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Scattered Leaves: Reflections on Leadership

by Michael A. Keller

Like dry leaves in an autumn wind-some whole, some torn and in fragments, some still stem to twig, some bright, some dim-thoughts about people and experiences influencing one’s performance and principles as a leader need some raking, some ordering, if they are to have any interest or use to others. Perhaps, like autumn leaves, those thoughts will find a place in a compost pit, getting purposefully recycled. Or, they might just lie moldering on the forest floor, inexorably losing their predetermined shape, surrendering constituent nutrients and fiber in the underbrush.

My thoughts on leadership are not affected by systematic study of the enormous general literature on this subject and only mildly by writings about leadership in libraries. Rather, this is an attempt to order my own thoughts about working with people, my own and their performances, and principles of leadership in research libraries. Because this assignment came from Deanna Marcum, an enormously positive influence on my own career and on the careers of many other leaders, I have concluded that there are two basic tracks or reasons one becomes a leader, both heavily qualified and conditioned by choices and luck during the course of one’s professional life. One track is that determined by nature and nurture, the fortuitous combination of a predisposition to get to the front of the herd, almost always accomplished with support from others at the front of the herd in getting there. The other track, not one that I have experienced and thus will leave to others to write about, is having a leadership role thrust upon one. In this case, I suspect, mentors most often appear as well to assist, to inform, to guide.


If one were to poll faculty, librarians, library staff, alumni, deans, provosts, presidents, and other senior officers in the great research universities in the United States, university librarians would appear to be many different creatures. Executive, operating officer, master practitioner, busywork minder, advocate, task master, talking head, fundraiser, judge, middle manager, protector, confessor, key figure in the humanities community, teacher, fiscal officer, strategist, mediator, conspirator, representative, traveler, community affairs officer, deal maker, risk taker, mentor, entrepreneur, steward: all these terms, and more like them, would appear on the list of descriptors resulting from our hypothetical poll. For a few, the term leader would be listed as well, but those who mention that word would most likely be library middle managers and associates of the university librarian. For most presidents and provosts, university librarians are middle managers, responsible for a function thought important by some faculty while ignored by others, and for a staff revered for the immediate services it provides, not necessarily for its many and continual imaginative contributions to the processes of teaching and research. As senior officers in complex, perhaps even chaotic, academic organizations, university librarians need to be adept at taking the measure of and dancing to the tunes of deference and authority. Many faculty members have little or no comprehension of what tasks must be accomplished in research libraries to ensure that their work as teachers and scholars can be done.

With many images of what a university librarian is and does, in addition to the general lack of understanding and limited appreciation of how the great research libraries operate, the role of the university librarian as leader is little appreciated and understood. Yet the vigorous prosecution of varied leadership roles is precisely what defines success for research libraries in this period of genuine, pervasive, and dramatic change in the missions and methods of these invaluable institutions. And those vigorous leaders of university libraries are having a lot of fun and getting a lot of satisfaction from their multiple roles.

Some context setting is necessary. As we begin the second decade of the Age of Information, so dramatically started by the general availability of the Internet in the developed economies, it is apparent that a large overlay of new information sources and methods for information seeking and distribution supplement the traditional ones. While the Internet grew logarithmically, traditional modes and methods of publishing continued and continue yet to pump out hundreds of thousands of new titles annually. Research libraries continue to collect those traditional materials even while devising the means to deliver and support the use of digital resources. Thus, from the beginning, the “both/and” conundrum has been an apt phrase to describe the dilemma facing research libraries. That dilemma stems in part from libraries’ unfunded mandate to comprehend and cope with both the traditional and the digital information arenas. It also stems from the need for library leaders to demand and foster the invention, adoption, and adaptation of new tools, methods, and mental sets that incorporate digital resources with traditional collections and services. And since there is promise-or, for some, a threat-that the digital trend might overturn the nature of libraries, there is much confusion about whether the research library of the future will be some magnificent virtual collection of sources and services, owned by no one but vital to all of humankind, whether the Information Age and the Internet will dissolve the traditional hierarchy of significance based on the size and sophistication of libraries, or whether both of these transformations will be effected.

