Interview with Drew Harrington, University of Portland

Continuing our interview series of reaching out to academic library leaders across the state to facilitate “getting to know” our colleagues, the next interview in this series is with Drew Harrington, Dean of the Library at the University of Portland.

Thanks for talking with us, Drew!

Drew Harrington
Drew Harrington, Dean of the Library, University of Portland (personal photo provided)

1. Tell us a little bit about your work background.

I’ve had a very interesting and varied career that has had a real focus on administration and building libraries. After receiving my MLIS, I started working in public libraries in the Four Corners area. I spent a year or less as a children’s librarian, but then had the opportunity to be the interim director and then, bizarrely enough, director at age 28 at the public library in Farmington, NM. I worked hard, but getting the position had a lot to do with circumstances. I was there for ten years. One thing about that job that stands out was working closely with the Navaho tribe there to get public library services more available on the reservation and to develop a special collection on Navaho history and culture in the library.

After that, I worked in a private independent school, Albuquerque Academy, for 10 years. It was an amazing place:  it was a well-resourced day school and had the most diverse student body in the nation. During my time there, I had the opportunity to do a one-year job exchange at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, which was a vastly different school. Not only was it a residential school, but it had a wealthy, sometimes celebrity student body, lots of history and traditions, and amazing special collections in the library.

When I left Albuquerque Academy, I went to Pacific University in Forest Grove. Transitioning between different types of libraries was not always the easiest thing to do. It can be hard for libraries to see the benefits that candidates who are outside their library type – public, school, academic – can bring to their institution. I think that this kind of cross-pollination is healthy!

One thing that has been a constant thread throughout my career has been my great love for planning and constructing libraries. We built a new library when I was at Farmington Public Library. At Albuquerque Academy, we built an architecturally award-winning building. I started to get calls about helping others do this kind of planning and was very much involved in the LLAMA section on buildings and equipment. When I moved on to Pacific University, we also built a new library there.

After four or five years at Pacific, I started a full-time library building/planning business working as consultant for five years. I loved it for a while:  it was interesting work, and I got to travel a lot. Over time, though, it became stressful due to the amount I was travelling and the feast or famine nature of the job. When a library dean position opened up at the University of Portland, I was ready for a change. It seemed like a particularly good fit because they were looking for someone with building planning experience, as well as director experience. We built a new library at UP, which was finished about three years ago. It was a challenging project because it stalled, so raising money became more of an issue, and it ended up taking seven years before we could begin construction.

I am genuinely grateful for what has been a very satisfying career. I have worked hard, but I have also had luck, opportunities, and a lot of people help me along the way.

2. What has been the best thing that has happened to you since you started your position?

Completing the library building project has definitely been the best thing, and seeing how that has changed the university. There is a lot of literature to support the concept of how spaces shape behavior, and we have really seen how a new library space has shaped behavior at the university. The UP library always had usage, but it was mostly from necessity. The library was stuck, due to the limitations of the building. The new library has led to increased and enhanced services, including changes in how we work with faculty and expanded instruction. We have an overwhelming amount of usage:  2,800 visits a day, seven days a week; for a student population of 4,000, this is huge. With the new digital lab and editing/sound studio for student and faculty use, multimedia products are more incorporated into the curriculum. We had the goal of being the intellectual commons of the university, and this has been achieved.

3. What would you like Oregon academic librarians to know about you?

The thing I have liked most about working in the Pacific Northwest is the Orbis-Cascade Alliance, which is a remarkably strong consortium. I have been privileged to be part of it and the work that academic libraries do through the Alliance. In my experience, the work that the Alliance does is so far beyond what other consortia do.

4. What is the biggest challenge facing your library in the upcoming year?

Challenge and opportunity are sometimes the same thing. As I step away from the University of Portland this summer, the selection of a new library dean and the direction that this decision will take the library is both a challenge and an opportunity. Fresh eyes will bring a new approach to the future ahead.

5. What would you like Oregon academic librarians to know about your institution?

The library faculty members at the University of Portland are so strong. I work with people who are leaders – in instruction, in teaching, in collection services; there’s real leadership here with the library faculty, independent of the dean. They are very highly regarded by the UP faculty, and they interact on important levels with the faculty around instruction and curriculum. The staff is also very strong and committed. We are small but not tiny; the size of the institution supports the ability to find one’s own spot for leadership.

6. What does advocacy for academic libraries look like from your perspective as a library director?

Advocacy starts with a genuine understanding of academic librarianship – of our values, of the challenges, of trends and change. You can’t be an effective advocate without a genuine grounding in what academic librarianship is and where it is going. You need to bring this understanding, as well as a passion, to the work of advocacy. It is also a matter of engaging in multiple venues for advocacy: in your own library and institution, which is day-to-day work; at the state or regional level, via statewide organizations and the Orbis-Cascade Alliance; and at the national and international level. For me, I worked very hard within ALA. An advocate has a responsibility to know what she is talking about, a passion for moving forward, and an ability to take advocacy to different levels. It is also all about collaboration:  advocacy doesn’t work well as a lone voice. To facilitate this, it requires constant work to act as a team, to draw on each person’s abilities and expertise so that we are all headed in same direction.

~ Stephanie Debner, ACRL-OR Vice President – President Elect (2015-2016)
Faculty Librarian
Mt. Hood Community College

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