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Interview: Deb Morley

Deb Morley is the director of information technology services (ITS) in the Harvard College Library. Morley holds undergraduate and master's degrees in industrial and systems engineering from Ohio University and an MSLS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She came to Harvard from Vanderbilt University. There, she served as assistant director for IT in the Vanderbilt Law School (including its library) and, prior to that, for the Vanderbilt Medical Center Library. Morley arrived at Harvard in February 2002. She was interviewed for Library Notes on July 8.

LN
What was it like getting here in the middle of the Aleph implementation?

DM
Very exciting! It's been a great opportunity for me to get to know HCL staff, including those in my own department, and for working with OIS [the University Library's Office for Information Systems]—and developing what I hope will be a very collaborative relationship between the two groups.

LN
It's certainly an intense way to get to know all of the players.

DM
Yes. It has been a challenge to come into the organization with the Aleph project so far underway, decisions already made, and the course of implementation pretty well set. I've needed to trust, be patient, and spend time observing and learning from the staff. I feel fortunate to have such a wonderful 14-person staff. They are a great bunch of people—hard workers, very committed, very service-oriented.

LN
You supervise 14 people directly, but the number of people you affect is enormous.

DM
Our group has information technology responsibilities within the 11 HCL libraries. The demand for systems support and services continues to increase, but the need for more strategic planning to ensure that the growth and development of "information technology services" support the programmatic needs of the HCL has become paramount. I look forward to leading this effort.

LN
Where are the boundaries between your office and OIS?

DM
Clearly, OIS has responsibility for the integrated library system. But because Aleph is a client-server system, there's a piece of it that we're deploying and have support responsibility for on the workstations within the HCL. We are also very involved with end-user support, making sure HCL staff can connect and login to the system. I think of our job as getting people up to the door of the Aleph system. But getting in through the door may be an HCL IT issue or it may be an OIS issue depending on where the problem is. I'm encouraging our staff to take problem resolution a step further and not just assume that it is not our problem. Overall I think that both HCL ITS and OIS have done an excellent job in the roll-out of this new system, and that the collaboration between the two units has been successful because all of us want the same thing, a system that works for our staff and patrons. Right now, Aleph obviously is the thing on everybody's mind. But the other area of collaboration between the two departments is the Library Digital Initiative (LDI). LDI is seen by many as an OIS program—because they have the responsibility for developing the data repository system, catalogs, and other system components. But the majority of information that is being digitized comes from HCL collections, is converted in one of the three HCL digital conversion facilities, and is accessed by HCL staff and patrons. Obviously, there are technical infrastructure, workstation configuration, and curator advocacy issues that involve HCL's ITS department.

LN
What's your goal for HCL's LDI-related programs?

DM
To be as capable in providing access and information services with our digital collections as we are with our print collections. Not just building these collections, but addressing issues of sustainability. And that involves all of us—ITS, OIS, HASCS, UIS, really all the technology units on the campus.

LN
LDI—even with its demonstration projects—is about infrastructure. It's a University-wide, University-funded initiative to create infrastructure for digital objects in Harvard libraries, museums, and other repositories. The next big sequence of digital library programs will be about populating the infrastructure.

DM
Yes. And that "populating" has implications for us. For example, some recently funded LDI projects involve audio. This is forcing us to rethink the public workstation in our libraries. In some areas, we have a few beefed-up public workstations that we call the "research workstation," in which access to applications and CD-ROM resources are provided. We're asking the question, "What does the next generation of research workstation need to look like?" It's not just a place where you can search the catalog, go off into the stacks, and find your books. But a workstation where you can be engaged in doing your research and having access to images and audio, and many other information resources and research tools.

LN
How did you happen to come to HCL?

DM
I had left my position at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center library to pursue a management opportunity. I was assistant director for IT at the Vanderbilt Law School, which included their library, but also included all the other departments of the School. While this was a wonderful opportunity to gain experience managing a unit that had a broad range of technical responsibilities, after a period of time I realized that I really missed being more directly involved in a library environment. I also knew when I moved to Nashville that I probably wouldn't be in Tennessee my whole life. I feel very fortunate that there was an opportunity to apply for this position at Harvard.

LN
You trained as a systems engineer and as a librarian. How do you think of yourself?

DM
The two careers fit together more than most people think. To me it was a natural progression—I developed and supported systems initially, but over time developed an interest in more than the boxes and the wires. It was my interest in "information management" and how people worked with information that lead me to study information and library sciences. Some days I think of myself as a systems engineer who works in a library, and other days I think of myself as a librarian who works with systems. But generally, I don't get too hung up on the labels and the titles.

LN
Sounds very holistic.

DM
Yes. I actually wrote a little essay once on holistic systems management. That was very much the approach—to look beyond the boxes and wires—to see the content, and to especially see the users.

LN
Is librarianship changing?

DM
The library as a whole is growing as a business entity. That may not be a popular belief, but I believe it to be true.

LN
At Harvard, of course, we also contend with the vastness of the system.

DM
Very much so. I have spent a lot of time in my first few months meeting people. I started off within Widener, and then ventured out into the other libraries within HCL, and now I'm meeting more folks at OIS, and venturing out and talking with IT managers all over the University. All of these relationships are very important. I think that a lot of what I'm here to do is build bridges.

LN
What are the next 12 months like for you?

DM
HCL ITS has a key role in the Widener renovation project. We're working very closely with facilities as offices are remodeled and people move into swing space. The department's done a wonderful job, coming in early and on weekends and staying late to setup systems and keep staff connected. We want the Widener staff to be able to arrive at work the morning after an office move and not need to deal with system downtime. Secondly, our supportive role to OIS with Aleph will keep us busy for the next 12 months. We are now only beginning to understand printing issues related to the new system. I would say anything that involves the continued support of the deployment and staff usage of Aleph will continue to be big on our radar screen. Also, we are expanding the services that HCL ITS offers. In addition to network, server, and workstation support, we are getting more requests for "development" types of projects. This includes systems that support the business functions of the HCL, programming needs of the libraries, and the development of web tools and applications beyond "informational" web sites. For me personally this brings the challenge of investigating staffing models that will support this growth. But finally, let me reiterate what you've heard me say throughout the interview about the importance of building bridges and building relationships. I'm hoping that we can all share some common goals and objectives and understand everybody's piece in making things happen. Much of my energy will go towards this vision in the next 12 months.

LN
Thank you.

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Last modified on Tuesday, July 23, 2002.