At some level, all libraries are research libraries. However, the great research libraries differ from other libraries in terms of complexity, size, services, staffing, and even intention. This essay is written from the context of an unusual university library, Stanford, that has for 15 years combined research library functions and organization with academic computing functions and organization. This merged organization is known as the Stanford University Libraries and Academic Information Resources (SUL/AIR). Its leader, who reports to the provost, has generated some new units and acquired others because SUL/AIR and its leadership had credibility and a reputation for good stewardship of Stanford’s assets. The original merger in the early 1990s brought the entire information technology apparat together with the university libraries. The newly merged organization presaged the efflorescence of the Internet and the increasing interdependence of library and academic computing services to meet the demands of a community of leading-edge scholars and their students. In 1994, the administrative computing units were split off so that they could concentrate on acquiring and implementing new administrative applications based on client-server architecture. That group, Information Technology Systems and Services (ITSS), reporting to the chief financial officer, has responsibility, in addition to administrative applications for the network infrastructure, for the 24/7 server room, and for desktop support of nonacademic applications. ITSS and SUL/AIR’s leaders work closely together to ensure mutually supporting services to the Stanford community.

HighWire Press is the most public of the results of merging academic computing with university libraries at Stanford. The reengineering of library technical processes, however, preceded it, with the notable effects of speeding the delivery of newly acquired publications to readers while redeploying a couple dozen staff positions to Academic Computing. Four organizations have been added to the administrative oversight of Stanford’s university librarian in the past decade. They are Residential Computing; Media Solutions, a Web site design enterprise; Stanford Professional Publishing Course, a 30-year-old continuing education enterprise; and the Stanford University Press. The latter two organizations are not integrated fully into SUL/AIR, but through projects and the sharing of resources are becoming so.

As the Information Age unfolds, what will be the changes to the appetites of research libraries for selecting materials and information for their collections? How will we provide intellectual access to collections, interpret those collections, and guide readers through the information chaos? How will we distribute information to scholars and students and provide the means to analyze, manipulate, and present information? How can we preserve collections and information for the next 10, 100, or even 1,000 years? And how might university librarians exploit the “both/and” dilemma to improve the possibilities for learning, teaching, and research? What is the nature of leadership in research libraries in this period of rapid change? Does it differ from that expressed in earlier times? These questions have only partial answers, none of them completely right and fixed, all of them contextual.

The following reflections on roles and principles of leadership in research libraries, a few of many leaves scattered over a long career at several excellent university libraries, derive from my own experience and observations since 1993 as leader of SUL/AIR, a new sort of organization with responsibilities in academic computing, libraries, and scholarly communication and publishing. The reader should remember that my use of the term university library refers to an organization that is involved in all of these activities, as well as in more traditional library components.

Role: Master Practitioner

Most often, one is selected to become a university librarian, a leader, in part because of demonstrated mastery of aspects or specialties in research librarianship, often as a department head or head of a subject library. In my own case, I was a music librarian and head of two prominent music libraries, at Cornell and Berkeley, before assuming the role of associate university librarian for collection development at Yale. Music librarians deal with an unusually large cluster of tricky problems in all areas of librarianship and with a wide range of media types. In addition, and much to the credit of the disciplines served, music librarians are generally regarded as colleagues in practically every sense by musicologists, music theoreticians, and practicing musicians; this builds confidence and helps ensure close working relationships in solving problems and exploiting assets.

Others become master practitioners by education and experience in other subject specialties as selectors, reference librarians, or both; as catalogers; as conservators; or as one of many other technical specialists. One characteristic of master practitioners is their ability to understand the context not only of their own work but also that of other specialists. Because of that depth of professional perspective, master practitioners are often in demand locally and beyond to work on committees. In my experience, master practitioners very well know and gain satisfaction from their roles in research and teaching. Research librarianship, in practically all specialties, is a profession that advances the work of others, often in anonymity, often displaced in time from the many points of engagement of students and researchers with collections and services. Master practitioners of research librarianship are almost always good organization people. They know how their work contributes to the academy, at large and locally, and they know how to put their organizations to work in support of the sometimes idiosyncratic needs or work habits of their clientele.

