A librarian for digital times

Barbara Rockenbach is the new University Librarian.

New university librarian Barbara Rockenbach has a degree in art history and a background in digital humanities. View full image

It’s a strange time for Yale’s libraries. Instead of venturing into Sterling’s labyrinthine stacks or summoning rare books in the Beinecke’s subterranean reading room, students have been relying on Yale’s digital collections and online services since March. Luckily, Barbara Rockenbach, who becomes the university librarian on July 1 after three years as associate university librarian at Columbia, has a wealth of experience with the library tools of the digital age. 

Online collections, she says, can make “knowledge accessible in new formats that can reach broader audiences—in the form of digital archives, digital exhibits, digital critical editions, and data visualizations, to name a few.” Such recent Yale projects as a spatial analysis of the new colleges and a digital archive of photographs from Vogue, for example, “utilize the collections curated in the Yale Library to support new forms of inquiry while also increasing the possibility that the physical collections themselves will be used.”

This sense of the connection between digital and material collections characterizes Rockenbach’s approach to library curation. She emphasizes the importance of place, and of ensuring that a university’s collections reflect and be accessible to the local community as well as to scholars around the world. At Columbia, for example, she worked with Arthur Mitchell to bring the archives of the Dance Theatre of Harlem to the university. During a previous stint at the Yale library, she served on the board of the International Festival of Arts and Ideas, working with professors Laura Wexler and Matthew Jacobson to develop a partnership between the festival and the Public Humanities program at Yale. (Throughout her career, Rockenbach has shown a commitment to the digital humanities. In addition to her master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Pittsburgh, she has a second master’s from Hunter College in art history.)

Rockenbach sees an opportunity in the unprecedented closure of campus this spring. “I do think we can learn a lot about meeting students’ needs as we assess the student experience of learning online and living off campus,” she says. Moreover, “I believe we will come back to campus with a deep appreciation for the physical spaces, collections, and in-person interactions that we may have taken for granted in the past.”

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