NORMAN — University of Oklahoma Dean of Libraries Richard Luce likes to compare his recent arrival to the university to that of David Ross Boyd when he came to Norman in 1892.
Often cited by President David Boren, the story goes that Boyd (the first president of OU) stepped off the train, surveyed the blank, open prairie where he was to build a university and expressed great excitement at the endless possibilities to be realized in this uncultivated place.
Where Norman’s sparse landscape was Boyd’s blank canvas, the open-minded enthusiasm and trust of OU administrators and staff is Luce’s.
“I arrived here, and when I looked at the library landscape and at the university, I had very much the same experience of OU’s first president getting off the train and saying ‘what possibilities.’ This is in part because people are really willing to engage in what I’d like to do and where we’d like to go,” Luce said.
“Where other environments are fixed and have an outlook of ‘been there done that’ or being so good they’re arrogant, there’s a real spirit here of ‘let’s try that,’ and I find that very refreshing.”
Like Boyd, Luce is something of a pioneer and innovator.
His career in university library administration has established him as one of the premier experts — on the national and international stage — for digital resources and special collections, a true visionary for the future of libraries and research.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Luce was at the forefront of open access and open archive initiatives in the United States, Berlin and Brazil. He has served as senior advisor, external reviewer or consultant for information centers, research organizations and government agencies around the world.
His 15-year tenure as research library director at Los Alamos National Laboratory earned him the 2005 Fellows’ Prize for Leadership — the first ever awarded to a non-scientist.
“Libraries have the ability to transform lives. I have seen it over and over again in all walks of life, so I feel very passionate about how the right information at the right time can benefit people, and how libraries protect and preserve access to that information,” Luce said. “Working in an academic library is an opportunity to be at the center of how information shapes and molds people’s careers while also being on the cutting edge of the transformation going on in the world of scholarly communications.”
Luce assumed the role of dean of libraries in summer 2012, succeeding Sul Lee — the university’s longest-serving dean, who retired in June after serving OU for more than 30 years.
Lee’s retirement and the subsequent search for his replacement came at what Senior Vice President and Provost Nancy Mergler called a bellwether moment for both OU Libraries and libraries themselves.
“I’ve been provost for 18 years, and this was the first time I’d ever had the opportunity to seek a new dean of OU Libraries, since Sul Lee had been here for so long — every employee in OU Libraries was hired by him — so it was a bellwether moment for the university,” Mergler said. “Additionally, it’s a bellwether moment for libraries across the globe in terms of technology disruption and the world of book publishing, distribution, access to information, copyright law and what future libraries are going to look like.
“So I felt a heavy sense of responsibility to get it right and get the kind of individual who is well-connected in the national and international arena, someone who can address the interesting dilemmas and opportunities presenting themselves to librarians and particularly university librarians.”
According to Vice President for Research Kelvin Droegemeier, the university’s choice for a new dean also was critical in advancing the university and its library’s distinction as a national research hub, a major reason for Luce’s additional title as a vice president for research.
“When you see where you want to go, you try to find a person who can get you there. We wanted to win a national championship in the library arena, and Rick Luce was the sort of ‘coach’ who would take us there,” Droegemeier said. “Sul Lee was a tremendous leader, and as we looked at going in a new direction for the future, we needed someone who would be involved in major digital access for scholars.
“We have our sights set on becoming the national library for digital resources, and without him, we couldn’t do it.”
Few library experts are more keenly involved in the digital renaissance than Luce.
“This is an inordinately exciting time to be involved in libraries. I would argue perhaps no time would rival this in terms of excitement and opportunity since the invention of the printing press because we are undergoing such fundamental changes with digitization, changing social norms and changing users,” Luce said.
Since Luce’s arrival last summer, his formation of goals and initiatives currently being set in motion cover a broad range of concerns for meeting needs and adapting to rapidly changing standards.
Luce said his core strategic plan will focus on four major pillars for students’ interaction with the library: discovery tools and virtual experience enabling the process of repurposing information, physical experience inside the library that enables learning, engaging the library more actively with the university’s scientific research and expanding alternative or digital scholarly publication opportunities for students and faculty.
“All of us have different learning modalities or environments ideal for taking in information ... sometimes it’s quiet seclusion, sometimes it’s an engaging brainstorming session of students collaborating,” Luce said. “We ought to be able to accommodate all of those learning modalities here in the library.
“You shouldn’t have to come to the library just for a quiet space and go somewhere else for a different experience. We’ll begin to reshape some of the spaces here inside the library to be able to support these different learning modalities,”
Aside from excitement for the initiatives themselves, Luce said he is excited to be working with fellow OU administrators — perhaps almost as excited as they are to have brought him here.
“During the search process, you don’t know if you’re going to get these super stars like Rick Luce, but if they come and fall in love with the university, it’s wonderful,” Droegemeier said. “I think he saw tremendous opportunity here.”
“The senior leaders’ collaboration here was what sold me — in my experience, they’re unusually collaborative, and that’s a real draw,” Luce said.“This institution has a vision that’s exciting, and in implementing a vision, it comes down to whether or not you have senior leaders that work as a team.
“I have become convinced over the course of my career, it’s not possible to bring libraries to where they need to be without a lot of collaboration with the entire academic enterprise. You want to be at a place where, at the end of the day, you feel you were able to make a difference and get things done, and in order to do that, you have to be surrounded by people on the same team.”