As the constantly growing, 25-year-old collection enters its second decade in its specially-designed building, Library Director Virginia Bowden sees an exciting but challenging future.
"We are striving to maintain a collection that includes rare and valuable volumes from the past as well as the electronic resources of the future," she said. A recent issue of the library's newsletter noted, "The computer revolution has redefined scholarly publishing and is transforming the library from a warehouse of printed materials to a gateway for gaining electronic access to information.
"More and more people are using the library electronically from their home or office computers," Bowden said. She said that the number of walk-in users is dwindling slightly as electronic users increase. "We estimate that the library now has about 10,000 walk-in users each week. About one in eight is a non-Health Science Center user," she said.
Despite escalating costs for journal subscriptions and computer technology the Briscoe library has thus far maintained the caliber of collection needed to support the 7,000-plus faculty and students in seven different health-related schools as well as a larger constiuency of users from throughout South Texas.
The library ranks 19th in user visits among the 146 health science libraries in the United States and Canada. Some health professionals in the Rio Grande Valley are assisted by a circuit librarian who travels the area regularly.
The building was dedicated in the Briscoe name on Nov. 14, 1985. Briscoe, and his wife, Janey, a former University of Texas regent, attended the dedication ceremony and remain in touch with the Health Science Center and the entire medical center, assisting with Bexar County Hospital District fundraisers and other activities.
The original collection, assembled in the 1960s with donations from the Bexar County Medical Society and other sources, was built under the leadership of David Kronick, PhD. Dr. Kronick retired in 1984, but conducts library research on campus.
The award-winning library building, designed by the San Antonio architectural firm formerly known as Chumney, Jones and Kell Inc., is still serving the collection well. The fourth floor, where journals from A to Z are shelved, is nearing capacity, and plans call for placing some of the journals on the second floor in 1994.
The collection includes about 2,700 journal subscriptions and about 200,000 books. The P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library houses a major collection of 5,000 early manuscripts, including an original Vesalius folio containing his famous anatomical drawings printed in Switzerland in 1543. Groups including the Friends of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library and the Health Science Center Library Committee host special events and act as advocates for the collection.
Electronic resources such as the Biomedical Library Information System and PlusNet, which offers access to current medical journals published after 1966, give users instant access to a world of information. "We are able to do things now that I would have thought impossible even five years ago," Bowden said.
Just as hard copies of books and journals cost money, so does accessing national databases by computer. "We are seeking ways to support our subscription to these services by contracting with frequent users, such as hospitals or other institutions," Bowden said.
The world of information transmittal is changing rapidly. In the near future, you may receive your monthly copy of a professional journal on your computer rather than through the mail. Already, some health- related journal subscriptions are mailed with accompanying disks to be loaded into a personal computer for display of molecular or other highly technical visuals. An experiment at the University of California at San Francisco is already delivering radiology and molecular biology journals to users electronically.
"If you haven't used the library recently, don't let the changing technology intimidate you," Bowden said. "Accessing information is getting easier, once you know the system. Our staff is eager to show you what's possible and what's available."
The library is open 103 hours a week including weekends and many holidays. For information about using the collection, or if you would like directions for accessing the collection via computer modem, call the library's information desk at (210) 567-2450.