atg_interview by huanghengdong

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									I Hear the Train A Comin’ — An Interview
with Rick Johnson
Column Editor: Greg Tananbaum (Founder and CEO, Anianet) <greg@anianet.com> www.anianet.com

    Column Editor’s Note: Rick Johnson             Eventually it will adjoin the planned King            oiled, successful research university inside the
is a leading authority on scholarly com-           Abdullah Economic City, another ambitious             shell is the real test. Some of the challenges
munication and open access to research. As         investment that is projected to create two mil-       are those confronted by any new university.
co-founder of BioOne, the founding Executive       lion jobs. But that’s a ways off.                     But some are probably unique to KAUST and
Director of SPARC from 1998-2005 and a                 In 2010/11 KAUST will have 600-700                Saudi Arabia.
consultant to SPARC, ARL, ACRL, Boston             Masters and Ph.D. students from around the                 A lot of the work really couldn’t begin
Library Consortium, Microsoft, and others          world — China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, the          until the buildings were up and a team was as-
from 2005-2009, he advanced new models             US, Canada, Europe, Africa, the Mideast, and          sembled. Some of the labs have only recently
for scholarly communication. In 2009, Rick         beyond. There’s a similarly diverse roster of         opened, having spent many months obtaining
embarked on an exciting new challenge as           faculty and researchers.                              highly specialized equipment from overseas
the Manager, Reference & Research Services,            The university is focused on research in tar-     and getting it set up. In our first academic year,
at the King Abdullah University of Science         geted areas relevant to economic development          everyone accomplished quite a lot, but there’s
and Technology (KAUST), a new research             in Saudi Arabia. Functionally, the main orga-         much more to be done.
university near Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on the       nizational units aren’t traditional disciplinary           What was the state of the library?
Red Sea. I recently spoke with Rick about his      departments but rather nine interdisciplinary              The first semester was a wild time. All at
new position. — GT                                 research centers — Catalysis, Clean Combus-           the same time buildings were opening their
                                                   tion, Solar Energy, Water Desalination, Plant         doors, staff and students were pouring in, and
                                                   Stress Genomics, the Red Sea, Membranes,              key business systems were being implemented.
    Tell us a little bit about your decision to    Geometric Modeling, and Computational                 It was pretty intense. We needed to remind
leave SPARC for a position at KAUST.               Bioscience. A typical research center consists        ourselves daily that it would take time to make
    I stepped down as Executive Director in        of 8-10 faculty members plus 40-50 graduate           it all work. But it was often very frustrating for
2005 — seven years after launching SPARC           students, research scientists and engineers,          those of us who were in a hurry. It’s hard for
— because I wanted to catch my breath and          post-docs, visiting researchers, and administra-      faculty and students from other institutions to
figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of    tive and technical staff. They’re supported by        understand that you don’t just flip a switch to
my life. All work and no play were making          a number of core labs and facilities, such as the     turn on the digital library. Established libraries
Rick a dull boy. SPARC was on a good tra-          Shaheen supercomputer, a nanofabrication lab,         have spent many years putting their systems in
jectory. We put the notion of public access to     and a visualization lab. What’s being built here      place and making them work. The advantages
publicly funded research on the map with the       is really quite ambitious.                            KAUST Library has enjoyed — such as not
NIH Public Access Policy. We were working              A key piece of the puzzle is the research         having to support a legacy print collection
with Congress to draft the Federal Research        park that is springing up adjacent to the             and having a very good budget — has been
Public Access Act. The wind was in the sails       academic core of KAUST. There are already             offset by other kinds of challenges. But we’re
of open access.                                    several buildings in place to provide office and      making good progress and our basic services
    Plus Heather Joseph was in the wings,          lab space for companies that are working in           are now in place.
ready to take over management of SPARC. As         collaboration with the research centers.                   A few years ago, when the decision was
the last five years have amply demonstrated,           What was the state of KAUST as an institu-        made to go forward with establishment of
she had the energy, smarts, and charisma to        tion when you got there?                              KAUST, the King called on Saudi Aramco,
do great things.                                                                                         with its experience in organizing giant, fast-
                                                       I first saw KAUST in March 2009 when I
    To clear my head, I took two-month solo        was being recruited by Joe Branin to be the           track projects, to serve as general contractor.
road trip from Washington, DC to British           library’s assistant director for collections and      One of the things they did was assign an
Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska. When              services. Joe, who had been library director          Aramco librarian as interim library director.
