01 Jun 1998
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Renewing Baker: Tom Michalak, Executive Director of Baker Library


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Since his appointment as executive director of Baker Library in 1996, Thomas J. Michalak has been closely involved in the ongoing effort to shepherd a venerable institution into the electronic business information age. Writer Nancy O. Perry recently spoke with Michalak about the library today and its relevance to HBS alumni.

What is Baker best known for in library circles?

Baker is regarded foremost for having the richest collections in business and business history in the country, if not the world. It is also known for its commitment to assisting faculty research. In addition, it is beginning to be recognized as a leader in the delivery of electronic information to the desktops of students and faculty.

Do you agree with those who predict the decline of libraries as technology proliferates?

No, not at all. Rather, the evidence suggests that advances in computer technology are a historical development not unlike the advent of television, which did not eclipse the movie industry, radio, or print, for that matter.

So we can expect to keep our books around for a while?

Certainly. In terms of dollars, the number of books sold today is roughly 23 percent more than it was five years ago. My experience in the 25 years I've been in this business is that improved access to information creates more, not less, demand. Information technology, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and Borders have all contributed to an increased appreciation for the book.

Can you offer an example of this increased demand?

Yes. At HBS today we have more than fifteen hundred users of the Wall Street Journal Interactive and close to two thousand users of OneSource Business Browser over the World Wide Web. At the same time we have seen a 38 percent increase in the circulation of books in Baker. If you look at information broadly, I believe we're seeing a marriage of electronic and print media, wherein each medium has a complementary and important role.

What are some interesting uses of technology at Baker Library?

We are using information technology in almost every aspect of our services and operations. For instance, since we first introduced our Web site [www.library.hbs.edu] in early 1996, we've continued to add innovative services such as online mechanisms that allow patrons to ask reference questions, provide comments or suggestions, order periodical articles, or request other services. In the Cole Room, our staff has developed extensive files on more than seventeen hundred companies that recruit at HBS. We have also honed our ability to deliver customized electronic information for particular HBS courses or projects.

To what extent can HBS alumni take advantage of the library's electronic capabilities?

Alumni are always welcome to Baker Library, and most online resources are available on Reading Room computers. Alumni can also use the Baker Web site to access the Baker Online Catalog, Baker's guides to information resources, and the library staff's selection of key external Web sites. We are in the process of working out a contract with two of our vendors of licensed commercial products that would also permit us to provide these services to alumni from our own platform for a fixed fee.

Aside from technology, what else commands your attention at Baker?

One important matter is the revitalization of our Historical Collections and HBS Archives department, which includes treasures as wide-ranging as the fifteenth-century Medici family account books, whaling records from nineteenth-century Nantucket, business records of the Hancock family, and the teaching and research records of HBS. We are currently working to acquire business "Deal Books" from 1924 through 1984 from Lehman Brothers. These books offer a unique picture of the evolution of twentieth-century American business and industry. In the next five years we will index these collections electronically so that they may be accessed by scholars worldwide.

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