The Digital Library
Technologists and librarians
are discovering that intelligent
organizational overlap is the
route to the digital library
of the future.
Historically, it's been an unavoidable truth:
IT people and library people have not been inclined to come to the concept
of service with the same view. For IT, it's been all about keeping the
servers and systems up, the websites going, and the help desk calls and
their turnaround times to a minimum. For library professionals, service
has meant keeping multimedia information and reference accessible;
books, tapes, CDs, and other sources in order; and the environment primed
for research and study.
At Rhodes College, Bob Johnson's merged IT/librarian team undergoes training to provide a single point of contact for most customer service issues-- research or technical.
Yet, in higher education today, the term "library" no longer denotes
just a physical place, nor does "IT" denote a job so behind the academic
scene that students are unaware it exists on campus.
The fact is, when these two essential campus areas work together well,
magic happens--and that is especially true in small, private institutions
of higher education.
Harmonious Culture Clash
At Rhodes College (TN), a 1,700-student Presbyterian-affiliated institution
near downtown Memphis, 1999 was a year that Bob Johnson remembers
well: That was when the library and IT organizations came together,
and Johnson was hired to manage both (in addition to institutional
research), as CIO and VP for information services.
"What we were trying to do here is realize the potential of the larger
group, as opposed to remaining in smaller groups that were working on
similar issues," he explains. The concept was a good one, but the transition
wasn't without its headaches, he admits.
"Before we moved into the building that we're in now, the organization
was split across four locations: the IT staff was divided between two classroom
buildings, librarians were in the library, and the administrative office
was in a building used for both classrooms and administrative functions.
There were aspects of that arrangement that didn't contribute to working well together, but at least we were
getting our work done," Johnson recalls.
"As soon as we came together [in the same
building], we increased the potential for
people to work together--and to quarrel."
A multitude of differences between
the two organizations surfaced: Librarians
were used to working in conjunction
with one another in open spaces, and IT
workers were accustomed to working
individually in their own offices. Similarly,
librarians tended toward regimentation
in their work days. ("They always
knew when their coffee break was going
to be," explains Johnson, "but IT got
around to it when they got around to it.")
Librarians generally come equipped with
master's degrees; not all IT workers do.
What's more, says Johnson, librarians
have a "100-year horizon," while IT people
need to deliver results "yesterday."
Today, the merged team has a dozen
IT workers, a dozen librarians, and one
research person, all focused on unifying
operations by working with each other
in specific areas. Internally, each professional
culture retains its individuality,
and there's no push to blend those cultural
aspects of the organization, says
Johnson. He considers the group's mission
"to deliver consistent, reliable, and
secure support for the academic mission
of the college."
A merged team at Rhodes College has a dozen IT workers, a dozen librarians, and one research person, all focused on unifying operations by working with each other in specific areas.
While that may sound like a technical
person's take on the job, there's actually
more to it. "The story begins with data
capture," Johnson insists. "The way I
see it, that's a shared responsibility
across the campus. We capture the
information. We store it securely and
appropriately. Those are IT functions.
But the story also is about supplementing
the information with the right kinds
of resources, which is a library function.
The librarians' whole deal is to make
sure people can find what they're looking
for, and can use it appropriately."
That's where the ability to work with
one another in specific areas comes in:
One cross-functional team works on
customer service issues, another on
research and development. For example,
in the area of customer service, the organization
offers one point of contact for
any question that relates to information
services (informational or technical) and
for questions coming from any campus
sector (students, faculty members, staff,
or visitors), whether the queries be walkins,
e-mails, or phone calls.
"We train at that consolidated service
point," offers Johnson. "Our people
answer both library and IT questions.
The customers don't need to know how
we work; we train the library staff to
answer at least three-quarters of technical
questions likely to be asked." And
when a librarian can't handle a techrelated
question, says Johnson, he or she
hands it off immediately to an IT person.
On the back end, the merged organization
has "really paid off internally,"
the CIO reports, possibly because of the
way technology is evolving. "As certain
technologies have grown up, they really
blur the boundaries of the library and
IT." He cites the management of digital
assets: For instance, take the case of the
professor who has 8,000 slides that she
wants to make accessible to people in
her class, as well as to other classes and
other institutions. Says Johnson, "An IT
staffer may be able to tell you how to
maintain the slides or store them, but he
may not know anything about making
them easy for anybody to find. On the
other hand, librarians aren't ready to
tackle the technical side of that challenge."
But, "Having the group already
merged, we're ready when challenges
like this pop up. We don't have to rush to
create a group to manage them."
