Steve Frye to Depart

September 15, 2020

Steve Frye, College Library’s Assistant Director & Head of Public Services, will officially retire from the UW-Madison Libraries in early November of this year, however his last day “in the office” is scheduled for July 31st. Soon after, Steve and his family will be relocating to the Pacific Northwest, a favorite vacation destination in recent years.

Steve’s first job in the Libraries was as a clerical assistant in the administrative offices of Steenbock Library. As happens to many people, his job in the library led to a decision to pursue a degree in the field. While obtaining a master’s degree from UW-Madison, Steve worked as a PA in the Journalism Reading Room, and then as an LSA at the Geology Library. He then spent several years at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, where he has the Head of Reference and Instruction before returning to Madison to work in public services, first at Memorial Library and then moving to College Library in January 2004.

Steve’s work in reference and instruction has always been informed by a deep commitment to improving the user experience. He has mentored dozens of practicum students from the iSchool (as well as ISIP interns) over the years and he always asks them to try and experience the library and its spaces and services from the perspective of a new user. By documenting their perceptions and using that foundation as a starting point for understanding the library’s many services, Steve has fostered numerous improvements in both the library’s online presence and their physical spaces. He continued that care for the user in his work with the management of various system and campus committees, having served on the Public Services Management Team, the Library Website Team, various resource discovery efforts, and his long-held leadership position in the library’s virtual reference services. He brings his leadership and experience in reference services to all that he does, part of his determination to connect people to the information they need.

When asked about the role of librarians at R1 universities, Steve reflected that “librarians must help students let go of the notion that searches at the university level should be easy.” When frustrated, students tend to blame the system, he notes, adding, “one of the hardest parts of being a good teacher is helping students unlearn the beliefs they have that are in error and that keep them from realizing a new model or map of the world.” A more appropriate and mature understanding, according to Steve, is recognizing “that their work on campus is not merely to search, but to conduct research, which is a process that involves an extensive amount of revision and iteration.” Shifting their expectations away from what works in a consumer context takes patience, but when students make that cognitive leap, they are ultimately much more holistic and successful researchers.

As Assistant Director of College Library, Steve managed the library’s spaces and was the primary contact for the many partners at College, including WisCEL, DesignLab, Media Studios, SOAR, Writing Center, University Health Services, GUTS tutoring, and Cross College Advising Services. Steve was noted for always thinking beyond the immediate need of a partner and helping them understand the many spaces and additional services the Libraries might provide. As a good reference librarian, he helped them articulate needs they hadn’t yet anticipated.

In addition to his work in the classroom and coordinating public services, Steve spearheaded several remodeling efforts at College Library, most recently the project to improve restroom facilities and provide gender-inclusive options for our patrons. When discussing Steve’s many strengths, Carrie Kruse, the director of College Library, describes how he can both, “demonstrate his commitment to the broad vision of the space and its role as a service, as well as the details of the work that needs to be done. He has that unique combination of strengths in both big-picture thinking and attention to focused specifics.”

Everyone at College Library will miss Steve’s leadership, his commitment to commuting by bicycle in every variety of Wisconsin weather, his travel tips, humor, and dedication to the principles of inclusive service to library patrons. We wish him the best in all future endeavors.