Photograph of Hodges Library on a sunny day
Reflections at the Start of the New Semester
by Steve Smith
January 25, 2022  •  8 minute read
Photograph of UT Libraries Dean Smith

This week we welcomed students back for the spring semester. (Although I don’t always mind cold weather and often find it invigorating, my heart fluttered a bit as I typed “spring semester.” I am already looking forward to warmer temperatures and spring garden season.)

We have much to look forward to in 2022. But before I share a few of my expectations for the coming year, I want to pause and thank each and every one of you for your support of the Libraries.

In January of 2021, I concluded my term as Special Assistant to the Chancellor for the COVID-19 response, and I can’t say thank you enough to everyone who welcomed me back and made the transition easy. I observed a few times early in the year that I felt a little like Rip Van Winkle, the character from early American fiction who wakes up after a 40-year nap and finds the world completely changed. The library had not been completely reinvented, but it did take time for me to catch up with all the remarkable progress made over the time I was away.

Of the many positive and noteworthy things that happened in the library in 2021, the one that comes first to mind is the dedication of the first-floor galleria. That main entry point to Hodges Library was named for Brenda Lewis Peel, the first African American to earn an undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee. Mrs. Peel was present for the dedication ceremony, along with many of her family and friends. It was a privilege and a joy to honor Mrs. Peel for her courage and perseverance by setting aside this prominent site in our main library.

Another notable accomplishment of the past year was completion of the Libraries’ Diversity Action Plan. I am very pleased with our new Diversity Action Plan, and I thank our Diversity Committee along with all those who worked so hard to create the plan.  As a demonstration of my own commitment to the DAP, I will soon offer the Dean’s Diversity Action Plan, which draws from the goals and objectives of the DAP to highlight my personal priorities for the coming year.

In other news as we look ahead to 2022 — although plans can still change, I am happy to share that a viable space for our much-needed offsite storage has been identified in the “River District” section of campus. This section of campus includes the former Tyson Foods warehouse, which is quite large and with what appears to be very good bones for a future offsite storage facility. The area in which we are experiencing the most growth and the most pressing needs is for special collections and archives — because by definition this material is one-of-a-kind or rare. In addition, these materials are often those with the greatest preservation needs. With proper planning and sound collection decisions, much of the general material presently stored at Hoskins Library will fit in this new space — along with material from Hodges and our branches that needs to be preserved but does not need to be on the central campus. While we’re still early in this process, I consider this news a real advance and a firm commitment from the university to meet this challenge.

I am also looking forward to a very exciting prospect for our special collections: the acquisition of the Beauford Delaney archive. Delaney, who was born and raised in Knoxville, is one of the most important abstract expressionist painters of the 20th century. He is also a seminal figure in the Harlem Renaissance who later moved to Paris, where the development of his art was further influenced and developed. Fundraising efforts are now afoot, and we look forward to sharing more news soon.

Speaking of fundraising, the second year of the pandemic did not stop our library supporters from contributing generously to our efforts. In fact, November 2021 was the largest fundraising month in all of the university’s history, and December 2021 proved to be the second largest fundraising December. Similarly, UT Libraries’ supporters were especially philanthropic this fiscal year, as evidenced by the fact that our donor count, annual giving, and overall fundraising figures are up from FY21. Your commitment is extremely important to our students and campus — particularly as we welcome our largest freshman class to date and as our digital resource needs continue to grow. Finally, the University Archivist position was named the Dr. Fred O. Stone University Archivist in honor of longtime supporter and UT Health Science Center alumnus Dr. Fred O. Stone Jr. This represents the first-ever named position at the UT Libraries, and it seems fitting that it should be named for one of our most loyal supporters.

The University Press became a part of the UT Libraries’ organization in 2020. In the summer of 2022, we look forward to the Press staff physically relocating to the 3rd floor of Hodges when their new office space is complete. And while I am on the subject of the UT Press, I thought I would share a few items of note in regards to awards and recognitions won by the Press over the last year, including:

These are just a few of the things of note for the coming year, as well as a few of the things we can celebrate from the past year. I look forward to more accomplishments and good news as the year ahead unfolds.

Dean Steven Smith signature
Steven Escar Smith, Dean of Libraries