The New Information Literacy
INFORMATION LITERACY generally has referred to the ability to know what resources to use
for a given assignment, how to use them, and how to evaluate their merits. In earlier days, it
was referred to as library instruction; then bibliographic instruction. But the web has played
havoc with the concept. Is Wikipedia now a reliable source? Can an
interview in a podcast be used for reference material? Some online sources are better than
others--an obvious point for educators, but not necessarily as obvious to students. And
clearly, library professionals are usually the best-trained individuals on campus to teach the
nuances to students. Below, Searchpath, a resource
created by Western Michigan University to teach students basic library and research skills,
delineates the pitfalls of random web-based research:
- Library resources go through a review
process, performed by editors and/or peers
of the authors, and then are selected by
librarians for inclusion in a library collection.
- Library resources are free or discounted
for use by patrons.
- Library resources are organized.
When you find a book on a given topic, the
books shelved nearby cover the same or
- Library resources are meant to be kept
permanently. Some collections are
hundreds of years old.
Library resources come with personal
- Patrons get quality.
- Most information on the web doesn't go
through a review process.
- Some sites charge for access to their
- Overall, information on the web isn't
- For the most part, anything published prior
to the mid-1990s doesn't exist, as far as
the web is concerned. And there's no guarantee
that a site will be there next week,
let alone next year.
- Users are on their own.
- Users get quantity.
Certainly, Rhodes College isn't alone
in its merged IT/Library organization, but
that doesn't mean it's a common structure.
According to the Council on Library and Information Resources, within the universe of US liberal
arts colleges there are only about three
dozen or so CIOs leading merged Library
and IT groups. That puts Johnson in an
ideal position to offer advice to any CIO
considering a blended organization for a
smaller campus: Head over to the campus
library and ask for help, he says simply.
"I guarantee that every CIO has an issue
that could be improved if only he or she
were to ask for help from a librarian.
Nothing tells people you value them more
than asking them for help."
Librarian Sensibilities Elevate IT
At Earlham College (IN), there's a solid
appreciation for the impact the librarian
viewpoint can have on IT; in fact, it trickles
down from the top, where both IT and
library leadership reside in the same person--
Thomas Kirk. Kirk was educated as
a librarian, and holds the posts of library
director and coordinator of information
services for the 1,250-student institution.
He points out that the CLIR counts only
30 or 40 institutions of higher education
where one individual handles the two
jobs simultaneously--yet even those, he
says, are generally situational instances, "having to do with the nature and culture
of the organization."
Why isn't the blended role more common?
Beyond the culture gap that exists
between the two functions is the perception
each group has of the other, he
explains. CIOs need to understand that
"When the librarians bring you what
appear to be tough issues, they are
reflecting the users' needs; what the
patrons are asking for." Kirk points out
that although CIOs sometimes are tempted
to respond with the knee-jerk reaction
of "Why we can't do it," they need to
understand where the expectation is
actually coming from (the campus community),
and then "figure out how it can
best be done." Likewise, his advice to
librarians: "Don't fall into the stereotypes
about computing people. Understand
what their values are and what they
mean by 'service.' That's where the conflict
[between librarians and IT people]
grows from," he maintains.
Maybe that's why, when Kirk describes
the librarian role at Earlham, the
terms "facilitator" or "liaison" come to
mind. At the college, librarians have
evolved to act as the middleware between
faculty and IT. "Librarians are more
concerned with what's going on in the
curriculum," and that's important, says
Kirk. Their role is to ask, "How can the
library support teaching and learning on
campus? How do we help students and
faculty navigate the world of print and
Now, with the recent explosion in the
use of technology as part of the teaching
and learning process, the need for a liaison
between the campus community and
IT is even greater. "Usually when faculty
are looking at the new technologies,
they're looking at ways to enhance what
they're already doing," says Kirk. "It
used to be that the students did research
and wrote a term paper. Now they do
research and create a poster, a class presentation,
or a podcast."
But many faculty still are not versed
in the use of the new technologies, he
acknowledges. "They may have had a
pretty good understanding of scholarly
literature and the bibliographic apparatus
of the field, but when the technology
came along, they suddenly lost their
grip--particularly in colleges where the
primary role of faculty is teaching and,
secondarily, research," he notes. "They
didn't stay current with the new tools."
Interestingly, as the technology provided
more information resources, the
librarians' role (in terms of the faculty)
became more and more one of mentoring
and teaching, says Kirk. And that shift
placed the librarian into the position of
collaborating with the faculty member.
