To: Advisory Committee
From: Hugh Blackmer
Date: 20 January 2003
A sabbatical should refresh and reorient, providing the sabbaticant with opportunities to think about familiar things in new ways, to begin new trains of thought, and to make decisions about personal and professional priorities. My experiences in three months of visiting institutions in New England met these objectives magnificently, and I return to W&L with many ideas for things I might do in the next six years or so. I look forward to opportunities to engage in intramural and extramural collaborations and invent new directions as technologies evolve --in short, to pick up where I left off at the end of July.
I see myself as a creator, a facilitator, an initiator, a provocateur; and I see part of my vocation as contributing to the reform and evolution of liberal education. I happen to be doing this from the platform of the Library, in the position of Science Librarian, but my interests and activities are not defined by or confined to the sciences.
My appointment as Science Librarian has been a convenient platform to combine teachig in a number of disciplines, research into emergent information technologies, development of my own skills, and support for the information needs of faculty and students. As an anthropologist, I enjoy a freedom to interest myself in the workings of other disciplines, and to take on the role of generalist in exploring information resources and analytical methods. As a student of technologies, I keep an ear to the rail and an eye on the horizon, and pass along applications and resources to others who can make good use of them. As a librarian, my interests center on the emergence of digital libraries, or perhaps of the digital library. I see this evolution as
- technological (driven by a continuing flood of innovation in hardware and software, deployment of communications infrastructure, and rising level of skills with and expectations for digital media),
- institutional (as "traditional" libraries change what they do by integrating non-print media into their collections, and by expanding their services in support of the full spectrum of their users' needs),
- pedagogical (as information professionals become more involved in instruction and research, and the resources of digital libraries become essential elements in teaching and learning --and librarians need to take on teaching responsibilities in areas not being addressed by faculty in disciplines), and
- personal (as computer users become more active in managing their own burgeoning information resources and using them in electronic communication).
We have and must learn to manage effectively a rapidly-growing range of digital assets. Their value is realized when they are used, when they become integral parts of teaching and learning. The great challenge is to build organizations capable of integrating the floods of data and information in many media, and sensitive to the rapidly-changing needs of users of all skill levels. Just how this transformation is to be inspired and executed at W&L and other liberal arts colleges is less than obvious, and to some degree awaits institutional will and some level of reorganization. In the meantime, each of the above points needs the attention of visionaries and prototypers.
My visits to 18 institutions (including more than a dozen of our liberal arts peers) and conversations with administrators, librarians, and computing and Information Technology staff gave me a good background in the current state of the art over a broad range of pedagogical and information management issues. A suite of linked Web pages (at home.wlu.edu/~blackmerh/sabb/) provides detailed information on my visits, observations, reading, and writing during the three months. The text of an article accepted for the electronic version of NITLE News is attached, and summarizes findings that seem most significant at present. I can summarize the practical upshot of the sabbatical in a plan for activities over the next year:
Foremost among the responsibilities I intend to assume, at least in part because nobody else is likely to be hired for or assigned to the task in the near future, is support for GIS, and specifically for
Some of these activities can be undertaken with existing resources or fall under software licenses now covered by University Computing, but others will require travel, ESRI training, and the purchase of additional software. We have a substantial investment in GIS software (the site license costs more than $10,000 per year), and we ought to be making better use of the technology's cross-disciplinary potential, but have to this point been without a comprehensive plan for training, development, data acquisition, and end-user support. The Library is probably the appropriate administrative and budgetary entity to host these services, since much of the GIS agenda involves information management and sorts of problem-solving analogous to the traditional work of reference librarians, and because the beneficiaries would be departments (Geology to begin with, but many others in short order), programs (Environmental Studies and Global Stewardship immediately, others to follow), and a broad range of offices (B&G, Alumni, Admissions).
- the transition to ArcGIS,
- management of ArcIMS activities,
- coordination of management (cataloging and serving) of GIS and remote sensing data, including integration into library operations
- exploration of additional GIS technologies,
- teaching short courses in GIS for interested faculty, staff, and students,
- coordination of summer projects such as The Digital South,
- collaboration with staff of the ITG, and with ACS and other extramural partners, and
- enhanced and coordinated support across the disciplines for data visualization, qualitative reasoning, and decision-making.
- In addition to GIS work, I expect to continue my activities as primary liaison between the Library and the ITG, and anticipate that I may be involved in ACS, CET, and NITLE activities as well.
I expect to be involved in the Spring term Global Stewardship courses, to teach EAS 190 in Spring and Anthropology 230 in Fall 2003, and to participate in other courses as opportunities arise.
I expect to continue as the primary library contact for the Environmental Studies and Global Stewardship programs, both of which are likely to grow quickly and offer opportunities for innovations that will eventually affect other programs and departments. Last summer's R.E. Lee project is an example of one such direction.
- I am now developing a proposal for an R.E. Lee Project for Summer 2003, some features of which are an outgrowth of things observed during sabbatical visits (draft text is available at home.wlu.edu/~blackmerh/relee/digisouth2.html).
I wish to record my gratitude to the Advisory Committee for granting the sabbatical, and specifically to thank the several offices and programs whose directors made generous contributions to my travel funds: Global Stewardship and International Education Programs, Environmental Studies, University Computing, and Leyburn Library.