New libraries dean focuses on students, technology

Chris Dames, a librarian at the Thomas Jefferson Library, was recently named dean of libraries at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. Once a UMSL student, Dames said he plans to focus on technology and the student experience. (Photo by Alicia Hottle-Sippy)

Once upon a time, library walls contained signs that read “Shhhhh!” Pretty soon, at least one library sign will read “Cappuccino.”

By the end of 2012, the Thomas Jefferson Library at the University of Missouri–St. Louis will sport a new cafe featuring Starbucks coffees, pastries, sandwiches and salads. And no one is happier about that than Christopher Dames, the new dean of libraries.

“We are improving the library’s physical space and one of those improvements is a café on the main floor,” Dames said. “Right now you can’t eat in the library. You can drink, but not near any computers. And students don’t want to have to get up and leave when they’re studying.”

Dames started work as a UMSL librarian in 1998, but he had been a familiar face at the library for nearly a decade. He arrived at UMSL in 1988 as an undergraduate student majoring in physics. He went on to earn a master’s degree and was well on his way to completing his doctorate in physics when he changed course. He earned a degree in library science from Kent State University in Ohio and returned to St. Louis. He has served as interim dean since the death of Amy Arnott in 2008.

Dames talks a lot about the student experience and improving the library’s technological abilities to keep up with them.

“We’re making sure every nook and cranny in the library is wireless. No more dead spots,” he said.

Two new KIC Bookeye overhead scanners are being installed and will be free for students. And what were once individual study rooms are now being converted to larger rooms for group study and projects, a trend seen in most universities.

Also on order is a new service that combines the libraries’ catalogs and databases into one search box, something like Google.

“If you’re doing serious research, then you need an academic website,” he said. “Summon, the new service, should help both faculty and students.”

According to its Website, Summon will open up the full breadth of content found in library collections from books and videos to e-resources.

Dames admits his high school reading habit of a book a day has slowed. He calls himself a “tech guy” and can provide computer support and programming to his colleagues. As a librarian he welcomes the change in how we access information. He owns both a Kindle Fire and an iPad that he uses mostly for their dictionaries.

“But I have to tell you, books are not going away,” he said. “We still need them.”

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