June 28, 1999
Volume 51, No. 34
New Billy E. Frye Digital Leadership Institute to train 'cadre of future information leaders'
In reaction to the increasing scarcity of higher education administrators trained to straddle the line between library resources and information technology, Emory and the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) have created the Billy E. Frye Digital Leadership Institute, named for the University's chancellor in recognition of his longtime efforts in the field.
Emory and the Washington-based CLIR used a core grant of $1.2 million from the Woodruff Foundation to establish the institute, which over the next decade will train some 600 professionals drawn from library and administrative staffs, computer centers and faculties nationwide. Fifty to 60 individuals per year will enroll in the yearlong program, bookended by two-week seminars held on the Emory campus. The first class will be held next summer.
Though the Woodruff grant and other support came through at the end of 1998, planning for the institute dates back at least four years. In the 1994-95 annual report of University Libraries, Director Joan Gotwals wrote that "establishing a program to educate the future information leaders is another essential component for supporting needs effectively in the digital world ... We have concentrated efforts in the Virtual Library Planning Project on how to prepare a whole new leadership cadre for the top positions in an integrated digital environment."
Five years later the first detail of that cadre will arrive on campus. Although the annual two-week sessions will take place at Emory, the institute is a national entity with library and IT administrators from all over the country on its advisory committee. Both Gotwals and Frye are on the committee, as is Betsey Patterson, coordinator of the Virtual Library Project.
Patterson said the advisory committee is about halfway through the planning process for next summer's first class. In the coming months the committee will finalize a curriculum, recruit faculty and choose a participant selection committee; institute participants must be nominated by their home institutions, and the Digital Leadership Institute's selection committee will review each nominee.
"The two-week period at Emory is a chance to get everyone familiar with each other and sort of kick it off," Patterson said. "The attendees will go back and actually work on projects at their own institutions, then come back the following summer to report and update [the new class], share what works and what doesn't work."
Gotwals and Patterson said they've received enthusiastic responses from CLIR and from their colleagues nationwide, who are dealing with the same digital leadership gap. Both also cited Provost Rebecca Chopp as particularly supportive, and they hope to include as part of the institute's curriculum a session with university provosts and deans, who will talk about the challenges they face: what they need, why they aren't finding it, what can be done, etc.
For his part, Frye is flattered but "more than a little embarrassed" that the institute has been named in his honor. He said the dearth of library/IT leaders "is reaching crisis proporations," and he has long advocated just such an enterprise.
"Those of us concerned about this have considered quite a few variations on the theme over the years," Frye said. "The key features in my mind are the departure from traditional library school curriculum to bring multidisciplinary perspectives to bear upon the problems; the creation of a quasi-laboratory environment to discover and experiment with solutions that are as yet untried and thus can't simply be 'taught' in the usual sense; and a concentration upon finding the best talent available in whatever fields they may be found and luring them into librarianship through a renewed and enlarged sense of the importance and excitement of this reponsibility."