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Remembering Deanna Marcum

Remembering Deanna Marcum

Deanna Marcum
Photo courtesy ITHAKA S+R

We are deeply saddened by the passing of Deanna Marcum in August. Deanna was CLIR’s first president and led its two predecessor organizations—the Council on Library Resources and the Commission on Preservation and Access—before their merger in 1997. Throughout a remarkable career spanning decades, she touched the lives of many as a colleague, friend, mentor, visionary, and leader. At CLIR, we remember her life with admiration and gratitude, but mourn a profound loss. 

We have created this page as a place where colleagues and friends can share their remembrances. Additions are welcome and can be sent to Kathlin Smith

I had the privilege of working with Deanna for over 25 years. Her sage and resourceful leadership of CLIR was an important draw for me to become a candidate to be her successor, excited by the strength of the programs she had built and daunted by the high expectations she had established. Deanna was especially brilliant at building coalitions, holding a mirror up to the profession for deeper insights, identifying salient research topics for investigation, and innovating new and timely programs. The Frye Leadership Institute (now the Leading Change Institute) and the Kanazawa Institute of Technology (KIT) Roundtable, both of which I have had the great pleasure to participate in, are landmarks to her acumen of taking critically important values and applying them to real world challenges, building trust and respect, and promoting a diversity of ideas and perspectives that continue to invigorate our profession. She is profoundly missed, but lives among us as a lasting influence upon and exemplar of our better nature.

As a greenhorn NEH program officer in the 1970s, I was asked to join a small group that met in New York every few months under the guidance of Fred Cole, head of the Council on Library Resources (CLR) and former head of the Columbia University library. The group included Deanna Marcum, then of Catholic University of America, Foster Mohrhardt, the irrepressible head of the National Library of Agriculture and also a stalwart of the CLR, Jim Morris of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Pat Battin, Fred’s successor at Columbia, and Terry Krieger, my NEH colleague. Fred and Foster did most of the talking, Terry and I did a lot of listening. But it was largely in the side conversations with Deanna that I gained the greatest insights into the world of libraries.

Fast forward to the 1980s. By then, Deanna had made her mark as the leader of several national library organizations and I was the head of NEH’s research division with its big goal of strengthening libraries. Deanna was my constant tutor. Through her advice, NEH’s guidelines in support of libraries evolved to become much more useful. That was a period when, sadly, the tension between publishers and librarians was growing. Deanna and I agreed that the two sectors shared more of a common interest than was being recognized. Our lonely voices on this point attracted some followers. In the 1990s after I became Secretary of the Mellon Foundation, Deanna helped Dick Quandt and me to craft a new “Libraries and Scholarly Communication” initiative. The summation of that initiative in a conference and a subsequent book reflected our optimism about the importance of a shared agenda for the two sectors. Among the most important of the “natural experiments” that were launched then under Bill Bowen’s leadership was JSTOR, which Kevin Guthrie and his colleagues have since led to a scale and level of service that was unimaginable back then. From the beginning, Deanna was the one who always kept the big picture in mind, the potential to achieve more, and the reminder of our shared goals.

Our professional lives continued to intersect. Deanna was tapped to serve as second-in-command at the Library of Congress and I moved to the Council of Independent Colleges. CIC began a series of “information fluency” workshops for librarians, provosts, and faculty members in specific disciplines and Deanna guided their design, along with Scott Bennett and Susanne Woods who led the workshops to great effect. Deanna was a frequent speaker at these. Meanwhile, she was traveling constantly throughout the world, advancing the kind of collaboration that she believed major libraries should have. It was a wonder that Deanna would return a phone call or reply to an email quickly under those circumstances—and she always did. Remarkably, Deanna made a point of learning the names and something about the lives of literally hundreds of LC employees at all levels. This, more than anything else she did, altered the culture of a giant organization into something that was interpersonal, humane, and motivated by the vision she repeatedly articulated for the LC.

In those days, Deanna and I also served on the Visiting Committee for Harvard’s libraries. We did our best to help during a period of great change in the Harvard libraries. Deanna was able to provide several of the library’s successive directors and the university’s provost with consistently sound and practical advice.

When Deanna left the LC and joined Ithaka, she told me that she wanted to retain her involvement in the world of small liberal arts colleges, that she enjoyed helping these smaller institutions strengthen their library services and to adapt recent innovations in the big research libraries to the needs of smaller institutions. A special relationship with Artstor followed, thanks to James Shulman, Kevin Guthrie, and Deanna’s energetic commitment. Later, when CIC designed a program to help dozens of colleges develop online courses in advanced subjects of the humanities that no small college could offer regularly on its own and to open these courses to students from other small colleges, Deanna led the effort to evaluate the program: did students learn more, as much, or less than in traditional settings; did it cost more or less to offer courses in this way in comparison with live instruction? And just a few years ago, I turned to Deanna yet again—this time to spearhead an effort by CIC to adapt OERs [open educational resources] to the needs of smaller colleges. We joked in that period that she would commute from DC to Ithaka’s office in New York every week, while I was commuting in the opposite direction, and so we would look out the Amtrak trains’ windows hoping to wave as the trains sped past each other.

