Name: Donna Bourne-Tyson, University Librarian
How did you become involved in the library system?
Before the internet, I remember hearing talk about how we would soon have more information than we could handle, and that people would be needed to help organize the information, and also how computers were going to help manage the information. I found that fascinating, and I wanted to be part of that. That’s how I ended up at Dal as a student in the Master of Information Management program.
What inspired you to pursue this career?
I spent eight years working in the public library system after I graduated from Dal. One of the chief librarians there had a strong commitment to the concept that libraries are the cornerstone of democracy, and we enable people to have the experience of lifelong learning and to better themselves to have the correct information they need at any time in their lives. I started to really feel like I could make a difference providing access of information to people.
What role do the Libraries play in Dalhousie’s academic life?
I’m very pleased that a lot of the faculty here get that they still need to use the library, even if they don’t physically spend time there. They access many of our services from their computers. We also teach students the skills they need to identify credible sources of information, which can be difficult in today’s age of free information.
What areas do you feel need more development?
We have identified areas where we could be doing more to support faculty research, particularly in digital scholarship. We have an institutional repository (called DalSpace), which is a place that permanently preserves the scholarly output of the academic community. Any professor publishing an article anywhere can also place a copy in DalSpace. Articles will have a permanent URL and we will move them as technology changes. In a sense, we are offering “academic immortality” for information.
We would like to have Senate adopt an open access policy, more to strongly encourage people to consider depositing their work and retain copyright.
How have libraries changed over the years?
We have to make sure we have a real user-centred service culture. When you think of the library you might have known, there was a lot of “shushing” going on. Libraries are not all about rules or “shushing” now: we’re about promoting academic success for faculty and students. Studies link student retention and success with the support they receive in their academic libraries.
What will you bring to the Dalhousie Libraries?
I’ve learned to be innovative and manage transformational change on a very small budget. There’s always more we can be doing for our users, and it’s not always dependent on the money in our budget. I really have an interest in people. I don’t believe I could ever be happy or successful in my role if the people around me aren’t also happy or successful. The first thing I did when I started here was meet with all the libraries’ staff for one-on-one meetings. I did a half hour with each of the 130 staff at the four libraries, and it was a wonderful learning experience. It gave me a solid overview of what we do, as well as the challenges and the opportunities we face. In fact, many of the initiatives that we’re going to be moving forward with were identified by the staff on the front lines.
What role does collaboration play in the Libraries’ success?
I learn from my colleagues and our users. You cannot do these things alone. You have to talk about it with your colleagues, and then everyone carries it forward as their idea. I believe in “spectacular failure”, although it isn’t really failure if you learn from what went wrong.
What advice would you give people who want to develop their leadership skills?
I think anybody at any level in the university has the potential to be a leader: to lead every day in everything that they tackle. People lead by example, inspiring others as they go. I think we all make a difference in the lives of our students and our faculty. Once you feel you have that capacity, it opens up a lot of other possibilities.
Donna Bourne-Tyson joined Dalhousie in 2011 as the University Librarian. Her areas of interest include open access, scholarly communications, data preservation, transliteracy, copyright, learning communities, student-centered service enhancements, patron-driven acquisitions, and academic integrity issues. Read more information here.