November 29, 2015

Ben Hunter | Movers & Shakers 2013 — Change Agents

Digital Harmony

Ben Hunter - Movers & Shakers 2013


Head of Cataloging and Collections
University Of Idaho Library, Moscow

Ph.D., Managerial Leadership in the Information Professions (in progress), Simmons College, Boston; MSLS, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2005; Master of Music in Music Composition, University of Oregon, 2004

ALA Emerging Leader, 2011

Idaho Library Association, President, 2010–11

Photo by Ron Wurzer/Getty Images for Library Journal

“I love to ask questions. My favorite questions are the ones without a simple answer and especially the ones that lead you to places you never would have expected,” says Ben Hunter, who heads the cataloging and collections department at the University of Idaho Library. This zeal for inquiry and problem-solving makes Hunter a superb manager of both people and data. It serves him well in a job that requires savvy staff management and complex systems work, as he has transformed a traditional tech services unit into a forward-looking department. Currently, he is helping to propel a campuswide consolidation of technical services.

“Basically, I take a few million dollars’ worth of journals and databases from dozens of different publishers and distributors and guide a team of people to make sure that all those resources work together so that our users feel like they’re using a single, giant system,” says Hunter of his job.

He does much more than that—and does it better than many others might. “Culturally aware resourcefulness” and a spirit of “radical collaboration” define Hunter’s style, says Lynn Baird, dean of library services. Hunter guided a restructuring of his department without additional fiscal support, Baird says. “He actually lost three staff positions soon after taking his current position in 2009.” But morale has stayed high. “Ben adhered to key administrative principles while enacting change: inclusive planning, good communications, and leading with a shared vision.”

When a position opened up in his unit, Hunter redefined the job. The new post, metadata and catalog librarian, “is now beginning to provide important services to existing data collections, such as INSIDE Idaho, the state’s geospatial data clearinghouse, as well as aiding in emerging data curation efforts,” according to Baird.

Hunter implemented demand-driven acquisitions for print and electronic materials and batch processing of records, saving hundreds of hours of staff time. Other innovations include integrating digital initiatives and digital publishing into technical services and moving metadata responsibilities into the cataloging unit.

With a master’s degree in music composition (and 20 years of experience playing the Scottish Highland bagpipes), Hunter also serves as music librarian at the university. “There’s also the part of composing music that forces you to see both the forest and the trees,” he observes. Among other things, his clear vision of streamlined digital services has prompted him to reach out and work with public services, government documents, and special collections units. This summer, the library will start migrating toward the shared library services platform Alma along with other members of the Orbis Cascade Alliance.

“There is almost nothing that you can do well alone,” says Hunter. Collaboration allows “us to be the best that we can be, both as individuals and as an organization. That requires humility, honesty, gentleness, patience, and a thick skin.”

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  1. Way to go, Ben! We always have known you to be a “mover and shaker”! Congratulations and thanks for being a role model for the rest of us.