After Deanna gave up regular commuting to New York, she was elected president of the Cosmos Club. Into that role she brought many of the same traits and skills that had made her so successful in other settings. To have lunch with her at the Cosmos Club meant that the short walk from the lobby to the dining room and lunch itself were punctuated by brief conversations with many members of the Club’s staff and members. She knew an amazing amount about the families of the Club’s employees and always inquired about something specific in these short greetings. Needless to say, the management of the Club’s excellent small library was also improved immeasurably during her presidency.

I already miss Deanna’s optimism, energy, willingness to undertake big assignments, and tenacity. But most of all I miss her warm, personal approach to everything she undertook. It was sometimes hard to believe that her major commitments still left room for her to be so down to earth. She was a true mentor, colleague, and friend to many people—in my case, for more than forty years. Thank you, Deanna.

I do not remember exactly when Deanna and I first met, but I cannot forget and I cannot overstate the profound impact she had on academic librarianship and research writ large. Unlike many other brilliant thinkers Deanna had a unique way of analyzing problems and issues and conveying her thoughts that made others feel as if the solutions were theirs. I was privileged to participate in one of the Kanazawa Institute of Technology Roundtables that she organized, this one on copyright, which was an extraordinary experience for the presenters as well as the many participants. Visionary, transformative catalyst, and a genuinely gracious and thoughtful human being, Deanna will be missed personally by so many people and the profession will be poorer for the loss of her many gifts.

Deanna changed my life in 1997 when she both invited me to participate in the Kanazawa Institute of Technology Roundtable and persuaded me to join her at CLIR and help launch the Digital Library Federation. In doing so, she opened my eyes to a bigger world and to the meaningful roles that I could play in it. I quickly learned that opening eyes was one of her superpowers and I was just one of its many beneficiaries. In the years that followed, I often turned to Deanna for advice. Wise and experienced, she would usually offer exactly the guidance that I needed. But, even more importantly, she never failed to offer encouragement and support, which she knew that I, as a friend and fellow human, needed even more than the right answer. Like others, I have tried to emulate her unfailing sense of care and grace, but rarely have met the high standard she set for herself. What I admired most about Deanna was her reach. Through CLR, CLIR, the Library of Congress, Ithaka, and her many other roles, she touched so many friends, colleagues, and organizations. She always tried, and often succeeded, in making them better. I know that I am not alone in taking Deanna’s example as an obligation to make better the lives that we touch. It is in the ways that we try to fulfill this obligation that we hold Deanna “in the light.” I am grateful for the gift of knowing Deanna, and her spirit remains an inspiration.

Deanna’s leadership, wisdom, and vision have been integral to the transformations in research and academic librarianship of the last four decades. I had the privilege and great pleasure of knowing Deanna through those decades, beginning with our time as colleagues at the Association of Research Libraries in the 1980s, and I witnessed with awe and delight each profound step she took in her career since. With each major leadership role--in library education, at CLIR, at LC, at Ithaka—she boldly took on new challenges and shaped innovation with such elegance and brilliance that initiatives and success seemed (only from the outside, of course) to flow effortlessly from the many initiatives she steered. Her unique combination of toughness and grace, honesty and tact, drive and compassion made her a mentor and role model for all who knew her. Deanna sparkled and inspired; it was a joy to be in her company. We have lost a great leader, a bright light, and a lovely, cherished friend.

Deanna Marcum and I met, if my memory is sure, at the Wayzata Conference on Retrospective Conversion in the late Spring or Summer of 1975 (or so). It was clear from that first meeting that she and I had considerable professional concerns and principles in common. Over the years Deanna and I had numerous occasions to speak, to plan, and to advocate for programs and projects of meaning and benefit to the practices of research librarians. As she was a born leader, her roles as president of the Council on Library Resources and president of the Commission on Preservation and Access, two organizations that she merged to strengthen each, proved prescient to her subsequent roles as Dean of the Library School at Catholic University and then as Associate Librarian of Congress for Library Services. It was in this latter role that she demonstrated the quality of her leadership, of her innovative spirit, and of her influence on both the Library of Congress and the research library community. Decisions she made in that latter role are still unfolding to the benefit of the global community of libraries. Personally and corporately, Deanna was a profound friend and advisor. She served as a member of the Advisory Committee of the Stanford University Libraries in a time of profound changes. For that service, we here are most grateful. Deanna Marcum was a member of that first cohort of strong women leading libraries and advocating for both change and effective operations. Among those are Penny Abell, Dorothy Gregor, Elaine Sloan, and Pat Battin, a group of influential leaders who get scant attention in the literature of research librarianship, but deserve great understanding and praise. Deanna was devoted to her family and to her friends. She will be missed and I among those who will miss her.

