Joyce Ogburn (MSLS'82): Continuing the tradition of innovative information education at Carolina

January 25, 2019

When Joyce Obgurn (MSLS ’82) began graduate study at Carolina in 1980, she embarked on a journey of discovery. Chapel Hill was the perfect place for someone who, as Ogburn puts it, is naturally inquisitive. Couple that curiosity with a cutting-edge education from the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS) and Ogburn would go on to become a leader, helping to reimagine libraries, scholarship, and higher education for a new age. Her professional journey has introduced her to new cultures and countries, leadership opportunities, university affiliations, and philosophies, not to mention many new people. (She would even meet her husband in a library.)

Joyce Ogburn and Steven Eichner at a 2017 reception for SILS
alumni and friends in Washington, D.C.

At Carolina, Ogburn was an early adopter of technology, utilizing some of the first personal computers, learning operating systems, and helping her fellow students master statistical analysis software. And she was the first master’s student to submit a paper printed using a state-of-the art dot matrix printer. Faculty members, such as Lester Asheim, Fred Roper, and then-dean Ed Holley, invested their time in her. And the School’s eye toward the future and its investment in student experiences led her to an internship at the Environmental Protection Agency’s RTP library.

Her time at the EPA Library – SILS’ longest-running internship program which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2015 – put her curiosity and education to work, locating the best information for its researchers. At the reference desk, she doggedly tracked down the answers to tough questions that were often “all over the place.”

“I still think back to that,” she said. “It was hard because you had to figure out who knew the answers. I just had to keep calling to get the right answers and the right people for our researchers.”

Those same kinds of challenges informed her successes throughout a 30-year library career that took her to libraries at Yale, Old Dominion, Penn State, the University of Washington, the University of Utah, and Appalachian State.
At Utah, as the J. Willard Marriott Dean and University Librarian, she oversaw an $80-million renovation of a half million square-foot space. She had plans for the project to follow, but she still had to fully engage those ideas and her colleagues to make decisions and quickly maneuver within the process.

“It was the biggest and most challenging project of my career,” she said.

The same dedication she brought to answering the questions of EPA researchers, she applied to making sure the four-and-a-half-year renovation best served library users.

During her career, she also served as president of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), implementing a new strategic plan, revising the organization’s structure, issuing new Standards for Libraries in Higher Education, and launching an initiative to integrate information literacy and scholarly communication. She also served on a number of other national boards and committees.

“I have been able to engage with knowledge thoughtfully, critically, joyfully, and in ways that would not be possible without SILS,” she said. “My education was hands-on, intellectual, technological and transformative. It set my grounding and direction for life. It has allowed me to reach out to others about how knowledge can transform their lives.”

So in 2018 as part of the Campaign for Carolina, Ogburn and her husband, Steven A. Eichner, who is a museum professional, made a $1.1 million commitment – a combination of current and estate giving – to SILS. As the School works to increase the volume and pace at which important ideas improve lives, this commitment will enable Dean Gary Marchionini and the faculty to expand the School’s role as a research enterprise that drives innovation and to educate the next generation of researchers and librarians.

As an unrestricted gift, the current portion of the commitment is helping fund SILS new master’s degree in Digital Curation and Management. The first master’s program in the nation focused on digital curation, this degree will help students become experts in managing data and other digital assets for public and private enterprises.

“While Joyce earned her degree at Carolina, she was surrounded by innovation,” said Marchionini. “That environment provided her the tools to be a leader in all the work she pursued. Since then, we have continued to push the boundaries of the library and information fields, and her commitment will provide valuable resources to foster an innovative culture.

“My biggest joy is helping younger librarians get their footing and seeing them takeover,” Ogburn said. “They’re the future, and they’re doing great things.”

This feature originally appeared in the Fall 2018 SILS Newsletter.