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Small colleges are putting the same administrator in charge of IT and libraries

CIOs Wear Second Hat
August 28, 2013

More than a tenth of college chief information technology officers are also in charge of campus libraries, a sign of the rapid digitization of scholarship and the desire of small colleges to consolidate administrative functions.

About 12 percent of CIOs oversee libraries, according to annual surveys by the Center for Higher Education Chief Information Officer Studies. The surveys suggest the arrangement is appealing mostly to smaller colleges at this point. "You get smaller institutions and a good percentage are community colleges," said Wayne Brown, the center's founder.

Linda Hodges, the head of the information technology practice at executive search firm Witt/Kieffer, said she’s seen a desire at liberal arts colleges and smaller institutions to have the same person in charge of technology and libraries. “Libraries have become extremely computerized and automated,” Hodges said. “Many, many things have gone digital and, as a result, they are using technology in ways you have not thought of previously.”

Recent surveys of campus library users show the focus of libraries is, in some ways, no longer about physical books: faculty are most frequently using online catalogs and databases from libraries and students are using the public computers and quiet areas.

Bates College in Maine decided to pull the library and technology budgets together in the 1990s, though it did not put one person in charge of both operations until several years later.

“For a small college like ours, we don’t want a lot of decision-making overhead when we have to move from one thing to another,” said Gene Wiemers, who in 2000 became Bates’s first vice president for information and library services. 

Wiemers said libraries and technology units had previously competed for resources at Bates.

“Early in the '90s, the dean of the faculty here strategically looked at where is technology going in higher ed, where are the technology nodes in a college like ours and where can we avoid duplication of effort,” Wiemers said.

Since then, the library at Bates has been viewed as a place for students and faculty to get help with scholarship and technology, a transformation that Wiemers said takes the library from a place to quietly read to a place for people on the campus to work together and get help.

Some of the merging is natural, perhaps. Wiemers said Bates will soon have more electronic books than the 600,000 printed ones it has in its collection.

When Bates redesigned the library several years ago, Wimers said it was either the most technologically sophisticated library or the largest computer lab in that part of the state – but the distinction mattered little.

“Who could tell the difference and who cared?, is what we thought about it,” he said.

Trevor A. Dawes, the president of the Association of College and Research Libraries, said when personal computers first came into popular use, library staff became key players in the world of campus technology but on an ad hoc basis. Then, technology staff became professionalized and spun off into its own department. Now, Dawes said, the two may be coming back together.

“We’re reforming a pattern than already existed a long time ago,” he said.

Dawes is an associate university librarian at Washington University in St. Louis. There, the head librarian sat on a search committee to help select the university's first CIO. But instead of consolidating, Washington's CIO will, like the librarian, report to the provost.

Justin Sipher, who took his job a year ago, is the first official at St. Lawrence University in New York to oversee both the library and the technology infrastructure. He views the library as a provider of three things: resources, services and space.

Before Sipher took over, the IT units were run by a three-person CIO team and the library was run by a head of libraries.

Sipher said the college took a new tack when it consolidated the operations, but it’s not yet clear what effect it will have on the operation of libraries. "But what we are is on a different trajectory than if they had stayed separate," he said.

There is some trepidation on campus, Sipher said, and his goal is not be “over-steering the ship.” The former interim head of the library has stayed on to be Sipher's director of libraries.

"I don't find this extreme,” he said. “Certainly, there is anxiety about the thought of libraries not reporting to an academic vice president and potential fear of weakening of positions of support to academic enterprise -- I don't believe in our case that that is going to be a significant problem.”

Kathy Monday oversees the University of Richmond's libraries and its IT as the vice president for information services. Monday said in the 15 years since the library and technology staff started reporting to the same person, the library has evolved, but in response to changes in the way scholarship is done, not in response to the organizational chart.

"At Richmond the library and IT are close partners but neither subsumes the other, rather they take advantage of each other’s strengths," she said in an e-mail.

The resumes for the leaders of IT and libraries are not uniform. Wiemers, for instance, has a background as a librarian with a long interest in computer systems. But he said he can name a half-dozen IT/library leaders who were originally librarians and another half-dozen who were originally technologists.

Sipher is a technologist who was previously the CIO at Skidmore College in New York, where he was in charge of just the IT department. Now, his time is divided. 

"I think a third of time is thinking about the world of libraries, and a third of my time is thinking about the world of IT, and a third of my time is thinking about the university at large," Sipher said.

 

 

 

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