New library director looks to connect with community

photo by Joshua Sherman

After a year-long search, Andrew Ashton has been selected to become the College’s new Director of the Libraries.

The Director of the Libraries oversees all op­erations and activities for all of the libraries on campus: the Thompson Memorial Library, the Lockwood and Ingram Libraries, Archives and Special Collections, the Van Ingen Art Library, the George Sherman Dickinson Music Library and the Digital Library. Under the Director’s leadership is a staff of almost 50 employees, re­sponsible for 150,000 square feet of space and over one million total volumes (Vassar College Libraries, “Andrew Ashton named the new Di­rector of the Libraries”).

Ashton, having worked in a variety of fields in different libraries, explained what kind of ex­perience he will bring to the Directorship. He wrote in an emailed statement, “Most recently, I was Associate University Librarian for Digi­tal Technologies at Brown University, and I worked as part of a group called the Center for Digital Scholarship. A lot of our work focused on helping faculty and students use digital in­formation and data in ways that might enhance or extend their scholarship. Prior to that, I worked in a digital humanities research group at Brown, I was a librarian at Skidmore College, and right after college I worked in a music li­brary at a broadcasting organization called Ra­dio Free Asia.”

Ashton explained that one of his personal goals for the future of the libraries is to increase communication with the Vassar community. As a new member of the faculty, he hopes to get to know what the students and faculty wish to get out of the College’s extensive library system, and to upgrade its technology to keep up with the changing systems.

He commented, “My immediate goal is to get to know the faculty and students at Vassar, so that we can start to work together in charting a path for the libraries. I want to understand what the community values in the libraries, and where there might be opportunities to develop new kinds of services, collections, spaces and collaborations. Libraries need to strike a bal­ance between sustaining their ‘traditional’ roles and adapting to changes in learning and schol­arship. I believe that the best way to do that is to develop partnerships with faculty and students that can inform and help guide future changes.”

He continued, “At this point I am trying to learn what is working well in the libraries, and what needs attention. I heard, for example, that there is a need for more group study space in the library, so we are beginning to look at pos­sibilities to improve in that area. I will rely on feedback from students and faculty to help identify areas for improvement, and I look for­ward to learning more about what needs exist at Vassar.” In taking the time to get to recog­nize community needs and suggestions, Ashton hopes to make positive, long-term improve­ments rather than simply coming in and making changes immediately.

Vassar prides itself on having a broad mul­tidisciplinary curriculum. One of the tasks of the library system is to connect the available resources to the curriculum. On this, Ashton commented, “I think it is important that we work to develop a broad understanding of how information, in many forms, is used through­out the curriculum. One of our first priorities, of course, is to sustain the existing collections and facilities so that students and faculty can do their work.

He continued, “[A]t the same time, we need to examine what forms scholarly information takes in the 21st century, and how different kinds of information…intersect within the multidisci­plinary curriculum. I believe that the Libraries can play an important role in enabling students and faculty to work effectively in this new en­vironment, and that we can help preserve and sustain these resources for the future.”

One of the many departments with a partic­ularly strong relationship with the Library is the History Department. Chair of the History Department Maria Höhn described what kinds of improvements she hopes to see for the fu­ture of the library system that will benefit fac­ulty and students on campus. She wrote in an emailed statement, “Colleagues in the depart­ment have expressed the hope that Andy will be in regular contact with faculty and students to stay informed about our research interests and needs. We hope that he will bring a vision to the college that combines pedagogy and re­search, and that he is somebody who is savvy about technology but also deeply cares about preservation.”

Höhn went on to echo Ashton’s desire for the position to become a more public and involved figure on campus. She commented, “We hope furthermore that he will be a public advocate on campus for the faculty’s intellectual interest and the students’ pedagogical needs, and some­body who is willing to engage in a robust con­versation about library acquisition budgets.”

VSA VP for Academics, Logan Hill ’16 also commented on the new appointment. “I think, with Andy’s arrival, the library is poised to ac­complish some really exciting things, both as we continue to move into an increasingly digital landscape and with the greater need to re-artic­ulate our library’s unique role in melding that with traditional print media,” Hill remarked. “What’s most important is that the library ad­ministration bears in mind the varying ways students think about and use the library, both as a space to do work and the (often non-phys­ical) resources it provides. As it stands, there aren’t many ways for students to give feedback on their experiences with the libraries, so mov­ing forward, I think it’s important to establish more lines of communication, be they physical or digital, for students to help define whatever changes might be put in place.”

Once Director Ashton has taken the time to familiarize himself with the needs and sugges­tions of the Vassar Community, many hope to see increased communication and a gradual move into the new technological landscape of library resources, while also maintaining the traditional roles that libraries provide.

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