CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — University Librarian and Juanita J. and Robert E. Simpson Dean of Libraries John Wilkin is the 2019 winner of the Hugh C. Atkinson Memorial Award. The award, named for a former University of Illinois librarian, is given by the American Library Association to recognize an academic librarian who has made significant achievements in library automation or management and notable improvements in library services or research.
“John Price Wilkin exemplifies the spirit of the Hugh C. Atkinson Memorial Award through leadership, risk-taking and innovation,” said Bruce Johnson, the award committee chair and former senior library information systems specialist at the Library of Congress, in the announcement of the award.
Hugh C. Atkinson was the university librarian and dean of libraries from 1976-86. When he arrived, the library had a filing backlog of nearly a million catalog cards. Atkinson spearheaded the move to automation, and by 1978, the facility was the first major research library in the U.S. to have an online catalog.
Atkinson also worked to create a statewide computer-linked library network. It included more than 2,400 libraries, including public, elementary school, university and corporate libraries.
“From the first days of my career, Hugh Atkinson has been a towering figure to me. His vision and actions in the arenas of library technology and management were extraordinary,” Wilkin said. “I'm humbled to receive the award, an honor that is made even more special as I walk past his portrait every day.”
Wilkin was an early adopter of structured markup languages such as SGML and XML, providing access to digital texts as well as a means for searchability and textual analysis, and inspiring online publishing efforts such as the California Digital Library, Johnson said.
Wilkin led a groundbreaking effort to digitize 19th-century books and he helped launch JSTOR, a digital library of academic journals, books and primary sources, he said.
“He managed the partnership with Google to digitize the University of Michigan’s collection, eventually leading to the foundation of the HathiTrust. As executive director of the HathiTrust, John established a model for shared governance and large-scale collaboration that secured sharing provisions for member libraries,” Johnson said. “In his current role as university librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, John continues to lead innovation efforts, particularly in the area of research data curation. All of these achievements have had far-reaching impact in the library profession and beyond, providing a foundation for transformation in publishing, research and unprecedented access to digital content.”
Wilkin joined the U. of I. in his current role in August 2013. He served as the interim provost from February 2017 to January 2018.
Before coming to Illinois, Wilkin served in a number of library-related capacities at the University of Michigan over the course of two decades, most recently as the executive director of HathiTrust and the associate university librarian for publishing and technology. He also worked for two years at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville as systems librarian for information services.
Wilkin earned graduate degrees in English from the University of Virginia and in library science from the University of Tennessee, as well as a bachelor’s degree in literature from Antioch College.
Former University of Illinois Librarian Paula Kaufman received the Atkinson award in 2010.