Bowdoin’s libraries are writing a new chapter into their history as Peter Bae begins his tenure as director of the Bowdoin College Library.
Bae started at the College on August 21, replacing Marjorie Hassen, who spent a decade as the library director before retiring this year. During the search process, the libraries were given a chance to reevaluate their priorities. In alignment with the College’s dedication to developing a tight-knit community, Bae is eager to engage with students, faculty and other library patrons. For Bae, libraries are rooted in the people who go there, with the library’s collections, services and staff collaborating to foster a community of curious thinkers.
“People may think the library is a book business, and that is true, but more importantly, we are in the people business,” Bae said.
With this perspective in mind, Bae hopes to better connect students with library services and staff, especially since Bowdoin may be the first place some students engage with an academic library. As part of matriculation, the library provides first years a brief information session. Bae attended as many as he could to spread the word about the resources offered by the libraries.
“In a way, librarianship is a kind of unique profession where we say please help us to help you. That is our motto: we are here to help you. And also I was telling [first years] there’s no stupid question. The only stupid questions are the questions we haven’t asked yet,” Bae said.
One way in which the libraries are reorganizing to better serve students’ needs is through the relocation of research support systems. In past years, students could visit the Research Desk when they wanted help. Now, the services have moved into the newly renovated Research Lab on the first floor for more interactive research opportunities.
Bae wants to continue to foster collaboration by framing all of the library spaces as vibrant centers for academics and the campus community as a whole.
“I wish to see the libraries as a hub of all the campus academic activities so a student can come here, mingle with their colleagues, their peers or with the faculty,” Bae said.
A key part of fostering this environment for Bae is open conversations between the libraries and patrons. While the libraries host some of the quietest places students visit on campus, Bae wants students to be anything but quiet when it comes to feedback.
“Communication between the library and the patron or the student is really crucial. It’ll make me happy when they praise our services, but also it is in a way more important that when they have any issues, they just let us know, even the complaints, criticism, all those things. It’s important that we hear them so that we can make changes,” Bae said.
Many library resources once offered only in print have moved online as technology becomes more prevalent and continues to evolve in academic spaces, a trend the hiring committee was mindful of.
“Things are changing so fast. There are faculty and students on our campus who barely use physical books, and there are faculty and students on our campus who remain passionate about the value of physical books and reading physical books, and then everything in between,” Senior Vice President and Dean for Academic Affairs Jennifer Scanlon said.
Both Scanlon and Bae are cognizant of what Bowdoin’s libraries will look like in the future, something studied by the College in its 2020 Report on the Future of Libraries at Bowdoin. A key issue raised in the report is the need for updated, modernized spaces for both library collections and patrons.
“We will need to build a new library. That is something that has been on the minds of the leadership of this college for some time,” Scanlon said.
Scanlon and the committee felt strongly that Bae would be a great fit not only for the Bowdoin community but also as a leader of the current libraries and those of the future.
“In addition to someone who can think about what the space is now and how to maneuver it, it was also important that we think about someone who could play that kind of visionary role when the time comes to communicate with all the stakeholders,” Scanlon said. “So Peter Bae really rose to the top for us.”