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News From Library Systems: Q&A With Spencer Lamm, Manager, Discovery Systems

January 7, 2014

a headshot Spencer Lamm who is standing in front of the stacks in HAgerty LibraryTo kick off the New Year, I sat down with our manager of discovery systems, Spencer Lamm to learn more about the work being done in the Libraries' systems department. Spencer joined the Libraries in July 2013 and hit the ground running - hiring for vacant positions, providing access to the USC Shoah Foundation's Visual History Archive, implementing redundancy and disaster recovery plans, and working with numerous teams and groups to plan for the upcoming year. If you are one of the 1.6 million visits to our website last year, the work of the systems department directly impacted you.

Q: What is your role in the library?
I am the manger of discovery systems. So, that means that I manage the Libraries' systems that support research and resource discovery. This includes the library catalog, the Summon Discovery Service, the web site, iDEA, and off-campus access as well as the hardware, infrastructure and process that supports these systems.

Q: What drew you to working in libraries?
While getting my undergraduate degree, I worked for two years as a research assistant, mostly in the libraries at the University of Washington. A very high percentage of the seven million volume collection at UW is in open stacks so I spent many of my days wandering in a sea of books and working with rich materials. It was a wonderful experience, which impressed upon me the value and importance of libraries.

Q: What does a typical day in the Systems Department look like?
We split our time between maintaining existing systems and troubleshooting issues for patrons, and brainstorming, planning and developing improvements to our systems and services.

Q: What are your biggest projects for 2014?
We have several large projects in 2014 - starting with the launch of an entirely new version of the library web site. We will introduce a new system [Islandora] for managing and providing access to archival, research and university collections. This system will greatly improve the user experience for those accessing the University Archives materials. Finally, we are currently in the process of implementing new redundancy and disaster recovery plans for library systems and data and have partnered with the Applied Informatics Group from the College of Computing and Informatics to explore and plan for a university-wide data management plan. It is going to be a busy year for our department.

Q: What is the greatest challenge on your plate right now?
The greatest challenge for systems is the fast pace of technological development in the library world. It is also a great source of opportunity.

Q: What do you like most about what you do?
Things are constantly changing and there is very little to my job that is repetitive. My team and I are constantly learning.

Q: What are the latest trends you've identified?
The work we are doing with AIG involves the latest developments in academic library systems. As government agencies and universities recognize the value of quality data management, processing, storage, and discovery, libraries are working with them to apply our expertise to those needs. While libraries can draw on a wealth of experience for this new work, it also presents significant new opportunities as we deal with a broader scale of data, new processes for generating data, and requirements to organize, relate, and present that data in ways that expand on the traditional bibliographic models.

Q: What is the role of the systems department in providing access to information?
Making sure that patrons have reliable, consistent, accurate mechanisms they can use to search, analyze, and access information is the core focus for the libraries' systems team. We support the technical tools and processes that make that possible, and attempt to weave them together in a way that meets the needs of researchers at all levels of experience.

Q: In the short amount of time you've been at Drexel, what is your greatest achievement?
Pulling together an essentially new team that is excited about our work.

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