Final Thoughts with the Retiring Vice Provost for Libraries

May 10, 2018
Ed Van Gemert, director of libraries at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is pictured on Feb. 7, 2017. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

After working in library services for 47 years, Vice Provost Ed Van Gemert is drawing his long, rewarding professional career to a close with his much-deserved retirement this summer. Van Gemert’s retirement follows nearly 50 years of work with libraries, and 36 years of continuous employment with the General Library System. Van Gemert came to the libraries as a student assistant in Memorial Library in 1971. He has held a number of positions over the years, including serving as the first person at UW-Madison to hold the title of Vice Provost for Libraries and University Librarian. Van Gemert accepted the position of Vice Provost for Libraries under Provost Paul DeLuca in 2013, with instructions to rethink how the UW-Madison Libraries would advance their role on campus into the future, specifically: growing campus partnerships to assist the fundamental ways the university educates students; creating a strategic plan that encompasses the needs of stakeholders and leadership across campus; and creating a more focused effort to develop a philanthropic fundraising plan with the UW Foundation. As he prepares for the next chapter, Van Gemert sat down to reminisce about his time at UW, the Libraries, and share some final thoughts before he departs.

Q: Who has impacted your career the most?

A: Professionally, I’ve been fortunate to have had wonderful colleagues and mentors. Not all of them have been from academic libraries. One of my best teachers/mentors was a public librarian. I’ve learned a great deal from mentors and colleagues who’ve been generous with their time and talents. They were very patient with me!

Q: What will you miss the most?

A: Without a doubt, the people and the ideas. I love the University of Wisconsin-Madison and its libraries. I will always support and advocate on behalf of the UW and the Libraries.  You can always count on me for support and assistance.

Q: What are your hopes for the future of the Libraries?

A: It’s time to reinvest in the UW-Madison Libraries! It is my hope that we have provided the catalyst needed for continuous change in the Libraries. My hopes are for continued relevancy and alignment within the University and higher education, continued strategic partnerships on and off campus, and for the library to embrace change and change management practices.

Q: Do you have any advice for future librarians?

A: Know that the work you do is vital and that libraries are absolutely fundamental to the fabric of our democracy. Libraries and librarian expertise is needed more today than ever before. Make sure to keep up the good work! I will be cheering you on from the sidelines! Also, from the ever-famous Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Q: Final thoughts?

A: It has been an honor to have received a tremendous liberal arts education here at UW-Madison, and to have spent my entire career doing the work I love and have a passion for. I wish everyone associated with this great public research university all the best in the future.

Van Gemert has served as Chair of the Council of Wisconsin Libraries (CUWL), was on the Steering Committee of the Coalition of Networked Information (CNI), served in leadership roles with the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA), and served as Chair of the HathiTrust Strategic Advisory Board.

Among other library accomplishments during Van Gemert’s time are:

  • Providing vision and leadership for the development and transformation of one of the largest academic library systems in North America.
  • Building and developing strategic campus partnerships which resulted in WisCEL, BioCommons, the Design Lab, and SOAR advising moving into College Library, as well as the transformations with the Chemistry and Business Learning Commons spaces.
  • Overseeing responsible HR and budget management during challenging budget scenarios.
  • Leading fundraising for the now completed Verona Shelving Facility.
  • Overseeing a successful statewide library automation initiative to implement common library management systems for the UW System Libraries.

The university recently announced that Lisa R. Carter has been chosen as the next Vice Provost for Libraries and University Librarian at UW-Madison. She will begin on August 1. In an effort to ensure a smooth transition, Provost Mangelsdorf has asked Van Gemert to remain in his position throughout June and July. This will provide an opportunity for Van Gemert and Carter to coordinate during the transition, while offering consistency in leadership at the Libraries during this time.

The Libraries will host a retirement reception for Van Gemert on May 31 at the Pyle Center.