Clemson’s new dean of libraries aims to boldly go where no dean has gone before
Christopher Cox is ready to take Clemson University’s libraries to new frontiers.
The new dean of libraries trekked to the Upstate from the plains of Iowa, where he spent the last five years shepherding the libraries at the University of Northern Iowa to new heights. Before that, he was dean of libraries at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, and interim director of libraries at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
As dean, Cox will captain a crew of 28 faculty and 58 staff members in Clemson’s flagship R.M. Cooper Library, which is orbited by a number of smaller collections and facilities on and off campus.
His mission will be to provide a clear vision of the evolving role of the libraries as they seek out new action plans that directly support the strategic initiatives and intellectual core of the university.
With an annual budget in excess of $14 million (with more than half committed to the library collection), the libraries are engaged in numerous cutting-edge enterprises that will help propel Clemson into the future by supporting new forms of scholarly publishing and communication.
As he takes the helm of the main library and its satellite facilities, Cox took some time to introduce himself to the Clemson Family by answering a few questions and sharing some thoughts about his voyages:
Where did you grow up, and what did your parents do?
I grew up in Salisbury Mills, New York, about an hour and a half north of New York City. It was quite rural and a bedroom community for New York City commuters. My father worked for the electric company in real estate, negotiating liens and rights-of-way for electric poles and substations. My mother was a children’s librarian at the local public library, which is where I developed my love of books, reading and where I have been told I made a nuisance of myself to the reference librarians.
Where and how did you meet your wife?
Julia and I met during a community theater production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” while I was working at Western Washington University. She played one of the aunts; I played Mortimer, the Cary Grant character.
What person in your life had the most influence on who you are today?
Probably my mother. She was kind and generous, loved learning new things and was never afraid to give back. She always encouraged me to persevere regardless of what obstacle I faced. She passed away about six years ago. I still aspire to be like her each and every day.
What made you want to become a librarian?
I had recently completed a Master’s in English at the University of Connecticut and was debating completing a Ph.D. due to the time it would take and the overall cost. My mother suggested talking to some of her colleagues about becoming a librarian. The profession seemed to be the perfect match. I could work at a university and teach if I wanted to while also helping students succeed in completing their research and engaging my curiosity to learn new things. While a Ph.D. is still on the horizon, I have never regretted the decision.
What is something most people don’t know about being a librarian?
We don’t just sit around reading books all the time – though that would be awesome! We spend a lot of time figuring out how to serve our patrons better, whether that be improving services to save patrons’ time, improving the library space to support curriculum needs or offer the amenities students desire, or examining our collection to make sure we have access to information resources that are available at the point of need when and where people need them.
What drew you to the job here at Clemson?
I became friends with Joyce Garnett when she was interim dean of libraries at Iowa State. She recommended I apply. She was impressed with the campus, the community, the libraries’ top-notch faculty and staff and the sense of family that Clemson exudes. When I came to visit I was blown away at the caring nature of the place as well as its dedication to both a high-quality undergraduate experience and its desire to become a great research university. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to lead such a great organization at one of the top universities in the country.
What is your vision for Clemson’s libraries? What would you like to accomplish in your first year here?
Right now I am eager to listen to everyone and learn what the libraries do well and what they could improve. I think there are a lot of opportunities here – new services that we could offer, upgrades to the furnishings and spaces in Cooper, new collaborations with partners at Clemson and in the community. As part of this, the libraries will be launching a feedback initiative this fall to learn more about what students, faculty and staff want from their libraries. I’ll also be working with the libraries’ faculty and staff to develop a vision of what the libraries’ organization would need to look like to truly meet Clemson’s Research 1 mission. Ultimately, the libraries are here for one thing: to provide the information resources and services that Clemson needs when and where they need them, ensuring their success.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
I am very proud of the role I played in the creation of the Iowa Academic Library Alliance. I had been part of a number of library consortium at previous jobs and I was surprised that there was nothing like that in Iowa. Working with a few close colleagues, we scheduled an academic library summit bringing together the directors of all the academic libraries in Iowa. It was the first time many of them had ever been in the same room. The meeting resulted in a number of positive initiatives for the state, including the creation of a courier delivery system and a statewide database contract with local public libraries which expanded the resources available to patrons and also saved state taxpayers money.
What are you reading right now?
I just started reading “The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes” I love Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, especially his intelligence, his keen powers of observation. I look forward to seeing what Goldberg does with the character in putting a female spin on it.
What is your favorite play?
“Henry V,” hands down. I think Shakespeare really nailed Henry’s character as a caring and inspiring leader who was not unwilling to hobnob with his troops to learn their concerns and needs and fight side-by-side with them to ensure victory on the battlefield. And who can beat that St Crispin’s Day speech: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;/For he to-day that sheds his blood with me/Shall be my brother.”
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Perfect is the enemy of the good.” When I was younger I would angst over every detail of a paper or decision. I learned over time that doing so doesn’t make things better, it just negates action. In the library professions where technology, formats and user expectations are changing daily, it is better to try something, to get something out so the public can react, especially if it will be an improvement, than dwell on all the reasons why the project could fail.
What is one thing people would find surprising about you?
I’m a huge “Star Trek” fan. You can see some examples of this if you visit my office. I grew up with”Star Trek: The Next Generation” and while I love the original as well, that is MY Star Trek. I admired Picard’s leadership style, the camaraderie of the crew, and the series’ willingness to explore characters and not just rely on strange worlds, aliens and conflict. I have been known to go to a “con” or two. We created a Comic Con at my last job – maybe that’s an idea that would be worth exploring here.