Emory Report
April 25, 2005
Volume 58, Number 28


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April 25, 2005
All stacked up

BY Eric Rangus

Ann Hulton has bounced around a bit. She studied journalism in college and spent time working for several radio stations in Florida. Her first job after moving to Georgia in the early 1980s was in banking.

“It was a good job,” she said. “There was a lot of room to move up and … I hated it.”

When a job opened at Emory in what was then known as the Medical Library, Hulton, who in college had worked the circulation desk among other library jobs, jumped at it.

That sustained her for a few years, until 1990, when Hulton decided to leave Emory to go into business for herself. She kept her relationships on campus, though, and four years later returned on a part-time basis to work in circulation. There was, however, a slight difference in her responsibilities at what had been renamed the Woodruff Health Sciences Center (WHSC) Library. They expanded when she returned full time in 1998.

“For me, things started to come together when I had an opportunity to work with technology,” said Hulton, head of library systems and media services in WHSC Library since 2001. “I guess I’m just a computer geek. We run Linux machines.”

Hulton’s computer-based sense of humor is as low-key as the rest of her personality,
a trait most apparent when she discusses, with some hesitation, the Award of Distinction she received last month. “It’s a little embarrassing, to be honest,” said Hulton, who was feted with her fellow recipients at
a March 23 dinner ceremony.

“I think we scared her,” said Bonnie Bryan, head of access services in the WHSC library. Bryan, who nominated Hulton for the award, and WHSC Library Director Sandra Franklin informed her of the honor. They did so by dropping by her office, announcing “we have to talk to you,” and closing the door. (“I thought something really terrible had happened,” said Hulton, recalling the meeting.)

“Ann is visionary and creative,” Bryan said, adding that Hulton is an ultimate team player who rarely seeks glory for herself. “She is very good at knowing where the group needs to be headed.”

Like most jobs involving information technology, Hulton’s work is not always easily translated to laypeople. “I tell people that I work with computers in the library,” Hulton said, giving her Cliff’s Notes, matter-of-fact description of her job. “I’m head of the media services and systems area for the Health Sciences Library, so that actually encompasses a lot.”

Hulton leads a six-person team responsible for the library’s technology initiatives. Not only is that team responsible for maintaining servers and providing desktop support, but it’s also in charge of running—and expanding—its web presence.

‘We’re kind of hidden,” said Hulton, whose windowless office is tucked comfortably downstairs in the library. “But we are, in a sense, the most visible department here because you see the results of our work on the web.”

Hulton is one of the project leaders of the University’s electronic journals management database working group. “The stacks” (like those Hulton is leaning against in the picture above) have long been and probably always will be the backbone of any academic library. However, that’s not where those libraries are going to grow.

Because of space considerations, printing costs, sustainability and host of other considerations—not the least of which is rapidly improving technology—academic publishing is expanding in the online world. About five years ago, when the eJournals database was started, the WHSC Library had access to about 200 electronic full-text journals. Now Emory users have access to nearly 18,000 electronic journals through University licenses (and 12,000 more with Emory’s membership in the statewide GALILEO project). And it’s a lot more than a simple, computer-based card catalog.

“We are able to support everyone’s learning, teaching and research,” Hulton said. “Since all of this information is available in digital form, it’s helping us connect the dots. For instance, there are faculty in public health doing very broad research. They need sociology or psychology materials, and they can find those online.

“Libraries play an important role in developing and adapting new classification syatems,” Hulton continued. “We help pull information together and make sure things are catalogued electronically in such a way that not only users, but computers can understand.”

Hulton literally grew up in the library—both her parents were librarians. She spent her childhood in Manhattan, walking after school to the New York Public Library branch where her mother worked to read until it was time to go home.

When Hulton came to Emory in 1982 as the medical library’s photocopy and stacks supervisor, she felt completely at home. Always interested in technology, she taught herself most of the systems on which she now works and even went back to school, earning a bachelor’s degree in information technology in 2003.

“I think libraries have a responsibility to provide the best information they can in the best way they can,” Hulton said. “It empowers people, especially in health care. And students who are coming out of school now are going to be more sophisticated than we are, so we have to keep changing to stay ahead.”

Currently, Hulton is team leader for revising MedWeb, an Emory-created Internet search tool specializing in medical information. When it was first created in the 1990s by Hulton’s predecessor Steve Foote, MedWeb (www.medweb.emory.edu) was state of the art. Now, standard search tools such as Google often are better equipped to handle medical searches.

“We need to take MedWeb to another level,” Hulton said. “We don’t need to replicate what Google or anyone else is doing. They can do it better anyway.”

Instead, what Hulton’s group has in mind is a site beyond a simple search engine. “We want to make it more of a community product,” she said. “It could be a site where news feeds are available—something more interactive. People post comments or start their own blogs. We’d like more faculty participation. Perhaps they could upload their own content themselves.”

In all, Hulton’s career has come full circle. Although libraries have always been part of her life, she originally thought she would pursue a career in radio broadcasting.

“To me, what we’re doing with the web, that’s broadcasting in a sense,” she said. “We have the capability to do not only text, but audio and video. My job is a perfect fit. I love it.”