Valerie Hotchkiss named Vanderbilt’s university librarian

Valerie Hotchkiss was named Vanderbilt’s university librarian April 21. (submitted image)

Valerie Hotchkiss, a visionary librarian and scholar with a deep commitment to making library resources central to the research needs of students and scholars, has been named university librarian at Vanderbilt.

Hotchkiss, who will begin her new appointment Aug. 1, is the Andrew S.G. Turyn Endowed Professor and director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. For the past decade, she has managed one of the largest collections in the United States. She is also a professor of medieval studies and library science, with a strong interest in the cultural significance of libraries.

“[rquote]Valerie Hotchkiss will be a wonderful addition to our university leadership, bringing a stellar set of skills in library administration, scholarship and vision to our campus,”[/rquote] said Susan R. Wente, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “Her interests and career experiences demonstrate that she shares Vanderbilt’s goal of leveraging the many synergies between discovery, learning and service across a community of scholars. She also has thought deeply about the impact of new technologies on libraries, an important issue related to Vanderbilt’s Academic Strategic Plan.”

Hotchkiss will serve as the executive administrator of the Jean and Alexander Heard Library, with responsibility for nine divisional libraries: Central Library, Special Collections and University Archives, Peabody Library, Divinity Library, Alyne Queener Massey Law Library, Walker Management Library, Anne Potter Wilson Music Library, Sarah Shannon Stevenson Science and Engineering Library, and the Eskind Biomedical Library. She also will oversee the Television News Archive. Her responsibilities will include collection acquisition and development, budgeting, staff, external partnerships, and strategic planning, among other duties.

Hotchkiss said that she is thrilled to join the Vanderbilt community. “I am impressed by the dedication, enthusiasm and commitment to good service by the librarians whom I have already met,” she said. “I have also felt the energy from faculty members and students, who love their library. That’s a great foundation. [lquote]My goal is to help Vanderbilt’s libraries build upon their strengths, while listening—and encouraging everyone in the libraries to listen—carefully to our users and their evolving needs.[/lquote] Working together, we can move forward toward a 21st-century vision of service and partnership in which the libraries remain an essential part of the educational mission of Vanderbilt.”

Hotchkiss will succeed Jody Combs, associate dean of libraries, who has served as interim dean of libraries since August 2014. “We are grateful for Interim Dean Combs’ steady leadership and exemplary service to the university during this period of transition for the Jean and Alexander Heard Library,” Wente said.

Combs was named interim dean when Connie Vinita Dowell retired and became dean of libraries, emerita. The position was renamed “university librarian” prior to a national search to fill the opening, according to Cynthia Cyrus, vice provost for learning and residential affairs.

“We found that the majority of our peer institutions utilize ‘university librarian’ as the title for the executive administrator role,” Cyrus said. “It’s also reflective of the academic affairs reporting structure at Vanderbilt and in keeping with trends in library hiring practices.” Hotchkiss’ selection was the result of a national search by a university committee led by Chris Guthrie, dean of Vanderbilt Law School and John Wade-Kent Syverud Professor of Law. The committee was assisted by Chuck O’Boyle of C.V. O’Boyle, who was Vanderbilt’s external search consultant.

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Hotchkiss built visibility for the collections and promoted the study of primary resources as an integral part of the school’s curriculum. She oversaw the acquisition of significant collections, including the papers of African American poet Gwendolyn Brooks and unpublished letters by French novelist Marcel Proust. In addition, she served as editor-in-chief of Women in Print, a digital humanities publishing project of the University of Illinois Press. The initiative was honored recently by the Center for Research Libraries.

From 1993 to 2005, Hotchkiss was the J.S. Bridwell Foundation Endowed Librarian and professor of medieval studies at Southern Methodist University, where she raised more than $16 million for the library’s endowment and introduced many new community initiatives, including hands-on workshops in printing and book arts.

She also served as library director for Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and was employed by Yale University’s Divinity School Library. She earned three degrees — master of arts, master of philosophy, and doctorate in medieval studies — all from Yale. In addition, she earned a master of library science from Southern Connecticut State University.

Hotchkiss, who grew up in Cincinnati, graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of arts from the University of Cincinnati. During her undergraduate years, she also studied at the University of Tȕbingen in Germany.

She is the author of several publications in cultural history, religion, and the history of books and printing. These include Clothes Make the Man: Female Transvestism in Medieval Europe (1996), English in Print from Caxton to Shakespeare to Milton (2008), and Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition, a four-volume work she co-authored with Jaroslav Pelikan (2003).

“My work as a scholar means that I truly understand the research needs of students and faculty, and I hope that I am a better librarian because of it,” Hotchkiss said. “For me, librarianship is not just a profession, it is a vocation.”

To foster the next generation of libraries, Hotchkiss was the founding director of the Midwest Book and Manuscript Studies program in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Illinois. The program offers a certificate in Special Collections librarianship to students who complete the course of study.

Hotchkiss is a member of the Special Collections steering committee of the International Federation of Library Associations and the founder of YaleLAMPS, a shared interest group for librarians and museum professionals.