A library is not just a building full of books or, in an increasingly digital world, a repository of data and information. At best, a library is a partner that can lead us towards a fairer society.
“Libraries exist to empower people to make the world a better, fairer, and more joyful place,” said Torsten Reimer, the University of Chicago’s new chief librarian.
Reimer, who began his tenure as University Librarian and Dean of the University Library on April 22, approaches his work with the needs of faculty, students, staff and fellow scholars in mind. By incorporating this perspective, it upholds a philosophy of a library not just as a service provider, but as a research partner that offers its own expertise and intellectual agenda.
This includes prioritizing the openness of research to better share data and research, and helping users understand that the UChicago Library can be a collaborator at every stage of research.
“With everything we do, we need to think about how our actions make a difference in someone’s life (usually, but not exclusively) by providing information, spaces, tools and inspiration” , said Reimer, who previously served as a director at the British Library. content and research services, and at Imperial College London as head of scholarly communications for the university.
In the following Q&A, Reimer talks about his experience as a library manager and why he came to Chicago.
What motivated you to consider moving to the United States, and to the University of Chicago in particular?
Since moving to London in 2007, I have worked with many wonderful colleagues in the United States, making friends from coast to coast and falling in love with American culture and the country’s varied landscapes. . Living in the US has been on my mind for a long time, and during the long pandemic lockdowns in the UK, my partner and I decided that if we ever wanted to make this idea a reality, now was the time. As a born and bred Londoner, she was drawn to Chicago because of its size and cultural vibrancy. As someone who has studied and worked in and with world-renowned research organizations, I was drawn to the University of Chicago because of its global ambition and dedication to intellectual rigor – and because it houses a large library with the potential to make a wider impact.
How would you like it Library play a strategic role on campus and in Chicago?
On campus, I see a growing role for the Library as a partner in the research process, particularly in areas related to data management, digital scholarship, and scholarly communications.
Working with partners across campus, we want to make it as easy as possible for faculty and students to manage and share their data and publications, reducing complexity in areas such as open access, donor reporting funds and the management of research information. Faculty and students need to be freed from as many administrative tasks as possible, which requires linking systems and workflows across the University. The best way to do this is to be involved as early as possible in the research process and from a position where we can help advance research beyond just providing infrastructure.
We must also continue to develop our collection to help address key research and societal challenges, for example in areas such as climate change, racism, information literacy and ethics. Beyond the campus itself, I see a role for the library to be a window into the exciting research coming out of the university and to be a helpful neighbor and partner in the South Side community. Libraries have long aspired to provide open and equitable access to their services, and for academic libraries this – for me – must be a commitment to the communities in which we live.
Anext to the University of Chicago, is there a destination in the city that you are most looking forward to visiting?
Leaving aside the fantastic theatres, museums and restaurants for a moment, I’m probably more excited to get my camera out for long architectural walks. I’ve had the chance to photograph Chicago on previous visits, but there’s so much more to explore.
You earned your graduate degrees in history at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, Germany. Has your research influenced your approach to leading libraries?
Back in undergrad, I already devoted most of my time to digital library and digital humanities initiatives. During my PhD, I deliberately focused on the early modern collections of the British Library, Oxford and Munich, to immerse myself in the world of early printed books and special collections. From a library perspective, these years have broadened my appreciation of the role of collections in research. From an academic perspective, my research has helped me understand the information needs of graduate students and faculty and the challenges they face (at the start of) an academic career.
This experience has guided my work in and with libraries through a strong user orientation. We exist to serve our users and the better we understand them, the better we can partner with them.
As the role of academic research libraries evolves, what recent innovations most influence research today?
Perhaps the most important research contribution is to rethink the library collection as open data, alongside the broader role libraries play in making content across the world findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. Research libraries provide and support critical infrastructure for global knowledge sharing, and we enable open access to an ever-growing body of scholarly publications.
Open access to knowledge not only helps improve society and address equity issues, but also underpins data science and techniques such as text and data mining. Research libraries have long supported digital scholarship, but the real impact of creating fully accessible and reusable collections and research results will only begin to become visible now, especially as we deploy persistent identifiers. and other techniques to create semantic links between content.