by Sarah Evans, dMLIS
When I first met Scott, I was surprised that he was so…nice. I had been worried that the top “techie” in the iSchool would be a condescending instructor. In reality, Scott is sincerely interested in the needs of the individual learner and the students at large. Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with him about his background and his work at the iSchool.
Scott hails from the small town of Oneida, NY. He’s been interested in computers since his high school days. As a freshman in 1976, he wrote that everyone would have a home computer by 1980. “I was kind of off on that,” he laughs, with characteristic good humor. Between high school and college, he earned enough money to buy a personal computer and taught himself to program by reading books. “It had 4 K [memory]. I paid $250 to upgrade it to 8 K. In today’s terms, the comparison is like millions to one.”
Name: Scott Barker
Director of Information Technology and Senior Lecturer
At iSchool Since:
Hobbies: IT and travel. He’s been to almost every state in the U.S.
Pet Peeve: When people call us a “library school”
If he could go on vacation right now, it would be to…: probably Europe or China.
At Syracuse University, Scott ran into former high school classmate Joe Janes. They studied Computer Science together for about 5 weeks. “They were teaching a programming language that Joe could not fathom,” Scott remembers, “He decided it wasn’t for him and found the School of Information Studies.” The two lost contact over the years, until Scott’s senior year, when Joe Janes called and asked Scott to run the Information Studies computer lab. Within that department, Scott made other important connections. “There was a frizzy-haired PHd student named Mike Eisenberg. He was the hotshot tech guy who interviewed me and I took the job.”
Evelyn Daniel, then the Dean of Syracuse’s Information School, encouraged Scott to earn his Masters in Information Management and become involved in administrative work. When she became the Dean of the Information Studies at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, she invited Scott to become their Director of Information Technology. Scott went and helped with the transition from library school to information school. He remarked, “They had nothing in terms of technology. I think we put together a really fabulous infrastructure.”
About 10 years later, while on a conference in Seattle, Scott heard that Mike Eisenberg was being considered for Dean of what was then the UW’s library school. “A faculty member, Sam Oh, suggested come I work here. This was a terrible school then, really awful. But there was talk of getting into a new building and restructuring the school. I said I might come here if Mike became the Dean.” Again, Scott’s phone rang. “Mike always tells the story that when he got the job, he called Harry Bruce first and me second,” Scott said, “which is nice.” Scott said he’s honestly never had to apply for a job in his life simply because of the connections his made over the years.
Although it was a big move from the East Coast and away his family, Scott felt it was a unique opportunity. “UNC was an established school, ranked number 1, but they had gotten into a rut. The UW had nothing, but that’s what made it so exciting. You see the potential. You see someone like Mike [Eisenberg] who has this incredible energy and a clear vision of what he wants to do. I thought ‘What the heck! Why don’t we go somewhere were we can start over and do something cool?’” Scott is passionate about the iSchool and the kind of education it offers students. “The general public doesn’t fully appreciate the value of librarians. I learned how much librarians have to offer IT, all kinds of contributions. In a school like ours, we have incredible ways that people can take what they’ve learned and apply it in all kinds of settings. We bring in a wide variety of perspectives and give students a broad background. This will sell you in a job interview.”
I asked Scott if there was anything he’d like students to know. He said, “I have strong opinions. I think I have a reputation because I’m not afraid to tell people what I think and sometimes I don’t say it the best way. But it’s because I want to make things better. Also, some students think I always go my own way. They don’t realize how much I do consider every individual opinion and how tough it is to balance all the desires of so many people. I have to come up with something that doesn’t just work, but that we can do a good job with. But I do want input and I do want to hear what people say. Fundamentally, I want to make the students experience in this school really good. I’m trying very hard for the iSchool to have the best stuff for the students. I’m very committed to making that happen.”