With the simultaneous departure of two of the most senior members of the University Library administration over winter break, the Yale library system is poised to start a new volume in its history.
University Librarian Alice Prochaska and Associate University Librarian Danuta Nitecki will bid farewell to Yale at the end of this semester. During their eight and 13 respective years at Yale, Prochaska and Nitecki oversaw the renovation and construction of more than a half dozen University libraries, the creation of the Borrow Direct and Eli Express book delivery systems, the expansion of the library’s digital resources and the construction of the Library Shelving Facility, an off-campus depository in Hamden that currently preserves 3 million of the Library’s volumes.
“This has been a period of transition in terms of defining the library,” Nitecki said. “We’re taking advantage of our historical role as an accumulator and moving into providing better access to our collections.”
In their impending departures, both women are returning to their roots.
Prochaska, who began her tenure at Yale in 2001, will go on leave during the spring semester, before becoming principal of Somerville College at Oxford University in September of next year. Prochaska studied at Somerville during her time at Oxford, where she received her bachelor’s degree and doctorate of philosophy, both in modern history.
Nitecki, who came to Yale in 1996 and is officially the associate University librarian for public services and library teaching and learning, will depart the University in January for Drexel University — where she received her master of science degrees in library and information sciences in 1972 — to take up the positions of dean of libraries and professor of information science.
At Yale, Prochaska has been in charge of overseeing all functions of Yale’s library system, from books to people to facilities. Prochaska said she focused her efforts on improving staff morale and training, international collections and outreach to both the student body and local and global communities.
Among the Library’s efforts to create a better working environment were providing training for supervisors and forming sub-groups to improve workplace culture, Prochaska explained.
“We worked quite hard to make sure that people feel comfortable and welcome,” she said.
Prochaska said she thinks Yale’s international collections are the strongest in all of North America, adding that by bringing in foreign fellows and interns and by sending staff around the globe to train librarians and acquire new collections, the Library has increased its prominence as a world-renowned center for research and learning.
Deputy Provost Charles Long, whose office oversees the library system, praised Prochaska’s efforts at a time when the Library has undergone an important shift into the digital realm, adding that it will take effort to find a suitable replacement to carry the mantle after her departure.
Frank Turner, the director of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, who will be the acting University Librarian until Prochaska’s replacement is determined, said Prochaska will leave a positive legacy at the University, especially given the programming she developed for staff, students and New Haven residents.
“[Prochaska] has worked tirelessly for the improvement of the life and daily work experience of Library staff,” Turner wrote in an e-mail. “Her work at the Library has led to greater recognition of the mission of the Library within the University and within the New Haven community.”
When Nitecki arrived at Yale, the Library was less user-friendly and the book stacks were not as well organized, she said. Given her role overseeing access services, she sought solutions that could make library materials more easily available to patrons.
“We didn’t want it to be only the architecture in Sterling that wows people,” she said. “We wanted to bring our service up to the same level.”
A key step in meeting this challenge was the renovation and construction of several campus libraries, perhaps most visibly the $50 million renovation of Bass Library.
But of all of the improvements and changes under her tenure, Nitecki said, the opening of the less visible LSF facility in Hamden makes her proudest, given its innovative function as a vast off-site storage facility.
Though the University Library has undergone many advances during the past decade, it has also been affected by the worldwide economic crisis and the subsequent decline in the University’s endowment. The past few years have seen losses of 60 staff positions and a 15 percent reduction in the collections budget, and further cuts are almost inevitable, Prochaska said.
In addition, while there has been an increase in donations to the library since Prochaska’s arrival, she said future renovations will likely rely only on donor support instead of University funds.
“Right now, we have to think hard about our most important functions and work even harder to provide them,” she said.
In the future, Prochaska said, she would like to see the Library continue its efforts at technological advancement and digitization with collaborative projects like the World Digital Library and the Arabic and Middle Eastern Electronic Library repository, both which provide digital copies of Library holdings to online users.
“I think we’ve developed a lot as a digital library,” Prochaska said. “But I would love to see us develop much more intensely in the electronic realm.”
University President Richard Levin announced late last month that he had appointed a search committee for Prochaska’s replacement. The committee consists of 14 professors, administrators and librarians, and is chaired by comparative literature and English professor Pericles Lewis.