Elizabeth Leonard, the new director of the Drew University Library, found her love of libraries when she received her first library card at five years old. Now, she hopes to translate her passion into big plans for the library’s future.
After graduating with an undergraduate degree in anthropology and environmental studies from Grinnell College, Leonard struggled to find her path. “I sort of meandered about, you know, the way most students do,” she said. “You graduate and think okay…now what? You know, your brain gets to this point: okay, I graduated, here’s the rest of my life, and I really didn’t have a sense of what I wanted.”
Eventually, Leonard attended New York University and went to Wagner School of Public Service, where she became fascinated with urban planning. “If you look at [global] cities, they’re designed based on the values and structures of their cultures,” she said. However, Leonard found that the reality of working in urban planning was not the same as her studies had led her to believe.
After spending time studying clinical psychology, Leonard went through a significant life change. As she reentered the workforce in 2010, she decided to switch to librarianship. At that point, technology had been built into every aspect of libraries, which suited her and made it easier for her to make that switch.
Leonard’s plans for the library start with more comfortable seating. For example, she wants to modernize some of the furniture by re-covering the building’s couches and chairs for students to enjoy. Another goal is to transition the large Government Document collection on Level A of the library into a virtual federal depository. This will allow easy access to the government documents and create more open space on Level A.
Leonard aims to open up and reconfigure the space on Level E of the library by moving a large portion of its collections to Level A after the virtual depository is complete. She wants Level E to be a dynamic space where students can sit together and work. This is a long-term plan that will take at least five years.
Leonard’s inspiration for this new layout derives from her visits to the libraries at Mount Holyoke College and Smith College libraries. “I saw something like diner seating along one wall, specifically booths with electricity,” she said. “I would love to see something like that for students here.”
Drawing on knowledge aquired while earning her Master’s degree in urban planning from New York University, Leonard will eventually redesign the whole interior of the library’s building. “It’s a beautiful building, and if you look at the bone and the skeleton of the building itself, it’s very, very functional,” she said. “It’s just that every building needs refreshing, and it’s time.”
After her three months working at Drew, Leonard states that her favorite part of her job is the work and educational environment that the university creates. “Drew is one of the most collegial places I’ve ever worked,” she said. “People here are really committed to providing a great education for students and they all want to work together. It’s been very, very rare that I’ve run into anybody here whose ego is driving their work as opposed to their commitment to Drew and the students.”
Leonard encourages students to reach out with any questions, concerns or ideas they have to make the library a more welcoming place to study. To reach Leonard, students can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her in the administration offices in the library.
Featured image courtesy of Drew Today.