Dean trains Iraqi librarians in the UAE

By Marc Larocque

After the U.S. military invaded Iraq, its academic infrastructure there was ravaged. But one British bookworm stepped up to help. And he has stepped up again to help students and teachers at Northeastern obtain all the knowledge they need.

William Wakeling, a seasoned librarian and information science specialist, was appointed Northeastern’s acting dean of libraries last week.

Wakeling was associate dean of libraries since August 2002 before being asked by the Provost Ahmed Abdelal to replace Ed Warro, who recently resigned to lead in the building of the Library of Education City in Qatar, a state in the Persian Gulf. Wakeling will retain the position until a long-term dean of libraries is installed.

“This all came pretty much out of the blue for the administration and the library,” Wakeling said. “The job [Warro] is taking on is so big that he is getting there as soon as possible.”

Last summer, Wakeling was the one in the Middle East, helping to heal Iraqi’s shattered academic community.

Wakeling joined other librarians and translators in training 32 Iraqi librarians and library teachers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) The three-week program, run by the National Endowment for the Humanities, included seminars and classes focused on preservation, cataloging and managing digital collections.

“Many of the large university and research collections were devastated in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion,” Wakeling said. “They were looted, damaged and the staff fled or was threatened. It was the pits.”

Since the war started, Wakeling said Iraqi librarians have spent all their time repairing the damage inflicted.

“What we are trying to negotiate at the moment is that six or seven [librarians] come to the United States for further training,” he said. “That is proving very complicated because of visa restrictions and other complications. They can’t send us e-mails very easily because their e-mail is watched by colleagues, and there are sectarian and other anxieties.”

Wakeling received Masters degrees in literature and librarianship at the University of Leeds and the University of Sheffield respectively. He worked in libraries in England for 20 years before coming to America in 1998 to be with his partner and work at Northeastern as the collection development officer.

As acting dean of libraries, Wakeling’s responsibility to represent the Snell Library and information sharing has given him an opportunity to speak to faculty and administrators.

He and his colleagues are working to launch the library’s new Digital Media Design Studio, which he said will allow students to manipulate all forms of media and create course-related, multimedia presentations, projects and portfolios.

“If you ever wanted to convert a track from a vinyl record to digital, you will be able to now,” Wakeling said. “If you wanted to integrate any type of graphics to give a class project added effect, you could.”

The studio is slated to open this fall.

Wakeling and library staff have also been working on IRis, a new digital repository where faculty, staff and students can place digital objects, articles, periodicals to be archived for long-term storage. They are they made available on the web.

“IRis is a growing project where Northeastern researchers and writers who want to promote and preserve their intellectual work can go,” Wakeling said. “We’ve already been in touch with student newspapers on archiving their work.”

Through Northeastern’s affiliation with the Boston Library Consortium, a group of 19 libraries in the Boston region, Wakeling is handling Northeastern’s contributions to the Open Content Alliance, an online library project that rivals Google’s current library project.

“It’s different from Google. Somewhere, Google is in it for the money,” Wakeling said. “The Alliance is in it for free. This is an example of a group of libraries working together to vastly increase the material available to all their users.”

The Open Content Alliance facilitates various scanning projects around the country and overseas – one of which is located at the Boston Public Library. But whereas Google aims to “digitize” all books, the alliance is now collecting only material in the public domain: books or documents published before 1923, government reports and works from copyright owners who have given permission.

“The information universe is breaking down national borders,” Wakeling said. “The shifting of emphasis from print to digital has influenced almost every strategic decision we’ve made and continues to do so.”

Within the next few weeks, Wakeling will send Northeastern’s first round of books to the Boston Public Library to be scanned for the digital library.

“The challenge is to adapt to the new without losing what’s good about the old, because there is a mass of important material that you can only find from printed material,” he said.

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