At some point during your time at Villanova you worked with Demian Katz—you probably just did not realize it at the time. Think back to the last time you searched for a book on the homepage, or that day you painstakingly scoured for scholarly connections to your light-bulb-moment intuition, or even when you attended that one event in Speakers’ Corner. If any of these anecdotes sound familiar, you have already interacted with Demian Katz.
Katz is the Director of Library Technologies and has been at Falvey in some capacity since 2009, when he first came on as a Library Technology Development Specialist. His work, and that of the entire tech department, stretches across many responsibilities and operations of the library. His role is an “interfacing” one that he embraces wholeheartedly.
Making Sure Everything Works
“Tech is probably the most interfaced with other departments of the library…” Katz said during my interview with him, a rare opportunity considering the rapid speed of his day-to-day operations and his schedule replete with meetings, training calls, and near-disaster control.
“By ourselves we don’t do anything,” Katz remarked. “We’re really here to support the needs of all the other departments, in terms of making sure they have the technologies that they need and that the systems that support their work are operational.”
If you navigate the alphabetic traverse of the Library’s staff directory and pay attention to the numerous departments listed, a simple fact becomes quite clear. There is a lot going on at the Library, presenting new challenges and changes to address and adapt to. Katz fully embraces this adaptive role when asked about the challenges and opportunities of directing the technological network behind the scenes.
“In technology, opportunities and challenges are both about the same thing which is constant change, because nothing ever sits still,” he explained. “Everything we do is a moving target, so you can’t solve a problem, and have it stay solved for more than a couple years. Something is changing that needs to be updated, and you have to think of the implications. But there’s also endless opportunities and always new things to learn and to accomplish.”
A Better View of VuFind
It was one of these very opportunities, the ongoing development of VuFind, that brought Katz to Falvey, working on the open-source resource portal started at Villanova. To many, VuFind is just the unassuming search bar that we haphazardly issue queries to, hoping one of our partially–formed questions pans out with an applicable result, but there is much more going on behind the scenes. The fact that our searches consistently return meaningful and accessible results is the product of tremendous labor. One only needs to look back to what came before VuFind to appreciate it.
“When a student did a Library search on the web,” Katz recalled, “they were expecting something like Google, and they were getting something like a card catalogue on a screen.”
Improving the user experience of finding pertinent materials is an important part of bibliography, the systematic description of a book, its author(s), publishing information, and other defining elements of its creation. That bibliographic work has always interested Katz, even before his time at Falvey, starting with his personal efforts to catalogue Choose Your Own Adventure books.
Dime Novel Discovery
“I maintained a bibliography of Choose Your Own Adventure-type books which I have long collected,” he told me. “So, I wrote software to manage that stuff, I have a website people use to inventory their collections and to see which author wrote which books.”
This long-held fascination found unexpected connections when an off-hand comment during a meeting led to the discovery of forgotten collections. The story of the Dime Novel Collection started with finding of a pile of unsorted turn-of-the-century booklets in the dusty depths of the Falvey West basement. Katz recognized these immediately as dime novels and started an exhaustive search for other collectors and curators.
After time, they were able to negotiate the rights to publish a portion of the bibliographic work of Eddie LeBlanc, late editor of the journal Dime Novel Roundup. Building off of LeBlanc’s efforts, Katz and his peers were able to secure grant funding to digitize a bibliography of dime novels. These nearly forgotten texts are now a feature of Falvey’s Special Collections, and Katz views that inclusion as an important indicator of a growing appreciation for different cultural artifacts.
“I am hopeful that through the digitization work we are helping to spearhead, these dime novels will become more visible and maybe will be recognized for the position they hold in popular culture.”
Check in next month for another profile in our ongoing How We Help series!
Nathaniel Gosweiler is a graduate assistant in the Communication and Marketing Department at Falvey Memorial Library. He is currently pursuing an MA in Communication at Villanova University.