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University Librarian Wittenborg to retire in December

National search to begin mid-October for replacement

University Librarian Karin Wittenborg will retire at the end of the semester. The decision, announced last week, comes after more than two decades of Wittenborg’s work for the University library system.

Provost John Simon said he hopes to begin the search process for a new head librarian in mid-October with a goal of finding someone to fill the role permanently by the summer of 2015. Deputy University Librarian Martha Sites will serve in Wittenborg’s position during the interim.

Wittenborg said she made the decision to retire for personal reasons.

“I’ve had 21 glorious years here, and now it’s time for retirement,” she said.

After working at the University of California, Los Angeles, Wittenborg began leading the University libraries in 1993. She said she came to Virginia because of the library’s “great reputation, particularly for technology before anyone else was thinking about [it].”

The library’s early technological initiatives included digitizing complete texts and introducing ways to search for words within texts. Wittenborg continued the technological improvements and also focused on building a strong staff.

Simon said Wittenborg has led many positive changes, and credits her with drawing more interest to the library system within the University community.

“What Karin has done is amazing, especially how she’s partnered with Information Technology, how she’s let students design space,” he said. “We want to preserve the culture she’s built here.”

Wittenborg said the University Librarian position is “the best job in the country — wonderfully rewarding and challenging.” She said she thinks the opening she leaves behind will attract many strong applicants.

“Right now is the most exciting time to be a librarian,” Wittenborg said. “Everything is changing, undergraduates are doing more original research, and one of the big challenges is [digital] preservation.”

Sites has been working in the University library system for more than 30 years. She said Wittenborg’s style of innovation and experimentation — “not typical of a librarian” — was inspirational.

Sites said she does not intend to apply to hold the head position permanently.

“Although I am very passionate about the libraries, it is not something I aspire to do,” she said.

Wittenborg is currently planning the process for Alderman’s renovation. The original library was built in 1938 and the new stacks were added in 1967. The renovations, Wittenborg said, will provide more spaces for student group work, solitary study and student events — though it might leave less room to store books, which would mean more of the University’s collection would be transferred to the Ivy Stacks.

“The renewal project would create spaces for a 21st century library,” Wittenborg said. “In many ways, Alderman will become the new Rotunda.”

Though Jefferson’s original library is currently undergoing restoration, it still won’t have technological capacities of the other libraries on Grounds.

Simon said the search process for Wittenborg’s replacement could be competitive, particularly given several other top research universities are also currently searching for a new head librarian. The search committee will be chaired by a member of the faculty, and include students, faculty and administrators, Simon said. He added the University will probably hire an outside search consultant to help develop a list of candidates.

The University is also in the process of searching for two new deans — one for the Engineering School and one for the Darden School of Business. Simon said they are also about to launch a search process for a new Dean of Medicine.