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October 29, 2015

University renews search for ULS director

The University Library System is “beginning again” in its quest for a new director and head librarian, Alberta Sbragia told more than 30 people assembled in the William Pitt Union ballroom Oct. 16 for a public forum on the search.

Sbragia, vice provost for graduate studies, is leading the effort to identify a successor to Rush G. Miller, Hillman University Librarian and director of the ULS, who retired at the end of 2014. The search was begun in late 2104 but then postponed shortly thereafter while Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University library officials discussed potential collaborations.

“Any applicant that’s worth his or her salt to us would want to know specifics about that,” Paul Kohberger, assistant university librarian, told the committee.

Indeed the job description, posted on the website of the committee’s search firm, Isaacson, Miller, notes that Pitt and CMU’s “[p]otential areas of collaboration include extending the same print borrowing privileges among libraries as faculty and students have with their own institutional library, looking at feasibility and costs associated with ways to share joint storage, and investigating licensing resources across both institutions. The libraries will also be investigating staff collaboration and joint programs in such areas as liaison work and data management projects.”

The report of the Pitt/CMU collaboration task force “is not finalized,” said Sbragia.

“Which we need to do soon … in the next six weeks or so,” said committee member Fern Brody, interim ULS director and a task force member. The task force has met with both universities’ provosts, she said, and after sharing an interim report with administrators was asked to finalize the report, which will be reviewed by the heads of each institution to determine whether there are “any pieces they want to move forward,” Brody said.

Discussion at the search forum reflected the changing nature of large research libraries. On the one hand, noted committee member Barbara Epstein, director of the Health Sciences Library System: “There’s a real difference in terms of the library as a place to be and the library as everyplace to be, the 24/7 access, and that’s another balancing act libraries need to deal with.”

On the other hand, noted Brody, Hillman Library had 60,000 more visits this September than it had last September.

Comments at the forum suggested that the new library head should: support ULS’s Archives Service Center’s collecting and digitization efforts; be willing to meet with prospective donors not just in the Pittsburgh area but nationally; value ULS’s participatory internal planning process; be at his/her most productive mid-career level, rather than hiring a more senior person; and undertake an update and refurbishment of Hillman Library.

Brody nixed the idea of seeking a candidate from outside traditional library experience —perhaps the information technology field — pointing out that the job description calls for research library expertise.

Alex Toner, University Records manager, said the new director could help the library staff “at the University level and department level … act as a proponent on good practices.”

Toner, elaborating after the meeting, said he hopes to see candidates who will support “a robust and focused records and information management program” to better manage the variety of records types: “administrative, operational, academic, correspondence, research, faculty- and student-related … in a variety of different forms and fashion — hard copy, electronic records, emails, datasets, student information systems [and] document management systems.”

Another archivist, Ashley Taylor, said ULS was behind others in digital archiving. She added: “We need somebody who is very good at change management.”

Later, she said: “As others said before me, libraries have evolved from primarily book-based, knowledge-resource destinations into places where scholarship is created. It can sometimes be concerning to those familiar with the traditional library model when we begin to change emphasis; there are always concerns about the part of the library that has always provided for them not being there or changing into something unhelpful. An ideal director would be able to ensure that users know that our intent is always to provide them with the resources that they need, even if the delivery model or form may change.”

Ashley Cox, a conservation librarian in the ULS preservation department, noted that there is only one person dedicated to preservation, and called for more money and staff in that area.

Committee member Matthew Drwenski, a graduate student in the history department, noted that the library was the only place at Pitt where he had experienced interdisciplinary collaboration, and he hoped the new director would expand such opportunities.

Amanda Folk, director of Pitt-Greensburg’s Millstein Library, coordinator for the regional ULS libraries and a search committee member, said: “We tend to focus on both graduate students and research faculty. I’m interested in finding a director who values both undergraduate students and teaching faculty.”

Concluded Epstein: “The key thing from all of this is that we need somebody who can put it all together. That’s a very hard ticket to fill, so we need a very special person.”

Sbragia noted that Pitt has competition from “quite a few libraries that are also in the market.” For instance Pitt’s search firm, Isaacson, Miller, is simultaneously handling three other library system head searches (at University of the Pacific, Wesleyan and Ohio State) and one major library head search (for Harvard medical school).

The search committee currently is accepting applications and plans to select 8-10 people for preliminary interviews in January, cutting that number in half for full-fledged interviews in February.

The ULS search committee remains the same as it was originally (see University Times, Oct. 9, 2014), apart from the appointment of Sbragia as the new provost’s representative.

—Marty Levine         

Filed under: Feature,Volume 48 Issue 5

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