John E. Ulmschneider, dean of libraries and university librarian at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), is the 2020 ACRL Academic/Research Librarian of the Year. The award, sponsored by GOBI Library Solutions from EBSCO, recognizes an outstanding member of the library profession who has made a significant national or international contribution to academic/research librarianship and library development.
Ulmschneider will receive a $5,000 award on Saturday, June 27, during the ACRL President’s Program at the 2020 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago.
“John E. Ulmschneider’s extraordinary achievements as dean of libraries and university librarian at the Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries led the committee to name him as 2020 Academic/Research Librarian of the Year,” said Jeannette E. Pierce, chair of the ACRL Academic/Research Librarian of the Year Award Committee and associate university librarian for research, access, and instructional services at the University of Missouri Libraries.
“As dean, Ulmschneider successfully advocated for increased financial support; doubled professional staffing; championed diversity, equity, and inclusion; strengthened state and regional partnerships; and created a culture of innovation at the VCU Libraries,” Pierce continued. “The words of one nominator describing John’s leadership role in a regional endeavor perfectly describe his selfless approach to his accomplishments – ‘he has done so with a grin rather than a gavel, leading without ego, and with the evident trust and admiration of his colleagues.’”
“I don’t have words adequate to express my gratitude to all of my extraordinary colleagues over the years who have made this recognition possible,” Ulmschneider said. “To be included among librarianship’s most accomplished leaders with this award, including my mentor, the late Susan Nutter, is deeply moving. I have dedicated my career to building institutional cultures that allow every person to flourish and all of us to rise to our best selves, and to develop and resource libraries that foster the success of our students and faculty and enrich our diverse communities. I am gratified that ACRL and my colleagues have recognized the importance of this work through this award.”
Ulmschneider exemplifies academic and research librarianship through his decades-long career as a champion of innovation and inclusion. Under his leadership, VCU developed spaces and resources that meet the needs of contemporary students and the evolving academic research university. His investment of time and energy led to the expansion and renewal of the James Branch Cabell Library in 2016 and comprehensive updates to public areas of the Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences. Both libraries are comprised of innovative spaces and offerings ranging from maker spaces to technology-rich learning spaces to streamlined service points designed to effectively support users.
He demonstrated his spirit of innovation as an early adopter of state-of-the-art software, initiatives, and services. For example, in 2016, Ulmschneider helped guide the launch of the Open Textbook Network consortium in Virginia. At VCU, he invested almost $80,000 to underwrite and support VCU faculty redesigning their courses to use affordable course content and led VCU in adopting and supporting open community tools and services such as DataCite, DMPTool, Open Science Framework, InCommon, Carpentries, and ORCID.
Also known as a champion for special collections and archives, Ulmschneider appointed VCU’s first university archivist in 2013, leading to a deeper commitment to preserving the history of the university. Through his investment of time and stewardship, the VCU Libraries Special Collections and Archives have grown notable collections including book art, comic arts, medical artifacts, underrepresented communities, and more.
Throughout his career, Ulmschneider has been a strong advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, encouraging the development of community programming focused on race, social justice, and religion. This programming includes 17 years of Black History Month lectures celebrating African American experiences and achievements and 34 years of Browns-Lyons lectures on some of the most important topics in the Jewish culture and faith. He also championed inclusive digital collections such as the Freedom Now Project, which engaged the Prince Edwards Community around police surveillance photographs from 1963 civil rights protests, and Mapping the Second Ku Klux Klan, 1915-1940, documenting the rise of the Klan with historical and contemporary context. Three VCU Libraries digital collections images were selected for inclusion in the inaugural exhibitions of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
A purposeful advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion within the organization, the Cabell Library was the first academic building on the Monroe Park campus to offer gender neutral restrooms in 2010 under Ulmschneider’s leadership. A year later, he established a Diversity and Inclusion standing committee to develop, oversee, and report on diversity initiatives in the VCU Libraries. Through these and other initiatives, Ulmschneider has created a culture at VCU where faculty and staff are encouraged to develop projects and ideas that advance the organization.
As a culmination of these efforts, the VCU Libraries successfully achieved membership in the Association of Research Libraries in 2018 and received the 2018 ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries Award and the Library Landmark award for the renewed Cabell Library in 2016.
“It is wonderful to recognize John Ulmschneider with ACRL’s top individual recognition,” noted ACRL Executive Director Mary Ellen K. Davis. “VCU has benefited from his leadership and career-long focus on innovation and inclusion. His work epitomizes the innovative, visionary spirit of the academic and research library community.”
In addition to his work at VCU, Ulmschneider has made significant contributions to advancing libraries in the region through his work with the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL), including serving as president (2010-11), and the Virtual Library of Virginia (VIVA). Additionally, he chaired the Advocacy Task Force for the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Library Advisory Committee to the Virginia General Assembly since 2000, where he was a primary advocate for the investment in open educational resources and affordable course content, which led to a permanent increase of $600,000 in the VIVA budget to support this initiative.
Prior to joining VCU in 1999, Ulmschneider served in multiple positions at the North Carolina State University Libraries, including associate and assistant director for information technology (1996-99), assistant director for library systems (1989-96), and head of library systems (1986-89). He also served as systems manager at the College of William and Mary Swem Library (1985-86) and systems librarian at the National Library of Medicine (1982-84).
Ulmschneider received his B.A. in Religion from the University of Virginia and M.S.L.S from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
The ACRL Academic/Research Librarian of the Year award dates back to 1978, and past award recipients include Kaetrena Davis Kendrick (2019); David W. Lewis (2018); Loretta Parham (2017); Susan K. Nutter (2016); Robert A. Seal (2015); Tim Bucknall (2014); Patricia Iannuzzi (2013); Paula T. Kaufman (2012); Janice Welburn (2011); Maureen Sullivan (2010); Gloriana St. Clair (2009); Peter Hernon (2008); Lizabeth (Betsy) Wilson (2007); Ray English (2006); Ravindra Nath (R. N.) Sharma (2005); Tom Kirk (2004); Ross Atkinson, (2003); and Shelley Phipps (2002).
For more information regarding the award, or a complete list of past recipients, please visit the awards section of the ACRL website.
The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) is the higher education association for librarians. Representing more than 10,000 academic and research librarians and interested individuals, ACRL (a division of the American Library Association) develops programs, products and services to help academic and research librarians learn, innovate and lead within the academic community. Founded in 1940, ACRL is committed to advancing learning, transforming scholarship, and creating diverse and inclusive communities. Find ACRL on the web, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
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