The heart of the university

Written by Jackie Wirz, Ph.D.

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library” – Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges was an influential Spanish American novelist, perhaps best known for his inventive short stories.  His quotes have sparked literally thousands of essays by hopeful library students, much like the “two paths diverged in the woods” cliché for personal statement essays (see previous blog post here).

Although I admire this quote and agree with it on many levels, my favorite library quote comes from legendary fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. In addition to being the creative force behind the House of Chanel, he also owns an impressive library and a bookstore. According to Karl, “Books are a hardbound drug with no danger of overdose. I am a happy victim of books.”

OK, perhaps equating books to drugs at a medical campus is not the best course of action, but my major point here is that books have been and continue to be a passion for me.

Is that why I work at a library? The honest answer to that is no. Although our collection of books is extensive and lovely, I hold a burning desire to read only a select few of them. Principles of Physical Biochemistry is a personal favorite, and I’d recommend The Elements of Style to pretty much everybody. Despite my geekiness, I am not remotely interested in reading (or even looking through) the The Color Atlas and Synopsis of Clinical Dermatology  or Dental Caries : the Disease and its Clinical Management.  In short, books are not the reason I work at the library.

Yes, I can practically hear you thinking right now, “Aren’t books the heart of the library?” And for many institutions and libraries across the nation, books do form the cornerstone of a library.

However, the OHSU Library, like many academic research libraries, carries a diverse cross section of information in a variety of shapes and forms: for example, we have an extensive historical collection of medical artifacts, a collection of oral histories, thousands of journals and hundreds of databases.  Some of these items are digital and only a sub-section of them are bound in book format.

The heart of the library could be considered to be the wealth of information in all of its glorious manifestations.

But even here I would disagree. I work at a library because I believe that the heart of the library is contained in the people who work here. Our jobs are not only to ensure that OHSU faculty, students, staff and Oregonians everywhere have access to information; we are also entrusted with facilitating the educational, outreach and research mission of OHSU.

From our amazing Nursing Librarian Loree Hyde to our entire administrative staff, from our brand new Digital Collections Librarian Kyle Banerjee to our long-standing circulation team, each and every individual in the library performs above and beyond the call of duty to help us all find and manage the information we need to succeed as a university. We all have a passion for what we do, and working with these amazing people is what makes this library my home.

Taking it one step further, I also agree with former Harvard President Charles W. Eliot: “The Library is the heart of the University.”

In my opinion, it is the people that make the heart of the library, and these are just some of the same people that make the vibrant heart of  OHSU.


Jackie Wirz is an Assistant Professor and the Biomedical Sciences Information Specialist at the Oregon Health & Science University Library. She earned her Ph.D. from Oregon Health & Science University in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and has a B.S. from Oregon State University in Biochemistry & Biophysics. Her research career has spanned 15 years and has covered diverse topics such as transcriptional regulation, macromolecular structure determination, collagen biophysics and DNA repair. Her professional interests include information, data, and knowledge management, as well as the publishing paradigms of scientists.

Additionally, Jackie is a strong proponent of science outreach and volunteers with a variety of programs designed to promote scientific literacy. Jackie believes in evolution, salted caramel buttercream and Jane Eyre.