In my own development trajectory from music librarian to university librarian, I could not have had a better training ground than Yale as an associate university librarian for collection development. The gaggle of wonderful colleagues there included bibliographers and curators, heads of specialty libraries, other associates, and Millicent D. Abell, university librarian. Perhaps the most difficult role to fill in a university library is that in the penultimate layer of the hierarchy, but as an associate librarian at Yale, I developed, then polished, some essential skills and was treated to some formative experiences that eased the way into my present role at Stanford. Penny Abell was a terrific mentor, allowing plenty of scope, offering sage advice, promoting colleagues’ careers, and teaching some important lessons along the way. Penny helped me develop the capacity to digest and compact complex arguments to shorter expressions in order to capture and keep the attention of provosts at key decision points. She also taught her subordinates the importance of bringing to her attention, or to that of those who reported directly to her, practically any difficulty-procedural, political, or personal. I remember well Penny’s remark that if a university librarian and his or her associates cannot see a problem and understand it in common terms, that problem cannot be solved.

Some university librarians are appointed from faculty ranks and thus cannot be considered master practitioners. These people have to learn quickly and, at some basic level, must depend on what they are told by their immediate associates and other informants. Certainly, faculty members serving as university librarians are expected to represent their faculty colleagues and to protect their interests. Often they are good advocates in the offices of presidents and provosts, a circumstance always sorely needed in the history of any university library. With few exceptions, the reigns of faculty “retreads” are followed by appointments of professional librarians.

One of the truisms of leadership in the great research libraries is that there is no median or average experience. Whether one became a university librarian as a master practitioner or a converted faculty member, learning to serve in the many roles listed in the introduction takes some time, perhaps years. Because each situation is remarkably different, even a sitting university librarian moving to another university will take a year or so to learn about the vagaries of the new post. Some professional associations offer opportunities to meet colleagues and share experiences. Others focus on the new and developing realms of research librarianship. Some new university librarians find the former comfortable and the latter challenging.

It was illuminating, while developing my own skills as a librarian, to observe some poor examples of library leadership. At one institution early in my career, I noted the wreckage caused by senior library leadership whose intimates were permitted to work out their peculiar needs for dominance over subordinate staff. At another institution, the chief librarian routinely lied in private to subordinates on key matters, then reversed himself in public, probably because he could face no individual on any difficult matter. By refusing to make a key decision in the first months of his tenure, he lost all credibility as a leader with superiors and subordinates. He twisted in the breeze for years while well-qualified librarians left for better places. The judgment of the two individuals I allude to here was in each case substantially flawed. As a result of-or perhaps concomitant to-that poor judgment, their interpersonal relationships were not good, certainly not satisfying. I wonder whether others have had similar experiences. It seems to me that one should always be honest as a university librarian, but that one need not always say everything that one knows in all situations. Discretion is enormously important. Discretion gives parties to issues, whether easy or difficult, the psychological space to express themselves. Not saying everything at once or in full about one’s knowledge or feelings about a matter allows others to contribute and to change their own positions. Discretion contributes to the ripening, the maturing, of people and issues.

Having credibility and experience as a master practitioner is a huge asset. Another significant asset is scholarly experience in a discipline, especially one that is heavily reliant on recorded information sources or bibliography. Yet another asset is significant experience in applying information technology to research or teaching, and, best of all, experience in developing those applications. The most important aspects of the master practitioner role in leadership are those of personal engagement and the wit to generalize from experience, then compare or contrast one’s experiences with those of others to devise new concepts, methods, or approaches to research library functions.

