Vice Provost and Director of Libraries Susan K. Nutter, one of NC State’s most dynamic and influential leaders, has retired after 30 years at the NCSU Libraries.
Susan bids us farewell having placed the Libraries at the center of NC State’s overall success. She set forth an ambitious vision and worked tirelessly to achieve it, transforming every aspect of the library along the way. Her many significant achievements range from building world-class research collections and spearheading the creation of the online library to attracting and developing a uniquely talented and capable staff to overseeing the design and realization of many beautiful and inspiring spaces for learning, collaboration, and discovery.
Opened in 2013, the award-winning James B. Hunt Jr. Library—Susan’s signature accomplishment—has become one of the region’s most iconic buildings. Based on bold design and infused with engaging technology, it enables and reflects NC State’s spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship and bolsters our reputation as a preeminent research university. Susan also delivered on her promise to our students and faculty that the university’s first main library, the D. H. Hill Library, would keep pace with Hunt through creative redesign and renovation of flexible, technology-rich learning spaces. These changes have reinvigorated the very idea of a library’s centrality to its campus community.
A Legacy of Leadership
While Nutter’s legacy will be her embrace of emerging technologies and innovative scholarship as embodied in the Hunt Library, it is her ability to connect with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and colleagues that has made her such a special leader. She dedicated herself to helping all library users succeed, and she lived and breathed that dedication every day, reaching out to them directly to hear about their needs and challenges and developing creative, meaningful, and responsive solutions.
Nutter’s many honors and awards include the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Hugh C. Atkinson Memorial Award (1999), the 2005 Library Journal “Librarian of the Year” and the 2016 ACRL Academic/Research Librarian of the Year, and under her leadership, we were the first university library to win the ACRL “Excellence in Academic Libraries Award” in 2000. In 2016, Nutter accepted the IMLS National Medal for Museum and Library Service on the Libraries’ behalf from First Lady Michelle Obama in a White House ceremony.
A story of transformation
When Susan took the reins in 1987, the Libraries ranked near the bottom among North American research libraries. With Susan’s leadership, we now stand near the top. But perhaps more importantly, the NCSU Libraries has become a major competitive advantage for NC State’s faculty and students and a vital contributor to the university’s mission.
She knew that the first step was raising the profile of the Libraries on the NC State campus. “We had to become central to the academic process here at NC State,” she recalls. “We had to be a part of all the important decisions that were made at the university.” Susan listened closely to the needs of faculty and students and tried to implement their ideas in a timely manner. “Students cared about the number of hours the library was open, electronic access, collections,” she notes. “They wanted staff who had the skills to bring the technology along. So those are the things we did.”
From the bustling Learning Commons at D. H. Hill to the immersive visualization spaces at Hunt, she has given NC State a world-class research platform with the power to transform teaching, learning, and research for the 21st century. She has also built a highly motivated, expert staff that continually develops and delivers innovative services and is embedded in every aspect of the academic endeavor. Thanks to her leadership, the Libraries truly embodies NC State’s “Think and Do” culture.
Getting to Work
From the beginning, Susan’s forward-looking vision has shaped the Libraries into one that anticipates what users will need in the future. Having glimpsed the powerful future of networking and online resources through her work at MIT, Susan immediately set out to build an online library at NC State. “There was a lot of opposition at first,” Susan recalls. “One Monday, every networked printer on campus had a fax about Susan Nutter wasting state funds buying all this technology and unproven stuff.” By 1990, however, the online collection was working—and growing fast. Today, its usage exceeds that of the print collection.
As the rest of higher education followed in going digital, Susan built upon that foundation. She made the NCSU Libraries one of the first research libraries with a Learning Technologies Service to help faculty develop online courses, a Scholarly Communication Center to advise on intellectual property in the digital age, and a Digital Library Initiatives department developing innovative projects to enhance access, collections, teaching, and research.
As library access and the research collections improved, Susan knew that she needed to build a staff that was agile enough to not only react to but anticipate our users’ ever-evolving needs. By automating some basic library services and processes, Susan gave staff more time to serve the campus community and grow as professionals. She set high standards and instilled throughout the organization a sense of confidence that each individual’s contributions were special and had the power to move us closer to our goals. By creating this culture of innovation and providing excellent support for staff, Susan has been able to recruit some of the profession’s top talent.
One of the most tangible examples of this is the NCSU Libraries Fellows Program. Today considered one of the premier opportunities for new talent in academic libraries, the program offers new librarians a two-year appointment during which they develop expertise in a functional area and contribute to an innovative initiative of strategic importance. To date, 64 Fellows have completed the program, 44 of whom moved into permanent librarian positions here at the completion of their fellowship. Five former Fellows have been named Library Journal “Movers and Shakers.”
The library of the future—and a crowning achievement
A true visionary, Susan recognized, while on her first visit to NC State in 1987, the importance of planning for a library on Centennial Campus. During her interview here, when asked about her plans for the future of the Libraries, she outlined a vision for building such a library—a vibrant “nexus” for the emerging Centennial Campus community of students, faculty, researchers, and corporate and government partners—that would eventually become a reality. In 2013, that dream was realized in a way that was more extraordinary than anyone could have imagined.
Now universally acknowledged as “the library of the future,” the Hunt Library is a signature building for the university. Its bold design is a visual statement of its bold purpose—to be a place not of the past but of the future, a place that welcomes all members of the NC State community to learn, experiment, collaborate, and create. Susan’s vision and this beacon of a library that embodies it have crystallized and enlivened an international dialogue about the place of academic libraries in the 21st century.
The Hunt Library has been recognized nationally with some of the most prestigious awards for libraries and architecture. Notable recognition includes the 2014 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Educational Facility Design award, the 2013 AIA/ALA Library Buildings Award, and the 2014 Stanford Prize for Innovation in Research Libraries.
