Butler to become acting university librarian

UPDATED: Wednesday 5:49 p.m. Former dean of the graduate school Jon Butler will assume the post of Acting University Librarian Dec. 1, stepping into the gap left by the sudden death of University Librarian Frank Turner GRD ’71.

Butler, whose six-year term as dean ended this June, was on leave to write a book, but has agreed to assume leadership of Yale’s libraries until a new librarian is found, University President Richard Levin said in an e-mail Monday. Butler said he intends to pursue this role as a full-time position and is suspending his leave until the end of the spring term.

“I’m very honoured that the President would ask me, and I hope I can help…make sure that the library has a sense of leadership and continuity while the University searches for a permanent Librarian,” Butler said.

Butler said he is not a candidate for the position of University Librarian, and does not plan to fill the post for more than this academic year. He first met with President Levin about the position last week.

In his e-mail, Levin mourned the loss of Turner, but praised Butler for taking over the responsibilities of librarian.

“Jon Butler is one of Yale’s most devoted citizens and most able leaders, and I am immensely grateful to him for his willingness to step in to the role of Acting Librarian at this difficult time,” Levin said in an e-mail. “I have complete confidence that his sure and steady hand will –once again—serve us exceptionally well.”

A faculty member since 1985, Butler has been chair of both the American studies and history departments as well as director of the division of humanities. He has also served on several search and advisory committees related to Yale’s libraries and he chaired the search for a University librarian in 1994

Butler said his greatest challenge will be to immediately start learning the full dimension of the library system, which he said is more complex than faculty members realize. He said he hopes to ensure the library functions smoothly, to execute any changes already in the works and to give people a sense of forward movement.

“I have an intellectual and professional relationship with the library,” Butler said. “I’m an avid library user.”

Butler said he knows a variety of people in the library through his committee and faculty work, adding that he is excited to explore some of the science libraries he does not normally use in the coming weeks..

“I will be very interested to find out even more about the library because there are libraries that I haven’t seen and I intend to visit,” he said.

Butler described Turner as a long-time friend and colleague, adding that he hopes he can make a contribution to the library. Turner, a history professor who had served as University provost, passed away Nov. 11 at age 66.

Deputy Provost Lloyd Suttle said it is still too early to speculate about who the next University Librarian will be. He added that Levin consulted with a number of faculty and staff before selecting Butler.

“Mr. Butler was an obvious and excellent choice in these sad circumstances,” Suttle said. “Ultimately I’m sure [accepting the position] came down to his deep affection and loyalty to Yale, and to the Yale library.”

Pericles Lewis, an English professor and former chair of the library committee, called Butler’s decision to come back from his leave “generous” in an e-mail to the News.

Butler is currently working on a book called “God in Gotham,” about religion in New York City. Although he said he will continue to write when possible, he will postpone most of his work on the book until after next semester, when he will resume his leave.

Butler grew up in rural Minnesota and received his B.A., Ph.D. and honorary doctorate from the University of Minnesota.

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