library and Information Resources, a post-doctoral fellow who will bring expertise to Lafayette as well as collaborate with colleagues at other institutions.

As one of just three liberal arts colleges among the 70 members of the Digital Library Foundation (DLF), Lafayette will develop an institutional model for digital humanities that can succeed in the liberal arts environment. Skillman Library is organizing a day-long forum for representatives from about 18 liberal arts colleges and research universities to identify the requirements for sustainable management of digital scholarship in conjunction with the DLF’s annual meeting this fall in Austin, Texas.

The library’s Digital Scholarship Services department is especially critical to the success of the Mellon Digital Humanities project. The library has become a leader among liberal arts colleges in developing the infrastructure to support digital humanities and the way that it gives scholars in the humanities an opportunity to teach by engaging students in their research. The project also will partly support the recruitment of a geographic information systems and data visualization librarian to assist with faculty and student research.

McElroy calls the library “an enduring legacy” of two Lafayette presidents: the late K. Roald Bergethon, who oversaw the building of the library in 1963, and Arthur Rothkopf ’55, who, along with June Schlueter, former provost and professor emerita of English, and many still-active members of the Board of Trustees, oversaw a $22 million expansion and renovation in 2004, which added 28,555 square feet and transformed almost every aspect of the interior and exterior. Among the added spaces are the formal Rothkopf Reading Room (a designated quiet space), two instruction rooms, a digital media lab, a variety of individual and group study spaces, and a common room with a cafe.

Designed by Ann Beha Architects, the library received the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Honor Award for Interior Architecture in 2006, AIA/ALA Library Building Award in 2007, and the Boston Society of Architects’ Honor Award for Design Excellence and Higher Education Facilities Design Award.

Skillman Library is named for David Bishop Skillman, Class of 1913, an Easton attorney who served as secretary of the Board of Trustees from 1915 to 1957 and assistant to the president and college counsel during the administrations of John Henry MacCracken and William Mather Lewis. Mr. Skillman was named after the Rev. David Bishop, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Easton, whose book collection became the original College library collection. Skillman Library opened its doors in 1963 to replace Van Wickle Library.

Today, Skillman houses more than 500,000 volumes and subscribes to thousands of magazines, journals, and newspapers in electronic and paper formats and an extensive array of electronic databases and books, accessible both on and off campus. It also is home to the Lafayette College Special Collections and College Archives collection, which is available for student research and features especially strong holdings relating to the Marquis de Lafayette, slavery and abolition, and the book arts.

The Friends of Skillman Library was founded in 1964 by a group of 30 friends led by Kenneth F. Kressler, Class of 1918. The group originally gathered at the Union League in Philadelphia to discuss how they could help the library fill its new shelves and stay current in the post-World War II knowledge explosion. Today, the group funds exhibitions, lectures, digitization projects, conservation, and acquisitions for Special Collections.

This year’s anniversary programming, supported largely by the Friends, is highlighted by the library’s two endowed lectures. A full schedule of events as it is updated is available here.

  • 2013 Paul and June Schlueter Lecture in the Art and History of the Book: Michael F. Suarez, S.J., director of Rare Book School, professor of English, and honorary curator of special collections at the University of Virginia, 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9, Gendebien Room, Skillman Library. A reception will follow in the Rothkopf Reading Room.
  • Special exhibition: A Legacy of Largess: Gifts to the Skillman Library, 1963/64-2013/14, Oct. 16-Feb. 28, Simon Room, Skillman Library.
  • 2014 John L. Hatfield ’67 Lecture: Natasha Tretheway, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and United States Poet Laureate, reading with commentary, 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 12, location to be determined.

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