April 20, 2018

Eric Lease Morgan | Movers & Shakers 2002

Ahead of the Curve

From e-mail and FTP to MyLibrary and the future of digital library services

The phrase “thinking outside the box” may be a cliché, but Eric Lease Morgan gets a bye when he uses it. An übertechie among librarians, he’s known for innovative projects, often ahead of their time. “My parents were artists, and I consider myself a very creative person,” says Morgan. “I just use the computer as my means of expression.

A self-taught programmer with a philosophy degree, Morgan went to library school after a stint of postcollegiate joblessness and an immersion in What Color Is Your Parachute? Over the course of a decade at North Carolina State University (NCSU) (1991-2001), he rose from trainer to systems librarian to network services technology librarian. His first project, “Mr. Serials,” demonstrated that if scholars were to publish electronically, libraries could figure out how to archive such work systematically.


Current position: Head of Digital Access and Information Architecture Department, Notre Dame University

Degree: MIS, Drexel University, 1987

His writings at: www.infomotions.com

Active in: LITA Top Tech Trends Discussion Group

“I write software as if it’s intended to be given away”

Of course, this was 1992, long before librarians embraced the Internet, and the project relied on e-mail, Morgan also wrote an FTP program for document delivery, again ahead of the curve.

More successfully, Morgan developed MyLibrary@NCSU (my.lib.ncsu.edu), a library analog to commercial personal portals (e.g., MyYahoo). Some other university libraries produced parallel projects, but only NCSU’s was distributed as open source software. About a dozen other libraries have adapted it over the past three years.

Last year, Morgan was recruited by Notre Dame to lead a four-person team to figure out how better to provide digital library services. Such work could include indexing, information architecture, and usability studies–“and sometimes that means hacking and programming,”

For the Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts, a searchable archive of public domain documents (available at his web site), Morgan coined the term “arscience” to connote the meeting of two worlds. “A lot of techies aren’t ‘people people,'” he observes. “I hope to be one.”