Alumnus’ gift endows the university librarianship

Susan Gibbons, Stephen F. Gates ’68 University Librarian at Yale.
Librarian and Deputy Provost for Collections and Scholarly Communication Susan Gibbons now serves as the inaugural Stephen F. Gates ’68 University Librarian.

At the helm of Yale University Library, Susan Gibbons stewards a system spanning more than a dozen libraries and locations with 15 million print and electronic volumes, miles of manuscript holdings, and more than a petabyte of digital content. She leads an expert staff of hundreds who work to keep the library’s spaces and resources up to date and accessible to many different constituencies. But the biggest challenge of her job, Gibbons says, is ensuring that the libraries remain aligned with a dynamic, rapidly changing university.  

We support teaching and research across the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the 12 professional schools,” Gibbons said. “When schools or departments change curricula or research interests, the library has to keep pace. At the same time, we need to stay in front of the ways that people interact with our materials. Researchers are bringing new digital tools to bear on traditional paper-and-ink assets, and they work with a growing body of born-digital content — that is, content created and stored only in digital form. These trends have significant implications for the library.”

Recognizing the importance of this work, a longtime champion of the library recently established a new source of funding to support the efforts of Gibbons and her successors. Stephen F. Gates ’68, a member of the University Library Council who died last July, made provisions through his estate to endow the position of university librarian.

Stephen F. Gates and Susan Gibbons standing with Coronelli Globe.
In 2015, Stephen Gates ’68 funded the conservation of two rare 1699 Vincenzo Coronelli globes from Yale’s Lanham Collection. Gates and University Librarian Susan Gibbons are pictured with one of the globes.

I am honored by Steve’s generous bequest,” said Gibbons, who now serves as the inaugural Stephen F. Gates ’68 University Librarian and continues in her role as deputy provost for collections and scholarly communication. “Steve had an extraordinary intellect, and he was a true leader within the library community. With his wife, Laura, he was a key partner in recent renovations and in conserving our physical collections, but he also understood the rising importance of digital scholarship and preservation. I am profoundly grateful to Steve and Laura for all their support.”

The endowment will provide new, flexible resources to support emerging library programs while the endowed title confers prestige on both the office and its holder. “There could be no better person to be honored as the first Stephen F. Gates ’68 University Librarian,” Provost Ben Polak said. “Susan Gibbons is the consummate Yale citizen. She moves easily between the worlds of university administrator, representing broad institutional goals, and scholarly leader, illuminating the finer details of our digital and material holdings. In less than a decade here she has reshaped the library’s strategic focus to align its work with the university’s mission.”

Gibbons joined Yale as university librarian in 2011 and was named deputy provost in 2015. A year later she was appointed to a second five-year term as university librarian and her deputy provost portfolio was expanded to include support of all the university’s galleries, museums, and other collections, and the university press, with the goal of supporting interdisciplinary collaboration among these entities.

Gibbons has led Yale’s libraries through a series of major facilities improvements, including renovations of the Gothic nave and the Manuscripts and Archives department in Sterling Memorial Library, the Center for Science and Social Science Information, and the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. She has positioned Yale as a leader in digital realms, from digital preservation to the use of digital tools in humanities research. She has also fostered a new emphasis on the use of special collection materials in classes, student research, and student-curated exhibits.

Gibbons holds an M.L.S. and an M.A. in history from Indiana University, a professional M.B.A. from the University of Massachusetts, and a doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Rochester. Prior to Yale, she held library positions at Indiana University, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and the University of Rochester, where she directed digital library initiatives before being appointed in 2008 as vice provost and the Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Dean of River Campus Libraries.

In addition to endowing the librarianship, Stephen Gates made other gifts that continue to bolster the library’s future. He helped to fund the recently completed renovation of Manuscripts and Archives in Sterling Memorial Library, named the Gates Conservation Lab at the library’s new preservation facility, and bequeathed to the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library his collection of rare globes and related antiquarian books.

Steve loved the library, and he loved Yale,” said Laura Gates. “I am thrilled that his name will be forever connected with an institution that has such an impact in the world and from which he derived so much joy.”

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