It hasn’t been quiet at the library this summer.

Construction crews have been hammering away on a major renovation of the iconic Boatwright Memorial Library. And behind the scenes a new librarian has helped manage the projects while working on his big vision for how Richmond’s libraries can play a vibrant role in the lives of students and faculty.

Earlier this spring, Kevin Butterfield was elevated to University Librarian after a national search. He spent several months as the interim head of libraries after starting as the director of bibliographic and digital services four years ago. The Indiana native knows that when the construction stops and the dust has settled, students will find a great new space waiting for the long hours of research and studying ahead. He also hopes this renovation will help create a lively environment for celebrating scholarly achievement.

Butterfield talks about getting his start in college libraries, what the renovations at Boatwright will mean, and his long-term vision for the space. He also shares what he’s currently reading and what five books he’d take to a deserted island.

How did you get your start working in libraries?
I was a sophomore at Indiana University, Bloomington. I needed a part time job and went to the career services office to see what was available. There was an opening at the library and a job in the cafeteria, and I didn’t want to work in the cafeteria so I went to the library. That was 27 years ago. 

Describe the moment you fell in love with the profession.
I love working with rare books and special collections. My first job after graduate school was at the University of Michigan. My time there was split between digital library production, cataloging, and a humanities computing lab. It provided an interesting balance between rare books and digital collections, and I realized that I could actually work the two together. That was an “a-ha” moment.

What’s your typical day like?
After I grab a cup of coffee downstairs, there are probably half a dozen attend meetings that I have to attend around campus — either committees or staff meetings. I am someone who walks around a lot. I try to get out and talk to the staff and the students as much as possible. Especially now that we’ve redone the physical space so much, I’m really interested in seeing how people are using it and reacting to it. With the renovation work we had this summer I’ve spent most of my time working on things from carpeting and furniture selection, HVAC issues, and how to get raccoons out of the dumpsters.

What is your favorite part of the library?
The Galvin Rare Book Room. We’re in the process of renovating and cleaning it up. We’ve just hired a new Head of Rare Books and Special Collections, Lynda Kachurek. One of her goals is to make that a much more public space than it has been in the past. We have also reopened the Boatwright Tower doors as a public entrance. They were closed to the public in 1976. The view from the doors as you exit the building is spectacular.

What are the biggest challenges facing the libraries?
Making sure that we’re supporting the curriculum and the research needs of faculty and students. That’s the continuing challenge. Scholarly communication and publishing processes are changing rapidly. We still buy books, but we’re trying to balance the load between what we get digitally and what we get in print.

Where are the University’s libraries heading next?
I’m seeing us becoming much more involved in supporting research skills, writing skills, and things like that. In addition to just being the place you go to get information, we’ll also be the place you go for figuring out how to process and interpret this massive amount of information. We’ve created outposts for the Academic Skills Center and the Writing Center on the first floor of the library. We will be collaborating with them and the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology to create programs and services that support and encourage student research and scholarship. The libraries will also be partnering with the Digital Scholarship Lab to look at new methods of data interpretation.

What don’t most students know about the University libraries that you wish they knew?
We’re here to help them through these four years. Anything that we can do to help research and academic exploration, we’re here to do. A lot of students also don’t know the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology up on the third floor is a huge resource for them. The Rare Book Room was another resource that none of the students knew was there.

What’s currently on your reading list?
I’m reading Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend by James S. Hirsch. I’m also about halfway through Interop: The Promise and Perils of Highly Interconnected Systems by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser. The Willie Mays biography has been stop-and-go. Every time I get going on it, I get pulled off. Construction projects have not been good for my reading habits.

If you could only take five books with you to a deserted island, what would they be?
The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Baseball: The Golden Age by Harold Seymour
The Long Legged Fly by James Sallis
Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
The Last Defender of Camelot by Roger Zelazny

I’d have to take my iPad as well, but power might be a problem. Maybe I could build a generator out of coconuts.