Gelman stretches toward top shelf

After a recent visit to Gelman Library, the American Research Library Association will vote in October to determine whether GW’s library is on par with top research facilities.

University Librarian Jack Siggins said if and when GW is invited to join the association, it will be a sign of what GW already is – “a major research and teaching institution with lots of prestige.”

The association, which includes the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institute, represents the country’s leading research facilities. Joining their ranks might even help Gelman solve its current Lexis-Nexis problem.

Ten years ago, when the University first submitted its application to ARL, it was rejected for reasons that Siggins described as “a reflection of the University’s lack of support for the library and the quality of the collection.”

That was 1988. Since then, Gelman Library has expanded in every direction, Siggins said.

“(GW) President (Stephen Joel) Trachtenberg made it clear to me when I came here in 1995 that the top priority for my department would be to get membership in the ARL,” he said. “Since then, we have been working to improve the quality of the collection and other areas where we had been deficient before.”

Last fall, Siggins presented the association with statistics and a description of services that he said clearly indicated that Gelman is a top-notch library. This February, a team of three university library directors from ARL visited Gelman to review its collection. They spent a day and a half meeting with students, faculty, administration and library staff, as well as sifting through hundreds of thousands of volumes.

“We have received word that the team was very favorably impressed,” Siggins said. “I expect that at the (May) board meeting they will recommend membership for GW, and that they will forward that recommendation to the 150 member libraries across the United States and Canada for a vote in October.”

Siggins said the benefits of being a member of the association will be enormous.

“We will soon be among the most important research facilities in the world – a center of research activity,” he said.

In addition, GW students will be able to walk into any library around the country that is a member of ARL and have access to their collections, Siggins said.

Siggins said he also plans to undertake a digitalization project with several of the member libraries that will put a portion of Gelman’s collection on the Web.

The University’s negotiations with Lexis-Nexis may benefit from the increased leverage that membership in the ARL will give GW.

“We might be able to work out a better price,” Siggins said. “The students and faculty need Lexis-Nexis, but it’s going to be so darn costly.”

In the meantime, the University has worked out a trial period with a new Web access version of Lexis-Nexis that will be available to the GW community until April 10.

The new Lexis-Nexis service is accessible on the World Wide Web from any computer terminal across campus, including residence halls, computer labs and faculty offices. It includes most of the database material the current system provides – full-text news articles from national and international newspapers, magazines and news wires, with categories for diverse fields of research.

“We are looking at how well the new Web product will meet the needs of students, faculty and staff researchers throughout the campus,” said Debbie Bezanson, Gelman Library’s coordinator of electronic reference material.

The current Lexis-Nexis configuration, which is not available on the Web, will be discontinued Aug. 31. Gelman has been using the “Classroom Accounts” plan, which provided access to 250 schools at an enormous discount. However, Reed Elsevier, Lexis-Nexis’ parent company, was losing too much money through the discount program and discontinued it, Bezanson said.

The University has the option of pursuing the traditional text-based service, but Bezanson said the Web version looks like a better option for GW, capitalizing on the campus investment in wiring faculty offices, classrooms and dorms by bringing data to the desktops of students, faculty and administrators.

“The cost is considerably more than we are currently paying for access within the library, but the increase in service is also considerable,” she said.

The benefits would allow researchers to print entire articles at a time, rather than printing each screen individually. With the system on the Web, there would be no waiting in line to use a terminal or a need to schedule an appointment.

The trial service, called the Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe package, would cost the University $48,000 a year if it were to be implemented permanently. It can be found at The password for access can be found at the Gelman Library Reference Desk.

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