History professor Jon Butler will become Acting University Librarian Dec. 1, just months after stepping down as dean of the Graduate School.
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 after the sudden death of University Librarian Frank Turner GRD ’71 from a pulmonary embolism Nov 11. Until a new librarian is found, Butler said he will work full time in the post and will resume his leave of absence at the end of the spring term.
“I’m very honored 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 in an interview last Monday.
Butler said he first met with Levin about the position last week. In an e-mail to the News Nov. 25, Levin said Butler was the only person considered for the job.
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“Professor Butler is a consummate University citizen,” Levin said. “He has never said ‘no’ to a request for service.”
A faculty member since 1985, Butler has been chair of both the American studies program and the History Department, 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 quickly learn the full dimensions of the library system, which he said is more complex than most faculty members realize. He said he hopes to ensure the library functions smoothly, to execute any changes already in the works and to convey a sense of forward movement in the library system.
While he has no formal experience as a library administrator, Butler described himself as 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 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 said he is not a candidate for the permanent position of University Librarian, and does not plan to fill the post beyond this academic year. In a Nov. 23 interview, Deputy Provost Lloyd Suttle said it is still too early to speculate about who will be the next University Librarian.
“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.”
In his e-mail to the Yale community last Monday, Levin announced Butler’s new position and expressed his gratitude for Butler’s “willingness to step into the role of Acting Librarian at this difficult time.”
Pericles Lewis, an English professor and the chair of the committee that recommended Turner be appointed University librarian, called Butler’s decision to come back from his leave “very generous” in an e-mail to the News Nov. 22.
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 a bachelor of arts degree, a doctorate and an honorary doctorate from the University of Minnesota.