Pat Burns, dean of libraries and vice president of information technology, is retiring from Colorado State University after 41 years.
Burns graduated from Tulane University in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. After finishing his undergraduate studies, he pursued his master’s and doctorate in mechanical engineering at University of California, Berkeley. He then began his career at CSU in July of 1978 as an assistant professor in mechanical engineering.
“I knew I wanted to teach,” Burns said. “One of my professors had made a huge impression upon me and I felt that maybe I could start doing that for students as well.”
Celebrate! CSU Milestones
Colorado State University employees achieving a decade of service or more this year and retirees will be honored at the annual Celebrate! CSU Milestones event at 4 p.m. on Thursday, May 9, in the LSC Grand Ballroom.
When Burns arrived at Colorado State, he said had no intention of taking on as many tasks as he has over the years. In addition to his classroom work, he began as a primary investigator writing funding proposals for Westnet, through the National Science Foundation Network. During that time Westnet was responsible for connecting multiple regions, including Colorado, through computer networking.
Burns became the director of Academic Computing and Networking Services in 1998 and was eventually promoted to vice president for Information Technology. “I don’t know what I did, if anything, to merit any of those things; they just kind of happened,” Burns said. “But I sort of got increasing responsibility for more and more of our central IT departments.”
Becoming Dean of Libraries
In 2006, a group of people on campus were brought together to form the Library 2020 Task Force. Their aim was to get an idea of what the Morgan Library would look like in the year 2020.
“It took about two years for that task force to produce a report,” Burns explained. “The four different subgroups [infrastructure, undergraduate education, graduate education and research] wrote four different reports that got smashed together and were never cohesive or coherent. However, the answer was right: It’s all going to be digital in 2020.”
The task force saw that both the library and IT were going to work closely together in the future. As a result of the report, CSU President Tony Frank created a hybrid position of Dean of Libraries and VP of IT, and Burns added responsibility for the CSU Libraries to his IT duties.
Lessons and legacy
Holding many different positions at CSU has given Burns the experience to carry the Morgan Library into the 21st century and set the stage for it to continue to succeed and evolve for years to come.
“[My career has] taught me humility,” Burns said. “What’s really interesting about technology is that there’s so much to know and I learned early on how much I didn’t know. What I had to do was to go ask people, and what I learned is that nobody knows everything, so we all have to ask each other questions all the time and grow together.”
Burns has incorporated additional technology into the library and created a multiplicity of avenues for students, faculty and staff to pursue research and access to resources that can keep pace with future change.
“I would like to be remembered as somebody with lots of intellectual curiosity and somebody who was dedicated to CSU,” Burns said. “I wanted to do both good and well, and I hope I’ve left that legacy here.”