For the first time since 2012, the Library of Congress has a permanent chief information officer to oversee technology at the more than 200-year-old institution.
Bernard A. Barton Jr. became the new CIO on Sept. 8, taking the helm of information technology at the library which was the subject of a scathing Government Accountability Office report in April. "I would say that having a steady hand at the helm, which is what I intend to be, is nothing but an advantage for the Library and the IT workforce in general," Barton said in a Sept. 11 phone interview. "I intend to be supportive of what the Library requires and provide the standards, the processes, the procedures that need to be followed in order for us to get there.”
Barton will oversee technology operations and strategy at the institution. Less than a week into the job, he is getting his bearings, conducting daily meetings and having discussions with employees at all levels of the office. Barton said addressing the challenges laid out in the GAO report will be a combination of overseeing initiatives already in place, and bringing new ideas to the table.
"We are doing everything we can to address the concerns raised in that report,” Barton said. The GAO found significant "management weaknesses" in four major areas: strategic planning, investment management, information security and privacy, service management and leadership. "All of those are my top priority,” Barton said.
Another issue Barton said he wants to pursue, but has yet to look into, is training. He wants to ensure that as technology improves, so do the IT specialists' skills.
The transition to digital technology is a particularly daunting challenge for the library, which has been exploring ways to digitally preserve its massive collection.
"That is a challenge not just for the library but for many organizations,” Barton said, though he did note the library is unique in that it manages petabytes of data. One petabyte is equal to a million gigabytes — think: more than 62,000 iPhone 6s.
“That’s not very common, even in the commercial sector,” Barton said. Though he said he expects the library will reach out to the private sector for solutions on how to better utilize digital technology.
Despite the significant challenges ahead, Barton is eager to begin his work at the Library of Congress.
Prior to starting at the library, Barton worked as the CIO and deputy administrative officer at the Defense Technical Information Center, which is essentially the library for the Department of Defense. According to its website, the DTIC serves as "the largest central resource for DoD and government-funded research, development, technical, and engineering information."
Barton said he truly enjoyed working for the DTIC, but jumped at the chance to work for the Library of Congress.
"If you’re involved in the library community, the apex of your career would be working at the Library of Congress," Barton said. "So that’s really what motivated me to apply for this job.”
Barton spent six years at DTIC, and before that, he worked for the North Carolina National Guard in a variety of positions, including deputy CIO.
Barton was a national guardsman until 2012 and was deployed to Kuwait during the Iraq War from 2006 to 2007, working as an IT specialist. He said his military service prepared him for leadership roles, due to its emphasis on structure, independence and finding solutions.
Barton followed his father's footsteps into the military. His father served in the Air Force, causing the family to move around while Barton grew up. He attended eight different schools through grammar and high school, which he said helped him become more outgoing.
"As you move to different locations, you’re constantly trying to fit into a group, find people of like minds that you want to interact with, groups you want to associate with," Barton said. "And having to do that every couple of years, you tend to make friends easily."
Barton brings that collaborative nature to management and says he places an emphasis on candid conversations throughout decision-making processes.
As Barton is adjusting to his new role, the Library of Congress is also poised for a change at the top level. The Librarian of Congress, James Billington, announced in June he planned to retire at the end of 2015, after nearly 30 years as head of the library.
Barton said a change at the top would not adversely affect the IT office, noting that Billington has been very supportive of the office, and his successor will likely do the same.
"[Billington] has a great grasp of what we need to do, what our role is here at the Library,” Barton said. “I would presume, given the high visibility of the GAO and some of the [Inspector General] reports, that whoever is going to be nominated as his successor would also have the same view that we also need to address these things.”
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