All Things Library and Strategy with University Librarian Anna

When most of us think of librarians, we think of people who help us find books, or give book recommendations. What you might not know, is that librarians have many more tasks. Managing around 140 people through numerous teams, setting the library strategy and allocating budget spending, Anna O’Neill’s role as the Librarian – the head of the library – is synonymous to being CEO (she even has an assistant). Don’t mistake the Library for a small enterprise: the Librarian’s spends millions on providing resources for students, both paper books, e-books and access to database collections. This is to say that Anna definitely holds a strongly influential role in which she takes a range of influential decisions and needs to speak her mind. Read on to find out what else I learned in the 30-minute interview, including student advice and facts you didn’t know about your university library.

By Anastasia Cagnoni.

An interior space with screens and pull up banners. The carpet is grey.
The first floor of the Library often has announcements and marketing for the latest library initiatives. Image: Anastasia Cagnoni.

Let’s start with a bit of background information. Anna became interested in libraries at a very young age, starting with a library job as a teenager when she was still in high school. It was also her first job straight out of university. Since then, she has worked in libraries across sectors: from British and American law firms to corporate banking and charities, from museums and galleries to the NHS. Prior to her role in Warwick, she worked at Southampton University as ‘Director of Library Services and Art Strategy’. She moved relatively recently, and only started her role in Warwick in November.

            As the Librarian, Anna sets the strategy for the library across four different areas: teaching, research, regional and enterprise strategy. She holds responsibility for allocating financial resources and follows the library goal of ‘More and Better’, setting the direction so to achieve the best outcome for students. The role also involves working closely with the University’s professional services and the local community. What you may not immediately infer, is that our library and its special collections are important to the wider region beyond the University. Anna also works closely with the library team and stakeholders, which includes students, staff and colleagues. She manages around 140 people through three division heads. There are numerous teams, including Facilities, Research Support, Academic Support, Customer Support and Building Management, Engagement (you might know about the Study Happy initiative), the MRC and many more.

Next, let’s look at some facts you may not know about the library. For example, it is responsible for managing Learning Grids: Rootes, University House, The Biomed Grid and the Leamington Spa Town Hall. Another interesting fact is that the Modern Records Collections (archives) turns 50 this year. Did you also know that the library has paid for you to access to certain journals on search engines? For example, if you have used JSTOR through Google its because the Library has subscribed to it. There is also a large Higher Education library network in the UK, and the Warwick Library is both part of SCONUL and the UK Research Libraries (RLUK). One of their goals is to change publishing models to make knowledge open and not subject to paywalls. For example, Covid-19 research was made open-access and vastly accelerated research that helped find the relevant vaccines and treatments.

An exterior of a large building, with various trees in front of it. There is a grey pavement in the foreground and a blue sky.
The Library includes other spaces on campus, such as the Learning Grid in University House. Image: University of Warwick.

To conclude, I also asked Anna for student advice. Firstly, get into the habit of reading, because you will need to read in all professions, so enjoying reading helps. Secondly, be curious: often the most interesting things are around the topic you are reading on. Thirdly, university is so much more than studying so make sure to enjoy yourself. I will leave you on this note. I hope this feature was interesting and hopefully inspired some future librarians.

What surprised you about our chat with the new Librarian? What do you think the Library should focus on in the next year? Let us know by tweeting us @warwicklibrary or by messaging us on Instagram @warwicklibrary.

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