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18 November 2012

Dean of Libraries steps down after 10 years

Dean of Libraries Bill Walker never intended to become a librarian.

“I came to libraries through the back door,” he said.

In the early ‘70s, Walker was pursuing a master’s degree in French at the University of Michigan. Desperate for cash, he began working for the Taubman Health Sciences Library at the School of Dentistry. At the time, it was the highest paid position available to students.

But Walker was soon captivated by the work and switched his master’s from French to library sciences.

“They were just starting to automate the medical literature and I just loved the idea that you could take this body of knowledge and automate it and make it searchable,” he said.

Now, almost four decades later, Walker is stepping down from his post as the dean of libraries at the end of the spring semester. His last day will be May 31, 2013. When he leaves, Walker will have worked for the university for 10 years.

A committee is currently being assembled to appoint his replacement, who will begin work June 1.

 

Building blocks

Before coming to UM, Walker was the senior vice president and the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the New York Public Libraries.

He had been working for the New York Public Libraries for 14 years when he received a call from President Donna E. Shalala asking him to come down and take a look at UM’s libraries.

“I wasn’t looking for a job. Miami found me,” Walker said. “But I sensed it was time for a change, and I wanted to work with faculty and students.”

There were two main problems with the UM library system when Walker arrived: The libraries were not student-friendly and the collections were incomplete from years of underfunding.

“There would be seminal works that we did not have,” he said.

Walker began by comparing the collections at UM to those at other institutions to determine where the university was lacking. Then he assembled a staff that could close those gaps and raise the millions of dollars needed to do so.

“I wanted to look like the major research institutions,” he said.

Walker also began to favor electronic books. He connected the UM libraries to digital partnerships with other institutions that gave students access to millions of books online.

Along with the research collections, Walker also bolstered the university’s special collections by focusing on papers, manuscripts and original research “no one else had.”

“We’ve brought music collections up from Venezuela, we’ve brought poets’ collections up from Brazil,” he said. “The Cuban Heritage Collection is a jewel in our crown.”

In order to make the libraries more student-friendly, Walker created more workspace and computer stations for students, and collaborated with Student Government to create a video collection on the first floor.

 

Looking forward

Once he leaves, Walker will pursue personal endeavors.

“I’ve been doing administration for 35 years,” he said. “It’s time to do some projects.”

He first plans to spend more time learning about the relationship between libraries and computer science.

“I’m interested in programs that help us take all the thousands of words that are in a library like [Richter] and explore them differently,” he said.

He also wants to dedicate more time to his collection of antique British pottery and rare dog books, and volunteer with dogs.

“I’m gong to do things that refresh my mind and let me think about different things,” he said.  “There’s no end to the things I can do.”

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