From library local to library leader

University appoints new dean of libraries

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Dean of Libraries John Unsworth carries lifelong love of books to his new job title. 

Courtesy Dan Addison | University Communications

This summer, John Unsworth assumed the position of dean of libraries, equipped with life-long experiences in the library and bright ideas about the future of the library system here at the University.

Unsworth’s affinity for libraries started early. Growing up as a “latchkey kid" — returning from school to an empty home while his parents were still at work — he spent his afternoons at the public library, reading through the collections.

Unsworth originally came to the University as a doctoral student and began working at Alderman Library before the installation of air conditioning and the catalog system. He later spent 10 years running the University’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, and has also worked for North Carolina State University, Brandeis University and the University of Illinois.

Now, as dean of libraries, Unsworth meets with each of the more than 200 library employees, and oversees the senior leadership group, fundraising and hiring processes.

“[It’s been] great to get to know people and build up a picture of the place,” Unsworth said. “[The senior leadership group] meets weekly [to discuss] questions about policy, priority and budget.”

Fundraising primarily involves meeting with donors.

“Often they are people who have collections that they want to give to the library [and] to add to our special collections,” he said.

Unsworth is involved in the renovation of the second floor of Clemons Library, which includes the installation of a new roof and the creation of the new advising space. He addressed student misconceptions about the transformation of “Clem Two.”

“[The new advising space] actually will be open as study space after business hours,” Unsworth said.

Due to noise complaints about the roof replacement, construction hours were moved to 5-8 a.m.

“[The renovations aren’t] that bad because I don’t use Clem Two any time after 5 p.m. anyway,” second-year College student Alexa Iadarola said.

Alderman Library will see the next round of renovations after Clemons is complete. Since the building went up in 1938, mechanical, electrical and plumbing renovations are all overdue, for which the state has appropriated funding to begin in July.

Unsworth spoke to the persistent value of libraries despite the rise of online databases, citing the importance of librarians.

“I think often students don’t realize how helpful librarians can be in getting their work done,” Unsworth said. “If you let them help you, you’re making them more successful in their job.”

Many of the online resources available to students are not easily self-taught, and Unsworth said librarians are specially equipped to help students with research. He also encouraged students to seek out on-Grounds library jobs if they’re at all interested in working in libraries professionally.

“There’s no undergrad on-ramp [to library school]. Most people who end up enrolling in these programs have worked in libraries,” Unsworth said. “We employ a lot of students — [if you’re interested] walk in and talk to the people there … [it’s] really fascinating work.”

Unsworth is also working to implement a number of programs with the student-run Library Council, including student art exhibits in libraries, a library dance inside the Rotunda and a graffiti space for students, to both serve as a creative outlet and to decrease the occurrence of unintentional graffiti throughout the library.

“[Art shows] would probably be the coolest,” second-year College student Elana Silverstein said. “I think a lot of the students at U.Va. are extremely talented, and it would be a cool way to bring people in and show off people and give people credit. And I’m sure no one would say no to it.”

Through the implementation of new programs as well as physical improvements to the spaces, Unsworth said he hopes the library system will become more accessible to the University community.

“[We want] to make libraries seem more like a place that belongs to the students,” Unsworth said.

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