Search for head UI librarian underway

BY NICK HASSETT | APRIL 02, 2013 5:00 AM

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A time of change is coming for libraries, with the use of traditional resources being challenged by new information technology.

It’s a challenge that four finalists for the position of University Librarian at the University of Iowa hope to address in their battle to be the head of one of the largest libraries in the United States.

The candidates will each present a forum at the UI about the future of libraries at research-intensive universities.

UI Associate Vice President Steven Fleagle, the chief information officer at the UI, said the university is looking for someone to lead the University Libraries into uncharted territory.

“Libraries are in a time of great change, and it’s not clear exactly where they’re going,” he said. “There’s something new on the horizon, and [the University Librarian] should figure out what direction to go and help us get there.”

The first in the series of forums began Monday at the Bijou, featuring Beth McNeil, the associate dean for academic affairs, libraries, at Purdue University.

McNeil said libraries today have to find different ways to do the roles they perform.

“We’ll be stepping out of traditional roles,” she said. “The primary function will remain the same, but there’ll be new ways we’re going to do it.”

The candidate who is chosen will fill the position of Nancy Baker, the current librarian. Baker’s salary is $198,154.

According to the UI Office of the Provost, the librarian will encourage user-focused services; develop partnerships on and off campus; create strategic planning and assessment tools; participate in external fundraising; collaborate with other libraries; engage in strategic national initiatives and state and federal legislative issues; and oversee a $24.1 million budget.

McNeil focused on the broader role that university libraries play in a research community.

“I don’t think it’s very easy to think about specifics related to the future of libraries; in fact, it’s hard,” she said. “But we can think about the changes we’re seeing and see where the future may lead us.”

McNeil said changing undergraduate populations, a decline in funding for libraries, the preservation of resources, and the increasing availability of electronic resources all presented challenges.

However, she also saw opportunities for libraries in the modern age.

“We have the opportunity, maybe the responsibility, to build bridges,” she said. “Students need to understand and recognize the need for information … even with a change in learning environments.”

The forum included a question-and-answer session with the audience. One question was how the library could expand technological resources without drawing away from traditional library resources.

“It can be expensive, but there are ways to prepare for the cost,” McNeil said. “Unfortunately, we can’t just do it in addition; [expanding technological resources] may not be possible without taking away from anything else.”

The next three finalists, who have not been announced yet, will get their chance to answer the questions at forums throughout April. The next forum will also be at the Bijou on April 8 at 4 p.m.

UI Professor Richard Fumerton, a cochairman of the search committee for the position, said the forum process was typical for any important position at the university.

“We do [this process] for any dean or higher administrative position,” he said. 

But Fumerton said the decision process for the finalists goes beyond just the qualifications and experience they may have.

“Of course, there are the intangibles,” he said. “They have to be a leader, and have the appropriate vision for the libraries, and all that good stuff.”

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