February 16, 2018

Kenning Arlitsch | Movers & Shakers 2009 – Community Builders

Kenning Arlitsch, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake CityDigital Adventurer

Kenning Arlitsch’s stints as a truck driver, floor installer, and furniture deliverer gave him “a willingness to work hard” and a “no-excuses mentality,” he says. Arlitsch applies those qualities to his current post as associate director for IT Services at the University of Utah’s Marriott Library and to his central role in developing digital libraries. The “adventurous” Arlitsch has been the “driving force behind digital library development” in the West, says nominator Joyce Ogburn, university librarian and director.

Among the digital libraries for which Arlitsch has found funding and gotten off the ground, he is most proud of the Mountain West Digital Library (MWDL), launched in 2002, which brings together the rich digital collections from universities and other institutions in Utah, Nevada, and Idaho. “It proved a model of aggregating content from distributed sites, but it also created a self-sustaining alliance of institutions,” he says. With over 200,000 items and more than 500,000 objects, the MWDL is “nowhere near its full potential,” he adds.

The technical model for MWDL spawned other important digital libraries related to the West, including the Western Waters Digital Library (WWDL), focusing on how water use has shaped the West (and still does), and the Utah Digital Newspapers project (UDN). With newspapers dating back to the mid-1800s, UDN is “by far our most popular digital library program,” he says. Arlitsch applied the digital asset management system CONTENTdm to UDN, yielding more effective article segmentation and indexing capability. The strategy has since been adopted by other newspaper projects.

Arlitsch, who moved to Utah in 1994 partly to “spend as much time as I can in the outdoors,” also helped birth the Western Soundscape Archive (WSA). This collection of animal and environmental sounds of the West, conceived by sound recordist Jeff Rice, features over 1000 sound files—and counting. (Ever wondered what an Arctic Fox sounds like? Look—and listen—here.)

“I’m eager to see digital library become the definition of the library,” says Arlitsch, whose personal and professional passions are often complementary. “Living in the West has helped me gain an appreciation for the fragility of life that depends on the snowpack,” he says—propelling his interest in the WWDL. Similarly, working on the WSA “helped me gain an understanding that humans have an effect not only on the visual landscape but on the [soundscape]” as well.


J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City

POSITION Associate Director for Information Technology Services

DEGREE MLIS, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 1993