Janet Mather, SB’63, SM’64, Desktop Support Specialist, 1941–2021

Photo of Janet Mather
Janet Mather

Janet Mather provided desktop support to nearly five decades of library staff members and trained and managed countless student assistants in the Administrative and Desktop Services group of the University of Chicago Library. She died in October at the age of 80.

“I will never forget that Janet was one of the first people I met when I came to the Library, said Brenda Johnson, Library Director and University Librarian. “The care, thought, and thoroughness she invested in getting me established were greatly appreciated, and the kind greeting she gave me made me feel very welcome. I know that we will all miss her.”

A vital part of the Library community, Mather played an important role in the Library’s technological evolution beginning in 1972. That long history meant that she was a repository of knowledge about how Library systems had operated, and she loved to share stories of punch cards, mainframes, and the pneumatic tube system in Regenstein, even pulling out artifacts of these obsolete technologies to illustrate her stories.

Mather grew up in Utah and came to the University of Chicago as an undergraduate and later a graduate physics student. As a student Janet worked at Argonne National Laboratory and had stories of commuting back and forth from Hyde Park on what were then country roads. Later, she worked for NASA in Washington, D.C., but eventually returned to the University and Hyde Park, which became her home for the next five decades. Mather helped the Library migrate through four generations of integrated library systems—the software used to automate the labor-intensive activities of large research libraries such as acquisitions, cataloging, and circulation. David Farley, Manager of Administrative & Desktop Systems, describes her history at the University:

“At some point after she became a student, computers caught Janet’s interest and she returned to Chicago to work for the Dean of Students office, when “computers” meant the mainframe located across the Midway at 1155 E. 59th St.

Janet came to the Library in 1972 to work on the Library Data Management System (LDMS), one of the first integrated library systems. Janet liked to recall that she was the first person in the Library who had a computer with one of those new “hard drives.” Janet was one of the few remaining IT people in the Library who were here for the development of LDMS, migration to Horizon, OLE and now FOLIO. Janet also helped develop and support many of the in-house applications the Library was beginning to use for day-to-day administrative activities.

When Janet moved from Regenstein 210 in the early '90s down to the B Level offices of what was then called the Microcomputer Operations Assistants group, she brought with her the “Administrative” part of Administrative and Desktop Systems (ADS), which led to a name change. Janet’s first task with ADS was to bring the Library’s desktop hardware and operating systems up-to-date so we could migrate from LDMS to Horizon. Working with one student assistant, Janet deployed hundreds of new desktop computers running OS/2 to all areas of the Library so we could run the new Horizon integrated library system. Janet then continued to support the desktop side of Horizon until we moved to OLE, and then continued to support a variety of resources, including email, databases, and the third-party software.”

A dedicated member of the Hyde Park community, Mather was a well-known member of a dog-walking group at Promontory Point and has been praised for her dedication to picking up trash on the Point every morning. She was an avid conversationalist with deep knowledge of all things Hyde Park. “I loved running into Janet on the campus bus because I could learn more in those short rides than I would ever have learned myself about what was going on in Hyde Park,” said Elisabeth Long, Associate University Librarian for IT & Digital Scholarship. “All I’d have to do was mention a change I had noticed, and Janet could regale me with the whole history of what had happened and what was coming.”

Mather’s personal interests included genealogy and history, music, including Music of the Baroque and the Lyric Opera, and animals. She was a kind companion to many dogs and cats over the years. In her early years she was a civil rights activist and marched in Alabama.

Jean Mather, AB’69, Janet’s younger sister who predeceased her, was also a graduate of the University.

Donations in Mather’s memory can be made to one of her favorite charities: Habitat for Humanity, the Nature Conservancy, or the Audubon Society.