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University Librarian announces retirement, reflects on her time at Rutgers

September 30, 2014
Marianne Gaunt

Marianne Gaunt

When Marianne Gaunt first arrived at Rutgers thirty-five years ago, working as a reference librarian in Alexander Library, the physical landscape was perhaps similar to what it is now. But so much else at the university and the library system was strikingly different, worlds away from the realities we take pride in now.

Rutgers then
The university was a much smaller place, with the individual college structure across the campuses in New Brunswick still in place and operating separately. Though respected regionally, Rutgers was not yet recognized as a major research institution. There were few specialized centers or institutes of any kind at the school. The libraries at Rutgers, though they cooperated well with each other, were in many ways autonomous.

To pursue their studies or scholarship, researchers who entered the libraries had to engage in tedious and time-consuming tasks. To locate an article published in a scholarly journal, a user had to searech one or more print index, such as  the Readers Guide to Periodical Literature, find the proper citation, and then track down the print journal indicated, often traveling to a different Rutgers library on another campus to put their hands on the desired issue. If Rutgers did not subscribe to the needed journal, an interlibrary loan request could be filed – provided the user had most of the pertinent details about the article. The request would take weeks to fill because the staff had to search a print union catalog, indentify a library that owned the item, and send a request by mail.

In the decades that followed her arrival at Rutgers, Marianne – like the university itself - achieved many significant advances.  She became circulation librarian, then the director of the humanities and social sciences libraries, then associate university librarian for research and undergraduate services, then acting university librarian. She was appointed university librarian in 1997. As Marianne recently announced her upcoming retirement in December, she reflected on the many remarkable changes that have transformed the Rutgers she knew way back then.

Rutgers now
The university has experienced remarkable growth, in terms of physical space and the size of the student body, and created a thoughtful, unified organizational structure for the New Brunswick/Piscataway campuses. Rutgers is now recognized nationally, both as a member of the prestigious and exclusive Association of American Universities (AAU) and more recently as a member of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, a consortium of Big Ten universities.

Rutgers hosts a burgeoning collection of centers and institutes, addressing a broad range of pressing national and global issues, which are well regarded in their respected disciplines. The university has developed a growing number of cutting edge sub-disciplines and interdisciplinary courses of study. Most recently, and readily evident to anyone tracking the school’s development or visiting Rutgers, is the heightened academic caliber of the student body and the boom in construction on most Rutgers campuses. Integrating the former University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) into Rutgers in 2013 added many more offerings, connections, and potential areas of growth to the university.

A far different library system
Equally remarkable, from Marianne’s vantage point, are the many changes to the nature of scholarship and study and the offerings of the library system. Technological advances, and the creation of a fully-integrated library system in the 1990’s, have enabled users to locate and view the full text articles of journals and books in minutes, from within the library or anywhere else they choose to work. New data mining possibilities in full text databases, such as Early English Books Online, allow researchers to easily search for a topic across thousands of digitized works, or ask new questions and quickly retrieve results – an effort that would have taken months using only print publications, especially as no single library would have owned all the sources.

The Libraries provide virtual reference services, interlibrary loaned articles and books within days, digital exhibitions of rare and historic materials from Special Collections and the Institute of Jazz Studies, and online information literacy instruction modules that faculty members can integrate into their online course management systems.. The Libraries employ a variety of social media outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr, to connect with students and address their inquiries about the university or the Libraries. Within the past year the Libraries added yet another cutting-edge technological innovation, 3-D printers, which are attracting users and offering new possibilities.

New roles for the Libraries
With the explosive growth of technology, the Libraries have found themselves taking on important new roles in the university community. Librarians provide expertise and guidance in navigating copyright concerns as faculty members seek to use scholarly materials and exemplars from popular culture in their courses. Libraries staff created software to expedite the integration of digital theses and dissertations produced at the university into the holdings of the library system and made them available to the broader scholarly community. This software was subsequently released as open-source and downloaded by dozens of educational institutions across the world.      

