February 17, 2018

Mackenzie Smith | Movers & Shakers 2003

Perfect Timing


You’d be hard-pressed to find a librarian more ahead of the profession’s technology curve than Mackenzie Smith. But if you ask Smith, she’ll tell you, “I really just have been very lucky timing wise.”

While earning a degree in comparative literature from the University of Washington in the 1980s, Smith always maintained a heavy interest in technology. So when she entered the strongly tech-focused library school at the University of Chicago, Smith found her calling – and her first job – in library systems. “My greatest interest was always in the problems of libraries and information retrieval,” says Smith. “In the beginning that meant online catalogs and integrated systems. Then the web came along.” From Chicago, Smith moved on to Harvard, where she helped to lead one of the nation’s best digital library programs, just as technology-driven solutions were exploding within the profession.

Being in the right place at the right time has given her a wide range of experience, Smith says. “I’m probably one of the few people who has really worked hands-on on every tech platform.” After a rewarding experience at Harvard, the next opportunity was just down the street, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

With a talented staff, a healthy budget funded with the help of a generous benefactor in Hewlett Packard, and under the direction of a highly respected librarian, Ann Wolpert, Smith took over MIT’s DSpace digital repository project. DSpace officially launched in November 2002, and already librarians and university administrators are hailing the project as a breakthrough in digital librarianship. “I’ve been shocked, actually,” says Smith, of the overwhelming reception that DSpace has received since its inauguration. “Again I guess it’s a timing thing. All the pieces came together – DSpace is truly a team effort, one of the first projects that couldn’t have happened without every member. It was just the right time, bringing together a lot of experience from other digital library work, and pushing it across the finish line, into the public’s attention.”

Smith is clearly proud of both her work and of the library in which she works. And MIT’s faculty are lucky to have her, as she has an acute sense of how technology can improve library services. “Digital material has brought us back to the faculty, brought us to be able to say, ‘Where is your pain and how can we help you?'” Smith says. “It’s an exciting time for us.”




Current Position: Associate Director for Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries, Cambridge

Degree: MLS, University of Chicago, 1986