Sabbatical Report

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

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 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:

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.