Today, we take a little bit of a different tack in our Chefs de Cuisine series. I talk with Michael Levine-Clark, Dean of the University of Denver Libraries, where he has worked in various positions since 1999. The University Libraries are currently ranked as the #3 “best college library” by Princeton Review.

Michael has served in a variety of leadership roles in library organizations and is currently chair of the OCLC Americas Regional Council, a member of the OCLC Global Council Executive Committee, and a member of the board of the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries. Active in coordinating the long-term management of print collections (“shared print”), he chaired the Rosemont Shared Print Alliance executive committee and served in many roles in the Western Regional Storage Trust (WEST), including chair of the WEST executive committee. As co-chair of the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries Shared Collection Development Committee, he guides decisions about collaborative collection building within the consortium. He serves on the CHORUS and University Press of Colorado Boards. As an active member of many national and international publisher and vendor library advisory boards, he provides guidance about key library and higher education trends.

Deeply committed to library collaboration, he helped found the open access journal Collaborative Librarianship, served as co-editor, and continues to serve on its editorial board. He co-edited the 4th edition of The Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences and co-authored the 4th edition of the ALA Glossary of Library and Information Sciences.

As co-chair of the NISO Recommended Practices for Demand-Driven Acquisition of Monographs Working Group, he was a lead author of the recommended practices document. For his work on e-books and demand-driven acquisition models, he received the 2015 Harrasowitz Leadership in Library Acquisitions Award. He is widely published and has been invited to speak to library and publisher audiences on six continents about academic library collections and scholarly communication issues.

Michael Levine-ClarkWhat was your route into academic librarianship? What barriers did you have to overcome?

I worked in bookstores during college and in the first few years after graduation. I loved that work and knew that I wanted a career that involved books, but that was when Barnes & Noble and Borders were expanding and independent bookstores were closing, so a career in bookselling seemed kind of risky (Amazon was founded a few months before I started library school in 1994, but I think I’d already committed to attending by then). I didn’t know much about libraries, or I might have realized that books are only a small part of what academic libraries do.

As an undergraduate history major, I loved using the library, and I’m sure that influenced me as well. Even though I have always procrastinated the actual writing of a paper (including responding to Scholarly Kitchen interview questions!), I would go into the library as soon as I had an assignment and begin gathering books (rarely articles – I was not a particularly sophisticated library user and only knew how to find articles by looking at citations or flipping through journals. It never occurred to me to ask a librarian for help!). When I wrote my senior thesis, I took a couple of day trips to the New York Public Library and Columbia to read nineteenth century newspapers published in English utopian communities, and that also helped build my love of libraries.

The only barrier I had was a complete lack of library work experience, and today when I talk to potential LIS students, I always advise getting some experience either during or before pursuing a degree.

Could you tell our readers a little about what drives you as a leader of the University of Denver Libraries?

I’m motivated by people – both the users of the library and library employees. I want our students to experience the library as I did, finding the right resources for whatever project they’re working on – our collections making it possible for them to discover and create new knowledge. I want our services and our spaces to enhance that experience in ways that I wouldn’t have imagined as a student. I want our faculty to find that same value in our collections while also knowing that our librarians will make their jobs as teachers and researchers easier.

I want our librarians and staff to feel valued, to know that they are doing important work that is valued by the community we serve and by me and my administrative colleagues.

As a leader of an academic library, what most excites you right now?

I’m always excited when the library can provide value to the institution. Right now, I’m particularly excited that several partners across campus have recognized that we have skills and expertise that make us the ideal lead on research information management services, research data management, and scholarly communications/open access.

For a few years I’ve been leading a large project to clean up bibliographic metadata and add new publications to the faculty information system – something that has been incredibly popular with faculty and has been helpful to the offices of institutional research and marketing and communication. We’re also working with the office of research to expand our services around research data management and scholarly communication support – both of which will help our researchers as they try to make sense of funder mandates.

AI is all around us, be it in research and publishing workflows, or in the promise and potential threats of LLMs. How do you see AI affecting your work life, and the communities you serve? 

I think that AI will be so pervasive that libraries, research, and publishing without it will be unimaginable.

It seems obvious already that AI can help with simplification and enhancement of basic library work such as discovery and metadata creation, but it’s likely that there will be uses across the library, things like tools to improve space utilization either in real time or as part of longer-term planning, to help identify patterns within the massive amounts of uncatalogued photos in our archives, or to provide deeper understanding of how past usage of collections or services might inform future decisions.

I am sure that we’ll become more and more used to AI being integral to our search and discovery processes, and reasonably sure that it will get better at returning results that are on topic and that don’t include hallucinations. But I worry that AI-based discovery could return predictable results and eliminate creative and unexpected responses to assignments.

How is The University of Denver Library positioned to serve the next generation of students, researchers and professionals?

In 2013, we opened what at the time seemed like a radical reimagining of the academic library – a complete renovation that moved the vast majority of our physical collections to an offsite storage facility, allowing us to design a new library that focused on people and services. The collections that are most heavily emphasized in that space – through an active exhibits program – are special collections. Since we opened, we’ve consistently been ranked in the Princeton Review list of top college libraries (including as high as #1) – evidence that our library works for our students. Our library houses a variety of student academic service points run by non-library service partners, which means that we’re already offering a wider array of services than would be traditionally offered in a library. Having a facility that is structured around services and people makes us a bit nimbler than we’d be if we had a building structured around collections.

