Word Screen Park
Kevin McMahon
The Kappe Library at SCI-Arc

Whenever I mention that I've worked for the Southern California Institute of Architecture since 1984, people express astonishment mixed with admiration—or horror—over "so many years at the same job." But it hasn't been the same job; my environment, resources, tools and duties regularly refresh every few years.

When I started at SCI-Arc, there were no specified job assignments—administrative staff were expected to help with whatever needed doing: transcripts, visas, room assignments, registration, research. Job assignments were considered limiting. It was a great start, but as SCI-Arc’s administrative structure evolved, my interests and abilities focused on the library.

I performed all library administrative, service and technical functions on my own, from 1987 to 2009, when the library gained a full-time assistant.

I can’t imagine a more interesting time to work as a solo librarian. Talk about the job changing every few years. At first I updated the catalog by typing cards and filing them in a wood cabinet. Since those days I have implemented two integrated library systems, inaugurated the library's website, initiated the first online databases, acquired e-book and e-journal collections, and co-managed the creation of an online archive of video resources. I also, at the same time, systematically expanded the print book and periodical collections.

In between these activities I supervised five library moves and two renovations.

These things happened because of the support of all five of SCI-Arc’s directors, brilliant faculty and colleagues, amazing student staff, and the support of foundations that responded to grant requests.

The most important part of this work has always been—and continues to be—the opportunity to work with SCI-Arc students and faculty—in addition to the visiting historians, theorists, journalists, realtors, preservationists, location scouts and other librarians.

In 1995 I started supplementing my direct one-on-one research assistance with Kappe Library Research Guides on research methods, significant topics in architecture and related disciplines. The Guides are intended as a jumping-off point for any kind of academic, practical, theoretical or historical project. Over the years they have taken all different forms: first as paper handouts, then as downloadable PDFs, and since 2013 as LibGuides, prepared in collaboration with Rachel Rohac. Currently Becka Cooling and I are preparing new editions for the upgrade to LibGuides version 2.

[Image: a still of yours truly in an unreleased SCI-Arc promotional video, circa 1988]