"We have a tradition here of the faculty
coming to the librarian and saying, 'I've
been thinking of creating this kind of
assignment. How would I do this? What
resources do we have that would allow me
to set up this kind of assignment?' This
gets us into questions about what collections
are available, how to gain access to
them, how to use them--and perhaps the
most important question--how to evaluate
the resources that are found."
Importantly, with one person in the
dual role of CIO and head librarian, silos
can effectively be dismantled. "It's essential
that there be a lot of communication
between computing services and the
library," he asserts. "I do think it's important
that the library and computing areas
report to the same person. I've seen situations where Computing reports to the
business side of the college and the
Library reports to the academic side.
[When that happens,] you have to get to
two VPs to achieve resolution on issues."
Kirk believes that by merging the
library and IT areas, his advantage lies
in a true functional view of the combined
organization. "A lot of this stuff
on the merged organization pays too
much attention to where the walls are
and how people report, rather than looking
at what people are doing, who
they're talking to, and who's [effectively]
communicating with whom."
Creating a Digital Library Hub
When Immaculata University (PA)--
formerly an all-girls Catholic school--
redesigned its Gabriele Library in 1994,
administrators went for the "state-ofthe-
art" facility of the day, and provided
a computer lab, a digital card catalog,
and 10 electronic databases (on CD).
VIEWING THE GABRIELE Library as the center of information and collaboration, Immaculata U administrators decided to house the tech folks in the building.
Today, the university boasts a resource
center that's the perfect melding of
library and IT--and nothing like the
hushed study centers of yesteryear.
"When you walk in, the first floor is filled
with students talking with each other,"
says Jeff Rollison, executive director of
the library. "It's very much a place where
students meet and work collaboratively."
"It's definitely not quiet," echoes Sister
M. Carroll Isselmann, vice president
for academic affairs.
At the Gabriele Library, students can
leave a driver's license or dorm key at
the front desk and borrow one of the
library's wireless notebook computers to
take elsewhere in the building. To save
their work from the laptop, they can
check out a flash drive just as if they
were checking out a book. And the
library has long since moved from those
initial CD-based databases to about 40
different online databases. It has added
to the digital collection by licensing
electronic books through NetLibrary and eBooks.com.
Transforming the College Library: A Plan
"WE ARE ON THE CUSP of an important change," says Scott Bennett, Yale University (CT)
librarian emeritus, former librarian at The Johns Hopkins University (MD), and currently a
senior adviser for the library program of The Council of Independent Colleges.
Bennett, who did research on higher ed library construction projects, says that of 400 projects
completed between 1992 and 2001, respondents reported that what most motivated
their projects during that period was the need for additional shelving. When he asked (in
follow-up interviews with 30 CAOs and library directors) whether that was going to be the
same driver for their next library projects, their response was, "We think not.We hope not."
Yet, figuring out what the new drivers for library design are poses a challenge for campuses.
The reason this is so difficult, says Bennett, is because "We have a genetically
conditioned sense of ourselves as [belonging to a] service profession; we're still fixated
on service.We get lots of libraries that are traditional, dressed as new. They're successful;
they're very fine libraries. They're not libraries designed for learning, however, but
designed for service."
What's the distinction? "We think of students as consumers of services, but we're not
treating them as learners," he stresses. And the principle space where students take command
of their own learning, Bennett believes, is the library. For example, he says, a year or
two ago he was consulting at an institution and talking with faculty, "who were justly proud of
the way they were shaping assignments for students to work with each other collaboratively."
Yet when he asked them, "Where do they do that?" the instructors scratched their heads and
said: "We don't know." His point: If you think it's important for students to work collaboratively,
then you'd better design your library to foster that.
That's where the CIC comes into play. Since 2002, in partnership with the National
Institute for Technology and Liberal Education, the CIC has offered the
workshop series, "The Transformation of the College Library." The goal of the three-day
events: to help small and mid-sized independent colleges and universities deal with the
change sweeping through college libraries.
Two unique features of the workshops are notable: 1) Aside from the cost of housing,
transportation, and meals, they are fee-free to participants, through financial support
from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; and 2) Each institution participating
must commit to sending three representatives: the library director, a "rainmaker"
faculty member who can shape faculty opinion, and the chief academic officer. Bennett
offers simply, "If you can't get all three together in one place at our workshop, then you're
going to be wasting our time and resources."
That may sound a bit harsh, but by the time participants leave, he insists, their teams
have developed a plan for strengthening their information literacy programs, encouraging
faculty and librarians to work together, and fostering collaboration between IT and library
staffs. No small feat. Yet, even with all that effort behind it, persistence is the operative
word: Transformation, Bennett acknowledges, "is going to take a while."
