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About the Library: About the Mary Helen Cochran Library

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Mission Statement

SBC Library Mission Statement

The mission of the Sweet Briar College Library is to support the College's stated mission by maintaining a quality collection of materials and offering those services which further the purpose and mission of the College as a whole. The overriding goal of this mission is to meet the present and future information needs of the Sweet Briar student. The centrality of the library to the educational mission of the College must be understood and supported by those responsible for the allocation of instructional and educational support services resources.

The nature of the environment, the specific needs of undergraduates and graduate students, and the kinds of staff and services required to effectively meet those needs are more fully described in the following paragraphs.


The Sweet Briar College Library system consists of a main library building, the Mary Helen Cochran Library, and three other facilities libraries: the Martin C. Shallenberger Book Arts Library and Fergus Reid College Archives, the Junius P. Fishburn Music Library and the Wick Closed Stack building. Specialized services are provided for those doing research, such as computerized searching of commercial resource data bases and extensive on-line database access. The staff members are selected for their ability to provide appropriate reference services, to organize complex collections, and to select those materials needed in an academic library and the Sweet Briar graduate program. In-depth subject knowledge and managerial skills are highly desirable.


The primary users of the Sweet Briar College Libraries are the students. The library staff acknowledges and even expects from the students varying levels of experience and ability in using libraries. As a group most first-year students share the following characteristics:

  • They do not yet have the sophisticated research skills needed to exploit the library's potential.
  • They are intimidated by the complexity and size of a distributed library system.
  • They are often reluctant to ask for assistance in the use of a library.
  • They are unaware of the many services and resources which are available in academic libraries.

The needs of academic library users are on a spectrum, with study space, instruction in basic research tools, and reserve books at one end, and primary source materials and special bibliographic services at the other end. The concentration on the needs of the student is at the former end of the spectrum and the Sweet Briar College Library focuses on serving these needs.

Other users of the Sweet Briar College Libraries include Sweet Briar faculty members, staff and other recognized members of the Sweet Briar community; students of Randolph College, Lynchburg College and Washington & Lee University; local high school honor students; Fellows of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Friends of the Sweet Briar College Library. The Library is open to anyone to use its materials in-house.

Information services

A library with a collection of the size and nature required to meet undergraduate and some graduate needs is not always easy to use. The identification of materials wanted is often confusing and may be incomprehensible until the user is actually shown how the system works. Teaching students how to use a library is therefore a basic service provided by the staff of the Sweet Briar College Libraries. The teaching programs offered are varied. They include teaching by personal contact and through the preparation of printed and other materials. They include formal group instruction and informal, unstructured contacts with students. The programs, in general, include three types of activities: reference and referral, orientation, and formal instruction.

Reference encounters with students often result not only in answering specific questions, but also in personalized instruction in the methods of identifying and retrieving library materials. Supplemental to this personal contact is the provision of bibliographies, booklists, and other aids designed to introduce students to the materials available in the library and electronically and to guide them in finding the materials. The reference service provided by Sweet Briar librarians is also a referral service to the wide variety of resources in the library system and throughout the world. Referrals may also assist an students in becoming aware of community libraries and information centers. To this end, the Library maintains cooperative agreements with other area libraries through active participation in the Lynchburg Area Library Cooperative, the Virtual Library of Virginia, the Southeastern Library Network and other groups. Referrals also direct students to personal supportive services, including academic, financial, health and counseling services.

Orientation activities acquaint students with the facilities and services of the Libraries. Maps and informational materials that describe the library system and the resources and services of the individual components within it are distributed; and staff-conducted tours are offered for various groups. Orientation also includes public relations activities that help students become aware of the services and resources of the Libraries.

The goal of the information literacy instruction program is to improve the ability of students to make effective use of the library collections, services, and staff. Instruction is offered not only as part of coursework in academic classes or interdisciplinary programs, but also in separate courses on library skills, in workshops and term-paper clinics, and through point-of-use aids in the library and via the web.

Reference service, bibliographic instruction, and orientation activities are appropriate for all levels and types of library users. The Sweet Briar College Library focuses on two problems that are particularly common to students -- finding the materials they need, and knowing when to ask for help and having the confidence to do so. Sweet Briar College libraries provide a laboratory in which to teach students how to use a library. The experience of using the campus library is preparation for using all libraries; preparation not merely for graduate work and research, but also for learning to use information sources that will be needed by students for the rest of their lives as citizens, as consumers, in their professions, and for their recreational interests. Graduate work builds on that experience.


The staff of a library must have certain abilities in addition to their information-seeking skills. The ability to interact on a one-to-one basis with a diverse clientele is essential. Staff are expected to be able to design and implement instructional programs that meet varied user needs. In addition, they must interact with faculty in promoting effective use of library resources in relation to classroom activities. The ability to cooperate with staff of other libraries and resource centers is also needed.

The staff of an academic library must have an understanding of the pressures of campus life and a concern for students needs and problems. The library staff should treat students with respect, make them feel comfortable in the library, and encourage them to ask for help. Only this personal interaction with students will humanize their library contacts, open paths of communication for their growth in using libraries, and increase their respect for libraries.

Study facilities

The environment of the Sweet Briar College Libraries encourages the use of the library and its resources. The extensive hours of operation attempt to accommodate a reasonably broad range of student requirements based on class times, work commitments, and varied social habits. Many students live in environments which are not conducive to study; others simply prefer to study at a library. The Sweet Briar College Libraries aim to provide sufficient study spaces, based on the size of the student population, in a variety of seating to accommodate students' needs and habits, e.g., quiet study of own materials, study with access to library resources, limited group study, and informal interaction.


As the college curriculum changes, so must library service. The Sweet Briar College Libraries are recognized as being innovative and experimental, alert to changing needs, and open to adopting non-traditional library methodology, within resource limitations. Current areas of development include the following:

  • Continuing exploration of effective use of library materials in support of classroom teaching.
  • Expanding programs of information literacy and electronic resource instruction.
  • Service to special groups, e.g., international students, Turning Point students and local high school students.
  • Integration of new and/or advanced technologies as appropriate.
  • Cooperative programs with other campus units, such as tutoring and counseling services.

Developments in some of these areas may be at the library system level rather than exclusively within a single library facility. However, it is the responsibility of the Sweet Briar College Library staff to shape these developments to meet the needs of students and their academic programs.

Revision 5 Adopted by the Sweet Briar College Libraries on April 12, 1988.
Adopted by the Faculty Advisory Board on May 3, 1988.
Reaffirmed 5 April 1990
Revised and Updated May 1, 2005