It demanded a lot of work and a lot of money. FAPESP alone invested R$ 1.4 million and US$ 26,200. But after five years of renovations and computerization, the eight libraries that comprise the complex of the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo (USP) have taken on a new lease of life and been the object of constant praise from members of staff and users. “It is the best space in the school for studying”, says one student. “The library isn’t that frightening monster any more”, adds another. Before the renovation, she had only gone inside the place three times. Now, she is a constant visitor.
“There has been a total transformation”, explains the technical director, Maria Cristina Olaio Villela, adding that the number of students attending the library has gone up from 300,000 in 1996 to 458,000 in 1999, an increase of 35%. Maria Cristina has only been in her job for about a year, but has been a member of staff since 1989. When she started with the Polytechnic, the library service had already undergone restructuring, coordinated by the former director, Maria Alice Fernandes Carrera. With this, the central library kept the basic collection for the first two years’s studying and the older works. The rest was distributed over seven sectorial libraries that serve the 15 departments of the school.
In all of them, the picture was the same: ancient furniture, poor distribution of space, inadequate organization of the collection, lack of equipment. “Fortunately, FAPESP gave us all the support we needed to transform the situation”, says Maria Cristina. There were libraries, such as those of Mechanical Engineering, Naval and Oceanic, and Electrical Engineering, where all the old structure was replaced. The premised were renovated from the ceiling to the floor. They received new furniture, computers, air-conditioning, electronic gates, and new visual communication.
One of the strong points of the reform is the improved use of space. The library of Mechanical Engineering, for example, gained almost 500 square meters, making use of a basement that was used only as a deposit for broken furniture. Areas were created for the separate kinds of activities, such as on-line research, video rooms and small lecture rooms. Several small rooms were designed for group work. This solved the problem of the noise that used to make it difficult to concentrate, and gave more freedom for the exchange of ideas and group discussions.
Graduated in the 60’s, Maria Cristina says that she has seen a revolution in library services. “Almost all that I learned is now out-of-date”, she states. The new methods of work even frightened some members of staff. One of them, who was responsible for the service of exchanging documents between libraries, went into a panic whenthe forms filled in by hand and sent by the post were replaced by a computerized process. “She despaired and thought should she wasn’t going to be able to do it “Maria Alice recalls. But she did, in the end.
The Polytechnic’s library was a pioneer in several methods, including the Comut-on-line service. Its success attracted the attention of other USP’s libraries and served as a model for the computerization program developed by the Integrated Library Service (SIBi). The program is based on the use of Ariel software, which copies articles and chapters of books by scanning and converts them into files. They can then be transmitted by electronic mail. A process that used to take one month now stretches to three days at the most.
This is one more example of the Polytechnic’s pioneering spirit, since its foundation in August 1893. It is Brazil’s third school of engineering, behind only the Polytechnic of Rio de Janeiro, of 1810, and the School of Minas Gerais, in Ouro Preto, of 1875. Its teachers and students are responsible for many important works in the city of São Paulo. The Polytechnic helped to verticalize São Paulo in various ways. It was, for example, in its laboratories that the problems with the foundations that arose during the construction of the Martinelli building, between 1925 and 1930, were figured out .
Over the years, the school has accumulated a large collection of books, periodicals, maps, plans and old photographs. Not all of them are available. About 23,000 old volumes cannot even be handled. They are covered with dust and many are falling to bits. Maria Cristina is now trying to raise funds to sanitize this collection, in order to allow it to be examined. The works that are most suitable for restoration will then be identified. . Another problem will be resolved too. This material causes constant coughing and sneezing in the people who work in the book deposit of the central library.
It was not just the big schools of the capital that had problems in adapting the reforms to a large number of libraries. At the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), for example, the movement affected 19 libraries, 17 of which are located in Campinas, one in Piracicaba, and another in Limeira. All of them have benefited, to a lesser or greater extent. Together with the reforms, infrastructure was created for the development of an automation plan, which covered everything from the adaptation of the electrical network to support the increased demand for electricity to the installation of cables for the communication systems.
