University launches national search for new Library director as Johnson announces retirement

Library Director and University Librarian Brenda Johnson has announced plans to retire, effective November 15. The Office of the Provost and a search committee will be overseeing the search for a new director. More information about the role is available in the position profile.

Photo of Brenda Johnson
Brenda L. Johnson, Library Director and University Librarian (Photo by John Zich)

The committee is being co-chaired by Melina Hale, Vice Provost and William Rainey Harper Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, and the College, and William Howell, Sydney Stein Professor in American Politics, Department of Political Science, the Harris School of Public Policy, and the College; Chair, Department of Political Science and Director of the Center for Effective Government, with support from the firm Storbeck Search. The committee members are as follows:

  • David Borycz, Assistant University Librarian for Administrative Services, The University of Chicago Library
  • Ronald Burt, Charles M. Harper Leadership Professor of Sociology and Strategy, Booth School of Business
  • Daisy Delogu, Professor of French Literature, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures and the College
  • William Hubbard, Professor of Law, the Law School
  • Garrett Kiely, Director, University of Chicago Press
  • Diane Lauderdale, Louis Block Professor of Public Health Sciences and the College, Chair, Department of Public Health Sciences
  • Cecilia Smith, GIS and Maps Librarian, The University of Chicago Library
  • Mark Webster, Associate Professor, Department of the Geophysical Sciences, and the College
  • Phil Venticinque (Staff to the Committee), Assistant Provost

An internationally respected leader in the field of library science, Johnson was first appointed to her role in 2015. The Library is central to the University’s mission of academic and research excellence, and Johnson has led the Library in excelling in a changing environment, enhancing access to physical and digital collections and resources, advancing digital scholarship, extending the University’s impact through local and global engagement, and cultivating an inclusive community.

She has overseen the launch of the Library’s Center for Digital Scholarship, which enables faculty and students to explore new methodologies, analyze complex data, visualize theoretical and spatial relationships, and share and preserve research results. The Library has led the development and expansion of Knowledge@UChicago, the digital repository for preservation and sharing of the scholarly, creative, and administrative assets of the University. Johnson has introduced the provision of GIS (Geographic Information System) services through the hiring of a new GIS/Maps Librarian and the opening of a GIS Hub in the Crerar Library.

“Brenda has spearheaded efforts to empower faculty and students in their research, teaching, and learning by expanding research and development opportunities. Most recently, her strategic decisions enabled the Library to rapidly pivot to provide critical services and research materials in new ways during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Provost Ka Yee C. Lee. “I am grateful to Brenda for her leadership, and I wish her well in her next endeavor.”

As a result of Johnson’s successful oversight of development work during the recent campaign, the Library has launched the Hanna Holborn Gray Graduate Student Fellowship Program. This enables students to explore alternative scholarly careers in libraries and archives, to enhance their research skills, to plan and deliver instruction and to conduct digital scholarship. She has also expanded staff expertise in new and rapidly developing areas of librarianship through the launch of the Library Residency Program.

Under Johnson’s leadership, the Library has prioritized cultivating an inclusive community as one of its six strategic directions and has established a Diversity & Inclusion Team to provide additional leadership and support to advance these directions.

Johnson and the Library have also taken a leading role in organizations and consortia that have benefited researchers locally, regionally, nationally, and worldwide. The Library is the home of the Black Metropolis Research Consortium, participates in the HathiTrust, and the Ivy Plus Library Confederation’s Web Archiving Program. Johnson is the chair of the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) Library Director group and a member of the Chicago Collections Consortium Board of Directors, the Library and Archives Advisory Board to the HistoryMakers, and the Freedom of Information Archive Advisory Board. In her role as past chair of the Open Library Environment (OLE) Board of Directors, she has led University of Chicago Library staff members and colleagues at partner institutions in the development of an open-source, community-based library management system that is being used at research libraries in the United States and Europe.

Before joining the University, Johnson served as the Ruth Lilly Dean of University Libraries at Indiana University, Bloomington; University Librarian at the University of California, Santa Barbara; and Associate University Librarian for Public Services at the University of Michigan.

An earlier version of this post was published on April 8, 2021.