A New Page

Jerome Yavarkovsky Says Technology Has Changed the Nature of the University Librarian's Job

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Despite what people might think, says University Librarian Jerome Yavarkovsky, he rarely has an opportunity to browse the abundance of books near his O'Neill Library office. These days, a librarian is more likely "to devote attention to the library computer network, the photocopying machines and the air conditioning," Yavarkovsky laughed.

If the typical librarian's job description is not what it used to be, neither are libraries themselves, Yavarkovsky said, and Boston College is at the forefront of this evolution. The University's innovative use of technology in its libraries, in fact, was a strong factor in convincing Yavarkovsky to come to BC last September. Reflecting on his first several months at the helm, Yavarkovsky feels the BC libraries have prepared themselves well for changes yet to come - both within and outside Boston College.

University Librarian Jerome Yavarkovsky-"When I interviewed here, I was favorably impressed with the individuals I met, and the emphasis on values throughout the University. Those impressions have been reinforced and strengthened in the months since I arrived." (Photo by Gary Gilbert)

"I wanted to be in a library that was central to the mission of its parent institution, directly serving its educational and research needs," said Yavarkovsky, who succeeded Mary Cronin, now a member of the Carroll School of Management faculty. "I feel the libraries here are state of the art for the services they deliver and I anticipate we will bring them to even greater levels.

"I also had wanted to be back in an academic setting, one with very special qualities," he continued. "When I interviewed here, I was favorably impressed with the individuals I met, and the emphasis on values throughout the University. Those impressions have been reinforced and strengthened in the months since I arrived."

The former director of the New York State Library, Yavarkovsky actually set out to study mechanical engineering - in which he received a bachelor's degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute - but became fascinated with the changing field of library operations.

"I knew libraries were beginning to do interesting things with computers, so I decided to apply my background to this profession," said Yavarkovsky, who held major administrative library positions at Columbia and Adelphi universities. "I found my studies in engineering and in management prepared me very well. Running a library, especially in an academic setting, is a major enterprise requiring all the skills of modern management."

The most conspicuous change in libraries is their increasing reliance on technology such as CD-ROMs and the Internet for both staff and public use, he said, and this trend has helped transform the image and concept of a library. Once seen as a passive resource which the user had to physically enter, a library can now interact with those who utilize it on or off the premises, and in a highly sophisticated fashion.

This is the model Boston College has built over the past decade, Yavarkovsky said, and is continuing to refine. Among its ongoing projects, the libraries are moving databases from CD-ROM onto the campus network so they can be readily accessed by off-site users, and redesigning the O'Neill reference area to allow staff to direct more attention to electronic resources. The libraries' World Wide Web site is also being revamped to make it easier for users to find the services they need.

But along with its benefits, technology also brings a set of challenges and issues, said Yavarkovsky, which are being examined by an innovative staff. "Before I came," he explained, "the librarians had organized a self-study, which resulted in a more flexible, responsive environment where staff are more involved in decision-making and there are fewer levels of management. This new arrangement also resulted in a savings of about $80,000."

Moreover, the libraries are better organized to participate in the University's major planning efforts, notably Project Delta. Administrators and staff have already formed groups to discuss simplifying procedures, improving services and reducing costs in anticipation of Project Delta, Yavarkovsky said.

"I am quite optimistic we'll develop some good ideas, because we have committed, imaginative people here," he said. "Working with them reminds me of something I heard from a former university librarian: 'The library is inside.' He meant that when someone points and says 'That's the library,' they usually refer only to its physical structure. But it is what goes on inside, in the interaction among staff and with the public, that is the essence of what a library is about."

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