I returned I opened a consulting business,         at Ohio State, was preparing to take over as          He arranged for a core collection of electronic
took painting lessons, and for the first time in   KAUST’s library director that summer.                 resources. He did a fine job, but inevitably
memory worked less-than-ten-hour days.                                                                   when we opened our doors, the library was
                                                       At that time KAUST was still a massive
    It was a good life. But when the KAUST         building site. When I visited, trucks and             more like a student union than a library. It’s
opportunity presented itself, I knew instantly     hardhats were racing this way and that. Con-          an amazing environment in which to study
it was what I wanted to do. I realized I had       struction cranes were everywhere. Tens of             and collaborate and students quickly settled
another start-up in me.                            thousands of construction workers were labor-         in. But the university’s technical infrastructure
    What is KAUST?                                 ing around the clock to ensure the university         was still immature and caused us some early
                                                   opened in September. It hardly seemed pos-            heartburn. For reasons I won’t try to recount,
    It’s a brand new, graduate-only research
                                                   sible they’d make it.                                 we didn’t yet have a stable IP range so our
university created by Saudi Arabia’s King
                                                                                                         e-resources weren’t available. The integrated
Abdullah to stimulate economic develop-                The next time I saw KAUST was when I              library management system wasn’t yet imple-
ment in the kingdom. The expectation is that,      started work, a week after the official opening       mented. And we had books on the shelves
by bringing together scientific talent from        of the university on September 23, 2009. The          only because Joe Branin had taken a truck
around the world and giving them the tools         scene had been transformed into a glimmering          into Jeddah and purchased just about every
and resources to do great research, business       modern university campus perched on high              English-language book he could lay his hands
and employment opportunities will arise. The       ground above a new community that houses              on. Those books at least made it look like a
King backed up this vision with an infusion of     faculty, researchers, students, and staff. It still   library when the doors opened.
many billions of dollars. KAUST reportedly         seems inconceivable to me that just 1000 days
has one of the largest university endowments       earlier the site had been a quiet patch of surf            Step-by-step we’re getting beyond those
in the world.                                      and sand in the fishing village of Thuwal.            challenges and laying the groundwork for a
                                                                                                         modern, world-class library.
    We’re located on a 14-square mile site on          I’m sure the architects and engineers
the Red Sea coast north of Jeddah. KAUST           would disagree, but putting up the buildings               How did you go about essentially building
is really both a university and a small town.      may have been the easy part. Creating a well          a library from scratch?
                                                                                                                                     continued on page 00
                                                     they want their library to offer them printed
  I Hear the Train A Comin’                          books. As research is starting to confirm,
  from page 00                                       eBooks aren’t entirely ready for prime time in
                                                     the university setting.
    While I tend to think of what my colleagues          One of the interesting things for me person-
and I are doing as “building a library from          ally has been working in a library for the first
scratch,” the truth is that the work of designing    time in my career. I spent 30 years working
the building and picking out an opening day          with libraries and for libraries, but never in a
collection of e-resources predates us. The pro-      library. I was a little nervous about how that
cess was largely framed by the extraordinarily       would work out. To be honest, there have
short development timeline. The first wave           been times I’ve wished I had more hands-on
of resources was selected by mapping broad           experience to draw on. But I’d like to think
research goals to broad subjects the founders        that I’m not weighed down by old solutions to
expected research to focus on.                       new kinds of problems. Academic libraries
    We’re immersed now in the process of             today are complex, evolving organisms in a
refining the collection so that it more closely      highly dynamic environment, so it’s probably
matches research and teaching needs of the           more important today to grasp the strategic
faculty. We’re also evaluating other needs of        opportunities, organize to go after them, and
the KAUST community, such as management              ultimately achieve positive outcomes. That’s
information resources. I should mention that         what I’m trying to bring to the show.
