Technically Speaking

Andrew K. PaceBy Andrew K. Pace
American Libraries Columnist

Head of information technology,
North Carolina State University Libraries,

January/February 2008

A New Chapter


Time to move on–at a pace still hectic

Serendipity is my second-favorite word in the English language (skip to the end of this column, if you simply cannot wait to know my first), and the one that best describes most of my career. It was a chance encounter on a train in New York that led to my job at Innovative Interfaces, good timing that led to my arrival in North Carolina, and I was actually sitting at my desk desperately trying to figure out what to put in my column for Computers in Libraries when American Libraries called me to talk about “Technically Speaking.”

That was in the winter of 2004. After over 40 columns and six ALA exhibit roundups, this is my farewell to “Technically Speaking.” Serendipity calls.

At ALA Midwinter, you will likely find me even more present on the exhibit floor: I have accepted a position with OCLC as executive director for networked library services. It would be even more self-referential to bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that my new position in the Global Products division would make objective reporting and subjective editorializing difficult.

Though I might be able to pull it off, I’m not sure that my colleagues would take my reports on library automation seriously enough. And, quite frankly, the idea of writing about library technology without mention of my new employer is simply impossible; if I did not think OCLC has a vital and important role in the future of libraries, I would not have taken the job.

I heart vendors

There, I admitted it. I like this gig and will have a hard time detaching myself from it because I really respect and admire my vendor colleagues who work on the “other” side of this profession. The thing about serendipity is that you have to look for it in the right place (if Yogi Berra didn’t say that, he should have). Writing this column has been more planned serendipity, and I will admit to still being surprised at the five-star, kid-glove treatment that came with it. Quite honestly, it’s really been a lot of fun.

Rumors, innuendo, and clouds of insider dirt float above the exhibit floor like smoke in a saloon. Accusatory e-mails and blog posts roughen the edges of carefully crafted press releases. I’ve suffered a few barbs as a result of my musings, but short of slander, I find the marks they leave more like scratches than battle wounds. Nothing is worse than the blog post or editorial that falls like the proverbial tree in the forest.

AL does not typically like me to make references to it, but I’m hoping my farewell will allow an editorial indulgence. I love this magazine. As a profession obsessed with self-criticism, we like to give ALA all we’ve got, but I say unequivocally that the best and brightest of ALA make their mark between AL’s covers.

I’m not just riding for the brand, to use my cowboy library metaphor. I’m excited about my future at OCLC. As I took a serious look at my career in order to ponder my next move, I considered continuing with research libraries, toyed with the notion of public libraries (for whom I think the future is very, very bright), contemplated organizational work such as ALA, and then settled back on the exhibit floor where I have spent so much time.

It was my role of pundit that gave me pause. A few vendors have “flirted” with me over the years by dangling positions that promised to capitalize on my objectivity without a plan for preserving it.

I heart OCLC

Without trying to touch off a huge debate about OCLC’s place among vendors, the clarity of its ethos is rare, as is the direction of its leadership and the future of its ownership. OCLC is the place from which I could see myself making a difference for all kinds of libraries all over the world. Wish me luck.

Okay, my favorite word in the English language is gazebo. The problem is that it’s much harder to fit into the theme of a column.

But there you have it.