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Thanking a Friend

Bob Bocher
Bob Bocher

Often the first step in preparing a retirement celebration is to ask colleagues and friends to share stories about the person retiring. It’s not often that you receive more stories than can possibly be incorporated into a two minute speech at the goodbye and good luck party.

This was definitely the case when we announced Bob Bocher’s retirement from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to our various committees and friends of the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP). I ended up with enough for several retirements and am hardly going to be able to do justice to the many well-wishers, and hand-wringers at-the-thought-of-losing-Bob’s-expertise contingent. So I’m going to need some extra space…

Most often people asked at the end of their email, “Will Bob still stay involved with OITP?”

Fortunately we do not have to worry. Bob will continue on as an OITP Fellow and we are already rubbing our hands together thinking of the things we can send his way.

Bob came to us with a long history with both libraries (starting in 1976 in the Wisconsin Supreme Court Law Library) and with telecommunications and technology, having key punched his first programs (and when was that a la mode?) and getting dial-up access to the Internet via the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1989. Close to my heart, I learned that Bob spent the late 1990s making sure Wisconsin library systems were connected to BadgerNet, the state’s broadband network which connects 95 percent of Wisconsin’s libraries. He has been the state’s E-rate coordinator since the beginning of the program in 1996. Thinking about Bob’s impact on the library community beyond these examples, Bob estimated that he has given over 400 workshops, conference programs, and presentations. I’m taking bets on how many of these have the OITP tagline on them…

Regardless of what specifically lies ahead for Bob in his glorious days of well-deserved “free time,” he has left his mark on the OITP committees and with the ALA Washington Office staff. Bob has served on the OITP Advisory Committee, the Telecommunications Subcommittee, the E-rate Task Force (since 1999, I might add!), and, as mentioned, is currently an OITP Fellow. He also represented ALA on the US UCAN Task Force on Community Anchor Network Economic Models. Bob has reviewed countless OITP documents, drafted official comments for FCC proceedings, and written pieces on library connectivity. And, Bob is one of our most reliable and trusted “go-to” people when we need examples and feedback for our own projects.

I would be remiss if I did not pause here and roll up my sleeves to work in some of the many comments we received. First there were a number of unsolicited well-wishers from the state E-rate coordinator email list (maintained by OITP) which are nicely summed up by this sentiment in response to Bob’s reassurance that he would still keep his hand on the E-rate pulse through his work as an OITP Fellow, “That’s reassuring, Bob. Because otherwise, it’s not unlike the sun taking leave of the solar system.”

Past and present OITP Advisory Committee members shared sentiments no less profound touting Bob’s practical knowledge and his dedication to educating the library field.

Linda Lord, chair of the E-rate task force, shared her reaction to hearing about Bob in this way, “Bob’s retirement hit me like the crack in the Washington monument from last year’s earthquake.  It can’t be happening!  Bob is an icon in the world of technology and his willingness to share his knowledge with the entire country has benefited us all so much. His work on the E-rate task force will continue as will his work with OITP. Hooray!  Thank you, Bob, for your years of outstanding service and for the many years (hopefully) yet to come. Congratulations on this new phase of your life.”

Christine Lind Hage shares, “Over his many years of participation in OITP Bob has been the voice of practical library experience. He understands the broad technology policy implications and has always been able to articulate those issues at a local library level. Although he is entering a new phase in his life, I hope he will remain involved in OITP initiatives. We need his practical, experienced and knowledgeable voice.”

While Betty Turock elaborates, “Bob Bocher, you are one of the information policy stalwarts in ALA. We can always count on you for informed opinions, hard work, and cogent synthesis on the important issues before the profession. Please don’t leave your voluntary work with ALA just because you’re retiring from your long time position in Wisconsin. I’m hoping this merely means more time available to work for all of the nation’s libraries. What an opportunity your retirement makes for better informed information policy on behalf of libraries and librarians.”

And from Pat Ball, “I have enjoyed working with Bob on the Telecommunications Subcommittee of OITP and other various committees within OITP. Bob’s knowledge and wisdom concerning telecommunications issues, networking etc. are phenomenal. I can safely call him the “telecommunications man.”

Washington Office staff is equally inspired by Bob’s tireless dedication to influencing the telecom policy agenda for the benefit of the library community.

Former director of OITP’s Program on Networks, Carrie McGuire (Lowe) made it a little more personal, “One thing I learned from Bob was the importance of sharing one’s expertise in service to the profession. Bob has worked tirelessly on connectivity issues on behalf of all libraries. So many people in communities across the country benefit from his leadership on issues like E-rate and connectivity. They will never know his name, but their lives are better for his service.”

And because we, at the Washington Office, like to also remember the fun side of the many volunteers who come through our doors, Emily Sheketoff, our Executive Director reminds us that Bob has helped promulgate the vision of Wisconsinites we fondly carry with us in D.C., “Bob invited me to come to Wisconsin to speak at the Wisconsin Library Association meeting a few years ago. He picked me up at the airport and drove me to the “Dells” where the meeting would be held. It’s this enormous resort, with a water park in the middle, but this was March and way too cold for water parks! You all know me and food, so he takes me to a bar for dinner, where everything had a beer theme.”

You have probably noticed a few common threads in how we see Bob. There is no question he is dedicated to the library profession. There is no doubt that we are more informed on key library issues (net neutrality, library connectivity, privacy, ebooks, and more) because of Bob. And there is no doubt that we in D.C. have learned how important it is to maintain close contact with those “in the field” so that we have that critical understanding of how policy affects the ability of librarians across the country to provide the services their communities depend on.

OITP Director Alan Inouye puts it concisely (well, somewhat):

“The library community is blessed with many competent, high-achieving, and dedicated practitioners in the technology space. From that set of folks, only a small number also have excellent knowledge and political savvy in the national public policy arena. And then if you consider only those with good writing, editing, and speaking ability, you end up with Bob Bocher and … well I dunno who else, maybe there are others too — or not. For so many years, Bob has served in that go-to role for OITP, for which I am so grateful. His contributions to ALA and the national library community have spanned e-rate, telecommunications policy generally, and now increasingly in e-books. I congratulate Bob on his retirement, but to be honest, I may be even more pleased that he will continue his association with OITP next year as an OITP Fellow.”

So Bob, on behalf of ALA, the Washington Office, ALA members, and the library community at large, many thanks, don’t go far, and let’s have a beer to celebrate your retirement.

Marijke Visser
Assistant Director, OITP

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Marijke Visser

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  1. What a delight we’ve had being able to work with Bob, he’s so incredibly kind and generous with his knowledge and humor. And he makes all the rest of us look good because he does soooo much of the hard work – and he does it so well! When I was first trying to figure out networks (199?) I found a network typology diagram that Bob had posted to the Wisconsin site – he came through when I was really desperate! I got a lot of good use out that diagram and I’ve – we’ve all been benefiting from his brilliance and generous spirit ever since! Thanks Bob! – next beer’s on me!

  2. Charlie,

    Thanks for adding the comment – it goes to show that Bob has really touched the lives of our members and through his work the lives of those served by our libraries. Thank goodness Bob keeps focused on the work and the outcome – otherwise we might have to worry all this praise would make him too proud to rub elbows with the rest of us!

  3. Steve Marquardt Steve Marquardt

    Congratulations, Bob, on reaching a well-deserved retirement in good health. I enjoyed working with you during my 14 years in Wisconsin.

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