3 Librarians Bring Skills in Preservation and Technological Innovation to Their New Top Roles

June 19, 2016

Valerie R. Hotchkiss

A Rare-Books Devotee

As she prepares to head a large university library system for the first time, Valerie R. Hotchkiss recalls that even at the age of 7, she logged the whereabouts of her beloved books painstakingly, and then at 14 worked as a shelver at a Carnegie public library in her hometown, Cincinnati.

Now, after directing for 11 years the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, one of the largest collections of its kind in the world, she is preparing to become, on August 1, university librarian at Vanderbilt University.

Ms. Hotchkiss says she knew early in life that librarianship was for her. She completed undergraduate studies at the Universities of Cincinnati and Tübingen in classics, and earned a doctorate at Yale University in medieval studies, opting for interdisciplinary fields because "a research librarian should know and understand a variety of subjects at an advanced level."

In between, she earned a master’s degree in library science at Southern Connecticut State University, and set out to learn how libraries work, top to bottom. "I have," she says, "done everything from filing catalog cards to implementing an integrated online library system."

"This was the right moment in my career," she says, to move from Illinois to a head librarianship "because I think librarians, people who really understand libraries from a history-of-communications point of view — from the earliest cuneiform tablets through the incunabula age and up to, now, the digital and information age — that’s good knowledge to have, as a head of a university library system: to have a feel for the entire history of communications."

She has also continued her scholarship, at Illinois as a professor of medieval studies and library science. Her publications include Clothes Make the Man: Female Cross Dressing in Medieval Europe and, edited with Jaroslav Pelikan, Yale University Press’s 2003 four-volume edition of Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition.

At Illinois, she has boosted public programming, acquired major collections, and made collections more accessible through more responsive and "seamless" search tools that also create "the potential for real discovery for both beginning users and sophisticated researchers."

She is also founding director of the university’s Midwest Book & Manuscript Studies Program, a certificate program in special-collections librarianship. Leaving behind the vast special-collections holdings in Urbana-Champaign will sting, she says. "It breaks my heart, but you’re always going to new collections." — Peter Monaghan

Anne Jarvis
Traditional Innovation

Running the University of Cambridge’s libraries does not sound like a job any librarian would give up easily. "Only an exceptional opportunity could have tempted me away," says Anne Jarvis, who has been university librarian at Cambridge for seven years, and before that was deputy librarian for nine. On October 1, she will become university librarian at Princeton University.

That opportunity promises to more than compensate for the "considerable adjustment" of living and working in a new country, the Irish-born Ms. Jarvis says in an email interview. "I am particularly attracted by the combination of familiarity — of outstanding collections, superb specialist staff, and exceptional traditions of teaching and research — and novelty."

She didn’t start her academic studies intending to be a librarian, but was drawn to the notion as an undergraduate at Trinity College Dublin, where studying history sparked her interest in scholarly "problem solving," she says. She has master’s degrees from Dublin City University and Cambridge, along with a diploma in library and information studies from University College Dublin.

She is moving to Princeton as it nears the end of a 10-year renovation of its Firestone Library. Many university libraries are refurbishing, and Ms. Jarvis suggests that an institution’s openness to successive waves of technology, such as the e-books that increasingly demand attention and accommodation, is as essential as maintaining traditional functions such as providing a sense of calm and contemplation in study areas, well-provisioned stacks, and busy offices behind the scenes.

More important even than the scale of institutions’ monetary investment, she says, is their emphasis on "responsible stewardship" of resources. That should include embracing collaborations with other institutions that enliven research and innovations in library programming. Part of being a custodian of an extraordinary scholarly tradition like the Princeton library’s, she says, is to bear in mind that "the greatest of our traditions are themselves the product of earlier innovation." — Peter Monaghan

Brian Strickland
John M. Unsworth
Digital-Humanities Fan

John M. Unsworth, long a key figure in conversations about the roles of new information technologies in academe, this week will become the university librarian and dean of libraries at the University of Virginia. "Virginia’s library has a long history of real engagement in the technology of information," says Mr. Unsworth, who is leaving posts as vice provost, university librarian, chief information officer, and professor of English at Brandeis University.

Mr. Unsworth was a pioneer in "digital humanities" — not just digitization of texts but also using computing tools to create new approaches to studying them.

As a member of commissions, studies, and consortia, he has pressed successfully for the adoption of techniques, tools, and standards for supporting the production of digital databases. He is one of five managers of the HathiTrust Research Center, which enables computational analysis of holdings of the vast HathiTrust Digital Library created by more than 100 research libraries.

Underpinning his involvement has been a philosophy of "liberation technology" — managing and sharing data through open-source frameworks. A long-held dream that he shares with his colleagues, he says, is that digital libraries will permit users to move freely among formerly "walled gardens" of information, allowing new forms of research to flourish.

Among his many ideas: Libraries and university presses could profitably collaborate much more, and libraries could take a much greater role in such tasks as sorting and packaging "big data" on behalf of research communities. "This is an interesting period while we all figure out what our respective roles are," he says.

He believes that the information-technology tsunami can revive libraries as teaching, learning, and social centers. Even though libraries’ embrace of electronic resources allows users to come into library buildings less often, those resources also generate the need for expert collaborations around data curation and analysis, so students and scholars must be taught new varieties of "information literacy." That, he says, "opens up opportunities to bring people back into contact with libraries and librarians."

Virginia is a familiar place to Mr. Unsworth. He received his Ph.D. in English there in 1988, and was from 1993 to 2003 the first director of the university’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities. After Brandeis, Virginia will be only his second librarianship. He worked his way around to the profession late in his career, he says. But he calls himself a lifelong "fellow traveler of librarians" — one who, even as a boy, was "a latchkey kid who spent a lot of my life at the public library."— Peter Monaghan

A Return to Canada

Santa J. Ono, president of the University of Cincinnati, will become president of the University of British Columbia in mid-August. He is a native of Vancouver whose father taught mathematics at British Columbia in the early 1960s.

Mr. Ono has led Cincinnati since 2012. Early in his tenure, he drew attention for attracting tens of thousands of followers on Twitter. He later led the university through a crisis after a white campus police officer shot to death an unarmed black motorist. Most recently, Mr. Ono spoke openly about his earlier personal struggles with mental health and advocated for increased mental-health services on college campuses.

The University of British Columbia has not had a permanent chief since Arvind Gupta resigned abruptly last summer. — Fernanda Zamudio-Suaréz

A Family Ritual

Among the 1,700 undergraduate and graduate degrees that Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University, conferred in May were doctorates to three very familiar people: a daughter and two sons. Penny Joel and Avery Joel, the oldest of Richard and Esther Joel’s six children, earned doctorates from Yeshiva’s Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, and Noam Joel, his fourth child, from the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration.

Earning degrees from Yeshiva, which has a tuition-remission program for qualified dependents of faculty members and administrators, is a Joel family tradition. Avery Joel’s doctorate is his fourth degree from the university, and all six children have together earned a dozen degrees there. — Ruth Hammond

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