A renewed sense of purpose

The University of Chicago Library staff has begun the academic year with a renewed sense of purpose. Over the preceding months, we have reviewed our mission and values statements and the Strategic Directions that were developed for 2016-2019 and have worked to develop and articulate our commitments for 2020-2023. While many aspects of our prior mission, values, and strategic directions remain relevant today, our commitment to excelling in a changing environment and to focusing on the needs of our Library users is leading us to work in new ways and to refocus our strategic directions.

Photo of Brenda Johnson in Mansueto Library
Brenda L. Johnson, Library Director and University Librarian
Photo by John Zich

I would like to share with you here the key aspects of these statements and a few of the preliminary projects and offerings we are providing as a result of our Strategic Directions.


The University of Chicago Library empowers intellectual discovery, rigorous learning, and global engagement through its deep and rich collections, extensive expertise, innovative programs, and diverse spaces.


Diversity: A diverse and inclusive environment builds a stronger, more creative community.

User focus: Our users are at the center of all we do.

Innovation: We embrace curiosity, experimentation, and learning.

Collaboration: We advance knowledge and build a better future through partnerships.

Knowledge Sharing: Open and equitable access to information is a cornerstone of research and education.

Strategic Directions

1. Cultivate an inclusive community

Our first Strategic Direction is a new focal point. We are building an inclusive organization that cultivates and values diversity, recognizing the strength that it brings to our community and operations.

We are proud to be joining the University-wide Diversity and Inclusion Initiative and are beginning to determine how we will participate. Early steps in this process have included bringing Vice Provost Melissa Gilliam to the Library for meetings with Library staff, hosting “Hearing One Another” workshops for Library staff members on our annual Staff Day, and forming a Library Diversity and Inclusion Working Group that has developed a Library diversity statement.

The Library has been recognized in the University’s Summer 2019 diversity report for creating a prayer and meditation space designed to meet the needs of Muslim students, and for providing workspace for visiting students from the University of Puerto Rico affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

As we develop further plans to cultivate diversity and inclusion, we expect our strategies to include fostering a diverse, inclusive, and culturally competent organization; actively recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce; acting as a strong partner in campus diversity activities; providing welcoming, accessible library spaces and services; and developing inclusive collections.

2. Empower faculty and students with library services, collections, and spaces

Our commitment to empowering faculty and students continues. We will advance state-of-the-art research, teaching, and engaged learning by implementing innovative and inclusive services and reimagining library collections and spaces. Just a few of our current offerings include:

  • Hanna Holborn Gray Graduate Student Fellowships: Thanks to the generosity of our President Emeritus, this new program is giving University of Chicago graduate students opportunities to expand their professional horizons and enhance their development as scholars with the guidance of library mentors. I am deeply honored that President Emeritus Gray has recognized the wide variety of ways that Library experts and Library work can contribute to graduate students’ development.
  • Geospatial workshops: GIS and Maps Librarian Cecilia Smith is offering customized geospatial workshops for research groups in Crerar Library.
  • Instruction in the Social Sciences: Librarians are collaborating with faculty to provide customized instruction for students. For example, librarians partnered with the Social Sciences Research Center this summer to create a specialized Research Lifecycle workshop series for undergraduates in the Summer Institute in Social Research Methods.

3. Advance digital scholarship

In 2020-2023, our commitment to advancing digital scholarship will continue to grow. We will increase the University’s scholarly impact by building spaces, services, and technologies that facilitate digital approaches to creating, analyzing, preserving, and openly sharing research. Most notably:

  • Building a new Center for Digital Scholarship: A space on Regenstein’s First Floor between the Dissertation Office and the Circulation Desk will be renovated to create a new physical Center for Digital Scholarship. It will enhance the Library’s current ability to act as a hub for digital scholarship that provides faculty and students with technologies, instruction and consultation services that support the exploration of new research methodologies, analysis of complex data, and sharing of research and creative endeavors through new publishing models .
  • Enhancing open access to data and code: Knowledge@UChicago, the campus open access digital repository for documents, data, and media, is managed by the Library in collaboration with IT Services. This summer and fall, we have implemented a new system and are adding new capabilities that better meet growing campus needs for open access data sharing and preservation.

4. Enhance access to scholarly resources

We will connect scholars with resources at the point of need by developing a user-centered, content-rich, integrated discovery environment and by providing fast and convenient access and delivery services.

  • Improving discovery and delivery: We are building tools to improve the discovery of materials—including more than 216 million items—held by our consortial partners in the Ivy Plus and the Big Ten Academic Alliance. We are also building better tools to speed the processing and delivery of Interlibrary Loan requests. To make these and other improvements possible, the Library is participating in a community-driven initiative to develop a next-generation, open-source library management system called FOLIO that will support our acquisitions, cataloging, and circulation operations.
  • Diversifying collections: We are exploring ways of coordinating purchasing with our Ivy Plus partners so that we all have access to more diverse collections.

5. Extend the University’s impact through local and global engagement

The Library continues to engage with local and global partners to extend the University’s impact on pressing challenges in our city, nation, and the world. Some of our current collaborations include:

  • All of Us: As part of a National Library of Medicine program, librarians from our John Crerar Library and the Chicago Public Library will work together to provide training and access to high-quality online health information for public library patrons, taking an important step to help decrease the life expectancy gap between Chicago’s wealthiest and poorest neighborhoods.
  • Black Metropolis Research Consortium (BMRC): In September, we hired Marcia Walker-McWilliams, PhD’12, as the new Executive Director for the BMRC, a Chicago-based membership association of libraries, universities, and other archival institutions based at the University of Chicago Library with a mission of making broadly accessible its members’ holdings that document African American and African diasporic culture, history, and politics.

6. Excel in a changing environment

We continue to build an agile, creative, and inclusive organization that values diversity and encourages experimentation, collaboration, bold thinking, and cultural competence in order to meet the needs of the ever-changing academic environment.

  • New librarians expanding our capabilities include David Woken, our first Latin American and Caribbean Studies Librarian, and Holiday Vega, our new Health and Social Services Librarian.
  • We are in the process of hiring a new Clinical Library Resident, who will enhance our ability to support clinical care at UChicago Medicine.

Transforming purpose into action

These examples are only a few of the many ways we are beginning to transform our renewed sense of purpose into action. Some of our directions and corresponding offerings are a continuation of long-held Library commitments. Some directions are driving new approaches to collaborating with you on groundbreaking research, transformative educational experiences, and work that confronts the world’s problems. We look forward to working with you to develop new ways of empowering intellectual discovery, rigorous learning, and global engagement.