A Valediction to My Villanova Colleagues
it’s trite to observe that the moments of transition in a life typically come with mixed emotions. But for me at this moment, as my tenure as University Librarian at Villanova draws to a close, my excitement and anticipation of new professional horizons across the city at Temple are accompanied by real sadness at leaving behind my great colleagues, many good friends, and this library at its zenith at a very special institution of higher learning. I can say without hesitation that the eleven years I’ve spent at Villanova have been rewarding, joyous, and challenging in too many ways to describe briefly here.
I will always be grateful for the opportunities that came my way while working as Director of Falvey Memorial Library. I will continually remind myself as I move on in life that my good fortune here had as much to do with staying out of the way and letting the creativity and talent of those around me flourish and bear fruit as with any native capacities I brought to the table. I do not write that out of false modesty. When I came to Villanova in 2002, I was asked to transform the library from a fairly traditional environment that had made some small steps into the digital age into an enterprise better suited to the 21st century in all areas of operation. I knew from the very first moment I faced that challenge that I could never accomplish such a task without a team working with me in support of a common vision – a team where people were allowed to find their niche and to create great new things that reflected personal passion and commitment about the places the “new academic library” could go. In support of that transformational mandate, the university administration trusted me and gave me great latitude to experiment and to take novel approaches to our academic mission. In many ways, our success in the library rides on the back of that extraordinary gift of trust, which I believe is reflective of all the best things about the values and culture of Villanova University. It has been nothing short of a privilege and an honor to be granted that trust. I hope many members of the library staff feel that I have trusted them in their work as the university administration has trusted me in mine.
I set a high goal from my very first year in Falvey, when I said quite plainly that we could create at Villanova a national model for academic library innovation and success in the digital age. And we have done just that over the past decade. The undeniable recognition of that stature is our receipt of the 2013 ACRL Award for Excellence, which is not given lightly and which places Falvey among an elite peer group of leading edge academic library organizations. Everyone here should recognize and continue to celebrate that fact long after I am gone!
I am most proud that this library has become a place where our staff and our academic community expect great things to happen. We have, perhaps even somewhat improbably, reanimated the library as a dynamic center for the intellectual life of our community. I know that this is not an empty claim but rather a shared perception because over the last several months – since the announcement of my impending departure to Temple – I have received many email messages and personal notes, and engaged in many conversations with faculty and staff from across Villanova, remarking on this reality in Falvey and expressing hope that it remain a hallmark of the library after my departure.
When I think back on the number of things we have done together, I am, honestly, a bit awestruck by the range of our activities, by the audacity of some of our initiatives, and by the consistency with which we have pursued new approaches and new models for our work. Indulge me for a minute as I list some of the important things we have done here over my eleven years at the helm. Our significant successes, many with impact well beyond the library, include:
- • partnership in the establishment and support of the now 8-year-old One Book Villanova program;
- • an intellectual and cultural programming agenda that has made a major contribution to the academic climate at Villanova featuring 253 events in library during the most recent academic year;
- • increasing the reach and depth of the library’s connection to academic programs and priorities through a team-based liaison program that provides a seamless garment model of support, encompassing collections, research consulting, instruction, outreach and new service development;
- • the ongoing transformation of library spaces (starting with the first floor renovation in 2004), culminating with the creation of the Learning Commons in 2011-12 and the eventual reopening of the Old Falvey Reading Room;
- • the design and implementation of a team-based cross-functional organization that fosters collaboration and knowledge and capacity sharing across our enterprise;
- • creation of a staff development program that is grassroots oriented and open to all (including such features as our informal Think Tank events);
- • the establishment of a library Technology Development team that is among the most capable and effective in the academic library world;
- • the development and support of the VuFind discovery software that is used by libraries of all types around the world;
- • the establishment of an institutional digital library that in its scale and scope is equal to similar initiatives at very large research libraries around the country and that is unique for the ways much of its content is built with institutional partners with a natural connection with Villanova’s history and mission;
- • development of open source digital repository software that is fully compliant with the comprehensive interoperability standards of the Fedora Commons model;
- • continuously improved open source technology infrastructure that makes our Web site a flexible information delivery channel for our library users that is shaped by librarians and other staff in partnership with library technologists;
- • ongoing exploration of the intersection between scholarly communication and technology through our Community Bibliography, Faculty Full-text, Open Access journal publishing and Digital Humanities initiatives;
- • establishment of a series of annual Villanova sponsored conferences on technical and academic topics related to the impact of digital technology on academic library environments (the VuFind Summit, VuStuff, code4lib Mid-Atlantic, & VuPop);
- • creation of a systematic and comprehensive communication program about the library and its activities that spans modes from a print newsletter to a series of topical blogs to a stratified approach in social media space.
That’s a long list and it’s really only part of the story. A good number of other bullets could be added to paint a complete picture. What these highlights signify is the presence in Falvey of an engaged and innovative staff that has become confortable with continuous efforts to make the library a site of inventive dynamism. Even as I compose this farewell blog, I am thinking about a number of initiatives that will come to fruition in the next year or two that will sustain and deepen this focus on moving in new directions and envisioning emerging roles for the library. I have long said that a great library is a product of the imagination as much has it is repository for books. My greatest hope – and in many ways my deepest conviction about Falvey – is that we collectively have learned together over a decade how to embody in the life of the library a lively and restless imagination.
I have enormous faith in the staff here, both in their talents and in their commitment to an ever-deepening realization of the library’s digital age mission. It has been a great joy to work together with them on great things. I have tried to do so, insofar as humanly possible, with a lightness of heart, a sense of gratitude and humility, a spirit of play, and an openness to the complexities of the workplace where we never leave our private burdens and personal baggage at the doorstep.
I have, in fact, been somewhat unabashed in sharing parts of myself here that don’t often intrude on the workplace. In particular my joy in making music has been something I put on the table for all to see at many library Christmas parties and picnics over the past eight years. It became a small tradition for a group of us to get together and prepare a program of songs – many with a comic touch – for our big celebratory events. I even indulged in writing a few songs with themes connected to the life of the library, including “VuFind Blues.”
Sharing music together has broken down many barriers, softened our edges as professional colleagues, and added some emotional depth to our connections with each other. It also reflects a profound principle: that we all learn from each other regardless of role or station. My fellow musicians came from all areas and all staff levels in the library. And some of the most advanced musicians, though not officially leaders in the workplace, became leaders and even teachers as we worked to make good sounds together. That sense of peer-to-peer engagement is what makes an open and honest work environment possible.
In some ways, my real farewell to the library came at the recent ACRL Award Celebration at which eight members of the Falvey Library staff performed with me as part the larger ensemble that is Marc Fields & Bad Data. A number of those staff colleagues who were part of that culminating event stepped onto the stage to perform publicly before a large audience for the first time in their lives that evening. The fact that they took that step alongside me, as my friends, is emblematic of the journey we have taken together. That we can take risks, celebrate and grow in one another’s presence requires both a sense of humor and a willingness to fall flat on our faces in the service of a common goal.
To the staff I am leaving, I say: I know great things will continue here, that Falvey will thrive because you all care as deeply as I do about the library’s future, because you have embraced your work as stewards of our particular legacy, and because many of you have become intrepid and even a little foolhardy standing next to me for so long. You are unafraid of failure. And being unafraid of failure, you are unafraid to sing. So sing you will: great new arias of library excellence.
I salute you all and thank you for all you have done for and with me over eleven years.
June 26, 2013
Photographs courtesy of Michael Foight and Joanne Quinn
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