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Fifty years ago, Don Lee Kulow’s personal remote sensing library laid the foundation for today’s library at the Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, part of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

bust of a man's head sitting on a table
A bust of Don Kulow, whom the EROS Library is named after.

In 1972, the EROS Program Office appointed Kulow to head the Professional Services Section at the soon-to-be-opened EROS Data Center. He organized training courses for Department of the Interior (which oversees the USGS) staff. He also taught evening classes in Sioux Falls and thus initiated a warm relationship between the center and its neighbors.

Upon his untimely death in 1973 from complications related to juvenile diabetes, Don Kulow’s wife, Joan, donated his personal collection of remote sensing books as a foundation for the center’s library collection. When the new facility for EROS was completed later that year, the library was named in his honor: the Don Lee Kulow Memorial Library, the official name of the EROS Library.

From a personal collection of a few dozen books to 5,600 print titles, hundreds of electronic journals, dozens of online indexes and repositories, and much more, the EROS Library has been a steadfast information support for center staff. Back in the day, photocopies and snail mail put journal articles, the staple of science communication and research, into the hands of EROS scientists. Today, powerful search indexes, online journals, and email have moved science into a warp speed compared to those early years.

Library Location and Managers

During its first 20-plus years, the EROS Library was housed in a couple different spaces in the west part of the building. When the new addition to the center was completed in 1996, the library landed in its current home, the old EROS entrance lobby, the following year. Check out this “change pair”!


Color photo of USGS EROS lobby, circa 1975
three tables with four chairs each. several bookshelves filled in the back.
The original EROS lobby (left, shown in 1975) is now the EROS library (above).


Seven different staff members have managed the EROS Library through its 50 years. Their daily oversight along with direction from federal and contract library managers and a Library Advisory Committee comprising staff from around the center has ensured that the library stay in the forefront of changing information technologies and committed to supporting the changing information needs of projects and staff.

And on a side note, two of those seven library managers, in between their normal duties, had to don hard hats and contend with unexpected emergencies. An internal water line break flooded parts of the library under K.C. Wehde’s watch during the construction of the new addition and forced her to freeze-dry books in order to restore them, while baseball-sized hail wiped out the skylight shortly after the library was moved to the old lobby area in 1997, a bumpy start for Julia Towns in her new space.

EROS Library Support, Then and Now

From its beginning as a few dozen remote sensing books to a physical collection of thousands of titles and a virtual library accessible 24/7, the mission of the EROS Library has always been to support EROS staff and the EROS mission. So what exactly did EROS Library support look like back then, compared to now?

Then: EROS Library materials were cataloged in a computer database, and metadata could be browsed on microfiche, which was updated quarterly. Subject searches of the computer database that managed the catalog data could be requested. The computer processing of the request ran overnight, and a printout of results was available the next day.

Now: EROS Library print materials are cataloged online and discoverable through a search or browse of the USGS Library Catalog. Users can search for materials from their desktop, whether at work or at home, day or night, and return results in seconds.

A library book open to the checkout card pocket
The library book "Fundamentals of Satellite Remote Sensing" in the Don Lee Kulow Memorial Library at EROS.

Then: Check out of library materials is through book card sign out. Old-fashioned.

Now: Check out of library materials is through book card sign out. Old-fashioned. But an efficient and cost-effective system that survives because if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

Then: Staff scoured the printed literature—literature cited lists and tables of contents—to discover new work in their field. Using print forms and snail mail, the EROS librarian requested photocopies of articles that staff needed from lead authors around the country. Kinda like the old print request system EROS Customer Service used to fill imagery orders back in the day.

Now: Robust search and filtering capabilities in bibliographic and full text web-based literature indexes enable a wide and deep survey of the literature. Kinda the EarthExplorer of the library world. Moreover, this literature research is often handled by the EROS librarian, who delivers subject bibliographies to staff and retrieves full text via online resources or interlibrary loan (ILL), or who also on occasion sends emails and makes phone calls to organizations around the world requesting publications and documents needed by EROS staff.

Then: Researchers relied on a manual system of tracking and managing the science literature—an index card system or categorized stacks of photocopied publications. Adding and editing in-text citations and works cited lists as manuscripts were drafted was laborious and, to be sure, tested one’s patience. The library had no resources to help staff track and manage and use the science literature more efficiently.

Now: Researcher workflow has been streamlined with EndNote, a bibliographic management system provided and supported by the EROS Library. Automatic metadata import, automatic grouping, and full text retrieval and storage have upended the old literature tracking and management limits. Automatic in-text citation and works cited creation have kicked aside the tedious task of manuscript formatting.

Then: Researchers who wanted to get a handle on the impact of their work looked for metrics about citation activity around their publications, which was available with Web of Science, but not until the early 2000s for EROS staff.

Now: New tools and resources for tracking not just citations in journal articles, but also citations and mentions in policy and patents and books and technical reports; for uncovering citation intent; for understanding global and multidisciplinary reach; for tracking views and downloads and shares and saves of publications and metadata; for uncovering peer review and recommendations and commentary; and for monitoring attention in the media and real world are prompting staff to ask the library for help with discovering the reach and influence and impact of their own and their project’s work. How is the work being used, and by whom? How is data being applied, and by whom? What difference is EROS research making in moving science forward? In tackling real world environmental issues?

Looking Ahead

What about the next 50 years of the EROS Library? What role will it play in the EROS mission? As it has done for the last five decades, the library’s supporting role will continue to expand. Information discovery and access will be core functions of the library, as they have always been.

But more importantly, the EROS Library will continue to develop as a supporting partner to center projects, assisting them in tracking and monitoring their research outputs and assessing the value of their work to the science community, land managers, and beyond to the larger society. Don Lee Kulow, who so generously shared the possibilities of remote sensing with so many, would be pleased.


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