Havre Daily News
A woman who has worked to improve the quantity and quality of information available to Montana State University-Northern students and faculty, and the Havre community, is leaving her post.
MSU-N library director Cynthia Harrison is leaving Vande Bogart Library next Friday. She begins her new position as head of the public library in Anacortes, Wash., on April 4.
In an interview Wednesday, Harrison said she's treasured her time at Northern and in Havre, but she has had a love of public libraries and wanted to take a career step in that direction.
“Nothern's been great for me. It's been a great opportunity,” she said. “I'm leaving with mixed feelings.”
Harrison said MSU-N faces some challenges, but many good, talented people can be found amongst its faculty, staff and students.
She spent more than four years at Nothern in her first job as the director of an academic library. Those who've worked with her said Harrison has been an asset to the school. She has worked to expand Vande Bogart's offerings to Northern students and faculty as well as the Havre community, they say, and she did it with limited resources.
“To quote Cole Porter - ‘She's the top,'” Bruce Morton, dean of Montana State University libraries, said Thursday in a phone interview. “She's moved the library at Northern forward in many areas.
“She's a real team player and just a really nice person,” Morton added. “I wish her well. I know she's looking forward to new challenges.”
Harrison has worked at libraries at the University of Utah, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and as an adjunct at Montana State University-Bozeman. While in Bozeman, her full-time job was at the public library, and Harrison said that job piqued her interest in public libraries.
She said she's fallen in love with the public institutions “because of their wide mission.”
Public libraries are bustling places with lots of foot traffic, a wider range of programs and presentations for children and adults, and a broader spread of offerings needed to satisfy the tastes of their patrons.
The Anacortes library holds about 60,000 titles, along with other items. The building is about the same size as Vande Bogart, which contains 100,000 titles - some titles, such as encyclopedias, contain multiple volumes.
Public libraries serve people of a variety of age groups, interests and reading levels, and serve a number of functions, Harrison said. The institutions seek to improve their communities' literacy. Though Northern's library has a children's literature section, public libraries like the one in Anacortes offer a much larger amount of materials for tikes and teenagers. Local libraries serve as information centers for the broad range of seekers in any given community, and Harrison loves that atmosphere.
“To me, it's a very democratic institution,” Harrison said.
Though public and university libraries are different in many ways, the two share some similar missions, she said.
Both offer a “neutral” place for information gathering and discussion.
“We promote intellectual freedom, so we have books on either side of an issue,” Harrison said.
Both also seek to educate users on Internet resources, and how to search the Web with a critical eye, she said.
Academic libraries have a somewhat narrower focus, Harrison said.
“Here at the university our main mission is to serve our university community,” she said. “It's real important that we connect with the students and the faculty.”
She said she has tried to work with faculty members various areas of study at Northern to provide them with what they need. Students in some disciplines, such as the humanities, business, education and nursing, easily find themselves within Vande Bogart's walls because of their subject matter. In technical fields, the students often don't use the library after they've completed their core courses. Harrison said she has worked with the technical faculty and obtained resources that are useful to their students. Automotive students, for example, can now use professional resources to study diagrams and schematics of modern vehicle systems.
“Cynthia has been real engaged with faculty and students in trying to improve the university's library offerings by expanding online access for research,” associate professor Curtis Smeby said. “She's brought the library to a new level. We're sorry to see her go.
“It's been a real pleasure working with her, but we also encourage people to do what their hearts tell them,” Smeby added.
Harrison has made efforts to increase Vande Bogart's presence in the Havre community by offering lectures and programs to the public. Of course, any Havreite has the opportunity to borrow from Northern's library, which contains books, periodicals, scholarly journals and other resources. The library also holds subscriptions to a number of online research services, with about 40 databases in all available at Vande Bogart.
Her first assigned task when she arrived at Northern was to shift the library from the Dewey Decimal System to the Library of Congress system. Sorting through about 150,000 volumes allowed Harrison and her staff to trim the fat from the collection - they removed some items that were rarely checked out - but it was no easy task. Harrison said the process took more than three years.
Harrison's three children are scattered about the country, residing in Tacoma, Wash., Grand Junction, Colo., and Chicago. Anacortes offers better travel connections, Harrison said, and a milder climate.
Her husband, Rob, who serves as director of the school's physical plant, will remain in Havre for the time being. He has several projects under way that he wants to see to fruition, she said, and he has not yet located a position in Anacortes. She said Rob hopes to join her sometime within the next two years.
“We're not looking forward to the separation, but he's got some business here.”