Director of UF's libraries to start new chapter of her life
Published: Monday, January 22, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 22, 2007 at 12:50 a.m.
From her big, new office on the fifth floor of the newly renovated Library West, Dale Canelas has a panoramic view that includes the sunlit Century Tower.
Her employees ask her if she's ready to leave it all behind.
"I never took a job for the office," she said. "I took a job because I liked what I was going to be doing."
After 22 years, Dale Canelas retires this month as director of the University of Florida's libraries with the longest tenure of anyone to have held the post. Through the terms of five UF presidents, she oversaw the reconstruction and expansion of Library West, which reopened last year, and the digitizing of millions of card catalog records and instituted many dramatic changes to a library system often stressed by the limits of space and budget.
"Ever since I became a librarian, things have been changing very fast," she said.
When Canelas first arrived in Gainesville in 1985 after working for the Stanford University library system, she said she felt ambivalent toward her position.
On one hand, she said, she loved the university administration and staff who greeted her. However, she faced terribly inadequate facilities, as have been detailed in a recent faculty report.
Robert Bryan, who was vice president for academic affairs when Canelas arrived, said the university embraced Canelas and the thought of opening a new chapter for the library.
"Until Dale came, we hadn't experienced highly professional people working in our libraries," Bryan said.
At the time, the biggest problem was that the card catalog was in Library West, while the books were in Library East.
Students would have to look up books in one building and then go to the other to see if they were in stock and then back again if they were unavailable.
"It meant a lot of running back and forth," she said.
In addition to the inconvenient building arrangement, Canelas said her staff faced a claustrophobic seating arrangement and lack of storage space for incoming books.
"I had places where staff were sitting with 18 inches between their desks, which wasn't enough room for book carts to move through," she said.
The university processes about 300,000 research journals and 100,000 books each year, she said, and there simply was nowhere in the six library buildings to put them.
In 1990, Canelas assessed the need for 10,000 linear feet of additional shelving.
However, Gov. Bob Martinez had mandated that no state officer could make a purchase of more than $500 without a written justification.
Although Canelas' justification received special mention as "one of the best-written in the state," the governor said he would not approve a single request from anyone.
"I thought I was just going to have to pile them on the floor, and that's bad for the books," she said.
Laughing, she said she found a way around the mandate by purchasing many free-standing shelving units that each cost less than $500.
Also during the early 1990s, space constraints forced library staff to store books in 75 rooms in Yon Hall, the former dorm for athletes, which had no shelves. Boxes of books were stacked three high and three deep, which sometimes meant moving a dozen boxes to get to a single book.
Getting more space
Canelas oversaw the expansion of Library West beginning in 2003. It was also a pet project of former President Charles Young, who said when he came to UF in 1999 he was dismayed at UF's library facilities.
"We've been desperate for additional space for a long time," she said.
Although the renovation was much-needed, it created the problem of storing the books during the process. With no money to build a storage facility, Canelas said she was relieved by the Florida Department of Transportation's gift of a building near the Gainesville Regional Airport.
The building had cement walls, no windows - and 50 holes in the ceiling and walls.
"That was great if what you were storing was tar or coal or equipment for building roads," she said, but the building's conditions would have ruined the books.
After a $1 million renovation made the facility book-friendly, library employees made four daily trips to retrieve the 1,000 or more books reserved by UF students and faculty.
This went on for three years until Library West reopened last fall.
Despite the budget and space crunches over the years, Canelas oversaw the start of programs to improve the condition of old books and the availability of reference desk help. The university also opened a new science library facility.
Many books printed since the 1800s were disintegrating because the hot, humid Florida climate sped up damage to their acid-paper pages. A gift from former U.S. Sen. George Smathers helped install air conditioning and other climate controls in Library East. Smathers, who died at the age of 93 on Saturday, bequeathed $22 million to the university's library system which now bears his name.
Before the change, temperatures sometimes reached 120 degrees in the upper stacks, Canelas said.
A new building
With more than 1 million volumes in its card catalog, the university had begun the daunting project of digitizing its records when she arrived. Her leadership helped UF complete the task ahead of most libraries in the nation.
In 1987, she oversaw the opening of Marston Science Library, the first new building the library system had seen in more than 20 years. Chemistry, zoology and other collections, which had been stored in buildings across campus, were now housed under one roof.
Although her position afforded limited contact with students, Canelas remembers fondly the few student body presidents who made library improvements a priority of their terms. Working with them, she extended the time a student could check out a book from two weeks to three weeks and made it easier to request an extension on a book already checked out.
To make the library's reference desk more accessible to students, she instated a live chat feature, which allowed students with an Internet connection to talk with a library employee from anywhere on Earth.
A new chapter
Canelas said faculty and students are what make her work worthwhile.
"I feel very positive about supporting the people here. It's a wonderful university," she said. "Good faculty deserve good library services."
John Ingram, now serving as deputy director of university libraries and director for collections, has been tapped to replace Canelas on an interim basis beginning Feb. 1.
After 40 years in the library, Canelas said she is ready for the next phase of her life: traveling Europe with her husband, Marcelo, and mastering photography.
Thinking back, she said with a smile, "I love libraries. It's a wonderful place to spend a life."
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