The Libraries now assist faculty members in developing data management plans, to address requirements in federally funded research, and help faculty to make their research more broadly accessible through open access platforms in the RUcore institutional repository, which is managed by the Libraries. In response to these new roles, the libraries have created new positions that were not envisioned decades ago such as a copyright librarian, a data librarian, a digital archivist, a digital humanities librarian, and a metadata librarian.

Points of pride
Marianne takes particular pride in a number of major Rutgers University Libraries’ accomplishments during her tenure. Libraries personnel played critical roles in the development and adoption of two far-reaching policies at the university – a copyright policy adopted in 2007 and an open access policy adopted in 2012. The Libraries have established itself as a leader within the state’s academic libraries, helping to establish the Virtual Academic Library Environment of New Jersey (VALE) consortium, and also is an active supporter of national efforts to develop an   open source integrated library system (OLE).

The Libraries secured support that enabled them to expand and renovate buildings and study spaces, and to continuously upgrade technology, on all campuses so as to nimbly adapt to the changing ways students and faculty study and do research. The fruits of such changes are readily evident in the expansion of Alexander Library, and the new Art and Chang libraries, the technology rich spaces such as the new group study rooms in the Dana, Library of Science and Medicine, Kilmer, and Douglass libraries, the complete renovation at the Robeson library, the Scholarly Communication Center in Alexander Library, the Sharon Fordham Media Lab and the Information Commons at Douglass Library, and in other places.

The Libraries have consistently recruited talented and creative librarians and staff who have formed productive partnerships with colleagues across the university, which result in the receipt of federal grants, the development of new digital initiatives, and notable innovations in pedagogy. Rutgers librarians and staff have built a technology infrastructure for the Libraries that garnered attention from the White House and is continuously adapted to provide numerous digital services for faculty and students. Most recently the Libraries successfully and seamlessly integrated two well-regarded formerly-UMDNJ health sciences libraries into its system.

One of the most revealing indicators of the successes of the Libraries is the fact that graduating students regularly rate the Rutgers University Libraries quite highly (90% or greater) in their exit surveys.

Continuing challenges
Marianne foresees a number of defining challenges shaping the work of her successor as university librarian and her colleagues in academic libraries in the decades ahead. Foremost among these challenges is  the escalating cost of public higher education, as new programs, new sub-disciplines, new technologies, and other changes all come with considerable expenses in publications, resources, and support. In the Libraries the cost of digital information resources escalates each year and, unlike books, databases are not a one-time purchase but a continuing financial burden. State support for public higher education is not growing commensurate with the costs of education.

In concert with the rapid growth in technology is the constant need for professional development, so Rutgers librarians and staff can master the talents, tools, resources, and processes that will enable them to support faculty and students in their work. To use two contemporary examples to illustrate, Libraries personnel must now develop a strong foundation in data visualization applications and sophisticated statistical software if they are to effectively work with the growing number of faculty who depend on these tools.

The Libraries must also continue to excel at the strengths they’ve honed over the past few decades – constantly monitoring changes in faculty and student needs and updating library spaces accordingly, creating coalitions regionally and nationally to leverage knowledge and purchasing power, and developing meaningful metrics that demonstrate the value of libraries to colleagues at the university and to funding sources.

An inspiring example of leadership
Over the course of her career Marianne has played a leadership role in academic libraries regionally and nationally. She served as president of the Association of Research Libraries, the major professional organization of the top 125 research libraries in North America, president of the regional academic library consortium PALCI, and was the founding chair of VALE. She also served on the board of the Center for Research Libraries, an international association, on the research libraries advisory board of OCLC, and on the board of directors of Lyrasis, a regional cooperative. In 2000 Marianne received the Distinguished Service award from the College and University Section of the New Jersey Library Association and in 2008 she was promoted at Rutgers to vice president for information services and university librarian.

Marianne drew valuable insights from the many relationships and perspectives she gained in these different roles and used them to inform her work at the Rutgers University Libraries. The result is a library system that is widely seen as a focal point on campus and as a creative, adaptive, and collegial organization by its many partners regionally and nationwide.  

We wish Marianne a hearty thank you, and marvel at her many accomplishments, as she continues her work in the weeks ahead while preparing for her retirement in December. Under her exceptionally capable leadership, the library system and the university have grown tremendously and we are all the beneficiaries.