February 17, 2018

Darlene Fichter | Movers & Shakers 2002

Straddling Two Worlds

Owner and Lead Consultant, Northern Lights Internet Soultions

Darlene Fichter got into the library profession because it allowed her to indulge her endless curiosity while she answered people’s questions. The joy of working in an academic environment, for her, is that “you get to explore new ideas and try out new technologies to see how they might apply to challenges faced by libraries.”

Fichter has in fact been at the forefront of new technologies since the 1980s, when she was working with USENETs and designing educational computer programs and multimedia hypertext systems. Now a recognized expert on intranets, she admits that she may have been too far ahead of the curve back in the days of gophers when she tried to create an intranet for colleagues at the University of Saskatchewan Library. Its lukewarm reception left Fichter with a continuing interest in improving the fit between human nature and technology. In fact, she has since become a recognized expert and consultant on designing usable web sites.

Her comfort with hardware, software, and networks made Fichter the logical person to coordinate the delivery of data services to her campus. Even more important, though, has been her ability to explain the technology and its potential for broadening library services. Her easy manner and ready wit have not only made her successful in projects on her campus but also have made her in great demand as a speaker at conferences–Computers in Libraries, Internet Librarian, KM World, and so on.


Current position: Owner and Lead Consultant, Northern Lights Internet Solutions; Coordinator, Data Library Services, University of Saskatchewan Libraries, half-time

Degree: MLS, University of Toronto, 1987

Active in: Saskatchewan Library Association, Canadian Association of Public Data Users, Saskatoon FreeNet Founding Board Member

Fichter has written articles for many professional publications as well, and since 1999 she has had a regular column in Online magazine. These are opportunities for her to teach other librarians about things like building intranets, using XML, and testing usability for web sites. Fichter would especially like to see librarians improve their web sites, since they contain so much valuable and often unique information. Unfortunately, she says, library sites are often more oriented toward librarians than users.

Fichter has used her persuasive and technical skills to build her own business, Northern Lights Internet Solutions. The services she and her colleagues provide include building web sites and databases and providing usability testing and web hosting. Their customers have included businesses, charities, and library systems.

While she clearly enjoys the risks and rewards of private business, Fichter is still driven by the librarian’s need to spread knowledge far and wide. When her colleague Peter Scott told her about Cleveland’s FreeNet, she was so excited about the idea of Internet access for everyone that she started a committee to create a FreeNet in Saskatoon. She thinks it has been wonderfully successful in providing information and online community–which may be the only kind of community people are eager for when it’s 30 below zero and the Arctic winds are sweeping across the Canadian plains.

Fichter has also written grants and provided technical leadership for a number of preservation and archiving projects that benefit her community and her country’a digital index to all Saskatchewan newspapers from 1880 to the present, a Canadian Women’s History Gallery, and a project providing Access to Native Materials. As a former government documents librarian, she continues her interest to this day as an editorial board member and technical advisor for the electronic journal Government Information in Canada/Information Gouvernementale du Canada.

Expert though she is, Fichter would be the first to tell you that she’s still learning. Just because she finds it impossible to keep up with all the things she finds interesting doesn’t mean she’s not going to give it her best effort.