It was marvelous to behold the polished and determined efforts of master practitioners such as Joe Rosenthal and Dorothy Gregor at UC/Berkeley and Penny Abell at Yale in dealing with enormous strategic problems in complex, often hostile, political environments. None of us is perfect, and we all have our foibles spotlighted constantly. Nonetheless, Penny, Joe, and Dorothy consistently applied their creativity and persistence across the full range of duties and situations. I continue to marvel at how they achieved so many superb accomplishments. I have tried to emulate their example in modeling and insisting upon professional performance. We in the lead positions ought to show our staff how to “play through,” regardless of conditions. Our presidents, provosts, and search committees did not recruit and hire us to serve only in the easy, flush times. Nor were we hired to manage the status quo. (In any case, there is no status quo any more.) The rate of change is so great that failing to apply the highest level of professional behavior and expertise to the dramatic opportunities and problems facing us would be a terrific waste of the talents of our colleagues and of the other assets entrusted to us.

Role: Advocate

Advocacy in research libraries assumes many guises. Leaders are advocates for their own programs and decisions internally. Staff assess their leaders partly on the basis of the strength, logic, and credibility of their plans, projects, and programs. Leaders are advocates within the campus community-or perhaps better, communities. Leaders are advocates in the upper reaches of the university administration, and it is in this sector that the best and the worst advocacy takes place. Some strive for a series of successful “big hits,” the sorts of advances in funding or program development that warrant a press release. Others strive to avoid trouble and feel best when their operations and responsibilities remain below horizons of interest; indeed, some are directed specifically to cause no trouble. A few others understand themselves as campus citizens, and as such, part of larger programmatic and budgetary processes, taking initiatives where appropriate and contributing to others when possible.

Advocacy also involves, perhaps requires, promoting and protecting the assets and values of academic institutions, sometimes in the face of competing academic and other interests. This sort of advocacy is occasioned by the never-ending ebb and flow of new program development, e.g., when a dean builds a teaching and research capacity in an entirely new field without considering the new professors’ needs for library collections and services or academic computing support. Responsible advocacy also requires elevating awareness of the serials crisis to the faculty and the administration with the intention of fomenting effective action.

“Confuse ’em or convince ’em” was the motto of one respected library leader. He was referring to the pleasant duty of speaking to alumni and friends of the university about libraries, academic computing, and scholarly publishing. It can be extraordinarily difficult to present the salient features of our complicated academic information realms to a well-educated, but nonacademic, audience. And yet, if one can do this well-concisely and without jargon-both the larger institution and the library benefit. There are many audiences for library advocacy, some less obvious than others. One characteristic of the great leaders of university libraries is the ability to communicate succinctly and clearly to members of the public, as well as to their subordinates and superiors. The ability to speak to numerous groups of varying degrees of understanding about what goes on in research libraries and to gather one’s thoughts instantly for impromptu interactions, as well as to develop carefully considered presentations, is another aspect of raking together quite scattered leaves.

Role: Steward

Stewardship is an active role requiring ongoing consideration of how to invest one’s institutional assets to best effect. Those assets include staff, money, facilities, time, one’s own attention, institutional reputation and credibility, collections, and physical assets-facilities, information technology equipment, vehicles, and so forth. Stewardship, particularly in the great research libraries, should include engagement with the major institutional issues of the time. Currently among the great stewardship issues are those of exploiting the capabilities of information technology to improve scholarship and teaching. Also, and more sinister, is the issue of overspending on scientific, technical, and medical journals, which imbalances the range and depth of library collecting and library services. Perennial stewardship issues are those of:

  • collecting, i.e., bringing in the information resources needed now, while also serving as cultural custodians;
  • providing intellectual access, not just with traditional cataloging and indexing, but considering new approaches and technologies;
  • deploying and fostering new information resources and academic computing applications, and the means of using them;
  • distributing information; and
  • preserving for future generations the information and sources we collect and apply.

