Judi Briden vividly remembers the first time she connected to the Internet. The year was 1992 and the precursor of the Web, called "Gopher," was just becoming available on college campuses. Briden couldn't wait. When she got the call, "I slammed down the phone and ran across campus to the IT center," she says. There she was greeted with a blinking green cursor on a blank computer screen and stacks of computer printouts on how to access the nascent network. She wasn't sure what the Internet could do, she couldn't predict how anyone would use it, she only knew that it "was something new and exciting and I just wanted to know about it."
That same indefatigable curiosity and continued willingness to do the hard work of figuring how to use new technologies during her 18-year tenure at the University of Rochester has earned Briden the 2011 Messinger Library Recognition Award. The honor, created and funded by life trustee Martin Messinger '49, includes a $5,000 prize.
"More than any other person in the library, Judi has been the one to make sure that we have the next digital improvement," says retired librarian Vicki Burns, who supervised Briden for more than a decade. "She has made a real difference for all of our users and how the library works for them and that's a significant thing."
Hired in 1993 as Rochester's first electronics resources librarian, Briden was critical in helping the library migrate from its first text-based electronic catalog to a graphical catalog, a pioneering change at the time. And she has continued to push for upgrades ever since. She's admired for both her forward thinking and her thoroughness: "When Judi starts to test something, she tests and she tests and she tests," says Burns.
Most recently, she took the lead in implementing the library's new article search service. Launched this fall, the deceptively easy function allows University members to search and access the full texts of scholarly articles instantly from the library's hundreds of subscription-based databases. In the day of Google-type searches, this kind of capacity is taken for granted, but figuring out how to consolidate searches and access to proprietary databases had proven to be a legal and technical nightmare for academic institutions. Briden is credited with working over the past three years to overcome those hurdles, testing the latest commercial software, and finding ways to make it work with University-developed systems.
Briden beams when she talks about the one-button click to retrieve an article and appreciates how the new tool puts scholarly resources in the hands of undergraduates and other novice researchers: "I love working with students and helping people find things. I think it's really important to make things simple."
Making things simple when dealing with computers has been a guiding principle for Briden for years. Although she has worked with computers since her high school years in the early 1960s, back when programs were run from stacks of punch cards and "you had to be very careful not to mix them up," Briden is adamant that programs should be easy to use. "If someone does not know how to use a computer program, it is not their fault," she says. "They should never be put in a position where they feel inadequate or incompetent. It is a poor design. It's a poor interface. It's the technology's fault. It is not the human's fault."
The annual Messinger Award honors contributions that advance the educational mission of the library or the library profession. Previous Messinger Awardees include Cynthia Carlton, department head for River Campus Libraries applications group; Suzanne Bell, librarian for economics and data and administrator for the University's institutional repository (UR Research); Sally Roche, the libraries' facilities manager; and Ann Marshall, subject librarian for political science.
A longtime supporter of the libraries, Messinger funded the 1998 restoration of the periodical reading room, the 2005 renovation of the reference and circulation desk area, and the creation of two graduate student study rooms, dedicated in 2010. At the Eastman School of Music, he and his wife Joan endowed the position of dean this past spring and in 2005 funded the building containing the Eastman Community Music School, which is dedicated in the memory of Marty Messinger's mother, Anne Waltuck Messinger. The Messinger family also is a generous supporter of the Center for Jewish Studies and the Debate Union.