Professor Emeritus James Aagaard Passes Away

Electrical engineer helped develop Northwestern’s first online library cataloguing system

James Aagaard, professor emeritus of electrical engineering and computer science at Northwestern University, passed away at age 87 on June 22, 2018. He will be remembered as a dedicated teacher, devoted researcher, and valued colleague and friend.

A native of Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, Aagaard arrived to Northwestern as a first-year student in 1948. He spent the following 63 years at the University as a student, faculty member, and academic researcher. He received his bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD degrees in electrical engineering from the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and joined the school’s faculty as an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering in 1957.

James AagaardIn 1968, Aagaard was appointed by then-Associate University Librarian John P. McGowan to use his skills as a programmer and systems designer to develop a new system that could organize and track the circulation of the library’s collection of more than 1 million books and materials. Working with Library Systems Analyst Velma Veneziano, Aagaard created the Northwestern Online Total Integrated System (NOTIS), the school’s first online library cataloguing system.

Launched in 1970 to coincide with the opening of the new University Library on the Evanston campus, NOTIS quickly influenced how libraries around the world managed their collections. The system was adopted by the National Library of Venezuela in 1979, and at its peak during the 1980s, was used by more than 100 other institutions, including some of the largest research libraries in the United States.

“We cannot understate this, because, of course, Jim would understate this, but he permanently changed the path of this library and hundreds of other libraries around the country and even in the world,” said Sarah Pritchard, Dean of Libraries, in a 2011 Northwestern profile about Aagard.

In 1985, Aagaard received the LITA/Gaylord Award for Achievement in Library and Information Technology from the American Library Association in recognition of his contributions developing NOTIS.

After Northwestern sold NOTIS to telecommunications company Ameritech in 1991, Aagaard remained with the University as an assistant University librarian, helping guide Northwestern Libraries through technological advancements during the 1990s. In 2007, he and his wife, Mary Lou Aagaard, received Northwestern Libraries’s Deering Family Award in honor of significant contributions to its success. He retired from Northwestern in 2011.

A member of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society, Aagaard made notable financial contributions to the organization’s fellowship and scholarship programs. He was also a member of McCormick’s Walter P. Murphy Society, which honors individuals for annual gifts that support faculty and student initiatives through Murphy Society grants.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, July 14 at 11 a.m. at the Glenview Community Church in Glenview, Illinois.