The Gray Family Chair

By reeset / On / In Library

I’ve often thought that I have one of the best jobs in the world.  I work in a library – but more specifically, I hold an endowed chair at Oregon State University Valley Libraries:  The Gray Family Chair for Innovative Library Services.  The original vision for this position came from John and Betty Gray,  OSU alums and committed citizens of Oregon, to create a position that would help move libraries forward.  The Grays saw the changing landscape, the encroachment of technology into a largely analog profession, and wanted to provide a position at the OSU Valley Libraries that would act as that bridge between the past, present, and future of the library profession.

Being the Gray Family Chair has given me more than my fair share of opportunities.  Through the endowment, it has allowed me to travel and take part of conversations shaping libraries at an international level.  It has provided me with support to pursue my own research interests, specifically as they relate to issues around digital preservation and discovery.  I have grown as a member of the OSU Libraries administration team and have taken  advantage of opportunities like the Frye’s Leadership Institute.  It is a position that has and continues to lower barriers and open doors that might have otherwise stayed closed to me.   These are the things that the Gray Family Chair has done for me.

But I have to ask myself if I have I been a good ambassador for the Gray Family?  I’ve been thinking about that a lot over the past couple of weeks.  As the Gray Family Chair, I represent both Oregon State University Libraries and to some degree, the hope and faith placed in this position by John and Betty Gray and I’d like to think that I have.

We all have passions in life, and one of mine has been working for the residents of Oregon – specifically around equitable access to information.  Within my role as the Gray Family Chair, I’ve dedicated a good deal of my time to working for the underserved and unserved people of Oregon.  In 2009, while attending a meeting at the Oregon State Library, the then State Librarian talked about the growing population of underserved residents in the state.  Nearly 20% of Oregon fell outside of library districts and were unable to access resources purchased for them on their behalf by the State Library.  Since access to these materials have traditionally been managed through the state’s public library system, residents living outside of the system were essentially frozen out.  People were falling through the cracks and the State Library was looking for partners with ideas to help close those gaps.  OSU Libraries stepped up and helped create the Libraries of Oregon (http://librariesoforegon.org) that targets underserved residents of the state.  These resources were developed to help residents connect with libraries, advocate on their behalf, and make access to state-licensed materials transparent to the user.  And largely, I think we are succeeding.  We are seeing steady traffic, and  getting direct feedback letting us know we are on the right track.  Public libraries tell us that this resource helps them connect with people outside of their districts.  We still have a long ways to go, but I’d like to think that in a small way, we are helping to bridge the information gap for Oregonians. 

On Oct 27th, my work with the Libraries of Oregon was recognized by the OR-ACRL as the recipient for the 2012 Oregon Award for Excellence.  It comes on the heels of the passing of Mr. John Gray on Oct. 19th, 2012.  While I never had an opportunity to meet John Gray, I had been told in March 2011 when we launched the Libraries of Oregon that Mr. Gray was extremely excited about the new service and the commitment OSU Libraries was making to all of Oregon.  Personally, it was high praise from a man who spent his life dedicated to helping people.   

At some point, I’ll have to step away from the Gray Family Chair.  Technology changes, issues shift and it will be time for new blood to occupy this position and move it in a fresh direction.  The Gray’s knew that…and asked that the endowed chair reflect that reality by tying the endowment to issues not people.  And at the same time, the endowment is very much about people and the ways in which education and access to education can open doors to everyone.  There’s a time coming sooner than I might like where I will need to pass the baton and move back into the real world.  When I do, I hope that my time in the chair will have represented the best of what the Gray’s had envisioned so many years ago.   

–TR