College hires Jonathan Miller as new director of libraries

For new director of libraries Jonathan Miller, the goal is improvement, not necessarily change.

Miller, who has worked in the libraries of Ohio State University, Augustana College and the University of Pittsburgh, has begun his first year at the College after serving most recently as library director at Rollins College in Florida.

At Rollins, Miller and his team implemented changes such as creating 24-hour access to the main floor of Olin Library and adding a new multi-media center. Rollins received the 2013 Excellence in Academic Libraries Award from the Association of College and Research Libraries.

Miller, however, made it clear that he does not want to hastily change the College’s libraries. Despite his recognized ability to effectively enact change, his plan for the upcoming academic year is to get a better feel for the current library system.

“I wasn’t brought into Williams to be some great visionary,” Miller said. “The question is, what does the Williams community want from its libraries in the future? I’m here to help it have that conversation.”

Miller hopes to learn more about the workings of the libraries from library staff, faculty and students.

“How are [the library staff members] involved in their profession now?” Miller said. “How are they keeping up to date with the latest developments?”

Miller hopes to hear from students about how the library could have a more meaningful role in the lives of students and faculty and best serve the varied needs of the community. “If there’s a student group that wants to talk to me about the libraries and about their life at Williams … I’d be happy to meet,” Miller said. “We really want to know what you have to say.”

While Miller’s primary goal for the beginning of his time at the College is to listen and observe, he is firm about certain improvements that need to be made to the libraries. For example, he describes the importance of having a more diverse staff, better able “to support a diverse faculty and student body.” He also explains the need to adapt to technological progress. Because “users come into libraries with expectations that are created outside of [them],” as Miller said, libraries must be able to quickly integrate new technologies into their everyday functions. Miller has witnessed many technological improvements over the years, from the introduction of the graphical user interface, or the browser, to the search box, and predicts that libraries will soon need to adapt to advances in artificial intelligence technologies.

But Miller already has many other possible ideas for improvement floating around his mind. He believes in the concept of the libraries as  an important “third place,” a space separate from the home and workplace where people can go to feel more connected to their world. Miller wonders if more food and drink options at Sawyer Library could make it a more popular third place.

“We need to think more carefully about the café. When they planned this building, they were thinking we’d have a full-service café,” Miller said. “I’d like to hear more from the community about that.”

In addition, Miller is open to hearing community feedback about creating 24-hour access to the libraries. He notes that the Stetson Room is already open 24 hours all week. Although he is hesitant about also opening up other parts of the libraries for 24 hours out of concern for students sleep and related health concerns, he is open to discussing the entire issue.

Miller is aware of the immense opportunity and resources that the Colleges two libraries have at their disposal and, consequently, he does not take his many duties as their director lightly. The greatest challenge will “not [be answering] the question faced by so many librarians in higher education today, ‘how do I survive with so little? But having been blessed with all of these resources … what’s the best thing we could do with them?” So for now, Miller plans to take a deep breath, to look around and to simply listen.