Susan Nutter’s leadership has centered on a career-long insistence that an exemplary library is shaped by the specific educational and research needs of the institution that it serves, making the library a strong competitive advantage for the university. Her 30 years at the helm of the Libraries have forged a legacy of user-focused leadership and powerful advocacy for the university’s strategic goals. She made it a priority to create strong and productive partnerships with faculty and other university leaders. Believing that every student is an alum of the Libraries, she made it her mission to develop personal relationships with NC State students and listen carefully to their needs and ideas. NC State students have shown their appreciation of Susan in many ways, including honoring her with the first Jenny Chang Outstanding Student Service Award in 2008. Under Susan’s leadership, the Libraries has grown, transformed, and shined. Her innovative spirit and remarkable achievements have paved the way for a bright future for the Libraries and for NC State.
By the Numbers
During Susan K. Nutter’s tenure, the NCSU Libraries has made tremendous strides:
- A decade ago, the NCSU Libraries ranked 101 out of 107 Association of Research Libraries members. Today, the Libraries consistently sits in the top third of that ranking.
- Nine NC State librarians have been named Library Journal “Movers and Shakers” in the last 12 years, more than any other academic library.
- The Libraries’ collections have grown from 1.5 million volumes in 1990 to more than 5.2 million volumes in 2017.
- In 1996–97, the NCSU Libraries became one of the first libraries in the nation to offer 24-hour service.
Friends of the Library honor Susan’s legacy and spirit
Anyone who knows Susan knows that she likes a good party, and the Friends of the Library threw her a real gala at the North Carolina Museum of Art in June. The SKN30 celebration honored her “30 years of innovative leadership” with speakers including Governor James B. Hunt, Jr., Chancellor Randy Woodson, Provost Warwick Arden, Friends of the Library Board President Brian Boothe and Vice President Dr. Suzanne Kennedy-Stoskopf, author and musician Clyde Edgerton, and Vice Chancellor for University Advancement Brian Sischo.
The evening featured a red carpet welcome photo op, a catered dinner, a signature cocktail (a gin and bourbon concoction called the “Force of Nature”), two hilarious musical interludes by Edgerton including “The Susan Nutter Librarian Blues,” and an emotional trio of toasts (with cognac) by Chancellor Woodson.
Three tribute videos were shown throughout the evening, featuring interviews of over 30 friends, colleagues, student leaders, and staff members about how Susan has affected NC State and their own lives and careers. One video gives memories of her early work at the Libraries, another offers reflections on her leadership under the title “That’s Susan,” and a third contains a series of heartfelt thank you’s. Have some tissues handy before you watch!
The videos are available online:
Gov. Hunt, whose mother was a librarian, reflected upon the critical role that Susan’s leadership of the Libraries has played in NC State’s growth. He recalled that one day, as he was giving someone a tour of his namesake library, he spotted some flattering writing on a whiteboard: “This library is the greatest thing we’ve ever seen.” Provost Arden, who in his video clip called Susan “one of the true visionaries for what an academic library of the future should be,” lauded Susan for putting more thought into student needs than anyone else at the university and helping to redefine what it means to be a librarian in the 21st century.
Vice Chancellor Sischo and Dr. Kennedy-Stoskopf concentrated on Susan’s philanthropic leadership, noting that the Libraries’ endowment now stands at 27 times the amount it was when Susan arrived. They also acknowledged Susan’s own generosity in supporting a wealth of programs at NC State. In her video message, Dr. Kennedy-Stoskopf thanked Susan for “putting the students at NC State front and center in everything you do.”
Chancellor Woodson then led everyone in three toasts, raising a glass to all the fun she’s brought to her work and the love for the Libraries that she’s cultivated in the student body; to the fact that she’s leaving NC State better than she found it; and to her loyalty and dedication to the Libraries and the university over three decades of exemplary service. He emphasized this in his video tribute: “I’m excited now to be the chancellor at a place that everyone looks to as [an example of] a new, modern, digital age in libraries. And Susan embodied that, frankly, before we had the facilities to support that.”
Then, Susan came to the lectern to give an emotional speech. She spoke of wanting to make a difference at NC State from her very first day at the Libraries and how she fell for the students here. “This has been a perfect fit for me,” she said, “I love to come to work.”
Libraries Staff and Campus community honor Susan
Then, in October, Libraries staff joined long-time friends and colleagues to honor Susan at an afternoon reception in the Hunt Library’s Skyline Reading Room. Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Warwick Arden and Interim Vice Provost and Director of Libraries Greg Raschke offered brief comments honoring Susan’s career and progressive spirit, and a student jazz band played upbeat standards while everyone enjoyed drinks and heavy hors d’oeuvres.
And there were gifts! Libraries staff gave Susan several wonderful presents to express their admiration for her and to acknowledge the inspiration she’s provided throughout the years. She received several additions to her ceramics collection, including a piece of Ben Owen’s signature red pottery and a 3D-printed ceramic work by Takyeom Lee, an artist and Appalachian State professor who presented his work at the Libraries in 2016. Current and former NCSU Libraries Fellows collaborated on a mixtape for Susan to show their gratitude for the opportunities the program has presented to them as well as to celebrate Susan’s shared love of music. Another collaborative gift was the 4-volume boxed set of beautifully hand-bound books the Preservation department’s Emily Schmidt and Robin Harper created containing parting notes and tributes penned by current staff; former colleagues; and friends, collaborators, and supporters from on campus and off. And of course there needed to be a joke gift, too. While sitting in the only brickless building on campus, Susan grudgingly grinned at a coffee table book about bricks in building design.
More in Focus: Susan talks about her legacy at NC State in her own words in this wide ranging interview.