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Notes from Elliott Shore’s Listening Tour: Nebraska and Iowa

Iowa State University, Parks Library, Grant Wood mural, “When Tillage Begins.”
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Association of Research Libraries (ARL) executive director Elliott Shore has embarked on a “listening tour” of ARL member libraries to see first-hand the innovative work the libraries are doing and to learn how the Association can better serve its members. This is the 12th in a series of informal reports from his visits.

On April 6–8, 2016, I visited three Midwestern ARL institutions that I had not been to yet—University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Iowa State University, and University of Iowa—using the opportunity of being nearby in San Antonio, Texas, for the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) Spring Membership Meeting earlier in the week. I spent the better part of a day at each institution, giving a public talk and meeting with library deans, provosts, CIOs, VPs for research, and many library staff members.

My visit began on the morning of April 6 at University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) with a tour of the brand-new Adele Hall Learning Commons. I was joined in the learning commons by the libraries’ director of computer operations and research services, the university’s vice chancellor for IT and CIO, and the associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and dean of graduate studies. Then I met with Kay Walter, co-director of the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, a joint program of the UNL Libraries and the College of Arts & Sciences, which ARL will profile this spring in our series on digital scholarship support in ARL libraries. Will Thomas, chair of the History Department and co-editor of The Valley of the Shadow project, met with me as well. His current work focuses on The History Harvest, a project that is digitizing and sharing family and community history from around the US. I enjoyed lunch and a chance to talk with the libraries’ senior administrative team, followed by a conversation about digital projects with the leaders of five such efforts. Many library staff attended my public talk about our habit of applying 19th-century methods—originated with the formation of libraries as institutions—to our 21st-problems. My time at UNL concluded with a session with the Collection Strategies Committee, and then I was off for Ames, Iowa.

On April 7, my day at Iowa State University (ISU) kicked off early with breakfast with Beth McNeil, ISU library dean and a former ARL leadership fellow. I presented my talk on the 19th-century origins of the research library to all of the staff. The library’s administrative cabinet and I had a substantive conversation about the issues that challenge all of our libraries and how ARL might work on them. Then Beth and I had lunch with the ISU associate vice-president for research and the CIO, after which I met with the senior vice president and provost.  One of the highlights of my visit at ISU was seeing the lovely murals designed by Grant Wood and installed in the original library building as part of the federal Public Works project in the 1930s and 1940s.

On the afternoon of April 7, I drove to the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where John Culshaw, university librarian and another former ARL leadership fellow, and the associate university librarians met me for dinner. The next morning John and I had breakfast with the university’s provost. Then the libraries’ Leadership Council hosted me for an open session on “ARL 101.” I enjoyed a meet-and-greet session at the libraries’ Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio with associate university librarian Paul Soderdahl, literature and culture professor Judith Pascoe, and the studio’s director Tom Keegan. I presented my talk to library staff and had lunch with Paul, the university’s senior IT director, the assistant VP for research, and the director of the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies. My visit concluded with tours of the libraries’ Learning Commons and the Main Library gallery, Special Collections, and Conservation Lab, where I saw, among other things, examples of the first e-readers from the early 2000s in the lab’s Bookbinding Model Collection.

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