Interview with Dr Sarah Thomas, new Bodley's Librarian

21 February 2007


st_sf3_gd_webCongratulations on your appointment, and welcome to Oxford.  Can you tell us a little bit more about your background and your experience?

I came from Cornell University, which is a university about the same size as Oxford in terms of its student body, but is quite different in that itís in a rural location in New York and itís quite a young university. Iíve been there the last ten and a half years. Before that Iíve worked in many, many different places. I started out in Harvard, I went to get a PhD at Johns Hopkins University,  I moved to California and worked for the Research Libraries Group, I was in Georgia for ten months, then came up to the Washington DC area and worked in the National Agricultural Library and in the Library of Congress. So as you can see Iíve had a sort of peripatetic existence and I like exploring new places; Iím sure thatís part of the attraction for me in coming to Oxford.


You are the first woman Bodleyís Librarian and the first non-British Bodleyís Librarian. How does that feel?

When people say that, it does register of course as something thatís a change, or something thatís different. I did go to a womenís college, so I can be quite a strong feminist sometimes. But I also feel that I experience things based on my personal characteristics, of which being a woman is only one, and so to me the barrier thatís being broken is not necessarily being the first woman, but perhaps the greatest difference is having an American come in. One of the things Iíve looked at is that the Oxford student body and faculty include a number of Americans, actually, so perhaps having a senior administrator who is an American is not that unusual in terms of the overall international composition of the University.


What vision do you bring with you for Oxford University Library Service?

Iíd like to start out by saying that I want us to be the very best academic research library in the world. I think that we will be innovative; Iíd like us to be very service-oriented. But what I really have to say is that my vision is something that will be shaped by what I hear from others who are here in the University and here in the libraries. It wonít be my vision but it will be our vision; it will be our vision that we will create collectively.


Is it fair to ask you what are your priorities are coming into the job?

To some extent the priorities were established in the position description, and so the priorities that were laid out to me as I was considering the position were the continued integration of the libraries, the building of the digital library and the infrastructure, the creation of a physical environment that would be inviting and stimulating and appropriate for contemporary scholars and students. And then - all of are really interrelated - would be the stewardship of the Universityís resources and augmenting those resources through fund-raising. So those are really the priorities that Iím going to set out to follow.


Is there anything else you would like to say to us?

I have been anticipating this day for a long time. Itís wonderful to be here. People have been extremely welcoming to me. I know I have a lot to learn. Thatís again part of the attraction; part of the challenge to me is to learn a new system, and I hope everyone will consider himself or herself my mentor.


Interview with Dr Sarah Thomas, Bodleyís Librarian and Director of Oxford University Library Service, by Dr Samuel Fanous, Head of OULS Communications & Publishing, on her first day of office, 19 February 2007


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