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University Librarian Anne Kenney to retire in 2017

Anne R. Kenney, the Carl A. Kroch University Librarian, has announced she will step down from her position April 1, 2017, to begin a six-month research leave, after which she will retire.

Kenney is in her second five-year term as university librarian; her research leave and retirement will come about a year before her term would have ended in 2018.

“My mother recently moved to Ithaca, and while I’m thrilled she’s here, it’s a reminder that life is short. She’s 25 years older than I am, and there’s a lot I want to experience in the next quarter century,” Kenney said.

Kenney, Cornell’s 11th university librarian, will leave a legacy as a visionary leader of a world-class university library system that forged new collaborations around the globe, promoted and expanded Cornell faculty’s research, and set standards for digitization, preservation and open access to materials.

“In nearly three decades at this university, Anne Kenney has helped Cornell Library cross new digital frontiers, expanding access to materials and resources throughout the world, while also building crucial collections promoting scholarship and discovery,” said Cornell Provost Michael Kotlikoff. “As university librarian, she has been a leader in promoting digital literacy, building research support and partnering with other universities to strengthen all institutions involved.”

Kenney began her Cornell library career in 1987 when the card catalog was the primary means of access to library materials. She worked in preservation and conservation before moving into public access and instruction as associate librarian. She became interim university librarian in 2007 and was named university librarian in 2008.

One of her early collaborations, a partnership with the University of Michigan called Making of America, documented standards and processes for large-scale digitization later adopted by other libraries and publishers.

Under Kenney’s leadership, the library established the successful 2CUL resource-sharing partnership with Columbia University Library, which reduced duplication across collections and allowed both universities to share staff and enhance access to rich collections. She forged deep partnerships with Tsinghua University Library in China and other major libraries in Asia while promoting research and academic cooperation.

Under her leadership, the library developed a collaborative funding model for arXiv, the Cornell-hosted repository of articles in physics, math and computer science. On campus, she consolidated five libraries, extended 24-hour access for students and hired new talent, including the nation’s first chief technology strategist for a research library. During the recently completed Cornell capital campaign, she helped raise $77 million for the library, one of the most successful library campaigns in the country. The university archivist and director of rare and manuscript collections positions were named and endowed during her tenure. Kenney also was the leading advocate for the Olin Library safety project, which added fire suppression systems, improved exits and alarm systems, and conducted asbestos abatement.

She encouraged new special collection areas at Cornell in popular culture, music and photography to support new course offerings and dissertation-level research.

“While I think our future is so much digital, I also think that what makes Cornell special is the kind of distinctive collections that are housed only here,” Kenney said. “So we have continued to build in both ways.”

In 2014, Kenney received the Hugh C. Atkinson Memorial Award from the American Library Association. She has co-authored three award-winning books and more than 50 peer-reviewed articles.

Asked what advice she would give her successor, Kenney said: “This is not a library in crisis; there’s a good foundation on which to build. I would continue to honor Cornell’s tradition but also just keep looking 10 years out, every day. Surround yourself with people who differ in their opinions. It’s equally important to listen to the traditionalists as well as the avant garde in libraries.”

Kenney said she plans to undertake a few projects that she’s been wanting to do for some time during her research leave.

An avid hiker, Kenney has summited Mount Kilimanjaro and hiked in the Himalayas, Patagonia, New Zealand and, most recently, Machu Picchu. She said she hopes to hike Mont Blanc next.

“I appreciate her openness to faculty members’ ideas and concerns about the library, and especially her strenuous efforts to protect the budget for acquisitions when the financial crisis hit the university in 2008,” said Mary Beth Norton, the Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History and former chair of the faculty library board. “She also has recognized the importance of acquiring (often expensive) digital resources for research and teaching – resources faculty and students now rely on daily.”

The search for the next university librarian will begin this fall.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.