Robert Seal, Loyola’s dean of libraries and a key figure in the creation of the Klarchek Information Commons, is the first Rambler to be named the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Academic/Research Librarian of the Year.
Since 1978, the ACRL award has been given to a library professional who has made a significant contribution to academic or research librarianship or development. ACRL is a division of the American Library Association (ALA), the oldest and largest library association in the world that includes more than 57,000 members, according to the ALA 2012-2013 annual report.
This year, Seal surpassed the other nominees and accepted the award at the ACRL conference in Portland, Oregon, on March 26. Seal, who has been the dean of Loyola’s libraries since 2005, explained that even though he knew he was nominated, he was speechless when he found out he won.
“I’m just extremely happy with the award and never dreamed I would get it,” said Seal. “It’s coming toward the end of my career and it’s really, really gratifying.”
Seal originally graduated with a bachelor’s degree in astronomy from Northwestern University. But after working in the university’s library for three years, his coworkers suggested he pursue a library career after graduation. Seal earned a master’s degree in library science from the University of Denver in 1972.
Associate Dean for Library Services and Collections Fred Barnhart, Assistant Dean for Technical Services and Planning Anne Reuland and Director of Administrative Services Jennifer Jacobs nominated Seal as a candidate.
“The three of us decided to nominate Bob because we all have benefited from his mentoring and his leadership, and this just seemed like a really great opportunity to recognize him for that,” said Barnhart, who has worked with Seal since 2007.
Barnhart also explained that Seal received close to 20 recommendation letters from other librarians.
“I got to read all the letters when we received them,” Barnhart said. “Just reading the letters, it was really gratifying to see what a huge impact he’s had on other people as well.”
To win the ACRL award, the candidate must show leadership in the academic library profession, according to Tyrone Cannon, chair of the ACRL committee that selects the winner.
“Bob has shown leadership in establishing learning commons,” said Cannon. “Under Bob’s leadership and direction, Loyola Chicago opened one of the [most] outstanding learning commons facilities in the country.”
Seal suggested Loyola’s learning commons, otherwise known as the IC, to the Rev. Michael J. Garanzini, S.J. According to Seal, the IC was built using the “three Cs philosophy”: collaboration, connectivity and community. The 7-year-old building is the winner of the 2010 First Place ASHRAE Society Level Technology Award and the 2007 LEAF Award for Best Use of Technology.
“Besides the [hiring of] staff, I’m most proud of the Information Commons because it’s been such a success, but I can’t take all the credit for it,” Seal said. “So many of the staff was involved in planning. They do the work on a daily basis.”
Cannon also attributes Seal’s win to his dedication to helping libraries around the world strengthen their collections. In 1990, Seal helped establish the U.S.-Mexico Interlibrary Loan Project, a program that encourages libraries to share materials. He’s also written more than 25 publications, several of them pertaining to resource sharing across national boundaries.
Katie Smith, a 20-year-old English major who uses the IC for group projects, is proud of the dean’s accomplishments.
“I think that it’s awesome. I know that when I talk to friends who go to other universities, they don’t have a place like the IC to go to,” said Smith. “I really don’t know much about [Seal] or the award, but I love the IC, and it’s always cool to have another faculty member with an award.”
Along with the recognition of librarian of the year, Seal also received a large certificate that he plans to hang in his Cudahy Library office, and a $5,000 award, which he hopes to put into savings for a retirement trip.
Seal is now tackling his next project: raising $1.5 million to renovate Loyola’s Special Collections located on the second floor of the Cudahy Library. The renovations, include a remodeled reading room for researchers and staff, an upgraded environmental system, increased wireless access and more shelf space for rare books.
“I’m really excited about it. It’s really a nice project—something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Seal said.