A Moment with our Faculty – John Whitham, MLIS, MSIS


By: Sheila Runkel

Before beginning his Library Science studies, John Whitham had noticed a deficit with library research. While completing his undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, John was exposed to a range of genres and historical periods. However, his interests kept pulling him toward more obscure texts that had very little scholarly research associated with them, which made analysis challenging. “I came to dislike library research, because it seemed incredibly difficult to access the resources I needed.”

This difficulty became all the more apparent in his senior year. “I wrote my honors thesis on a book called Holiday, which is a relatively unknown, modernist novel by Waldo Frank about the problem of race relations in a fictional Southern town. The book spoke to many important issues about race and art in early-modernist American culture, but it was very difficult to find source material on this novel. Few people had written about the work already, and what materials our library had were handwritten journals and letters yet to be transcribed.” The University’s library services had the collection or resources restricted to on-site use, but they had not been catalogued or copied. Waldo Frank’s nearly indecipherable handwriting only added to the challenge of extracting the proper content John needed for his paper. While difficult, the process provided John with a path of interest. Following his time at Penn, he enrolled in Drexel University’s dual Master of Sciences program in Library Information Sciences and Information Systems, with an emphasis on digital library technology.

At Drexel, John learned the history and theory of information accessibility and dissemination, and also trained in database administration and implementing systems to capture and share information for a wider population of users. With these skills, John became an invaluable resource for The College when he joined the staff in July of 2012 as the Digital Librarian. In early 2013, The American College transitioned their library to a digital format and John was promoted to his current role. “I’m ex officio faculty; I do not teach courses, but as the College’s chief Librarian, my responsibilities include oversight of The College’s digital library and research services, which directly support the academic growth of The College and its programs of study.”

The Vane B. Lucas Memorial Library now stands among the industry’s best resources, featuring one of the most robust online collections of financial services information in the country. Students at The College have access to nearly five thousand scholarly journals, more than three thousand trade journals and business magazines, nearly 2,500 market research reports, and more than nine thousand executive and analyst interviews. It is an exciting time for John, who believes, “establishing the digital library was an innovation for The College; it put us years ahead of the technology of other institutions and opened up a whole new way of sharing knowledge with our online students.”

Alongside his library duties, John is also the director of administration for The American College’s six Centers of Excellence, each concerned with a different sphere of influence in the industry. Along with the Cary Maguire Center for Ethics in the Financial Services, there are centers for women and financial services, financial security, veterans affairs, and retirement income. Two new Centers are on the horizon, as well, focusing on special needs planning and gerontology. This role is more support-based than his library duties; John interfaces with the directors to ensure the strategic plans exist that are in line with the mission of their respective Centers. Ethical issues abound in this role as well, especially when considering the information and original research that these Centers are creating. Are the Center’s following best practices? Are their research projects in line with and advancing their missions? Under what circumstances should this information be shared freely, and when is it appropriate to sell? Is the content serving the Financial Services industry well? In John’s eyes, the nature and principles of information are a complex topic of philosophical investigation. As a discipline, Information Science has been able to establish best practices and guidelines for other aspects. However, there is still a lot to be debated.

The Centers of Excellence only add to The College’s value. “Our Centers are operating at a higher level than ever before, generating thought leadership on industry trends with both academic and industry applications.” To John, these new developments are an important addition not only to the industry, but also to The College community. “I feel so fortunate that I’m in the position to work cross-departmentally within The College. As overseer of Library Services and Center Admin, I interface with colleagues at every level and in all departments of the College. It has expanded my professional knowledge and improved my interpersonal and communication skills. I’m excited to help the College into the future, in whatever initiatives come next.”

To learn more about The Centers of Excellence, visit www.theamericancollege.edu.