Paula Kaufman Acceptance Speech

Left to Right: Mark Kendall, Senior Vice President, Sales, YBP Library Services; Paula Kaufman, 2012 ACRL Academic/Research Librarian of the Year and Juanita J. and Robert E. Simpson Dean of Libraries and University Librarian, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Joyce Ogburn, ACRL President

2012 Recipient of ACRL's Academic/Research Librarian of the Year Award

I was very surprised when Joyce called with the news of this award, and I continue to think that she called the wrong person. It’s humbling to be standing here today.

Those of us who work in academia are very privileged.  We get to work with top-flight faculty and staff who are dedicated teachers and scholars. Although most of them are supportive, reasonable, and nice people, a few present us with the most interesting challenges.

And we get to work with bright undergraduate and graduate students who are full of energy and ideas and who give us hope that future generations will be able to accomplish what we have not.

The people we support change lives.  They make important discoveries and create new technologies and products that ensure our well-being, expand our minds, extend our lives, and improve the quality of life. With our help, they do just about everything and anything that make the world a better place. 

Our work fills me with pride.  To think of the lives we’ve enriched, the better citizens we’ve produced, and the life-long learning that our work advances, more than compensates for the occasional irate patron, staff conflicts, campus politics, or the issues that get memorialized in our “you can’t make this stuff up” files.   It’s very humbling, indeed.

And so is this award. 

Whatever I’ve been able to achieve can be attributed to others. I’ve had the privilege of working with talented and caring people and I want to mention only a few of those without whom I wouldn’t be here today:

Margaret Johnson, the Library Director at Smith College who plucked me out of my student worker job to talk with me about becoming a librarian. Yes, she planted the seed and she helped me prepare my application to Columbia, and celebrated with me when I was admitted.

Most of us benefit from mentors, and I’m no exception. Pat Battin was a model of a mentor – and she still is. I still turn to her for grounding and advice, even if it’s, well, a bit dated, as Pat frequently reminds me. And now that I am, as someone recently told me, in the – ahem - “twilight” of my career as a library director, it’s good advice for me to remember.

I must also thank the many extraordinary colleagues with whom I’ve been privileged to work.  These are the people who come up with creative ideas and who carry them out.  All I have to do is give them the support they need and get out of the way.  In addition to the wonderful library faculty I’ve been privileged to lead for the last 24 years at Tennessee and Illinois, I’ve been privileged to work with many of you and our colleagues in our professional organizations.  You’ve made my work in those organizations a real pleasure – and I wouldn’t have kept coming back for more had you not been there.

And, of course, I must acknowledge and thank my family, who thought that my various moves, especially from New York City to what they called the hillbilly country of Tennessee, were ill-conceived (and I’m being very tactful in how I say this – they really thought I was nuts).

But most of all, I must acknowledge my late husband Larry Ratner, who provided more love and support than any one should expect, including retiring and leaving two sons and two grandchildren behind in Knoxville so I could take on the challenges at Illinois. A seasoned university administrator, Larry gave me advice and perspective that helped me meet many of those challenges with much more confidence than I would otherwise have had.

I’ve seen many changes during my more than 4 decades in this profession, and there certainly are many more on the horizon.  I’m sure that 40 years from now students will giggle at exhibits of our smart phones just as students looking at our exhibit of old library equipment giggled over McBee card sorters and electric erasers.  It seems that cutting edges dull faster and faster these days.

When I began my career nearly 44 years ago, I never imagined, let alone dreamt, that this short, er, height-challenged, Jewish woman would some day be leading a major university research library -- or be honored by this wonderful award.  We’ve all come a long long way.

And so thank you to my colleagues who nominated me, to the committee that selected me, to YBP Library Services for sponsoring this award and to ACRL for this and for all the important work that you continue to do.

Thank you very much.

-Paula Kaufman