Bodleian’s chief librarian heads to Harvard

Sarah Thomas leaves Oxford’s Bodleian Library to take up vice-president post at Harvard Library

July 18, 2013

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

The University of Oxford’s chief librarian, who has presided over some controversial changes to the institution’s collections, is to leave to become vice-president of Harvard Library in the US.

The departure at the end of this month of Sarah Thomas, Bodley’s librarian and director of university library services, came with two months’ notice.

Deputy librarian Richard Ovenden will take charge while the university seeks a replacement.

During Dr Thomas’ six years in the post there have been significant changes in the university’s libraries and research collections, including the much-welcomed construction of a book storage facility in Swindon and the subsequent transfer of 9 million volumes.

An £80 million transformation of the New Bodleian into the Weston Library continues, with up to £10 million still to be raised.

In a message to staff, Dr Thomas said that leaving the rebuild before it was completed was “very difficult” but that it would be in safe hands, with Mr Ovenden having “overseen it every step of the way”.

Among other developments under Dr Thomas’ tenure were the rehousing of vast humanities collections, including the incorporation of the History Faculty Library into the main collections last summer, which has caused significant disruption to existing collections.

Controversy also arose when library staff were asked to wear bright yellow badges and T-shirts saying “ask me”. In addition, a plan to move the library entrance to the historic Radcliffe Camera building, which is said to include new security arrangements, reportedly worried some staff.

Oxford’s vice-chancellor, Andrew Hamilton, said Dr Thomas had been an “outstanding steward of the Bodleian Libraries, overseeing with vision, energy and commitment a process of major change”.

But G.R. Evans, emeritus professor at the University of Cambridge and a regular user of Oxford’s collections, told Times Higher Education that Dr Thomas’ “hovercraft” management had been out of touch with readers and would leave morale among staff at an “all-time low”.

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