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Future of Library hangs in limbo

SARAH MERVOSH | Friday, April 9, 2010

The Hesburgh Library may boast a nationally recognized image on its facade, but the future of the Library itself is not as clearly established.

After a year of renovation talk, a petition calling for the Library’s improvement and the recent stepping down of its director, the Library hangs in a state of limbo.

But Assistant Provost Susan Ohmer, who was recently named interim director of the Hesburgh Libraries, said she is ready to fill the gap.

“I’m really excited about it. It’s a great opportunity,” Ohmer said. “I’m happy to serve as long as needed.”

Strategic plan

Ohmer said a major goal is formulating a strategic plan for the future direction of the Library. The University is currently in the planning stages for the strategic plan, but nothing has been written yet, she said.

Ohmer will also chair the committee for the strategic plan, which she hopes will be finished next spring.

“A strategic plan is when people from all over the University sit down and confer about the general direction of a program. It guides you when moving forward,” Ohmer said.

She said the strategic plan will answer questions about the Library’s needs.

“What do we want to stress? What do we need going forward if we’re going to continue to expand? What do we need that we don’t have?” she said.

The strategic plan comes in the aftermath of a petition calling for improvements to the Library, which was founded by graduate student David Morris.

The petition called for an increase in both the number of collections and of professional staff, as well as the renovation of the entire building, The Observer reported in November.

“Our graduate students and our undergraduates are really important and if your work is being compromised in some way, we want to know that. I found the petition very helpful and the Provost did as well,” Ohmer said.

However, the strategic plan will not be able to be finished until the University chooses a new director, Ohmer said.

“It won’t be carved in stone because when the new director comes in the director will be bringing new ideas and experiences,” she said.

The search for a new director

The University is conducting a national search for a new director of Hesburgh Libraries to replace Jennifer Younger, who recently stepped down after 13 years.

“I think our main concern … is we want a director who will be able to help us assess the competing demands on the Library,” Ohmer said.

A major question will be whether the Library should be focused on acquiring books or utilizing electronic resources, Ohmer said.

“How do we sort out these competing priorities? We expect the director to have some vision and insight to help us make those decisions,” she said.

Morris said Notre Dame has a unique opportunity to integrate the two competing facets of the Library, and he said he hopes the Library can formulate a strong relationship with the Office of Information Technologies.

“It would be nice if we could sort of rewrite both positions and have a closer working relationship between both of them,” he said.

Ohmer said the University will not begin the interview process until next academic year.

“Ideally, they hope to bring in candidates in the fall sometime and then, if it goes well, they will be able to make an offer,” she said. “Often, people start the following academic year but somebody may start sooner.”

Renovations

Renovation plans for the Library are in place, but the University is still waiting for funding, Ohmer said.

“The renovations are expensive. We are fortunate that we have pledges from donors, but it can take awhile for the money to be delivered,” she said. “When that money comes in, we’re ready to get to work.”

The renovation will focus on revamping the first and second floor of the Library, she said.

“We’re going to have reading rooms,” Ohmer said. “But also, more spaces for collaborative work and a seminar room.”

“The Library is meant to be a place of activity and people gathering, [like] the way it is during finals week. Now, it’s sort of quiet up there,” Ohmer said.

Prior to renovating the building, however, Morris said the Library should acquire a depository, a place where books can be stored.

“I think that has to happen before the renovation,” he said. “Right now, they want to renovate the building, but they have no place to put books.”

Ohmer said she would like input from students on what they normally use the Library for during the semester. She encouraged students to contact her at sohmer@nd.edu.

“If people want to share ideas, I would really welcome that,” she said.