New University librarian headed to Yale

Susan Gibbons, an expert on methods by which students and faculty utilize library resouces, will begin her tenure as University librarian on July 1.
Susan Gibbons, an expert on methods by which students and faculty utilize library resouces, will begin her tenure as University librarian on July 1. Photo by Susan Gibbons.

The five-month search for a new University librarian has come to a close.

Yale’s first choice, Susan Gibbons, a vice provost and dean of libraries at the University of Rochester will replace Acting University Librarian Jon Butler for a five-year term as University librarian starting July 1. The appointment of Gibbons, an expert in studying the way patrons use libraries, comes about five months after the sudden death of University Librarian Frank Turner GRD ’71 of a pulmonary embolism Nov. 11. Butler has served as acting librarian since Nov. 22.

Gibbons, an expert on tailoring libraries to patron use, told the News she will bring her signature work in user studies to Yale.

“I think her incredible dynamism and energy and spirit of embracing new things in the library world seemed very refreshing,” University President Richard Levin told the News.

Butler said Gibbons will need to work to integrate Yale’s diverse library system, draw in students and faculty, and manage the budget so that the library spends less on operating expenses and more on acquisitions.

“I think [Gibbons] has a very clear vision of the library as an institution dedicated to serving students and faculty with terrific materials, books and electronic resources and as a real intellectual center for the University,” Butler said.

After studying student and faculty use of library resources with anthropologist Nancy Foster at Rochester beginning in 2004, Gibbons altered library service, collections and physical library space to fit her findings. Undergraduates were asked to keep academic diaries, which Gibbons said revealed a need for a 24-hour library facility.

Gibbons said she hopes to conduct a similar study at Yale because students and faculty interact with the library differently on every campus, adding that said she cannot yet be sure if Yale’s library should also extend its hours, but that she would like to consider it.

“The idea is that it is easier to change an organization than to change students and faculty,” Gibbons said.

Pericles Lewis, a professor of English and comparative literature and chairman of the 14-member search committee that appointed Gibbons, said Gibbons first surfaced as a candidate about a year and a half ago when the committee was looking for a librarian to relieve Frank Turner, then an interim librarian. Gibbons then had only been head of Rochester’s library for about a year, so Lewis said it “seemed premature to steal her away,” and Turner assumed his permanent duties as University librarian.

After Turner’s death, the committee revived its search, Lewis said, inviting nine of the 50 candidates it was closely considering to campus for interviews. The committee interviewed a total of 17 candidates from the two searches and spoke with about 20 others by phone, but it made only one offer — to Gibbons, Lewis said. Gibbons said she notified Levin that she would accept the offer last Wednesday.

Lewis, who described Gibbons as the “Michael Jordan of librarians,” said Gibbons’ energetic personality and her creativity made her an attractive candidate. University Provost Peter Salovey echoed this sentiment, describing Gibbons as an “energetic, creative and thoughtful individual” in an email.

“She spoke very convincingly to the committee about the future of libraries,” Lewis said. “She’s a great and inspirational leader for the library who respects its traditions and its roots but will also bring it into the 21st century.”

In an age of e-readers and online journals, Gibbons said she will help Yale’s library balance physical and digital offerings so that both are strong.

Gibbons said she also enjoys how her profession allows her to be involved in all disciplines of the academy, as opposed to focusing on just one as a professor might.

“The library gets to sit at the center of it all,” she said. “Many other positions don’t have that vantage point.”

Lewis said the position at Yale will be a much bigger job for Gibbons. While at Rochester she was responsible for 115 library staff, she will now work with Yale’s 500 staff members and manage a budget more than five times the size of Rochester’s, he added.

Gibbons said she anticipates her greatest challenge will be getting to know her staff on the level she interacted with the librarians at Rochester in order to become an “approachable and human leader.” She will meet Yale’s librarian management council on campus this Friday.

When Gibbons begins her five-year term in July, Butler said, he will “very happily” resume his academic leave.

“I will go back to the library,” Butler said, “but up to a hidden carrel where no one can find me, but I can find the books.”

Butler, former dean of the Graduate School, postponed his leave to serve as an interim librarian.

Gibbons received a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Delaware in 1992 and has earned master’s degrees in history, library science and business administration, as well as a doctoral degree in higher education administration.

She joined Rochester’s staff in 2000 as a digital initiatives librarian of the River Campus Libraries, and was appointed to her present position in 2008.

Gibbons serves as an American Library Association councilor-at-large, is a member of the Association of College and Research Libraries Task Force for Standards for Libraries in Higher Education and serves on the board of directors of the Center for Research Libraries. She is also an editorial board member and book review editor for the Internet Reference Services Quarterly.

The Gibbons family, which includes Susan Gibbons’ husband Michael, a lawyer and professor, and their two children, will relocate to New Haven.

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