February 17, 2018

Eric Schnell | Movers & Shakers 2005

The New Philanthropist


A colleague calls Eric Schnell’s vision “Carnegie-like.” Developing open source software for library processes may well be as profoundly enabling for libraries as Carnegie’s buildings.

As head of information technology at the Prior Health Sciences Library, Schnell likes to improve products that don’t fully meet his library’s purposes. His first major software product, the award-winning Prospero Electronic Delivery Project, is a web-based document delivery system designed to complement Ariel® by converting documents to a web-accessible format and making them available through a web server.

When he discovered that many hospital libraries couldn’t implement document delivery systems, Schnell got a grant to develop a new pilot project to get information to users: DocMD (Document Mediated Delivery). Because DocMD’s own staff processes documents and delivers them directly to patrons over the web, hospital libraries don’t need additional employees. All systems are centrally maintained, so there is no in-house IT support. Since DocMD works with common Internet communication ports, the documents aren’t blocked by firewalls. Preliminary data suggest DocMD has dramatically improved the speed and convenience of document delivery.

Schnell believes that unless librarians create the software they depend on, they risk becoming captives of vendors – locked into costly, unsatisfactory systems that are unresponsive and slow to innovate.

In a sense, every project he does is an educational demonstration of the value of open source. But he also teaches librarians about it, in articles, conference presentations, and at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, “using distance education technologies, many of which were open source themselves.”



Current Position Associate Professor and Head of Information Technology, Prior Health Sciences Library, Ohio State University, Columbus

Degree MLS, University at Buffalo, 1989

Honors Medical Library Association’s Thomson Scientific/Frank Bradway Rogers Information Advancement Award 2000 for outstanding contributions in the application of technology

Stress-buster Plays ice hockey