Elliot joined the Rowan University Libraries administrative team in January 2023. He now leads Rowan Libraries’ efforts in the areas of instruction, research consultations, digital humanities/scholarship, and scholarly communication.
Can you tell us a little about your background in libraries and what you enjoy about the work?
I have worked in academic libraries for 16 years, and in non-profit and special libraries before that. I led classes, met with students, and created digital projects in collaboration with faculty, supporting a variety of disciplines including History, Political Science, & the Arts. I was the History Librarian at Boston College, where I also helped to build the Digital Scholarship program. I then moved into management roles, first at Wellesley College, and then at Tufts University, where I supported research librarians, the special collections team, and helped lead the collections budget. I have transitioned my enjoyment of supporting patrons with their research, to coaching and mentoring patron-facing staff.
What brings you to Rowan University?
I grew up in the Philadelphia area, and went to undergrad at Haverford College. I am excited to return to the region after many years in Boston to be closer to family. My most recent role was as director of a community college library in central Massachusetts, and I am energized by the mission of a public higher education institution to serve the broad needs of the community, particularly underrepresented and non-traditional community members. In my mind, Rowan connects that broad mission with the larger scholarly endeavors of some of the private institutions where I have worked.
What excites you about the work of libraries in 2023?
At every step of development of the internet and technology in the last 20 years – web search engines, Google Scholar, Wikipedia, Kindles, iPhones, Sci-Hub, ChatGPT – we have been asking ourselves and have been asked by others, what is the library now? Does it still have a place? It’s true that we have gone from a scarcity model (the only place to find an answer) to an abundance model (how to discern good information). As I tell my daughter when she worries about homework sheets: the point isn’t completing the sheet; the point is expanding and refining your skills. The same is true of the mission of library instruction: the goal isn’t simply to find a good source for that project; the goal is to help our community to feel empowered, resourceful, and insightful in doing so. It’s a messy information landscape, only getting messier. And hopefully the last 20 years has also taught us that perceived ease does not equal simplicity. How a search box (or AI chatbot) produces results should be as important to our community as what it produces. Our role as librarians and library workers is not to wall off information (only go to the library, only use peer reviewed scholarship), but to help our community understand that information landscape – scholarly and popular, open and paywalled – so we can all navigate it as capable information consumers and creators.
We also want to see the community as partners in this work. We are not just finding scholarship, but creating it, and we want to work together to support this creation at all levels throughout our community. No library is the same, because no community is the same. Rowan University Libraries will grow and change to suit the evolving needs of the institution.
What challenges do you anticipate?
Three big ones. First, we need to help the Rowan community understand the role that the libraries already play on campus, and ways we can grow through collaboration. I know that some folks at Rowan already see that. We have some great partnerships already. And we need to build on them, shedding perceptions of shushing and dusty shelves, towards the intellectual hub that the libraries can become.
Second, we need to make sure our libraries are reflective of and serving our entire community. Libraries are not neutral, and we have important work to evaluate and update our collections, our spaces, our systems, and our services, through a lens of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. This is not easy work and I will be looking for faculty and student contributions to these efforts. I am really pleased to see such a strong Division of DEI at Rowan, and am thrilled to join the DEI Council to help align the libraries’ work in this area with larger campus efforts.
Third, we need to invest in the libraries. I have learned a lot about Rowan’s recent trajectory, doubling the student body in ten years, some of the fastest growth in the country, and our aspirations towards becoming a top tier research institution. We will need to invest heavily in library collections, library staffing, and library spaces to support and achieve these efforts.
Anything else you would like to share?
I would love to hear more from the community about what the Rowan University Libraries can be for you. What is working well, and you want to make sure we don’t break? What could be better? What are your unmet needs that we might help to address? Please reach out, and I will be excited to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org