Extras - An Interview with Albert Brecht, USC Chief Information Officer

An Interview with Albert Brecht
USC Chief Information Officer

By Rachel Pergament

Rachel Pergament  is currently the Collection Development/Acquisitions Librarian at the University of Southern California Law Library.

(Archived September 15, 1998)

In the Spring of 1998, a gift was presented to the University of Southern California Law School by the John Stauffer Charitable Trust. This gift created a new and unique position for both the Law School and the nation, the post of Chief Information Officer. This is the first such post of its kind to be endowed at an American law school.

The Stauffer Charitable Trust endowed the Law School with $500,000 to create the position of Chief Information Officer and John Stauffer Professorship in Law. Albert Brecht, professor of law and associate dean, law library and information technology, has been appointed the inaugural holder of the post. His title is now associate dean, Chief Information Officer and John Stauffer Professor of Law.

The importance of this innovative endowment was acknowledged by the Dean of the Law School, Scott Bice when he accepted the gift and said, "The Stauffer Trust's gift makes clear the central importance of a law school's ability to take advantage of new technologies to properly educate its students, serve its faculty and disseminate information from an array of sources, both print and electronic."

Dean Bice also emphasized the importance of technology in the management and dissemination of legal information when he said, "...the past decade has seen a revolution in the way legal information is gathered, stored and disseminated. Computing came to law school libraries with the introduction of major legal databases in the late 1970's. With these databases, followed by on-line catalogs, index databases and CD-ROMS, today's legal information has become a major mix of multimedia, in addition to the traditional books and periodicals."

Dean Brecht serves as director of the school's law library and information technology. Law school library directors have traditionally held librarian and law degrees, and have in the past been responsible for administrating the library and teaching law students to perform legal research. This new position was created as a response to the continuous changes which have occurred in field of law librarianship over the last decade as well as the changes that have occurred at the USC Law Library. During the past decade, Dean Brecht has assumed the greater share of responsibility for planning, implementing and maintaining the computer technology at the Law School. This new position recognizes that part of directing the USC Law Library now involves managing all computer and computer related technology within the entire law school. According to Dean Bice, "combining the traditional duties of head law librarian with the vital and constantly evolving task of managing intricate computer networks and databases has produced the need for a new position, the chief information officer."

Dean Brecht is an expert on computerized legal research and is the author of numerous articles on the impact of technology on law libraries. He also teaches legal research at the Law School. A past president of both the American Association of Law Libraries and the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, he earned his B.A. from the University of North Texas, his J.D. from the University of Houston, and his ML.L. from the University of Washington.

Dean Brecht was interviewed about his new post in his office at the USC Law Library on July 23, 1998.

Q. How do the responsibilities of Associate Dean, Chief Information Officer and John Stauffer Professor of Law differ from your previous post?

This post recognizes that one of the main functions of the law library at USC is operating and maintaining the computer networks and technologies which are now such a large part of the law school. In addition, this post also recognizes the importance of electronic access to all types of information, including the traditional types of legal online sources, to the students and faculty at USC. This post integrates what were previously two separate yet dependent departments within the law school: computing and the law library. It also recognizes that maintaining a law library necessitates developing and maintaining computer networks, hardware and online services which play an integral role in legal information today.

Q. What aspects of your background best prepared you for this new post?

Both my law librarian and law school backgrounds have always served me well. One of the best preparations for undertaking new tasks at USC is asking and listening to the suggestions of the law faculty. Many of the faculty are informed and up-to-date on the latest computer hardware, software applications and electronic information sources and are eager to learn and test new programs and tools. In the past, as Director of the Law Library, I have been responsible for the law school's student computer lab and for providing access to Lexis and Westlaw for the law school faculty and students. As time passed, more of the responsibility for maintaining the law school's computer hardware, network and systems was given to me. At the same time that I was assuming greater responsibility for the computer needs of the law school, the law faculty's perceptions of the computer services the law library could provide was also changing. The faculty began to rely more upon computer online services. This resulted in the faculty seeking greater amounts of assistance from the law librarians for online searches. This in turn lead to faculty making greater demands on the library and librarians to provide answers to all types of computer related questions. As time passed, the library became responsible for answering all types of computer related questions which lead to my assuming more of the responsibility for administering and maintaining the computer needs of law school and law library. So in a sense, my background, experiences and previous responsibilities have been ideal preparation.

Q. Have you set certain goals?

Yes. I would like to continue the program started last year in which ordinary classroom have been converted into instructional technology classrooms. These instructional technology classrooms are equipped with desktop PCS, CD-ROMs, video cassette players and state of the art audio systems. Law faculty now have the ability to present lectures utilizing PowerPoint, may search online sites or screen videos during class sessions using these classrooms. Another goal is to continue to keep the law school and law library technological competitive with all other law schools and law libraries.