Baylor IT official focuses on digitization

Orr has helped make Baylor's library more collaboration friendly this year.
Orr has helped make Baylor's library more collaboration friendly this year.

Pattie Orr and other Baylor University officials take preservation seriously. So seriously, in fact, that the school dedicated a wing of its library to digitizing rare books, audio recordings, maps, and other material that students now can access online.

Orr, vice president for information technology and dean of libraries at Baylor’s Waco, Texas, campus for more than two years, said merging IT and library services proved to be a critical step in transferring documents to the web as libraries become more reliant on technology to make books accessible in campus databases.

“It kind of makes sense that these groups need leadership that will have them working together instead of duplicating efforts,” said Orr, who recently was chosen as a board member for the higher-education technology advocacy organization EDUCAUSE. “I think the open-access trend is a very important trend … that [colleges and universities] should be paying attention to.”

Baylor’s aged materials that are being moved to the web in the Ray I. Riley Digitization Center include Victorian-era women’s poetry, mid-19th century journals, gospel music on vinyl records, and letters from the Civil War that are plotted on a timeline according to when they were written.

“We’re not trying to be the Google of the world and digitize all materials,” Orr said, referring to Google Book Search, the internet giant’s effort to make millions of books available online to the chagrin of many publishers. “But we want to do what we can to preserve our special collections.”

Orr’s rise to vice president of IT at Baylor began in the early 1980s as an agent for American Airlines. While some employees struggled to use the airline’s computer system, Orr found the technology meshed with her personality.

“You had to be logical understand the commands you needed to learn,” said Orr, 55, a Dallas native. “I learned that I’m a very logical person, and I could use computers to solve a lot of problems. … I was always good at following steps that needed to be followed. It just came together and made sense to me. And that inspired me to find ways to use technology to teach others.”

Orr’s first IT position was at Shrewsbury Public Schools in Massachusetts, where she stepped in as interim technology director after the district’s IT chief went on sabbatical. Orr entered higher education in 1992 as a technology support official, later becoming director of user services and policy and planning officer at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she became a lecturer in 1996 for the department of computer science.

Orr created an internet research course that remains part of the college’s computer-science curriculum.

Orr and Baylor officials also have rearranged parts of the campus’s Moody Memorial Library to encourage collaboration among students. Library staff did away with the traditional library layout and bought desks and chairs that were more easily moveable for groups of students who gather for late-night study sessions.

“We’re happy for them to move [desks and chairs] however it best fits them,” she said. “We want … to encourage that kind of teamwork.”

Universities and their libraries have steadily moved resources to the web this decade, but Orr said digitization has its limits.

No matter how prominent internet use becomes among college students, she said, old-fashioned, hard-covered books will always have a place on campus.

“It’s hard to improve upon a book,” she said. “It’s portable and durable and easy to use. … Print publications aren’t going away any time soon.”


Baylor University