Larry Alford started work in the University of North Carolina library system as an undergraduate in the early 1970s. Instead of looking outward after graduation, however, he looked in. Three decades later, Alford has finally left his post in Chapel Hill, and found himself taking on a brand new position: Vice provost of libraries at Temple University, in an environment much different than Chapel Hill – North Philadelphia.
“I was 18 years old when I came to [the University of North Carolina],” Alford said. “I started in the library as a student assistant after my sophomore year.”
As the University’s vice provost of libraries, Alford will act as administrator for the University’s 17 libraries. He began his time here on Monday, Feb. 6.
He has pledged to help the library both in its physical and operational capacities.
“The library is a physical place on campus, a place where people can go to collaborate. But with the help of students and faculty, we need to figure out where the library’s going,” Alford said.
Alford was chosen after a series of public interviews with candidates for the position. He will report directly to Provost Ira Schwartz.
“Larry Alford is an excellent leader who has developed an outstanding record of accomplishment at the University of North Carolina, one of the top research universities in the country,” Schwartz said in an article in The Temple Times. “He will make a great contribution to the academic and research missions of the University.”
According to Alford, he was not hired because the library staff is inept; rather, it signified a need for new resources to help the library grow with Temple’s population.
Alford spoke about what he would bring to the University. His plan for the library was based on three pillars.
“The first is services, which I define to include information training in all its aspects; the second is collections acquired in a multitude of languages from around the world whether electronic or print, owned or leased, available through consortia, cooperative arrangements, or locally; and third but not least, is the library as a place,” Alford said.
While he spoke at length about his hopes for the library’s tangible aspects, Alford refused to dismiss the importance of the librarian.
“I heard one of the world’s leading information technology experts say recently that technology in the classroom can be a wonderful tool but it can never substitute or take the place of the very human interaction between two people, a teacher and a student,” Alford said.
Still, the central idea of Alford’s speech was what he could bring to the library system. Alford’s plan for the library’s future hinged mainly on leadership.
“So how do we achieve this tripartite vision of the library as a service organization, as a collection of information, and as a place, physical and virtual, that is at the center and heart of the academy?” Alford said. “My short answer is through leadership.”
This will not be Alford’s first experience leading a system of libraries at a major university. While he was a deputy university librarian from 2000 until his departure, Alford served as the interim university librarian at UNC from July-September 2004.
For Alford, however, the library’s continuing journey is not the only concern. He will be leaving the area he has called home his entire life.
“I grew up in Durham, which is only a couple of miles down the road,” Alford said.
According to Alford, the University and library have been more than hospitable during his transition.
“A lot has to be done when you relocate people. The University and library have been incredibly helpful,” Alford said. “They’ve really smoothed out the problems.”
Alford’s journey to Temple began when a search committee approached him last summer. He said he was “incredibly impressed by the University’s vision for the community.”
He also noted that it was clearly viewed as a major part of it.
“I thought it was a great university, a great campus and a great city,” Alford said.
In his 30 years at UNC, Alford considered other positions but he never came across an offer as appealing as Temple’s. Between its geographical location, administration, and the fact that he saw himself making a difference, Alford said, Temple was the perfect combination.
“There’s a joke going around the office that I’m finally leaving college,” Alford said. “It’s not really a joke.”
Christopher Reber can be reached at email@example.com.