Records of the Northwestern University Librarian, John McGowan, ca. 1969-1988 Subject Files
Scope and Contents
About John P. McGowan, University Librarian:
When John P. McGowan (1926-2006) became university librarian at Northwestern in July 1971, he was already very familiar with the University's libraries. After graduating from New York City's Hunter College with a bachelor's degree in English in 1950, McGowan earned a master's in library science from Columbia University in 1951, and was librarian of the Technological Institute Library at Northwestern from 1955 to 1959. After serving as director of the library at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, he earned a degree in industrial engineering and operations research from New York University's College of Engineering in 1966 (where he served as Librarian from 1951 to 1956).
He then returned to Northwestern as associate university librarian for engineering and science, also serving once again as Technological Institute Librarian. McGowan was named University Librarian in 1971, after the departure of Thomas Buckman, who had been appointed in 1968 following Jens Nyholm's retirement.
From the moment of his return to Northwestern in 1966, while plans for a new University Library were underway, McGowan showed a particular interest in library automation. Indeed, his specific charge from Nyholm was to have an automated system in place by the time the new library building opened in 1970.
In 1967, McGowan launched the University Library Automation Project, recruiting a member of Northwestern's Electrical Engineering faculty, James Aagaard, and a systems analyst, Velma Veneziano, to join the library staff and begin designing a system to automate a variety of standard library operations. The first part of the plan that was ultimately developed—a fully on-line library circulation system—began operation the day the new library opened in January 1970. It utilized terminals connected by telephone lines to a central computer, an IBM 360/30 with 65,536 bytes of storage, located in the University's Department of Administrative Data Processing. Soon Northwestern's automated circulation system began to attract attention as the first of its kind in the world. The system was christened NOTIS in 1976, short for “Northwestern On-Line Total Integrated System.”
Over the following years, NOTIS expanded into other areas of library information management, including cataloging and acquisitions, and became increasingly robust. In 1975, CRT terminals replaced typewriter terminals and other technological improvements began to facilitate direct use of the system by the user community. Eventually the goal of the library's Information Systems Development Office (ISDO) evolved from the creation of a “library management system” to a system geared toward public services. This new priority led to the development of the “Library User Information Service,” or LUIS, which developed on the basis of the older LCUS, the Library Circulation User System, and premiered in 1980. Over a four-year period, the library was visited by representatives of over 200 institutions from all over the world who were interested in the new system. The University of Florida and Harvard were among the earliest adopters of NOTIS. At the National Library of Venezuela, NOTIS was introduced as a joint bibliographic project. Ultimately NOTIS would be adopted by over 160 institutions at more than 200 sites in the United States and abroad.
Recognizing the need for a system such as NOTIS and in light of its clear commercial potential, consultants from EDUCOM, the Interuniversity Communications Council (now EDUCAUSE) recommended in August 1980 that the university begin to offer it as a commercial product. Sale of the system began in 1981. During the following years, the marketed version of NOTIS and the version in use at Northwestern began to diverge ever more significantly, causing strain on the organization. In September 1987 the university established its own for-profit corporation, NOTIS Systems, Inc., whose president, Jane Burke, had been centrally involved with the development and marketing of the system at Northwestern since December 1983. In later years, developers of NOTIS Systems, Inc., would found Endeavor Information Systems, the creators of Voyager, Northwestern's current library information system.
In July 1985, James Aagaard and Velma Veneziano were given the LITA/ Gaylord Award for Achievement in Library and Information Technology in honor of their many contributions. And in 1989, McGowan received the ACRL Academic or Research Librarian of the Year Award with a citation recognizing him as “truly a pioneer of library automation.”
In addition to his impact on the Northwestern University Library automation, McGowan was also concerned with establishing relationships outside the Library and supporting the professional development of staff. He encouraged librarians to travel to professional conferences and serve on interlibrary committees. He also recognized that the Library would always need more financial support than the University could budget, and created the first internal fund-raising position, appointing Ted Welch assistant University librarian for development in 1975. Over the course of eight years, they raised an estimated $2.4 million. Almost half of this amount came from the government of Venezuela, which in the late 1970s commissioned the Library to compile a massive bibliographic database of Venezuelan history. In 1987, upon the establishment of the Charles Deering McCormick Distinguished Chair of Research Librarianship, McGowan was named the first Charles Deering McCormick University Librarian.
During the final years of John McGowan's administration, he became ill. Lance Query formally assumed the role of acting university librarian between August 1991 and July 1992, when McGowan officially retired and David Bishop was appointed University Librarian.
John McGowan died on February 4, 2006. He was survived by his wife, Eileen Durkin McGowan, two sons, and three daughters.