Library stewardship is most effective when exercised by staff at all levels. Rather than allowing every staff member to see herself or himself as owner of a particular facet of work, we should encourage all staff to understand themselves to be contributing to the larger missions of the organization and the university. If that sort of broad ownership of the institutional mission is accepted, then adopting and adapting new methods is much easier. It also leads to greater creativity among staff members. As the strictures of our traditional guild mentality are released and staff have the satisfaction of engaging personally in the question of “How can we improve?”, they begin to internalize reengineering and to think of it as the measure of success. Publicly rewarding creativity and stewardship by individuals and groups is a necessary and joyous stewardship responsibility of the senior-most leader.

Some acts of stewardship, such as stewardship of one’s staff, require tremendous patience and forbearance. If one hires and promotes well, then one owes staff the space to achieve and develop. University librarians, like many other library staff, come by information about other people that demands extreme discretion. One learns to overlook certain behaviors, to hold closely some of what one sees and hears, and not to base policies on individual issues or prejudices-one’s own or those of others. The times that I have failed in this regard have given me anguished moments and memories. On the other hand, the pleasure and the experience of the collective mastery of leading wonderfully complicated and constantly evolving organizations is deeply satisfying. In observing the expertise and subtlety expressed constantly and in so many different ways by my Stanford associates, I take pride in the fact that I appointed and promoted them. That same pride, as well as similar gratification, applies to the entire SUL/AIR staff at Stanford. They truly are an army of generals. Assembling, coaching, and leading a staff of such accomplished people is a special skill. One does not undertake leadership to make staff happy as a first principle, but when one finds a happy staff-happy in their work and in their collective accomplishments-one has also found an effective, if not necessarily highly visible, leader.

Library leaders who ignore stewardship-or regard it only superficially-fail to measure the costs and benefits of their commitments, never seize the nettle of change, and are thereby condemned to irrelevance. There is a kind of herd mentality in certain circles of library leadership, in which self-congratulation for half-measures in addressing huge problems and opportunities is common. An easy way to spot this behavior is to watch for press releases announcing unrealized programs and progress not yet actually made or made in tiny steps. A characteristic of this collective unconsciousness is the failure to analyze and review investments, programs, and failures, and the lack of assessment of costs and benefits.

Role: Judge and Power Broker

The daily decisions of university librarians shape, as ripples in a pond or puddle, the activities of the staff and, through them, services to the readers. University librarians concerned about making the best use of and conserving their own energy and time wisely delegate authority to the lowest-possible level appropriate for that power to be applied. And, for me, one most important principle is to make individuals responsible for functions, units, programs, and projects. Part of that delegation of authority is to consult as needed with experts and affected parties. The use of the hierarchy of authority to efficiently apply judgment and oversight is important, too. While many berate their superiors for adhering to any hierarchy and some libraries employ “first-among-equals” fantasies of management, research libraries with efficient and clearly known tables of organization that accurately reflect power relationships generally have productive and happy staffs. Part of the effective delegation of authority and resources is making sure that those putting those assets to good work receive public and private praise. They, not the university librarian, should get their names in the campus paper.

In many university libraries, but not at Stanford as I experience it, staff time and expertise are heavily invested in ongoing and tedious consultative processes. Consultation among experts and managers is almost always useful in operations, especially as new projects, programs, and opportunities appear. However, the pervasive use of committees cutting across hierarchies in libraries-to masticate everything from the minute to the monumental-is wasteful of time and reputation. The leader must take responsibility for judgment and the exercise of proper authority; to pretend (or worse, to behave) otherwise through universal discussion is evidence either of cowardice or deception.

Certain judgments, especially those of recruiting, retaining, training, and mentoring high-quality professional staff, should be made with the advice and concurrence of carefully constituted search committees and immediate supervisors and directors. However, for that advice to be most useful, I insist on meeting almost all candidates for professional positions in my organization before receiving advice on approving an appointment. One needs to know, at least at some superficial level, the person about whom the advice is offered.

