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October 23, 2014

Staff, faculty provide input on search for ULS director

The search committee is looking for a successor to Rush G. Miller, Hillman University Librarian and director of ULS, who will retire Dec. 31 after two decades.

The search committee is looking for a successor to Rush G. Miller, Hillman University Librarian and director of ULS, who will retire Dec. 31 after two decades.

“The library is absolutely critical to the scholarly mission of this university — for our undergraduate students, our graduate students and for the general scholarly tone that the library emanates,” said Vice Provost for Graduate Studies Alberta Sbragia in a forum on the search for a new University Library System (ULS) director.

Rush G. Miller, Hillman University Librarian and director of ULS, will retire Dec. 31 after two decades.

Calling the selection of a new library director one of the most critical choices the University will make in its “new era” under a new chancellor, Sbragia, chair of the ULS director search committee, vowed, “We will do everything we can to find and bring to campus the best candidates that we can attract.”

The Oct. 20 open forum brought more than 50 people to the William Pitt Union lower lounge to offer their input to a panel of committee members as the search commences.

“Just about every major library in the United States is having their librarian retire,” Sbragia said, “but I’m optimistic because we have a lot to offer: We have a very good library system; we have very, very good libraries and staff, and we have a very good city to live in. I am very optimistic that we can find a very good person to take over from Rush.”

Boston-based  search  firm Isaacson, Miller has been engaged to assist in the search. Beverly Brady, a senior associate with the firm, sat alongside the committee to hear what was on attendees’ minds.

Brady said she visited campus last summer to meet with the provost, members of the library staff and Sbragia.“That’s helpful for me to be able to tell potential candidates what it’s like here,” she said. She returned just a few weeks ago to meet the search committee members.

Sbragia said that after a pool of candidates is identified, the committee will narrow the field to about 10 who will be interviewed briefly in person or via Skype.

Of those first-round candidates, perhaps a half-dozen will be invited to campus for a longer visit that will include a public presentation.

Brady estimated that initial interviews would take place in January with shortlisted finalists visiting campus in February. An unranked list of top candidates will be presented to Provost Patricia E. Beeson for her decision.


Sbragia asked for input not only on the kind of skills and background candidates should have, but also on the kind of person who would be a good fit at Pitt and within the ULS culture.

Among the issues attendees said were important:

  • Relations with the School of Information Sciences. Search committee member Fern Brody, associate University librarian, noted ULS and the iSchool have maintained excellent relations, particularly in the digital humanities and in collaborating on the upcoming University Senate plenary session on digital data. Committee member Jeanann Haas, ULS head of preservation and special collections, added that many ULS librarians are lecturers or adjunct faculty in the iSchool and that the library system hires many iSchool students.
  • An international perspective, particularly in light of increasing numbers of Asian students.
  • Continuing devotion to public service, in part through research assistance and reference assistance.
  • Sensitivity to balancing both electronic and traditional library holdings to serve users’ needs.
  • Regard for the University’s archives and special collections, and recognition that collections coming into the library now frequently have some electronic resource components.
  • Regard for strategic planning that includes input from those who work directly with the library users.
  • Compassion in light of transitions brought about by the technological revolution’s disruptive effect on jobs.
  • Search committee member Andrew Strathern of anthropology responded that the concept of compassion is important not only on an individual basis, but in terms of the organizational culture as well. “It has a systems component as well as an ethical component,” he said.
  • Understanding of open-access issues and support for open-source initiatives, in light of ULS’s leadership in open-access publishing, both for Pitt faculty and in partnerships outside the University.
  • Management skills. Brady noted that it’s often forgotten that a library may be one of the largest employers within a university, and it is wise to examine candidates’ experience in managing people.
  • A “management by walking around” style and recognition of the size, diversity and complexity of ULS.
  • Experience with the renovation process and ability to work with students, faculty and staff amid disruptions in the library’s physical space.
  • Sensitivity to students’ perspectives.

In response, Graeme Meyer, an undergraduate student member of the search committee, said he has sought input from other undergraduates and finds that their concerns frequently focus on the physical space of the library and the availability of a suitable study environment.

In addition to Brody, Haas, Strathern and Meyer, committee members are: Mark Lynn Anderson, faculty member in English; Aaron Brenner, ULS coordinator of digital scholarship; Sheila Corrall, chair of the School of Information Sciences library and information science program; Matthew Drwenski, a graduate student in history; Barbara Epstein, director of the Health Sciences Library System; Amanda Folk, director of Pitt-Greensburg’s Millstein Library and coordinator for the regional ULS libraries; Laurence Glasco, faculty member in history; Julia Helgert, an undergraduate student in the College of General Studies; Jonah Yan McAllister-Erickson, ULS evening building supervisor, research and educational support, and Chuck Lyon, Office of the Provost.


Sbragia invited members of the University community to contact her at with any additional input related to the search, or for access to a recording of the open forum.

“This library has always been a very big priority for the administration,” she said. “We want to attract the best person. We want to attract somebody who will be able to keep convincing the top administration that it’s worthy of that kind of support.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 47 Issue 5