“We came out of the Middle Ages and went into Modernity”, declared the coordinator of Unicamp’s library system, Maria Alice Rebello Nascimento. The number of personal computers leapt from 139 to 420. The purchase of software of the latest generation for the management of the libraries had an enormous impact. All the libraries were interconnected with it. Services that used to be carried out on independent systems were integrated on the new platform. “We cut out many unnecessary stages of work”, Maria Alice points out.
And that was not all. The libraries won more suitable furniture. For the time being, at least, the chronic problem of lack of space was resolved. “This is a very common problem” Maria Alice states, “because, after all, libraries grow”. Unicamp’s collection grows, on average, 10% a year. For one with 500,000 books, thismeans another 50,000 within a 12-month period.
What almost always happens is that this makes the collection overflow into the areas intended for the users, reducing the space for consultations. At Unicamp, the opposite happened. With the better use of space and the adaptation of an annex of 1000 square meters in the Institute of Philosophy and Humanities, the physical area of the libraries grew from 19,038 to 21,488 square meters. An important step was the adoption of sliding bookshelves to keep special collections and rare works. According to Maria Alice, this kind of shelving cannot be used for works that are often consulted or freely accessed. But its use, even in special areas, helps to gain space and to preserve the material better.
As to the rare works, they are now much better treated, thanks to a reader-copier, with which the documents can be copied onto microfilm or onto paper. This brings about a considerable reduction in the handling of the originals. The new system of air-conditioning helps to preserve these works, many of which have come from collections received from deceased intellectuals, like the historians Sérgio Buarque de Hollanda and Peter Isenberg. The work should increase with the creation of a laboratory for binding, restoration and sanitation in the university itself. This will bring great savings, since these tasks are now outsourced .
One of Maria Alice’s concerns is to complete the digitalization of the catalog, since around half the works are not yet available in magnetic media. Another is the upgrading of the management system, installed four years ago. But, in the meantime, measures that are apparently small, but which have a great effect, are already under way. For this year, the adaptation of the libraries for the physically handicapped is predicted, which includes everything from the construction of a ramp for wheelchairs to the acquisition of IT equipment designed for the visually impaired. “These people often go as far as interrupting their courses in the light of the difficulties they have to face”, explains Maria Alice.
On the topic of number of libraries, however, hardly any have benefited so much as those that make up the system of the São Paulo State University (Unesp). The budget of R$ 12.3 million invested by FAPESP has contributed towards changing the landscape in no less than 23 libraries, three in the capital city, and the rest in other cities in the state. “The general aspect was one of neglect”, says Mariângela Spotti Lopes Fujita, the coordinator of Unesp’s libraries, recalling what it used to be like. Today, she says, the visitors are impressed with the existing structure. “In particular, the researchers from abroad”, she stresses.
Not without reason. One of the jobs done with the funds received from FAPESP was the installation of a computerized research system, comparable with the best in the world. “Definitely, the library space is multidisciplinary and multimedia”, says Mariângela. The number of queries, which can be made at a distance by all the students and teachers of the university, has increased a lot. “They are attracted by the comfort, and by the very fast equipment” he points out. “Nowhere else can they find such resources.”
With its wide geographical base, Unesp had problems of its own. In the Ilha Solteira library, for example, with its humid tropical climate, the heat that often reaches 41°C makes the users and staff keep the windows open, which facilitates the entry of dust, fungus and insects. “Acclimatizing the place solved the problem”, claims Mariângela. The temperature is now kept at 20°C and the humidity of the air at 50%, which is regarded as ideal for the conservation of the collection.
Anyhow, the future plans for Unesp’s libraries include tightening up security. “The theft of books was becoming an increasingly common practice”, recalls Mariângela. The installation of electronic gates and magnetizing the collection seems to have solved the problem. The university now wants to spread TV cameras around the library, to reduce the cases of people who scribble in the books or tear out pages and photos.
“This is the fruit of a culture that unfortunately has still not learned to respect books as a part of the cultural heritage of humanity” Mariângela complains. In the meantime, Unesp is concerned in helping its users to get the best out of the collection, putting on courses to teach them how best to use the search programs. “The library’s intention is to facilitate scientific development as much as possible” she explains. “To do so, it has to provide the researchers with the conditions for them to obtain as much information as possible with as little effort as possible.”Republish