Another important requirement for a good leader in a university library is that of insisting that responsible managers raise, discuss, and resolve their differences directly as often as possible. This requirement demands communication, often face-to-face, determined coordination, and professional cooperation. Encouraging the surfacing of issues, while requiring maturity from staff in dealing with disagreement, is a key behavioral characteristic of successful university librarians, ones who motivate staff to improve constantly as well as always to enjoy their work.

Delegation of responsibility should be accompanied by the delegation of authority and assets to accomplish the assigned and accepted tasks. Librarians have not always been especially successful in honoring this principle. All librarians and information technologists are managers of assets. Given scope, power, and assets, each can accomplish worlds more with the trust implicit in such delegation than he or she will when delegation is incomplete, fitful, or limited.

Role: Mentor and Colleague

Among the many pleasurable roles of a leader is that of recruiting and hiring good people and then helping them achieve their own career goals as well as institutional goals. This is a sort of raking together scattered leaves too. It is one of the most important roles of a university librarian, because the work of the university libraries is done by others: professionals, paraprofessionals, and students. I see the work of a university librarian as very similar to that of an orchestra conductor who is a master of one, or perhaps a few, instruments, but not of the entire complement of the symphonic ensemble. In the most accomplished orchestras, the conductor does not need to tune individual instruments and does not have to instruct a player how to produce a particular note. Instead, the conductor focuses on making music, shaping phrases, and integrating the efforts of the various sections to realize the composer’s intentions. As one who has been lucky to work in four university libraries with superb staffs-say, the equivalent of the members of the San Francisco Symphon-I have experienced the incredible, if slow-moving, power of communities of specialists working together not only to serve their academic colleagues very well but also to create new opportunities for scholarship and teaching. This has been especially true at Stanford, where much of my effort has been focused on coordinating and encouraging, rather than directing.

One shapes the staff of large and advanced research libraries over time. Thoughtfully rewarding outstanding efforts and attainments is as important as is careful and patient counseling and remediation. Letting colleagues try new methods, develop collections and services according to their own best judgments, and take responsibility for internal and external relationships has proved repeatedly to pay off. Suggesting, gently shaping, and urging independence within context is the role of the leader in what I like to refer to as an “army of generals.” As noted earlier, selecting, mentoring, and promoting key staff are among a leader’s most important functions. It is essential, therefore, that the university librarian be directly involved in interviews and that he or she approve every hiring and promotion recommendation. It is equally important that the university librarian review and lead others to review errors in hiring and promotion. Over time, a couple of fundamental truths emerge. First, no one is perfect. Second, in an organization that values mentoring and collegiality, most colleagues are sufficiently forgiving of mistakes that the web of relationships necessary to provide services in large and complex research libraries is rarely torn.

It is failure that burns, despite the lessons each failure teaches. How can an entire interviewing team, the recommending officer, and I have missed the obduracy in someone’s character that precluded her ability to adapt, to grow, and to learn professionally? Did one make successive errors in accepting the rosy-hued estimates of performance from an immediate subordinate about a staff member further down in the hierarchy, thus allowing others in the organization to lose hope for change and improvement? What are the techniques of provoking thought and consultation that might bring disputing parties to the point not just of accommodating one another on a particular matter but also of valuing their differences and perspectives? No one fails alone in an organization such as a research library, but the leader needs to understand how people fail and how to help them succeed. However, when failure is profound and not susceptible to remediation, then a good leader uses the tools available to remove a poorly performing staff member. Confronting poor performance and working on it, including dismissal, if necessary, reinforces the enormous contribution made to research library operations by the vast majority of their staff. Outstanding performers know when a coworker is not performing adequately, and they appreciate the leader who identifies, then works quickly to correct, poor performance or, if this is not correctable, removes the poor performer. Success in leadership is usually, perhaps always, the product of successful mentoring. This may be the real benchmark, the real legacy, of the library leader: the quality, integrity, and success of the colleagues whose own careers as leaders were influenced for the better through a mentoring relationship.

