Department of Defense’s largest library expanding
Construction at the FRIC is scheduled to begin this spring. It includes a 17,000-square-foot addition and infrastructure upgrades to the existing facility. (Air Force photo/Melanie Rodgers Cox)
by Kimberly L. Wright
Air University Public Affairs
1/28/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- The Muir S. Fairchild Research Information Center plays a multifaceted role on the base, as well as in the Air Force, the Department of Defense and the nation as a whole.
The lobby has been used as a gathering place for Air University's dignitaries. The racks serve as a repository of information about war fighting, aeronautics, Air Force and DoD operations, military sciences, international relations, education, leadership and management that attracts military and civilian scholars. A well-educated team of librarians serves as liaisons to meet the needs of the thousands of professional military education students who study in the Academic Circle. And the facility serves as a preservation area for rare books.
Soon, the largest military library in the U.S. is going to get even larger.
According to Dr. Jeff Luzius, the director of the Fairchild Research Information Center, a $13.4 million, 17,000 square-foot addition to the facility is expected to break ground in early spring. The addition will involve the side of the facility next to the Officer Training School shoppette.
The project will add group study rooms, a computer instruction lab and a new special collections room, with the administrative suite, special collections and map rooms housed in the new area.
The new computer instruction lab will help librarians get students up to speed.
"When new students and faculty come to Air University we can sit them down on a computer, have a librarian in front of the lab and walk them through the databases, the catalog and the various search strategies,"said. Dr. Luzius.
In addition to boosting the facility's square footage, work will be done to make the existing structure, which was built in 1956 and last updated in 1984, more up to date. This includes new heating, ventilation, air conditioning, lights, fire suppression, "infrastructure for lines ... new display cases, you name it," said Dr. Luzius.
In addition to the brick-and-mortar resources, patrons are increasingly accessing the FRIC's cyberspace resources, which include searchable catalogs and articles on topics of interest.
"While daily attendance has decreased a little bit, the usage of all our online databases, our catalog, our web page, that's increased dramatically," said Dr. Luzius.
Retirees and dependents are also welcomed at the facility, and can access the internet from the library computers via daily use passwords.
The director said the library's greatest asset is not found on its shelves.
"One of the things we pride ourselves on is being the largest library in the Department of Defense as far as the size of our collection, our books, our maps, our collections, the number of journals we
subscribe to," said Dr. Luzius. "We subscribe to almost 1,300 print periodicals. Even with all that said, the greatest asset we have is our people, our librarians."
The librarians partner with the many colleges and centers of the Academic Circle to meet the needs of the students.
Each school has an assigned librarian, and the students are brought to the FRIC for tours.
"The librarian will work closely with the faculty all the way down to the course level, and in the meantime, they are also producing bibliographies, which are research guides on a certain topic" said Dr. Luzius.
A branch library at Gunter serves the needs of the Senior NCO academy and the NCO academy.
Kim Hunter, a donations bibliographer and school liaison to Air Command and Staff College, stated she coordinates with her assigned school by giving briefings to the faculty and students, both on site at FRIC and at ACSC. They add to the library's more than two million items with input from the various educational entities on base. And if a student needs something that isn't among those
items, the library can conduct an interlibrary loan with any library across the country.
"Our librarians work very closely with the faculty at the schools around the Academic Circle, and we receive a lot of input on material, whether it's certain databases, new books, journals," said Dr. Luzius. "We've been working with the Air Force Culture and Language Center. We've built a collection for them. They've even funded some of that."
For almost 31 years, Ms. Hunter has been one of the 28 librarians who assist patrons at the library. Helping the students is one of the best parts of the job. She also loves "the organization as a whole. They helped me progress through all these years. I started as just an Airman and worked my way
through two college degrees while working full time here. It's a really good place to work. You never quit learning here."
All of the 28 librarians have a minimum of a master's degree in library science, noted Dr. Luzius, which ensures that the person manning the reference desk gives expert assistance.
The classified reading room houses special and classified documents, all the way up to top secret.
As the facility prepares to embrace the future, it also houses information from the Air Force's past, specifically regulations and manuals, some dating back to 1944, three years before the Air Force
became its own service. This resource is used by the entire Air Force, said Dr. Luzius.
A special collections room keeps older and rare books preserved in a climate-controlled area. The books are added to the facility via donations.
"These are things that only Air University has copies of in the entire world," said Dr. Luzius. These treasures include the first issue of National Geographic, the first volume of the Royal United Services Institute Journal from 1858 and other rare books that go back to "at least the 1800s." Older international journals are housed in the old periodical area.
In addition to serving Air University students, the lobby of the facility has been a gathering place for dignitaries and the curious. Last spring, the library hosted the Air University Board of Visitors and the Air Force Band on a Sunday evening after business hours. The library also gave more than 162 tours this past year, which included almost 7,000 participants.
The FRIC's influence is felt outside the military. Dr. Luzius reported that recently, a professor at the University of Southern Mississippi used the library for research of military recruiting in 1970s.
"We had a complete run of a journal he was interested in," he said. "That's sort of an example of someone from the outside coming in because they know we specialize in military research and history."