What do you anticipate the major challenges will be for the University of Denver Libraries, and indeed the publishing and library ecosystem, over the next five years?

Across higher education, we’re all worried about declining enrollments as the size of the college-aged population decreases. We’ve been getting a hint of what that will look like this spring as the bungled FAFSA rollout leads to smaller entering classes for the fall of 2024 at many institutions. Decreased tuition revenue will lead to cuts in library budgets, and if I am faced with a budget cut, I am going to take it out of collections rather than the people who enable us to provide services. In terms of the overall ecosystem, I think there will be less money in the system to pay for collections, which will inevitably impact publishing.

The other thing that is already happening is a general decline in morale among workers (certainly not just in libraries and publishing). We have a rising cost of living and wages that aren’t keeping up along with a sense by many that higher education may not provide a great enough working environment to offset lower pay. We’re losing talented people and I don’t see that stopping.

As open access/public access mandates evolve across all forms of content, what does this all mean for academic life at the University of Denver?

In some ways, not much. For most people at the university, I don’t think it changes anything. For unfunded researchers (whether personally not funded or in disciplines without funding) open access (OA) is something that is mostly invisible since it doesn’t impact their publishing, and while it makes more content openly available, they already have access to much of that content through our institutional subscriptions.

Among funded researchers, I think that there is still only a minority that is actively enthusiastic about OA. If anything, more are frustrated by mandates because they don’t want to have to manage compliance and resent having to use their grant money to pay for publishing instead of supporting their research and funding their students.

I do think that there is a generally increased awareness of OA on campus now, with more understanding of its benefits and less misunderstanding about the perceived lack of quality of OA publications. Librarians at my university have been talking about OA for years without making much of a difference, but the mandates have led to greater engagement in the topic and recognition that we need to invest more in people and infrastructure to help support compliance.

What innovations are you most proud of?

I’ve already mentioned our library facility – the Anderson Academic Commons – which co-locates a range of student support services with library services, has a rich variety of seating and study spaces, and allows us to support student learning in ways that would harder in a more traditional facility.

E-books hardly seem innovative today, but we were a very early adopter of e-books and have used multiple different models to build a very large e-book collection. We heard a lot about libraries that needed to suddenly acquire e-books during the pandemic, but we already had that collection in place.

I’m also proud of the degree to which we teach with and engage our community with primary sources and special collections. This includes the use of digital primary source collections as well as physical materials in our special collections and archives. Many students get to engage with these materials, including through an active exhibits program that uses exhibit creation as a learning outcome.

What is the future of office/hybrid/remote working at The University of Denver Libraries?

Flexible work is clearly here to stay.

When we came back to campus, the university emphasized that we are a residential campus and that people needed to be physically present to help promote a vibrant student experience. We also recognized that flexible work has many benefits for both the employee and the institution. The university flexible work policy requires every employee who wasn’t specifically hired into a fully remote position to spend the majority of their work time on campus, and each unit, including the library then created sub-policies.

The Libraries allow quite a bit of flexibility, and almost all employees work remotely a day or two a week. This means that many meetings are still being held on Zoom or Teams, and some colleagues only see each other on screen.

I fully support having a flexible work policy that allows for remote work and (as I sit here waiting for an electrician) I appreciate that it has made balancing commitments at work and home easier. I also recognize that remote and hybrid work is here to stay. But I worry quite a bit about how to maintain a sense of community when many interactions are still on a screen.

What do the next generation of academic librarianship jobs look like to you? How will the work of a librarian evolve in an AI ecosystem?

We’ll be hiring more positions that do not require an MLS – something that’s already happening here. We recently hired an exhibits librarian, whose background and degree are in museum studies. We’re about to hire a research data management librarian, and I would not be surprised if we hire someone from outside libraries for that role as well.

The traditional reference librarian role – which includes collection development, instruction, and reference – is still important, but academic libraries are already concentrating collection development decisions in fewer positions and hiring people with some sort of functional expertise, such as digital humanities or student outreach. That trend will accelerate.

As AI evolves and can perform simple tasks for libraries, we’ll be revising positions to do more creative work and will also be hiring for people who understand how AI works – both to manage it within the library and to help our students and faculty as they use AI in their research and teaching.

If you were to pick one part of your daily job as your favorite, what would it be?

I love the fact that there is no typical day and that things are tremendously varied. There is always of mix of meetings and events, within the library, somewhere else on campus, somewhere in the broader Denver community, or with colleagues from other libraries.

When most of my work life was on Zoom in 2020, I realized how hard it was not to have that variety. A meeting with colleagues in the library, followed by a meeting with my dean colleagues from across the university, followed by a lecture – something that would have taken me outside and to three different buildings before the pandemic was now all on my computer. I am so glad to now be out and about on campus again.

Robert Harington

Robert Harington

Robert Harington is Chief Publishing Officer at the American Mathematical Society (AMS). Robert has the overall responsibility for publishing at the AMS, including books, journals and electronic products.


2 Thoughts on "Chefs de Cuisine: Perspectives from Publishing’s Top Table – Michael Levine-Clark"

Robert thank you for a great interview with Michael Levine-Clark. I am curious about the user community’s usage stats around what services, databases and content they are using. What information is being searched and how does that translate to their degree programs and collections?

Thank you for the insightful interview. Considering the cost of a library collections what the measurements used to determine what subjects (databases) to have a subscription or access to. Do you consider quantity of use or quality of use or a combination of both? Is there another value metric that is used to determine what to collect or subscribe to for the benefit of your user community?

Leave a Comment