Role: Strategist, Risk Taker, and Innovator

The role of strategist or strategy developer is often uniquely that of the university librarian. All subordinate to that position are involved in specific operational responsibilities, including managing others. Some issues, such as building or refurbishing facilities or acquiring special collections, require 50- or 100-year time horizons. Others, such as adopting new technologies, have much shorter horizons, perhaps five years or fewer. Some issues demand leaps of faith. For instance, in digitizing books or archives, one can estimate whether the digital versions will be of immediate utility for academic purposes, but one must also imagine that there will be techniques available within a few years to migrate the digital versions from one format to another and to store them in a securely operated digital repository. Equally, one must evaluate strategically experiments and accomplishments made elsewhere. What is supportable? What is scalable? What company or line of products and services is likely to stay in business long enough for the library’s purposes? What investments of Stanford’s assets-its staff, one’s own time, money, facilities, or good name-will pay off for Stanford? Tending the strategic, while meddling only when necessary in the tactical, the essential day-to-day work of the university libraries’ staff, is a key responsibility of the leader.

Fortunate is the university librarian who has the encouragement and expectation of the president and provost to take risks, to exploit according to his or her own best judgments the Internet and information technology in general, and thereby to serve imaginatively the campus community. All faculty members appropriately regard themselves as independent entities, suns in their own solar systems, devising ever-better courses and lectures and conducting research. In this context, the librarian’s key responsibility is to constantly balance and rebalance library and academic computing resources so reliable and consistent services are offered. To do so, he or she must take risks to experiment and make use of the new technologies so that the information and services underpinning research and teaching at institutions of higher education of all sizes constantly advance and improve.

One question that we ask ourselves repeatedly is how we can make Stanford distinctive in the quality and extent of our services and information resources. Because presidents Gerhard Casper and John Hennessy, along with provosts Condoleezza Rice and John Etchemendy, have expected and valued innovation in Stanford’s libraries, devising and investing in a number of risky propositions has been relatively easy. Among the risks taken with their blessing over the past decade, those that realized huge returns on initial investment were as follows:

Major acquisitions involving risk included the Allen Ginsberg Archive, the William Saroyan Archive, the Samson/Copenhagen Judaica Collection, the Gustave Gimon Collection on French Political Economy, the R. Buckminster Fuller Archive, the Southern Pacific Railroad Archive, the papers of numerous luminary writers and artists in the American avant-garde and the Mexican-American community, and many others.

Finally, we have undertaken activities such as the following:

  • expanding the map and GIS services (
  • considering a joint venture with a commercial paper-preservation company
  • requiring the development of Web-based synthetic guides to the literature and resources of numerous disciplines.

Stanford’s examples of risks taken and investments returned have required, in practically every case, some diversion of resources from traditional programs and pursuits in the university library. For any risk taken, some staff and faculty might object on the grounds that their favorite interest was not going to get as much support as they believed it deserved. One of the functions of leaders of university libraries is to take such risks and to expose themselves and their decisions to criticism and rebuttal for the sake of strategic developments.


The metaphor of raking scattered leaves is meant to suggest the odd feeling I often have as Stanford’s university librarian-in dealing with so many agenda items and so many positive developments, in weighing and selecting possibilities for attention and investment, and, frankly, in confronting the 5 percent of this work that is truly difficult and occasionally quite challenging on a personal level-that this is the best work in the university, with a bouquet of possibilities librarians have never had before. In selecting only a few of the many roles university librarians play, I do not mean that the other roles are not as important, but that these are ones I find most meaningful at this stage of my own development and at the present state of research librarianship as a profession, as a craft, as the practice of an art.

Key roles of the university library, part and parcel of the academic processes of the university itself, are to figure out how to improve, to stay current, and to exploit new opportunities in each of the library’s functions: collecting, describing, interpreting, disseminating, and preserving. At the strategic level, this is the work of library leaders. It is good work, socially useful work, and immensely satisfying work. Those who do not awaken every morning eager to undertake this work need not apply.


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