“John McGowan,” Footnotes (Northwestern University Library publication), Volume 31, Number 2 (Summer 2006):2-4
Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, sv “Northwestern University Libraries” (NY: Marcel Dekker, Inc, 2003), 2168-2170
About the collection:
The Subject Files fill thirty-two boxes and cover a time of significant growth and change in the University Library. The bulk of the records date between 1971, when John McGowan assumed the post of University Librarian (shortly after the completion of the new main Library building), and 1988. A few records from the mid- to late-1960s predate McGowan's tenure. This series documents the day-to-day administration of a major research library, with an emphasis on the important change to a computer-based library.
Most of the correspondence in the General Correspondence files relates to matters outside the University, but this is not necessarily the case. In addition, there are correspondence files that relate specifically to NU faculty and Library staff, as well as correspondence filed by the name of the individual correspondent. Correspondence with NU deans and administrators may be filed by the individual's name or by his or her title.
Materials relating to Library Divisions and Departments are found under the name of the department, in the files of the AUL (assistant University Librarian) for the individual divisions, or under the surname of the specific division or department head. These folders mostly contain inter-office correspondence. Note that division and department names and responsibilities changed over time.
The transition to a computerized library system is documented in records relating to grant-funded studies, planning projects, the establishment of the Information Systems & Development Office (ISDO), and NOTIS files. A few vendor files indicate products that were considered or purchased. Folders titled Information Services document the discussion of fee-based information services, including cost and income projections.
Some records relating to grants and proposals are filed by the name or title of the organization or foundation from whom funding was being sought. Others are filed chronologically in the Grants, Proposals, and Foundations files. See also relevant materials in the extensive Development files, organized chronologically.
Also well documented in this series is McGowan's involvement in such consortium groups as RLG, CLR, etc., as well as NU groups such as the joint committee of the Chicago professional libraries, and the Library Council.
Note that McGowan's speeches and writings, and his involvement in numerous committees and task forces, are documented in separate series. Folders with dates prior to 1970 may refer to activities which occurred during Thomas Buckman's short tenure as University Librarian. Folders predating Buckman's era were removed and added to the Records of University Librarian Jens Nyholm (Series 9/1/1).
- McGowan, John P., 1926-2006 (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
Restricted; consultation with University Archivist or permission of University Librarian required prior to use.
Language of Materials
The Subject Files fill thirty-two boxes and cover a time of significant growth and change in the University Library. The bulk of the records date between 1971, when John McGowan assumed the post of University Librarian (shortly after the completion of the new main Library building), and 1988. A few records from the mid- to late-1960s predate McGowan's tenure. This series documents the day-to-day administration of a major research library, with an emphasis on the important change to a computer-based library. Folders are arranged alphabetically by title—the name of the person, department, organization, or topic covered in the folder's contents—and typically contain correspondence, memos, reports, and statistics. Materials within folders are arranged chronologically.
Folders are arranged alphabetically by title—the name of the person, department, organization, or topic covered in the folder's contents—and typically contain correspondence, memos, reports, and statistics. Materials within folders are arranged chronologically.
Method of Acquisition
Accession No. 78-143 received from John McGowan on 12/28/78.
Accession No. 80-117 received from John McGowan on 08/06/80.
Accession No. 82-88 received from John McGowan via Ruth Venderburg on 07/30/82.
Accession No. 83-112 received from John McGowan on 06/23/83.
Accession No. 84-86 received from John McGowan on 06/18/86.
Accession No. 85-216 received from Ellen Fendrich, Library Administration on 10/09/85.
Accession No. 86-254 received from Ellen Fendrich, Library Administration on 12/04/86.
Accession No. 87-200 received from Ellen Fendrich, Library Administration on 09/22/87.
Accession No. 88-231 received from Ellen Fendrich, Library Administration on 09/30/88.
Accession No. 89-136 received from Lorraine Pirmangten, Library Administration on 08/02/89.
Accession No. 90-44 received from Nancy Nus, Library Development on 05/10/90.
Accession No. 90-115 received from John McGowan via Jean Hines on 08/10/90.
Accession No. 90-116 received from John McGowan via Jean Hines on 08/10/90.
Accession No. 92-88 received from John McGowan on 07/31/92.
Approximately ten cubic feet of duplicate and extraneous materials were discarded. Serial publications produced by Northwestern University or NUL departments were separated and added to the University Archives' Serials Collection. Publications not related to Northwestern University or NUL were discarded.
Other Descriptive Information
For SEL, see Science and Engineering Library
For WCAS, see College of Arts and Sciences
Rehana Khan and Janet Olson, Summer 2006-Winter 2007.
- Guide to the Records of the Northwestern University Librarian, John McGowan, ca. 1969-1988 Subject Files
- Rehana Khan and Janet Olson
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Part of the Northwestern University Archives Repository
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