Dean of libraries candidate emphasizes past experiences


Kaitlyn Budion

One of a librarian’s responsibilities is to help make textbooks more affordable, dean of libraries candidate Shali Zhang said during her presentation at Snell Library Tuesday.

Zhang, currently the dean of libraries at the University of Montana, is the second candidate for the open vice provost of information collaboration and dean of libraries position. Her presentation followed that of Charles Watkinson, who visited campus last week.

Zhang focused on the topic of textbook affordability and said the process needs to start with faculty.

“I think you need to start with education,” she said. “In North Carolina, they eventually made a rule that faculty cannot change their textbook within three years. That allows students to sell them and get some money back.”

The previous dean retired in December 2016, according to the Northeastern library website. The position is currently being held by Interim Dean Amira Aaron, who otherwise serves as the associate dean of scholarly resources.

The library needs someone who can lead and expand, said search committee chair Magy Seif El-Nasr, an associate professor between the College of Arts, Media and Design and the College of Computer and Information Science.

“The idea is that he or she will be continuing with what the library is doing, because the library is already innovating in multiple different directions, but also expand the library’s vision,” Seif El-Nasr said. “This is why we added the title [vice provost of] information collaboration so that they can actually create a space to collaborate around the university, not just look at library service.”

Zhang used her time during the presentation and open forum to emphasize how her past experiences have prepared her for this position. Prior to her current role in Montana, she worked at several academic libraries including Wichita State University in Kansas and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG).

Zhang said she wants to ensure that more library collections are available online so they can be accessed more easily by Northeastern students around the globe, which could help the library better serve international students.

“I realize that here students go abroad, and international students come,” Zhang said. “In Northeastern University, many students, are globally located taking class and going abroad. I think the library can do collection support, the more resources online the better, because they [students] can have access to it anytime, anywhere.”

At other universities, Zhang worked to bring in grant money. For instance, at UNCG she helped earn grants for diversity recruitment. She said that experience would help her when raising money for Snell Library if chosen for the position.

“One of the things I learned was if you want to bring in external funding, look at what funding agencies are interested in plus what the university’s interests are,” Zhang said. “If they converge, bingo—that is what you are going to do.”

Zhang discussed her experience in dealing with library spatial issues, which many students agreed was important. Marcus Ross, a sophomore marketing major, said space was an important issue in terms of library planning, specifically for study rooms.

“I wish there were more study rooms and easier access to them,” Ross said.

While working at UNCG, Zhang expanded study space into the lower level of the facility, which was previously used to hold collections.

Zhang said she was drawn to the position at Northeastern because she appreciates the university’s model of experiential learning, global engagement and interdisciplinary research. She said she was also drawn to the position because of the newly added vice provost role to the traditional dean of libraries position.

“I think that [the addition of the vice provost position] is really Northeastern trying to keep up with the trends,” Zhang said. “If you look at several major universities, they upgrade dean position to vice provost in order for the person in that position to have a strong voice at in an administrative level. They’re looking for a way to connect the library to other units in terms of resources, information, data and collaboration initiatives.”

Photo by Kaitlyn Budion