Understanding the Possibilities: A Key for Strategic Visioning
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portal: Libraries and the Academy 2.1 (2002) 167-170

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Understanding the Possibilities:
A Key for Strategic Visioning

Jeff Barry

Technological advances have redefined many functions within libraries over the past decade. The year 2002 marks the end of the first ten years of my career as a professional librarian. In looking back over this relatively short time, it became apparent that my own career and those of others who entered the profession during the 1990s were shaped by the insightful and forward-thinking efforts of a previous generation of librarians. With the current decade holding the potential for even further change, it is important for librarians to continue to articulate a vision for the role of librarians in higher education. Expressing these concepts of the future provides not only guidance but also energy to organizations and individuals.

Like many others in this field, I came to it not out of a childhood desire to be a librarian but out of a need to supplement my liberal arts background with a professional degree through which I could earn a living. At age twenty-four, I thought I had a good idea what libraries were about. After all, I had a lifelong love of books coupled with working as a student assistant in the circulation department of my undergraduate library. I didn't realize how much I had to learn and the effect that becoming a librarian would have on my life.

Until entering graduate school in 1990, I successfully avoided using computers for most of my education. There was the occasional Macintosh computer on which a small number of more adventurous students composed their term papers but I happily typed on my trusty typewriter. In many respects, I was reluctant to use a computer. Realizing in my first semester of library school that computers would play an important role in my future livelihood, I enrolled in a library automation course that also served as an [End Page 167] introduction to personal computers. At the time, the difference between an A:\ drive and a C:\ drive meant nothing to me.

Because I was intimidated by technology I did not easily learn to use the computer. This all changed one day when I was sitting in the school's lounge talking with other students. The conversation turned to the topic of computing, how it was becoming an essential part of our future work, and how many students were struggling to grasp it. A middle-aged woman with a background in philosophy, who had entered the program to start a second-career after her children were raised, leaned across the table and quietly said "Computers are easy to learn once you accept that they work logically."

Listening to those words unveiled the mystery of computing for me. A simple change in approach was all it took to realize that computers worked on the principles of logic and did not have to be mysterious and difficult. Afterwards, I started trying out various applications, building my confidence that I could learn more and more about technology.

As a graduate student I did not have the financial means to purchase my own PC, so I depended solely upon the resources provided by the University of Tennessee. The library provided a number of dumb terminals throughout the building that were connected to the campus VAX/VMS system. Since I did not own a PC, I took advantage of learning to use the Internet. The many hours spent sequestered in front of a terminal in the library fostered the early development of my exposure to technology. These days were marked by the excitement of being able to telnet to library catalogs, to retrieve documents by FTP, and to connect with a world of users through listservs who shared similar interests.

Catching my attention one summer day in 1991 was a message that came across PACS-L titled STRATEGIC VISIONS WHITE PAPER: LIBRARIANSHIP, THE PROFESSION - PRELUDE TO ITS FUTURE. Reading this message that summer while in library school helped me decide what type of librarian to become: one...