Walt Crawford
Professional Background
and Current Interests


I worked at UC Berkeley's General Library from 1968 through June 1979 (part-time from 1963 to 1968), analyzing and building programs to serve a range of needs for Berkeley's library operations. I designed and programmed Berkeley's first automated circulation system (a punchcard system), carried out a full-sampling analysis of reasons for user failure, designed and programmed a serials keyword index used by UC and other libraries, and implemented a range of MARC-based and other systems.

From July 1979 through its end in June 2006, I worked at the Research Libraries Group (RLG), analyzing problems and requirements and (in earlier years) programming a wide range of solutions. I designed and wrote the batch processing system for output products when RLIN became a true networked system, developed the user interface requirements for Eureka/telnet, and continue to participate in the user interface and system design for Eureka, RLG's end-user search system. Along the way, I did the detailed session analysis and design leading to the "Do What I Mean" changes in Eureka's command-based system (pre-Web), reducing the percentage of user "errors" from around 7% of commands to less than 0.5%. I was also active in a range of digitial initiatives at RLG. More recently, I coordinated Cognos-based customer and internal usage reports as part of RLG's complete systems replacement, designing and implementing all internal reports and re-implementing/correcting most customer reports. Finally, I worked as a systems analyst at OCLC on OCLC-RLG integration/transition issues related to reports, Eureka, and other areas through September 2007. After that, I worked part-time from October 2007 through March 2010 as Editorial Director of the Library Leadership Network.

My primary professional involvement was the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) of the American Library Association. I chaired and served on several committees, served on the Board of Directors and as President (1992/3), and edited the LITA Newsletter for more than half of its life as a print publication (1985/94).

I was founding editor (1989/91) of Information Standards Quarterly, the newsletter of the National Information Standards Organization (NISO).


Writing and Speaking

Until 1984, I had written half a dozen articles related to work at UC Berkeley and RLG or arising from LITA activity. I had done one speech as part of a LITA program.

Things started to change in 1984. First, there was MARC for Library Use: Understanding the USMARC Formats--my first book, written out of desperation. I'd been using the MARC formats for close to a decade and spent way too much time trying to explain them to others on the telephone. When I was handed a MARC syllabus from a library school and found it full of errors and oversimplifications, I concluded that someone needed to write a book explaining MARC. I couldn't convince any of the true MARC experts to take on the task, so I did it myself. That was followed with a book on technical standards aimed at librarians--again, because it was needed. Since then, books have been on topics I desperately felt needed covering on on topics that I felt particularly strongly about--with two in the 1990s being more philosophical and speaking to broader issues. My fifteenth book (and second self-published book), Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change, appeared in March 2007. My sixteenth, Public Library Blogs: 252 Examples, appeared in September 2007. I've been doing other self-published books, mostly related to blogs; they're included on the front page here.

Also in 1984, I got into a long discussion about the difference between advertised price and comparable system price for personal computers--back before Windows, when CP/M was still a major operating system for PCs. That discussion resulted in my first article for Library Hi Tech, which became a series of 50 articles over the next 15 years--and, later, to my own "newsletter within a newsletter" in Library Hi Tech News (59 editions from 1995 through 2000 under the names "Trailing Edge Notes" and "Crawford's Corner"), columns in CD-ROM Professional and Database Magazine, and a series of articles in Online Magazine. I also contributed brief columns to Public-Access Computer Systems Review for five years and editorials for nine years of LITA Newsletter and two years of Information Standards Quarterly. There have been articles in various other publications as well, including the occasional refereed piece or book review; some "articles" have been reprints of speech drafts.

I contributed articles to American Libraries between 1999 and 2002 and began my own Web/print journal at the end of 2000: Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media (ISSN 1534-0937). I wrote the "DisContent" column in EContent from 2001 through 2009, the "Crawford Files" column in American Libraries from 2002 through 2004 and "PC Monitor" in ONLINE from 1999 through 2006 (following a series of articles beginning in 1995). I started a blog, Walt at Random, on April 1, 2005, a carefully-chosen date. I now write "Crawford at Large" in ONLINE.

My first non-RLG professional speech was in 1979 (as part of a LITA TESLA program), and I spoke occasionally from 1987 through 1991, mostly on topics related to my books and professional activity--technical standards, desktop publishing, personal computing, online catalogs. That changed when the Library Automation Round Table of the Arizona State Library Association invited me to speak and didn't have a topic already set. The resulting speech covered way too much ground and served as the start for dozens of speeches since then, primarily on the future of print, media, and libraries. I still speak about old favorite topics from time to time, but those aren't keynote material. I love speaking to library groups, particularly state library associations and the like.


Current Interests

It's rare to completely drop older interests--but I don't spend much mental energy on technical standards or MARC these days and I do my "desktop publishing" in Word. I've stopped reviewing CD-ROMs (except for historical reasons) primarily because the "title CD-ROM" field dried up.

I continue to read, write and speak once in a while, about personal computing but mostly a growing range of other areas, including media, technology, forecasting, digital content, policy and how all of these affect libraries. In my work and writing, I aim for "sensemaking"--using investigation, analysis, synthesis, strong mathematical understanding and clear prose to make sense of complex situations and explain those situations to others. I'm available for possible project or part-time situations writing, editing, speaking and researching in library-related areas.

Most recently, I've conducted a broad survey of public library use of social networks, checking all 5,958 libraries in 38 states. The results form part of the basis for a book due from ALA Editions later in 2012. I'm looking for sponsorship, at the rate of $15,000 a year (plus inflation), to conduct an even broader survey (all 50 states and DC, plus American territories) over at least two and preferably more years. I've also done other research on library and librarian use of blogs, resulting in several self-published books (some now out of print)--and, recently, in how public and other libraries can serve their communities by facilitating "micropublishing," producing books intended for niches of one to 50 people.

I am particularly interested in libraries as distinctive local institutions--how they work within their communities and how they can combine continual improvement and change with continuity.

I'll keep doing writing and research in these areas as long as they continue to interest me--and as long as people want to read what I have to write.


Updated February 21, 2011.

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