Q&A with Dean of Libraries Connie Vinita Dowell
Connie Vinita Dowell, a Vanderbilt University graduate with three decades of experience working in academic libraries including two senior leadership positions, became the first dean of libraries at Vanderbilt on March 1.
For the past nine years, Dowell served as dean of the library and information access at San Diego State University, a public institution with 35,000 students. She was responsible for leadership of the library, which has a collection of almost 2 million volumes.
Dowell has also held library positions at Connecticut College, University of California at Santa Barbara, University of North Texas and St. Mary’s College of Maryland. One of her first library positions was as a reference assistant at the Vanderbilt Science Library from 1978 to 1979, while studying library science here.
Dowell is a three-time recipient of the John Cotton Dana Public Relations Award from the American Library Association. She also received the SirsiDynix-ALA-APA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Promoting Salaries and Status for Library Workers.
Dowell is a member of The Zamorano Club, a Los Angeles book-collecting club founded in 1928. She is also a member of the Grolier Club of New York, America’s oldest and largest society for bibliophiles and enthusiasts in the graphic arts.
Q.How did you feel when Vanderbilt first approached you about coming home to the place where you earned your master’s in 1979?
A.With an oceanographer husband who loves working in LaJolla, (Calif.), where he grew up, (coming back to Vanderbilt) seemed more like a dream. The quality of the institution, the remarkable people I met, and the possibilities I saw within the library and on the campus were too exciting to miss.
Q. You’ve said that Vanderbilt’s generosity paved the way for your entire career.
A.Vanderbilt awarded me a fellowship for my graduate studies, which made my career possible. As you can imagine, I understand as well as anyone on campus what Vanderbilt’s new expanded-aid program (eliminating need-based loans for undergraduates) will mean to each student.
Q. You are the first dean of libraries. Tell us your thoughts on being “the first” in this important role.
A. Vanderbilt’s senior leadership clearly recognizes the importance of libraries and information for our future. The change in my position’s title is only one indication. Being the first woman in this role at Vanderbilt is just one of several aspects that made this appointment a special honor.
Q. What do you see ahead for the Heard Library?
“I am confident our community will support us because they recognize the profound importance of a great library system to a world-class university.”
A. Our chancellor has challenged us to envision a destination library, and I know we will. My purpose here is to help plan the best possible library for our great university—building on our strengths and capturing the ideas and great energy that make Vanderbilt the remarkable place that it is.
First, I look forward to hearing from all those who use the libraries and all those who care about Vanderbilt. Also, our libraries need to be ready to meet the rapidly changing needs of students and faculty. Our libraries already offer remarkable electronic resources and have several innovative projects which I want to see receive the attention that they deserve.
Of course, the current economic climate is a concern to libraries and universities along with everyone else. I am confident our community will support us because they recognize the profound importance of a great library system to a world-class university.
Q.What is the status of planning for the expansion and renovation of the library?
A.Currently, library staff is surveying other top libraries so that we are current on the latest developments. I’m taking time to learn more about Vanderbilt and to meet my colleagues. In the fall, we will begin to move forward with a planning process involving representative voices from all those committed to our institution. I cannot imagine a more enjoyable or rewarding assignment!
Q.Was it a difficult decision to leave San Diego State University after serving as dean for nine years?
A.I was fortunate to work closely with outstanding people and to receive remarkable support from students, faculty and the community. That’s hard to leave, since so many became close friends. Together, we made so much progress and it made for a very rewarding job. However, we are only an e-mail away and we are hoping for lots of visitors to Nashville.
Q.You are a book collector with a particular interest in the late Southern author Eudora Welty. How did you start collecting her books?
A.As I came to appreciate special collections at a number of libraries, I was drawn to the beauty of letterpress-printed items and was often fascinated with their history. The logical next step was book collecting. Eudora Welty was a friend of (Peabody Library School Professor Emerita) Francis Neel Chaney, and through that connection I became fascinated by her work. Welty’s complex novels often portray a multitude of people who used to be referred to as “common” by those who thought better of themselves. Her work shows us that things which appear simple often are not—especially when it comes to people. She once said that all serious daring starts from within and that even those with a sheltered life can become daring. She must have been a caring and generous person, judging from the tributes from other writers and how she treated people in her stories and photographs.
Q.What other interests do you have?
A. Reading, gardening, travel, film, theatre, art, tennis, biking, and cooking, to name a few.