KAUST Library is one of three libraries at               How might the process of getting the
KAUST — there’s also a public library and            library launched have been different if this
a school library serving the many families           had been a western institution?
at KAUST. We developing close working
relationships with these libraries to ensure we          I don’t think distinctions of east or west
address the full range of needs and get the most     have been a big factor for us. Although it
from our investments.                                has a diverse faculty, student body, and staff,
                                                     KAUST is built on a western model. Our job
    We’re eager, however, to get beyond the          has been simplified by the early decision to
basics of implementing critical systems and          collect only English-language material, which
supplying scientists with journals, databases,       makes sense for a science and technology insti-
and some books. In the coming months we’ll           tution. Everyone who comes to KAUST has
be talking with faculty about where the library      English skills, so we’re able to communicate
might add value throughout the entire research       reasonably well.
process. Like many libraries today, we want to
understand and cultivate our role in e-science.          In my experience, everyone has gone out
We don’t know yet where this conversation will       of their way to be respectful of one another’s
take us, but we know it needs to occur.              culture and perspective. For the most part, I
                                                     think the kind of people who are attracted to
    “Knowledge management” was a recurring           working at KAUST are the kinds who thrive
theme in Saudi Aramco’s early planning for           in this kind of melting pot.
the library. The term perhaps belies a corpo-
rate perspective, but the practices are mainly           What were the most unexpected personal
relevant at KAUST. However, while corporate          challenges you faced getting acclimated to life
KM programs tend to put up walls around              in Saudi Arabia?
information to keep it from competitors, we              A number of the cultural strictures of Saudi
recognize that in our context sharing rather         Arabia don’t apply on the KAUST campus
than confining research outputs often is the         — for example, women and men study to-
best way to leverage their value. This fall we’ll    gether, women needn’t wear the abaya if they
establish a repository in which to capture the       don’t wish to, women can drive on campus. So
institution’s digital assets, but of course that’s   I haven’t had the authentic Saudi immersion
just the beginning.                                  experience. At the same time, working side by
    What were the most unexpected profes-            side with Saudi colleagues has afforded me an
sional challenges you faced getting the library      invaluable and rewarding opportunity to learn
up and running?                                      about Saudi and Arab culture more generally.
    Well, it never dawned on me that buying              My biggest challenges aren’t what you
and distributing textbooks would be part of          might have expected. Instead they have more
our job in the library. But there was no other       to do with navigating the inevitable bedlam of
good option available to the university, so we       a new university, a new town, a new house, a
volunteered to take on textbooks. Our User           new job, a new life. But these are universal
Education Librarian found herself reassigned         challenges.
to this challenging assignment from almost the           I would have expected the move to be
moment she arrived at KAUST. She’s done a            harder for my wife than for me. And it prob-
great job under trying circumstances.                ably has been. But she’s done very, very well
    Actually, acquiring printed books in general     with it. Both of us love the diversity of the
has been one of the big challenges we’ve faced.      KAUST community. We’ve forgone buying
It’s cumbersome for us to procure them and           a car, instead getting around campus on our
time consuming to ship them into Saudi Arabia.       bicycles and hiring a car for the occasional
So you might ask, why not just buy eBooks?           trip to Jeddah. We enjoy living on the seashore
All our journals are e-only and we’ve gotten not     and being surrounded by the beautiful, inspir-
a single complaint. And we’ve bought tens of         ing university architecture. It’s been a great
thousands of eBooks. But the feedback we’ve          experience.
gotten from students — yes, students — is that

								
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