TADL Staff Spotlight: William Rockwood

William Rockwood, Network Specialist
TADL Information Technology Department

When did you start working for TADL and what is your role at the library?
I started working for TADL in 2007 and work in the Technology department with three other people. As an organization, our department is small enough that we all do a little bit of everything. When people ask “what do you do?” I usually answer, “I make computers do things.” Of course we each have our specialties, and mine tends to be developing solutions to make people’s lives easier; whether it’s automating a menial task or writing an application to improve a workflow, I get great satisfaction from architecting processes to simplify our lives. I’m also the one who develops and maintains our web infrastructure; the platform that supports our website, the local history collection, the online catalog, and so on.

What drew you to a career in computer technology?
I grew up at a time when “going into computers” meant you had to be good at math, but I wasn’t. I got my first computer when I was eleven, and used it to learn BASIC and Pascal (and play video games) and eventually to type up schoolwork. In 1991, I got on this thing called “The Internet” and as things evolved, it became increasingly clear that career opportunities were available in technology that didn’t require strong math skills. I eased myself into it, though; my first “tech job” was as a barista at an Internet cafe in Chicago in 1996. There I applied my foodservice skills, having previously worked as a bartender and waiter at various restaurants, and my passion for all things Online, not only to educate others on using the Internet, but also to expand my own knowledge of Internet systems, protocols and applications.

What do you like best about your role with TADL (has it changed or evolved)?
My role is constantly evolving, to the point where my job title is absolutely not representative of the work I do. It’s neat to look back and remember how things used to be, before I worked here, and to see the impact I’ve had on productivity, marketing and communication, and the overall patron experience. We are continuously adapting to the needs of our community; leveraging technologies to meet those evolving needs can be very satisfying. As an example, ten years ago very few people were browsing the web with their phones, but today it is increasingly expected that websites be functional and attractive, even on small screens. We approach these challenges with excitement and enthusiasm.

Tell us about one or two favorite projects that you’ve worked on for TADL? What makes them stand out?
My favorite projects always tend to be the most recent, so looking back over the past few years, probably our most notable achievement was developing the new online catalog. It took the effort of the entire technology team at TADL to build a new web catalog that features significantly faster searching, more versatile display options, and provides “machine readable” views that we use to display carousels, lists and links to items on our website, as well as our mobile app. And since I mentioned the mobile app, that was another project I’m pretty happy with. Our first app was just a third-party service we subscribed to. It had some flaws that we weren’t happy with, so we decided to develop our own app in-house. A couple years later we rewrote it from scratch using a more modern application framework, and then a couple years after that we did it again.

One of the big problems with modern application frameworks is they come and go so quickly. The “best” one year quickly becomes out of date and unmaintained, and since we’re a small organization, we need to constantly adapt and update our knowledge of these things to remain relevant. We use a lot of Open Source software in our day to day work, which allows us to focus more on solving immediate problems and less on writing code, other than the bits necessary to customize the software to our specific need.

Is there a particular library resource that you like to use on your free (personal) time?
My favorite library resource is the staff, honestly. Being Extremely Online, I don’t have a strong need to borrow CDs or DVDs, outside of the occasional rare gem that isn’t available to stream, but the combined knowledge of the staff in Sight & Sound about all things audiovisual equals or exceeds that of anything I can find online. Plus, there’s something to be said for getting recommendations from an actual human; algorithms just aren’t quite the same (yet!)

As far as books go, when I’m not reading historical or science fiction, I tend to go for musical biographies such as All The Things I Lost in the Flood by Laurie Anderson, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein, and Old Records Never Die by Eric Spitznagel.

Any insights about the library services or collections that you’d like to share with patrons?
I’m a big fan of library outreach, and special collections, so I of course think the TADL Book Bike is extremely cool. I’m also very supportive of non-traditional items being added to the collection. Sight & Sound’s collection, for example, includes telescopes, musical instruments, digital projectors, turntables, and portable recording devices.

During my early years at TADL, I helped out with the TADL BATL video gaming programs, and also helped teens run a Minecraft server. Though I had little to do with it, I was very happy when we added a video game section to our collection. Someday I’d like to see that collection expanded by adding some classic consoles and games like Atari 2600, Nintendo Entertainment System, and the first PlayStation, so future generations can see what life was like before “Downloadable Content” was a thing.