Deanna Marcum was a radical in a notably conservative profession. She had very high standards for herself and for others. This chafed some, but it was key to her extraordinary influence. She had a strong vision of the role libraries and archives play in supporting access to information, the necessary condition for a self-governing people.   I met her when she became director of special collections at the Library of Congress, and in 1997 she asked me to join her at the newly formed CLIR. Those was a turbulent times—the digital wave was just breaking on the shores of higher education—and Deanna more than met the moment. She knew libraries had to adapt posthaste or risk being left behind, a mere relic in jeopardy of permanent obsolescence. At the same time, she understood that stewardship of cultural resources, analog or digital, was a burden that only libraries and archives would undertake. She had a strategy for bringing libraries and their precious cargo safely into the digital world. Not everyone was eager for change. I remember her resolve in the face of sometimes personal attacks. That was my first glimpse of Deanna the radical, steadied by her deep commitment to civil society. It was a precious gift, only one of many she gave me as friend and mentor.

Deanna Marcum was a remarkable visionary, leader, librarian, and friend. I was blessed to know and associate with her in various ways for 45 years. I well remember my first sustained work with Deanna, in 1975 in Atlanta, when I attended the ARL workshop she was leading for young professionals. I was skeptical about the utility of such an exercise; but Deanna made the experience so substantive as well as fun that I felt an immediate bond with her—a bond that grew as we advanced in our library careers.  Our professional lives became even more entwined when Deanna came to work with me at the Library of Congress exactly 30 years ago. Her arrival was very timely since, as director of LC’s extraordinary special collections, we needed someone with her vision, drive, and ability to inspire (and corral some reluctant) curators to launch and advance the American Memory program. It was a very sad day when she came to tell me she was leaving LC to head the Council on Library Resources; but as a member of the CLR board, I recognized how fortunate we were that CLR would have the inspirational and transformational leader that the organization sorely needed at that point. Among my most vivid memories of that transition was participating in a retreat Deanna organized early in her tenure, designed to “re-imagine” CLR. Most of the participants were renowned leaders from the generation of librarians older than we, and they were not convinced that anything needed to be “re-imagined.” But in the end, Deanna’s vision, determination, and persuasive powers won the day:  and CLR became CLIR, reflecting new ways of thinking about and engaging a broader range of knowledge communities.  When she was selected to succeed me as Associate Librarian at LC, I was both excited and relieved—relieved to know that the library was in experienced, strong hands that would continue to move LC into the 21st century.  And that’s exactly what happened—no surprise, but a decade full of progress as Deanna led the continued opening of LC’s unparalleled resources to the world. I miss her. I miss her wisdom, her friendship, her sharp wit, and that wonderful laugh. RIP, Deanna. You changed our profession, and you changed our lives.

Deanna and I occupied neighboring offices in the Madison Building of the Library of Congress in the early 1990’s, when she served as the director of Public Service and Collection Management and I as the director for Cataloging.  It was an opportunity to see a woman of steel, of breadth of intellect and experience, close up, and to savor her tart zingers deflating overly pompous people.  As she packed up her office in 1995 to depart to head up the Council on Library Resources, she thrust a souvenir gift from a Japanese visitor, a roly-poly doll that, no matter how hard it was buffeted,  bobbed and righted itself. Deanna observed wryly: “This doll is just like us.”  Certainly Deanna embodied the qualities associated with the doll: the ability to overcome adversity and to achieve success despite hard knocks.  I carried that doll from job to job, an inspiration to persevere in the face of challenges and a constant reminder of Deanna’s perspicacity, kindness, intelligence, and resilience.

I first met Deanna when I was appointed CEO of the National Library and Archives of the Province of Quebec, in 2009, and I had the privilege of continuing my exchanges with her in 2014, when I was appointed Librarian and Archivist of Canada. For me, Deanna embodied LoC: she was the one who attended IFLA and the Conference of Directors of National Libraries (CDNL) gatherings to meet with her colleagues from other countries. Despite the difference in size and prestige of our two national libraries, Deanna never treated me as inferior. She was always generous with her advice and forthcoming with her collaboration. She was a great lady at the heart of a great institution. RIP.

At the time of her passing, Deanna was senior advisor at ITHAKA S+R. Read her colleagues’ remembrances here



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