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08/09/94

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Robert L. Street to step down as head of libraries and computing

STANFORD -- Robert L. Street, the head of libraries and information resources for the past four years and an administrator at Stanford for 32 years, will step down from the post this fall, Provost Condoleezza Rice has announced.

At the request of engineering Dean James Gibbons, Street will take over as chair of the Civil Engineering Department for the next year.

Rice said that she has been "incredibly impressed" with Street's "ability to innovate and, in doing so, to give Stanford a leadership position in the area of libraries and information resources."

"I'm quite certain that it is due in large part to Bob that Stanford is well ahead of other major universities in taking advantage of the information revolution," she said.

Rice said that four faculty members who head key committees will consult with her and President Gerhard Casper "in grappling with decisions about the next phase."

"Obviously, we will move expeditiously," she said, declining to be more specific about when reorganization plans might be announced.

The four faculty members are: Boyd Paulson, civil engineering and chair of the Committee on Academic Computing and Information Systems (C-ACIS); Doug Brutlag, biochemistry and chair of the C-ACIS subcommittee on the Distributed Information and Computing Environment; David Dill, computer science and interim chair of the C-ACIS subcommittee on Administrative Computing; and Carl Gotsch, food research and chair of the Committee on Libraries. Other faculty members also may be consulted, she said.

In 1990, Street was asked to oversee the merger of the University Libraries and the unit he then headed, Information Resources.

"My vision," Street recalled in an interview, "was that you would begin to build a seamless information environment so that it didn't make any difference whether the information you wanted was in book form or movie form or video form or digital form - the organization would deliver the information to you and give you the appropriate training or support."

Street's Stanford career began when he was a freshman in 1952. Five years later, he had a master's degree in civil engineering - he never actually received a bachelor's degree. After three years in the Navy, he returned to earn a doctorate in 1963, a year after he joined the faculty as an acting assistant professor. Simultaneously, Street began serving as assistant executive head of the department.

In 1972, when Street began an eight-year term as department chair, a majority of the faculty members had had him as a student. The same year, Street began an 11-year stint as associate dean for research in the School of Engineering.

Street was named vice provost for academic computing and information systems in 1983. "What we tried to do was move the computer into the forefront of the academic environment and get a universitywide network up and running. We wanted academic computing to evolve beyond the low-overhead time-sharing (LOTS) system and get faculty involved with computers and the network."

In 1987, administrative computing was added to Street's portfolio, and he became vice president for information resources.

With the addition of the libraries in 1990, Street became vice president for libraries and information resources. Under President Gerhard Casper's administrative reorganization in 1992, the title changed to vice provost and dean of libraries and information resources.

Street outlined some of the major results his staff has produced.

"We have a very rich on-line information environment now, and I don't think that would have happened without the merged organization," he said.

"If you look at what is now in Folio and Portfolio and look at what was in Folio in 1990, it's stunning how much has happened." Portfolio is a growing collection of university resources that includes documents, electronic publications, desktop applications, library catalogs, databases, multimedia presentations and gateways to the Internet.

Today, the campus also is "essentially fully networked," Street said, and virtually all administrative transactions are now done on-line.

The telephone system and networking are in the same organization, working closely together. More than half of the students have direct network access in their dorms, Street said.

The multimedia facility in Meyer Library, which is largely a computing application, is operated and managed by the library structure. Faculty use of the facility is increasing dramatically, he said.

The groundwork for the current administrative systems was laid in 1982 when university officials decided to adopt the Stanford Public Information REtrieval System database, which evolved from a library computerization project known as BALLOTS.

SPIRES was "homegrown and ahead of its time," Street said, and the decision to standardize to it "stood us very well. There wasn't anything out there that would have produced a better result." SPIRES' 12-year record is impressive in the software field, he said.

Around SPIRES, staff members built the PRISM program for on-line administrative transactions and trained university staff to use it.

Now departments are not satisfied just doing transactions, Street said. They want the means to manage data.

His unit now is planning the migration away from SPIRES and the mainframe to a client-server environment that relies on commercial software products.

Street said he was particularly proud of his staff's ability to innovate during years of budget cutting.

Street said he hopes that the university will continue to make major investments in the networking infrastructure and in technology that supports teaching. Both Casper and Rice have indicated that they want to make such investments, he said.

Street technically will be on sabbatical in 1994-95, running the department on a part-time basis.

Dean Gibbons expressed appreciation for Street's willingness to serve as chair, saying "he will bring to his job a wealth of administrative experience that has probably never been equalled in the school."

Street said he would spend much of his time learning the new technologies that will help his teaching. "I'll get to go play with all these toys I've been involved in helping the faculty get," he said. He probably will take up teaching again in spring 1996.

Meanwhile, he continues - as he has during all his years in administration - advising doctoral students and running a research program.

Four of his doctoral students earned their degrees last year, and five more are still in the pipeline. In the last year, Street has worked with others on seven journal papers that were published or are in press. The seventh edition of Elementary Fluid Mechanics, which he co-authored with G.Z. Watters and J.K. Vennard, is due out soon.

Street, who is professor of fluid mechanics and applied mathematics in civil engineering, uses numerical computer simulations to study movement of fluids, mostly relating to environmental and pollution issues. Among other things, he and his students have worked on coastal upwelling models - the upwelling of nutrients and water - and the transport of trace gases in the global environment.

"I made a commitment to keep the research part of my life alive while I was being a manager and administrator, and that worked," he said.

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