Immaculata also joined the consortium
of schools using Searchpath, a flash
tutorial originally created by librarians
and staff from Western Michigan University
in 2001/2002. Searchpath teaches
students the basics of information
literacy: how to conduct research in the
library and on the web more effectively
and accurately, including performing a
qualitative evaluation of the source
being used for research.
In addition, the librarians and IT team
behind the library went on to adopt
Adobe Captivate (formerly from Macromedia), a flash creation
tool. The library uses Captivate to create
brief tutorials that walk students through
the use of its specialized online databases.
And the school is producing three new
tutorials a month, not limited to the
library, reports Isselmann, who adds
that the team has applied the technology
to the creation of lessons
designed to teach new users how to
work with the school's course management
system and portal.
Still, the evolution of Immaculata's
digital library didn't simply kick
off with the ribbon-cutting of the new
building, even though "We had this
new building with space, and not
much space in other places," recalls
Isselmann. "So, seeing the library as
the center of information, we made
the decision to house the technical
folks in the library." The initiative
really shifted into high gear four
years later, when university administrators
made the decision to outsource the
management of the institution's technology
and IT services--including the post of
the campus CIO. After an evaluation
process, the campus chose Collegis
(since subsumed into SunGard).
Today, nearly a decade later, the
library and IT cultures have changed
distinctly. Isselmann relates that recently,
when the growth of the technical staff
prompted administrators to move the
help desk out of the library, Rollison
protested. Isselmann laughs, "We put
our IT folks in the library and they're all
joined at the hip now."
Rollison calls the relationship between
the two groups a natural fit. "Librarians
have become very tech-savvy. They've
had to be; the students they're working
with have become tech-savvy, and expect
it. So the librarians understand how to use
the tools, but don't necessarily understand
[all the technology behind it]." The
IT staff and the librarians don't "step on
each other toes," he says; "we're complementing
By way of example, Isselmann points
to the school's move to the SirsiDynix
and the early talks about migration to that
system. "The CIO was on that committee.
Certainly, the librarians knew what they
wanted out of that system, in terms of the
library processes," she says. "But the CIO knew what kind of server we would need to put it on, and what other institutional
systems would need to interface with it."
And when Immaculata began serving offsite
students, the library wanted to make
its databases accessible to distance learners.
Yet, in order to respect the licensing
requirement that the software be accessible
only by its own population, the campus
had to set up a firewall and password
access, which was created by the IT staff.
"Today, everything librarians want to
do--in terms of service--requires some
back-room, deep-in-the-interior work
done by the tech folks," says Isselmann.
But the librarians often are driving the
search for new ways to provide learning
to students. For instance, says Rollison,
they were the ones who saw the need to
handle reserved materials in a different
way. "Faculty put their materials-onreserve
on paper, which is fine if you live
on campus, but difficult for students who
don't." So the instructional design team
was called in to create an online reserve
system that could work through the campus'
WebCT system. Now faculty make articles available
through their course shells on
WebCT via a scanning-and-documentdelivery
service, and the library has
extended that service to include other
articles it owns in physical form.
Conversely, though Immaculata librarians
are not technicians, they routinely
head to any of the campus' 50 "smart"
classrooms and command the control
podia, in order to instruct faculty members
and students on the use of a new
library or research resource. Isselmann
maintains that the librarians at Immaculata
are no longer considered simply
guardians or custodians of information,
but technology-enabled educators.
So, when the librarians and the technologists
at Immaculata put their heads
together and look to the future, what do
they see on the horizon? A move to a
more integrated platform, says Rollison.
"That way, when students come into the
library, searching will be a lot more seamless
than it is now. They won't have three
or four places to find information,
whether it be a book, piece of music, or
article." And with eBay's Skype, the librarians hope to do
even more. Isselmann says she envisions
the librarians applying the VoIP service
to their own offerings (the school already
uses Skype to provide Writing Center services).
Says the VP: "A student has a
paper in front of her and she's talking
hands-free on Skype to Writing Center
staffers, and it's a one-on-one tutorial.
They're not side by side; they're PC to
PC. I see something similar for the librarians."
They're calling it "co-browsing,"
says Isselmann, and the teaming of librarians
and technical staff will be needed to
deliver all of these new services, too.
::WEBEXTRAS :: Viewpoint: "We Had to Destroy the Library in Order to Save It." ::
Richard Ekman, president of The Council
of Independent Colleges,
will present "Leading Organizational and
Program Change to Foster 21st-Century
Digital Literacy," at Campus Technology
2007 in Washington, DC, July 30-Aug. 2.