What is KU Info?
A violent beginning
The campus of the University of Kansas was experiencing much unrest in the late 1960s. Protests were frequent against issues surrounding the Vietnam War and racism. The KU Memorial Union burned April, 1970 and two students were shot and killed a few short months later. A citywide curfew was put in place that affected students and Lawrence citizens alike.
Such unrest spawned concerns from not only KU and Lawrence citizens, but parents and family members from other parts of the country as well. It was soon determined by both students and KU administrators that a single phone line needed to be identified to handle rumor control. This line would answer to parents, media, students, and the community, and would help to settle an otherwise unsettled environment on campus.
The early years
KU Info's first years were in Strong Hall, in a corner of the office of Emily Taylor, Dean of Womens' Studies. The phone number was 864-3506, and has never changed. Neither has the mission: to serve as a humanizing element in a large, sometimes confusing university system, to help navigate the waters of KU, and help students, alumni, faculty, staff and members of the community to gain access to information.
In the late 70s, the service transitioned from its role as rumor control, to a more general information line, helping students with enrollment questions, KU and Lawrence event information, and questions about various KU departments. For a short while, the service was located in a small building at the intersection of Jayhawk Blvd and Sunflower Rd, with runners that would go to Watson Library and back for information. The small building still stands, and remains the responsibility of KU Info. Drive by the booth today and you'll see posters encouraging people to use KU Info by phone, online or in person.
The service moved to the Union in the late 1970s, where it stayed for twenty years. It became a 24 hour service, boasting the ability to answer any question on any topic. The KU Info office became an impressive clearinghouse of reference materials and a rolodex of index cards filled with answers to KU questions and to those of a more obscure nature.
The KU students who staffed KU Info were given access to the Union after hours. There was a small bed in the office for those who staffed the early morning hours. They were allowed to take naps as long as the ringing of the phone was enough to wake them up. Many of these students have gone on to serve as leaders both locally and nationally, in roles such as CEO of the KS board of regents, Mayor of Lawrence, etc.
Throughout the 80s and 90s, KU Info struggled to maintain adequate funding. The service required significant student salary dollars in order to provide 24-hour service, with multiple students during peak times. This struggle intensified in the late 90s, when the internet began taking over the reputation of being able to answer any question on any topic. KU Info was forced to redefine itself to remain a valid program.
The University suffered significant budget cuts from the state after 9-11, and cut programs across several departments. In 2002, KU Info lost its funding, but was taken under the wing of the KU Libraries. The service moved from the KS Union to the reference desk of Anschutz Library. For the first time, students could get their questions answered in person, although KU Info students had to also serve as reference desk assistants, and were often challenged by competing responsibilities.
These changes prompted rumors that KU Info had died. Past employees were concerned that, without adequate funding, the true spirit of KU Info would not live on. There were petitions signed, articles written, and online protests held. The result was a new funding structure that would allow KU Info to reestablish a presence at the KS Union and hire students to focus solely on incoming KU Info questions. The new service provides a three pronged approach to service: by phone, on line and in person.
The present and the future
The reference books have given way to online resources. The index card system is now a searchable database. The internet serves as KU Info's co-pilot in the constant goal of improving our access to information. Because the internet has demystified the ability to "know all," KU Info has transformed to a service that navigates the overwhelming information superhighway and provides a humanizing element to the sometimes intimidating university environment.
The resources that used to be held in a small KU Info office are now readily available to anyone with internet access. The system of questions and answers that has been dutifully updated for over 30 years is now a searchable database on the KU Info website. The future is bright for a most unique service whose mission is to help the extended KU community access the information needed to lead more successful lives.