The Legacy of Dean Williams

Published: June 30, 2017

James Williams, former dean of the University Libraries

For the past three decades, James F. Williams II has led the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries. As he prepares to retire at the end of this week, we would like to thank him for the incredible impact he has had on the University Libraries, the profession, CU Boulder and so many of us as individuals.

Williams’ achievements are too vast for this page. Today we want to focus on just a few of his achievements that will contribute to rigorous scholarship and the greater good of the CU Boulder community for decades to come.

Robust and innovative resources

After 13 years as a medical librarian, Williams turned his focus to leadership in research libraries. He arrived at CU Boulder just as the Boulder Daily Camera shared that a major corporation commented on the lack of scholarly resources on campus. Williams saw an opportunity and secured a commitment to ensure funding for robust resources. 

Today the CU Boulder Libraries house the largest collection in the Rocky Mountain region, exceeding 10 million items. Databases and e-journal subscriptions support the innovation of our university researchers. In just the last academic year, the University Libraries became the nation’s first official preservation steward library through the U.S. Government Publishing Office, and opened the Center for Research Data and Digital Scholarship.

Jim Williams, Leslie Reynolds and John Culshaw

Jim Williams with Leslie Reynolds, interim dean of the University Libraries as of July 1, 2017, and John Culshaw, University Librarian at the University of Iowa

Librarians as Collaborators and Researchers

“My best days are the ones when I receive a letter from our provost telling me another faculty member has received tenure or has advanced in their comprehensive review,” said Williams.

Williams’ vision to build a corps of tenured faculty has led to greater collaboration between the Libraries and academic departments. Under his leadership, the libraries have become the hub for research on campus, partner with faculty on research, pedagogy, and platforms. Our faculty teach not only how to access information, but how to analyze, evaluate and communicate it.

Regional and National Influence

Williams has been an outstanding regional and national leader with an incalculable impact on the profession. He led efforts to leverage dwindling funding through statewide consortiums, such as Colorado's Alliance of Research Libraries, which led to Prospector, a shared service throughout the region. His service on the board of the Association of Research Libraries, as a member of the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine, past chair of the Board of Directors of the Center for Research Libraries, and a member of the visiting committee for libraries at Carnegie Mellon University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and others, speaks to Williams’ inexhaustible energy and passion, and the wide influence he has had.

Jack Maness, former head of Sciences at the CU Boulder Libraries and currently the associate dean at University of Denver, had this to say of Dean Williams’ legacy: 

“He's known across the country for outstanding contributions to the library, the university and the library profession, intellectual leadership and his personal characteristics of affability, outspokenness, and the strength of his convictions. I consider myself blessed that I began my academic library career at Colorado, under the leadership of a man who has mentored so many leaders across U.S. libraries. There is a small army of librarians in our country who count Dean Williams as their advisor, confidant, mentor, and friend.”

 Jim Williams at commencement, sundial, PASCAL and instruction

Top left:: Dean Williams also served as commencement marshal for more than 25 years. Top right: The John Garrey Tippit Memorial Sundial in the Library Commons. Bottom right: An information literacy class. Bottom left: More than one million volumes are stored off-site at PASCAL.

Bricks, Mortar and Rethinking Productive Spaces

It may be hard to visualize Norlin 30 years ago. Imagine overflowing book stacks, bowing floors due to weight beyond capacity, and a severe lack of collaborative spaces—never mind the lack of coffee. Williams faced huge resistance to building a shared storage facility that would provide temperature controlled storage for fragile materials and create study space. He credits the many provosts who supported his vision and the forward-thinking Boulder Faculty Assembly Library Committee, who shared that vision across departments. Known today as PASCAL, the Preservation and Access Service Center for Colorado Academic Libraries provides centralized, permanent storage for library materials across our state.

“PASCAL marks a definitive before and after,” said Williams.

The space made available by PASCAL led to the Commons and more collaborative spaces throughout the branches. The demand for group study spaces continues to grow each year, as the way students work continues to change.

A Legacy of Giving Back

As a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Williams had an opportunity to hear Martin Luther King, Jr. speak to his fraternity. He often shares the words that most influenced him, when Dr. King said, “Don't ever take for granted being a student at this place. There are so many kids who will never have the opportunity that you have here, and wherever you find yourself in life, find a way to give back."

Dean Williams has always found ways to give back, whether through his involvement with the local hospice program, TRU Community Care, as a Trustee for the Denver Museum of Art, or in taking time to listen to students, alumni and staff. Through his extensive service to our profession and the CU Boulder community, he elevated our users’ concept of what a librarian does, and made the University Libraries not only a trusted resource for the campus, but also an integral part of the Colorado and Rocky Mountain community, and the community of research libraries nationally.

We are forever in his debt.

Group photo of Jim Williams with faculty and staff