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Davis, California

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Q & A: MacKenzie Smith

The Aggie: What’s your favorite book?
What is my favorite book? No one has ever asked me that question. I love books and I have read millions of books so that’s going to be a very hard question.

What are you reading right now?
Well, what am I reading now? I’m reading three books at the same time. There’s Michael Nielsen’s book on open science; it’s called Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science. And I just finished the new book by a novelist I love named David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Then a dear friend of mine just published a book in LA. He’s written a very interesting non-fiction book on the marijuana industry called The Heart of Darkness.

How do you feel about becoming the new head librarian at UC Davis?
Well, of course I’m delighted to be coming to Davis; it’s a wonderful campus and I see a ton of potential for what we can do there to make the library a real showcase, I think for the digital age and for the UC system. I just can’t wait to get there.

What does your position as head librarian at UC Davis entail?
Well, the head of the library is responsible for the whole library system so it’s mainly administration of that system and making sure that all the different constituents on campus, the students and the faculty and the researchers are getting what they need from the libraries and thinking about how the libraries are organized to do that best and thinking about things like … the physical space in the library. I’m kind of overseeing all of that and plotting a course for the future, strategic planning and fundraising for it so that we’re at where we need to be for the future.

What do you plan on changing at the library?
Well, I wouldn’t be focusing on change so much as the future. What Davis has lacked for a while is a permanent librarian to lead the organization, and because of that certain things haven’t kept up to date with the digital network era. I’m going to be focusing a lot of attention on thinking about the future of scholarly information, books and journals, but also digital data and all sorts of things that the library should be helping students and researchers find and manage and use because our job is to provide you with access to knowledge. The focus will be on how to position the Davis library for that digital future and, as I said before, make it a real showcase for how you can do that but hopefully not deprecating any of the things that the library traditionally did and that people still rely on.

How do you plan on achieving your goals at the library?
Well, I have to get to know the organization first and see what they’ve already started to do and where we need to put more effort. I need to get to know the research programs at Davis and what the exciting new things are that are happening there that could use more support from the libraries, and I’d also like to get to know the student body better and what their issues and concerns are. So there’s going to be a period of time of just getting to know the place and what the best opportunities are for us to get started, and I’m going to be doing quite a bit of fundraising, I’d suspect as in the budget situation to help get the library up to speed in some of the new things that it needs to be doing.

I saw that you were the digital research manager at Harvard and you also worked at MIT; what were you doing when you were there?
So for pretty much my whole career as a librarian, I’ve been focused on technology, digital libraries and how to make the conversion into this new internet age and take advantage of the World Wide Web and things like that to help people get to information faster and more efficiently. I took that learning from Harvard, where we spent a lot of time digitizing collections and converting them from print to digital format to put it online, and then I went to MIT, which is a very, very technical-focused university, and we really focused on doing research — cutting edge research — in what libraries need to become. So, thinking about how to apply really cool technologies, like the semantic web, to libraries to help researchers and students in teaching and learning. So my focus at MIT was really on that research and building new systems and new platforms to get that library into the digital age, and I’m going to bring all that expertise with me to Davis .

So you’re going to be doing similar things in Davis as you were when you were at MIT and Harvard?
Some of what we did there translates, but you know, there are even more things I think that you could do at a big and very diverse institution like Davis, so I’ll be bringing what I learned from MIT and from Harvard to the UC environment.

Is there any way that the students can help you with what you hope to accomplish besides telling you their concerns?
Well, I’m sure there are, but I can’t be too specific right now because I’m not there yet, but I’m going to be looking at ways to get the students’ input in a variety of different ways. Like, there’s a library committee that I believe has student representation on it, but we may be having some open forums. I’m not sure yet, but looking for ways to both hear what the students need and also to get them to help us … students are some of the most creative and interesting people to have around in the library to help us think about how we can help them better, so I can’t be too specific with you right now, but I’m really looking forward to figuring that out.

Do you have any additional comments?
Well, all I can say is that I’m really looking forward to engaging with the students, and I really want to get to know the student body in some form and what your interests and concerns are right now, because I know that the students rely very much on the library and care a lot about  what happens to it. I’m very interested in how I can engage with the students to figure out where they want the library to go in the future and how we can help make that happen.

LILIANA NAVA OCHOA can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.


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