'The challenge is to bring the best of traditions into the digital age'

November 24, 2006

Oxbridge's first female chief librarian wants its collections to be accessible for future scholars - and unstuffy.

Change is in the air at Oxford University - and not just in Congregation, the dons' parliament. The university's centuries-old libraries are also in for a shake-up.

Oxford has just appointed its first female chief librarian, Sarah Thomas, from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Dr Thomas has livened things up during her ten years as librarian at Cornell by overseeing the building of a cafe in the social sciences library and by introducing speakers and exhibitions onto library premises.

She hopes to blow away any stuffiness in the running of the Bodleian, which is more than 400 years old, and Oxford's 39 other libraries. Dr Thomas, who has worked at Harvard and at the Library of Congress in Washington, said:

"I adopt an informal manner. I also am keen to share ideas so that there is more give and take. I have tried to be accessible to my staff.

"The challenge is to bring forward the best of traditions. In Oxford's case, this is the superb collections and the commitment to preserving the record of our civilisation for current and future scholars and students. At the same time, we will be creatively reinterpreting these traditions for the digital age. Some of the most complex issues that we face in librarianship are at Oxford - Jsuch as how we structure our services for an increasingly digital age."

Dr Thomas also wants at least £125 million more spent on Oxford's libraries, which contain more than 11 million books and periodicals.

She will be a fellow of Balliol College and will replace Reg Carr.

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