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Billings announces retirement

Harold Billings, director of general libraries at The University of Texas at Austin, has announced his retirement, effective next Aug. 31.

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AUSTIN, Texas—Harold Billings, director of general libraries at The University of Texas at Austin, has announced his retirement, effective next Aug. 31.

Billings was appointed acting director of general libraries in April 1977, and was named director the following year. He has led the university’s library system since then.

During his tenure as director, The University of Texas at Austin library collections have grown from four million to more than eight million volumes (from ninth-to fifth-largest academic library in the nation). An interactive circulation system established in 1980 was the basis for the creation of an online catalog, with its subsequent development as the digital UT Library Online (UTLOL) in 1994.

Visited daily by users from more than 100 countries, UTLOL now offers access to more than 200 full-text databases covering all subject areas, 5,000 digitized maps, 6,700 full-text electronic journals, including access to more than 100 million articles that are not on the public Internet. It also offers 47,000 electronic books, hundreds of online newspapers, government information, information on more than 40 million books and their locations around the globe, plus an online catalog providing bibliographic information on the holdings of the university’s libraries.

Extensive attention has been paid to improving services for students and faculty during Billings’ tenure, including:

  • Establishment of interactive suggestion boxes
  • Assignment of a staff ombudsman
  • Creation of a staff-sharing program that provides opportunities for staff growth by temporary assignment to different responsibilities in other work areas.
  • Establishment of research work assignments that provide release time to enable professional staff to complete special projects of personal interest and benefit to the university.
  • Creation of the Staff Honors Endowment, established in 1993, to recognize staff accomplishments and adds books to the library under the honoree’s name.
  • Establishment of a mentor program for students in the Graduate School of Library Science (GSLIS).

“Of all the accomplishments of the past 25 years,” Billings said, “I am most pleased with the development of a superb staff, many now recognized nationally for their expertise, who deserve the credit for major, continuing improvements in library operations, programs and services.”

Under his leadership, General Libraries staff have been instrumental in the creation and management of the UT System Digital Library, making world-class university collections and information services available to the 15-member University of Texas System community. Billings played a major role in the establishment of the TexShare statewide resource-sharing program, which would not have survived its second year of existence had the General Libraries not volunteered to manage it. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board credited the initial success of the program to The University of Texas at Austin’s efforts.

During his earlier years at the university, Billings helped Dr. Harry Ransom and his staff in the acquisition processes that built the Humanities Research Center (HRC) collections. At Ransom’s request, Billings began the initial processing of some 600,000 volumes of HRC collections stored at the Balcones Research Center (now the Pickle Research Campus) by producing photocopies of title pages and numbered bookmarks as proto-finding aids for titles in the collections. He was responsible for a summer project in 1972 that reduced the university’s estimated 1.2 million cataloging backlog by more than 300,000 volumes.

Billings established the library’s Asian and Middle East Collections in the late 1960s, and worked with students and faculty to create in 1974 the Mexican American Library Program, now one of the nation’s major Hispanic and Latino research and cultural collections and service centers.

Billings began his career at the university in September 1954 as a library assistant in the University Library Catalog Department. He had enrolled in the university’s Graduate School of Library the previous summer.

After receiving his master’s degree in library science in 1957, Billings was appointed to the position of librarian III, working as assistant head of cataloging. During 1965-67 he was chief acquisitions librarian. He was promoted to assistant university librarian for technical services in 1967. From 1972-1977 he was associate director of general libraries, with responsibilities in general administration, collection development and technical services.

Billings earned an associate of arts degree from Edinburg Junior College and a bachelor’s degree in physics with highest honors from Pan American College (now UT Pan American) receiving in 1953 the first four-year degree awarded by that institution. He taught physics, chemistry and English in the Pharr-San Juan Alamo High School during 1953-54, before entering graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin.

He has been on numerous boards and advisory groups and was the founding chairman of the Research Libraries Advisory Committee to Online Computer Library Center Inc. (OCLC). OCLC is an innovative, library computer services and research organization that serves more than 41,000 libraries in 82 countries and territories around the world.

Billings is the author or editor of works dealing with contemporary literature and bibliography, as well as articles about library cooperation and the electronic information revolution. His most recent publication is “Magic and Hypersystems: Constructing the Information-Sharing Library” (Chicago: American Library Association, 2002). The University of Texas at Austin GSLIS established “The Harold Billings Fellowship for the Study of Library and Information Science” in his honor in 2000. He received the 2002 Hugh C. Atkinson Memorial Award from the American Library Association, named in honor of one of the pioneers of library automation. The award “recognizes outstanding achievements (including risk-taking) by academic librarians who have contributed significantly to improvements in the areas of library automation, library management and/or library development and research.”

A search committee, chaired by Dean of Liberal Arts Richard W. Lariviere, has begun a search for Billings’ successor.

For more information contact: Carole Cable, General Libraries, 512-495-4382.