As the newly appointed chief information officer of the Library of Congress, Bernard A. Barton Jr. says excelling in the digital age is going to depend a lot on making smart predictions.
Technology is constantly evolving, he explained. So for this two-century-old library to keep pace, it must be able to weed out those “fleeting” technologies, and invest in those tools most likely to stick around for a few years.
Barton’s CIO gig will require overseeing and implementing that process. But it won't be easy.
Barton’s appointment follows months of extensive criticism directed at the library. In March, the Government Accountability Office published a report detailing a barrage of technology failings. Chief among them, the library’s IT shop had not had a permanent head since 2012 and had cycled through five short-term CIOs in that time.
Although Barton's hiring satisfied one of GAO's key recommendations, many others have yet to be dealt with.
After only four days on the job, Nextgov talked with Barton about his plans to address these recommendations and his strategies for launching one of the world’s largest libraries head first into the digital age.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
NG: How do you plan on turning the library into an entity that really excels in the digital world?
BB: From a digital standpoint, it's really going to be a matter of understanding what the public is interested in us providing. And being able to do that in a way that we can provide the capability before the technology is outdated.
Today, we're aware that there are many technologies that people are very used to using. Those will change. The challenge from a digital perspective is how do we determine which of these technologies are going to last for years, and are smart for us to get involved with. And which may just be fleeting, so they're not something that we should be investing money in upfront.
NG: What are your specific plans for the next six months?
BB: I have a lot of plans. The first is really to address the GAO report and the areas that were spelled out as concerns.
Another important point is to be flexible enough that as situations occur, we can address and adjust rapidly. A strategic plan is a great thing; it's necessary. But as new technology developments, if we haven't already incorporated the new technology into our strategic plan but it makes sense from a capabilities standpoint, we want to be flexible enough that we can adjust and incorporate those capabilities.
NG: The GAO report included some 30 recommendations. How do you plan to dive into all of that?
BB: I have five that we will be addressing right off the bat: strategic planning, investment management, information security and privacy, service management and leadership. Those aren't in priority order, but those are the five that I've been focusing on and intend to get corrected as soon as possible.
A lot of it is establishing what our baseline is in each of these areas and then determining the gaps where we currently are, where the GAO pointed out they recommended we be and developing an action plan to get form our current state to the desired end state.
NG: The librarian told GAO it planned to hire a permanent deputy CIO. Its chief of staff said it planned to do that by September. Since this has yet to happen, what’s your plan for filling the position?
BB: I have not made the evaluation about the deputy CIO's position yet. I expect that within the next month or so, four to six weeks, I'll be addressing how to go forward with the deputy CIO's position.
We will not be able to fill it by the end of September due mainly to the way that the federal hiring process works. I am not able to just hire someone without going through a pretty involved process. But I plan to start the process as soon as I have a chance to really understand what the requirement is.
NG: Once GAO’s review was finished, officials also stated that the library planned to compose an IT strategic plan within 90 days. We're past that, so what's the status of this?
BB: There is a draft strategic plan now that I'm reviewing. I will be putting my touches on that in the next week. The library itself is working on a library strategic plan. The IT strategic plan has to support the library strategic plan, so that’s what I'm really making sure is taking place.
I don't expect it's going to take a long time. Let's say weeks as opposed to days.
NG: What is this process like?
BB: It’s complex. There's so many areas that we have to take into consideration; so many domains. We want to make sure that whenever someone involved in the IT business with the library is making an investment recommendations or they see that they have a requirement that they can point to the IT strategic plan and show what they want to purchase, pursue or develop, aligns with the IT strategy.
Being able to encompass all of the aspects of the IT needs for the library is just a little more complicated, complex, than typical.
NG: What about LOC’s plan to house every tweet since 2006? It’s been working on this since 2010, how is it going?
BB: That is an area that I really haven't touched yet, so I really don't have anything to offer you at this point but we will be addressing it, I'm sure.
NG: Recently, the Copyright Office’s online registration system was inaccessible for about a week. How do you plan to address this?
BB: We are conducting a root cause analysis right now, and I don't have the specifics what actually was the cause. We have a lot of people trying to say what they think happened, but we are conducting a thorough root-cause analysis. We will have that, I expect, the middle of next week. So I'd really rather not get into any particulars about that.
I will say that if it turns out that it is something within our control, we will adjust processes and procedures and put management controls in place to make sure that that type of event does not happen again.
I was reading all the news reports about the things that were happening at the library. I will say many of the issues that have been identified that I've looked at since I've been here are not unique to the library. These are issues that I think are very solvable; things that really just need to be raised in priority. And that is my primary reason for being here, to make sure that it's given the appropriate attention.
I have all the confidence in the world that we're going to be able to fix all these issues and bring the library to the service that it needs to be.
(Image via f11photo/ Shutterstock.com)