The CTO of the second-largest public library in the United States reveals how the library’s digital transformation has prepared it for the 21st century.
By Patrick K. Burke
Jane Aboyoun, CTO of the New York Public Library, knows a thing or two about digital transformation. As CTO of the world’s fourth largest public library, and the second largest in the United States (behind only the Library of Congress), Aboyoun has helped transform the New York Public Library into a digital knowledge management heavyweight. The NYPL’s digital repository now contains more than a petabyte of data. It’s been a massive undertaking, but a rewarding one, according to Aboyoun. Many of the library’s assets have gone from being at risk physically to being forever preserved in its digital repository. Aboyoun took time to discuss with CIO Insight a four-pronged IT strategy focused on creating a proper IT foundation, moving to a cloud-based infrastructure, evaluating and implementing best-of-breed applications, and creating the technology to preserve and access the library’s assets in digital form.
CIO Insight: Do you find any similarities between systems that maintain the orderliness of print and physical media in a library (such as the Dewey Decimal Classification) and the systems that are used to provide IT orderliness in the digital realm? Why is order important in both realms?
Jane Aboyoun: I think it’s more about creating the right foundation with both. Orderliness is certainly part of it, but it’s also about establishing the proper infrastructure whether you’re making things easier to find or making what can be complex IT environments easier to understand and manage for employees.
In the case of the New York Public Library, that foundation began with our digital transformation over four years ago when we started digitizing images, audio recordings, and movies into a digital repository, which now contains over a petabyte of data. At a more enterprise IT level, cloud-based applications have been at the foundation of our transition to a digital future and keeping data organized. These applications help us manage and make sense of all of our data, giving us more insight into the library’s finances, people and operations.
CIO Insight: Funding for libraries is being cut, yet demand for their services is growing, according to studies. Is social media being used by the NYPL in any way to bring awareness to this issue?
Aboyoun: Actually, the good news is that this fiscal year, we received the largest budget increase in NYC history. This is an absolutely positive endorsement of the demand for broad library services, and the mission to keep libraries vibrant and relevant. I can’t speak for our social media team, but I do know they were instrumental in marshaling resources to demand more library funding. It was a very successful campaign this year, evidenced by our budget result. To put a number on it, The New York Public Library serves more than 17 million people per year and this number grows every day, both online and in our libraries and research centers.
CIO Insight: The New York Public Library is a New York institution, its main building arguably as famous as some of the city’s skyscrapers and churches. Can you think of something most people don’t know about the New York Public Library that they would find interesting or incredible?
Aboyoun: The library has been part of dozens of films, including “Sex and the City,” “The Wiz,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Spider-Man,” and “Ghostbusters.” The main library, our landmarked building on 5th Avenue, has also been the glamorous host to the exchange of numerous nuptials and celebrations.
CIO Insight: How is the library adjusting to the digitalization of just about everything? Are many of the library’s resources available online, and has it been a smooth process putting resources online?
Aboyoun: When I first arrived at the New York Public Library, I established a four-pronged IT strategy focused on creating a proper IT foundation, moving to a cloud-based infrastructure, evaluating and implementing best-of-breed applications, and of course, creating the technology to preserve and access the Library’s assets in digital form.
It is a massive undertaking, but a transition that has been relatively smooth and one that has helped usher us into the digital era. Many of our assets have gone from being at risk physically to being forever preserved in our digital repository, which now contains more than a petabyte of data. And this is just the start. We have big plans to grow our repository significantly.
CIO Insight: Does the NYPL utilize any cloud offerings for its staff and customers?
Aboyoun: Our move to the cloud has given us a technology foundation that has helped us manage and make our organization smart and successful. We’ve implemented a number of applications from Workday including Workday Financial Management, Payroll, and Workday Human Capital Management. It was a clean break from an old system that couldn’t be upgraded. We now have a flexible technology foundation that provides us with the insights we need on our financial and workforce performance, allowing us to create more process efficiencies, and make more informed decisions about our business. The transition has given us one ‘system of truth’ to support our future goals.
CIO Insight: How have these cloud initiatives made the lives of customers and the workdays of staff better?
Aboyoun: Cloud-based applications like Workday are helping our finance and HR teams ready themselves for our next chapter. For example, onboarding new employees using Workday HCM modules went from historically taking weeks to a matter of seconds, and it is now fully automated between three different integrated systems. We’re also seeing internal financial processes become more efficient and teams more productive. Additionally, expense processing is now 100 percent automated and paperless, with a significant improvement in reimbursement time. All of these changes have been hugely impactful (in a positive way) on my 85-person team that is working to manage the technology infrastructure for 92 library locations that serve 17 million patrons a year.
CIO Insight: Do you have hope for the printed word, or is technology and online information inevitably going to replace pulp and ink?
Aboyoun: Evolution is inevitable. And that is a good thing. The digitization of books and magazines and newspapers not only preserves these types of documents for the future, but also provides the anywhere, anytime access we’ve become accustomed to in today’s world. But that doesn't mean print is dead or going away. Many people love the feel of a book in their hand and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I think there is room in our world for both.
Patrick K. Burke is senior editor of CIO Insight.