PSU’s Casey Bisson Wins Mellon Award for Innovative Search Software for Libraries

December 4th, 2006 by Adam

You can’t trip over what’s not there. Every day millions of Internet users search online for information about millions of topics. And none of their search results includes resources from the countless libraries around the world—until now.

Casey Bisson, information architect for Plymouth State University’s Lamson Library, has received the prestigious Mellon Award for Technology Collaboration for his ground-breaking software application known as WPopac. The WPopac software will revolutionize the online search process by allowing titles and descriptions of library holdings to be found on the Internet.

The award was presented at a ceremony hosted by the Mellon Foundation on Monday, Dec. 4 at the fall meeting of the Coalition for Networked Information, in Washington, D.C., Bisson’s project was selected as one of only 10 recipients out of several hundred nominees for 2006, the first year the MATC awards have been granted. The decision was made by an all-star panel that included Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, and Mitchell Baker, CEO of the Mozilla Foundation.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supports the thoughtful application of information technology to a wide range of scholarly purposes, including developing digital technologies to enhance research, teaching, and distance learning, and new technical approaches to archiving text and multimedia materials.

Christopher Mackie, program officer for the Mellon Foundation’s Research in Information Technology section, was pleased with how well WPopac fits the foundation’s criteria.

“The award committee was particularly excited by the way WPopac makes library patrons more active participants in their library experience,” Mackie said. “By allowing patrons to add information to library records online, the software allows the community to work together to make their library resources more informative and more valuable. When you couple this with the reduced costs of access that WPopac permits, and the enthusiasm with which it has been received by librarians and patrons alike, the committee judged the project to have a truly revolutionary potential.”

“For years we’ve been talking about the digital divide in terms of access, and we’ve been working hard to put computers and networks into every school and library,” Bisson said. “But those same libraries, and their communities, are invisible to people online. If libraries are to be more than study halls in the Internet age, if they are to continue their role as centers of knowledge in every community, they need to be findable and available online. They need the tools to represent their collections, their services, and the unique history of their communities online. That’s what WPopac does.”

Other universities receiving MATC awards this year include the University of Washington, Yale, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and the University of British Columbia.

According to PSU President Sara Jayne Steen, Bisson’s work is an example of exceptional effort and entrepreneurial spirit.

“Casey recognized a need for broader access to the myriad of resources contained in our libraries and developed a unique and creative solution designed to re-engage users of today’s web-based technologies,” Steen said. “We are proud of the Mellon Organization’s recognition of the university and Casey’s innovation and initiative.”

Dwight Fischer, director of information technology at PSU, called Bisson’s work an appropriate centerpiece for the university’s transformed academic library. “Over the past year, Lamson Library has implemented what is known as a Learning Commons,” Fischer explained. “This joint effort between library and IT professionals brings more technologies, online research materials, academic tutoring, writing and reading services to a central location in the library. Library faculty and staff members work side-by-side with IT professionals, forming a collaborative team that better reflects the needs of today’s students. Casey’s project will help build more bridges to more information for more people. We’re very proud of him.”

Links to more information:

Lamson Library: plymouth.edu/library/

WPopac for Lamson library’s collection: plymouth.edu/library/opac/

WPopac Web log: wpopac.blogs.plymouth.edu/

New Hampshire Public Radio’s interview with Casey Bisson from 12/5/06
www.nhpr.org/node/11927

For more information, contact: Christopher Williams,
PSU Public Relations Director, 535-2476
cwilliams@plymouth.edu