University of Calgary

Q&A: Thomas Hickerson

hickersonThomas Hickerson,
Director of Information Resources

On August 1, Thomas Hickerson began his five-year term as the University of Calgary’s new Director of Information Resources. Hickerson has had an extensive career at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where he was the associate university librarian for information technologies and special collections, and the director of digital library and information technologies. Hickerson has participated in library-wide administration since 1995 and has been active in fundraising and public affairs activities. OnCampus recently spoke with Hickerson about his past accomplishments and his plans for the future at the University of Calgary.

On Campus: How long did you work at Cornell University and what were your principal roles there?

Thomas Hickerson: I was at Cornell for three decades, and although that is a long period in one’s career, significant changes in my responsibilities over time have kept me excited and intellectually challenged.

I directed an innovative manuscripts and archives program for several years and then expanded that role to include the rare books departments, bringing a new division together in a newly built special collections library.

In the early-90s, I foresaw the potential for employing digital technologies to bring together diverse resources virtually for classroom and research use. With sponsorship from the university provost, I formed the Digital Access Coalition in 1992 and the Cornell Institute for Digital Collections in 1997. Both organizations were actively involved in national and international collaborations, as well as campus endeavours.

In 1999, I was assigned general responsibility for digital library development and library systems management. This has included the recent initiation of a successful electronic publishing program.

What got you interested in library administration and fundraising and public affairs activities?

As an archivist and special collections administrator, I had opportunities to represent the university in pursuing gifts of manuscripts and rare books and also financial contributions. I enjoyed those opportunities, and it is very satisfying when a good match between the interests of a potential donor and those of the university can be aligned.

I was also active in obtaining governmental and foundation grants early in my career, and with my increased involvement with technology, I increasingly pursued corporate partnerships. 

You’ve taken part in a lot of professional presentations. Are they something you enjoy doing?

Active professional involvement is critical to one’s intellectual and professional development, but you are also representing your institution in substantive ways, contributing to its reputation as a source of leadership. Personally, while enjoying the effort to convey ideas in a coherent and convincing manner through one’s prepared comments, I prefer the exchange of questions and answers. Being challenged by insightful queries is stimulating and enhances my own knowledge.

What do you see in the future of Information Resources?

The Information Resources model is ideal for the teaching, learning and research environment of the 21st century. In my experience, the links between university libraries, museums, publishing, visual resources,  archives and special collections are numerous and bring together a wealth of scientific and cultural information essential to education and learning, but also critical to the preservation of the record of our history and cultures. In my career, I have often fostered these connections, but at Calgary they are integrated managerially to offer users the opportunity to draw on these resources in a manner emphasizing the cross-disciplinary nature of human knowledge. The Campus Calgary Digital Library will provide an exemplary instantiation of this conceptual model—a centre for learning, information, and the arts, serving the university, the community and beyond.

What motivated you to leave Ithaca and head north?

I have certainly enjoyed my years in Ithaca, but I have felt increasing interest in looking for an opportunity to exercise expanded leadership in a situation offering new challenges and opportunities for significant contribution. The programmatic mix of Information Resources seems ideally suited to my interests and expertise. In combination with the University of Calgary’s exciting aspirations for growth and distinction, I could not be coming to a better place.  

What part of Calgary’s cultural environment are you most looking forward to?

I have now spent more than half of my life in a small university community in upstate New York, an area quite different geographically and culturally from southern Alberta, although both have severe winters.

Prior to moving to New York, however, when growing up in the southwestern part of the U.S., a favourite childhood vacation was driving to Colorado for a week in the Rocky Mountains.
I raised and trained quarter horses for several years, and one of my brothers rode bulls in rodeos. That same brother worked for a few years as a petroleum land man, negotiating oil leases. So, I am also familiar with the oilpatch.

With the move to Calgary, it seems that I am combining the extensive academic experience of 30 years at an ivy-league university with the renewal of aspects of my family heritage.

What are you not looking forward to?

I do not look forward to snow shoveling.

What excites you the most about the position of Director of Information Resources?

Information Resources is a strong organization with superb staff, both skilled and dedicated. It is an honour to be appointed to this leadership role, and our potential for distinctive achievement is excellent. I feel confident that Calgary has the capacity to be one of the truly distinguished universities of the 21st century. It is an exciting time to be moving to Calgary.