February 16, 2018

Charles W. Bailey | Movers & Shakers 2003

The Imagineer


Charles W. Bailey has made a career out of being ahead of the technological curve. Fresh out of library school in 1981, he participated in system development projects and created user documentation at OCLC. In 1983, he introduced the use of IBM microcomputers in the library at Johns Hopkins University.

In 1988, he developed IRIS, one of the first expert systems, which integrated the CD-ROM databases of the University of Houston’s library and steered users to the most appropriate resources. In addition, Bailey offered the system to other educational institutions for free, making it one of the earliest pieces of open-source library software. That was also the year he coauthored proposals for statewide resource sharing that ultimately led to the development of TexShare in 1994.

By 1989 he was one of the original members of the Imagineering Interest Group of LITA (Library and Information Technology Association) and was beginning to explore the possibilities of BITNET. He was given the first LITA/Library Hi Tech Award when those explorations grew into PACS-L, a discussion group on public access computing systems, and Public Access Computer Systems Review, one of the first totally electronic scholarly journals.

Maybe because of his lifelong passion for science fiction, Bailey has always been alert to both the possibilities of technology and the problems it might create if it were not thought out carefully.

In working on IRIS, Bailey was in the process of trying to resolve the still-unresolved problem of making systems provided by different vendors interoperable. In creating PACS Review, he was already thinking through issues, such as preservation, access, and usability, with which our profession still struggles. Should electronic journals be as fixed and immutable as print journals, or permit the addition of comments and amendments? Would libraries index and preserve e-journals? Even then he was considering obstacles like copyright and the costs of digitizing existing collections that made optimistic daydreams of creating a totally electronic information environment unlikely.

Bailey noted early on that for electronic publishing to flourish the industry needed to develop seven infrastructure improvements, including high-quality information reproduction at low cost, better tools for manipulating data, high-speed networks, the creation of permanent archives, and some low-cost means to achieve ready access for all interested users. Most of these preconditions have now been met through the development of broadband networks, web browsers, and word processing and e-mail programs, though access and archiving still, to a large extent, depend on libraries.

And on him. One of Bailey’s most widely known and used contributions to the profession is a basic finding tool for librarians and scholars, his Scholarly Electronic Publishing Bibliography, which he updates six times a year, and his ever-growing Scholarly Electronic Publishing Weblog.

For Bailey, it’s never about the technology itself (though he clearly loves it). It’s about users’ needs. In designing the library’s new web interface prototype, usability was one of his key concerns. This means more than just designing an intuitive interface to a top-down system, though. “The long-term goal,” he says, “is to provide users with the maximum amount of control possible so that they can create customized, integrated views of diverse backend electronic information resources.” And because he is a librarian and a scholar, it’s also about the opportunity technology gives librarians “to extend the scope of our services and help invent the future of scholarly communication.”

Bailey is certainly doing his part.




Current Position: Assistant Dean for Systems, University Libraries, University of Houston

Degree: MLS, Syracuse University, 1981

Awards: LITA/Library Hi Tech Award, 1993

Web Sites: Scholarly Electronic Publishing Bibliography (info.lib.uh.edu/sepb/sepb.html) and Scholarly Electronic Publishing Weblog (info.lib.uh.edu/sepb/sepw.htm)