University libraries welcome new dean as services operate online-only

German was previously dean of libraries at the University of Houston, managing the system during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Courtesy of Lisa German.

Courtesy of Lisa German.

Niamh Coomey

The University of Minnesota welcomed a new dean of libraries to campus last month. Colleagues say she is well-equipped for the tumultuous times at hand.

Lisa German is stepping into the role after the previous Dean Wendy Pradt Lougee held the position for nearly two decades. German, who was previously the dean of libraries at the University of Houston, has been learning the ropes at the University over the past several weeks — a time of confusion and rapid changes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is not her first time leading through a crisis, however, pointed out the University’s associate librarian for data and technology, John Butler. German managed the University of Houston’s libraries during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

“I think she’s bringing a calm to the current situation, an empathy for what people are going through and some guidance as to how we proceed through emergency situations,” Butler said.

The University’s libraries closed March 17, and are offering a 24/7 chat service with library staff, among other online alternatives. 

“We’re just trying to provide as many services as we possibly can to students and faculty,” German said. “And I think … people are adjusting well, and there’s a real can-do attitude.”

German and the head of human resources have been holding office hours with library staff every day as well as sending out a daily note with new information or words of encouragement.

“You learn that one of the most important things in this kind of situation is to make sure that people feel connected,” she said.

Another advantage of bringing German onto the team is her years of experience collaborating with the network of other research libraries, who often work together on projects, Butler said. 

“I don’t think she’ll be the new kid on the block in terms of those discussions,” he said.

Tom Teper, who worked with German in the library system at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, said her new workplace is lucky to have her. Teper encourages individuals to reach out to her. 

“I actually found her to be a very engaged and active mentor for newer … faculty within the organization, myself included at the time,” Teper said. 

German comes from a background of experience with both the fiscal and personnel side of library management as well as being engaged with research, Teper said.

Although COVID-19 is a very different situation from her experience with Hurricane Harvey, having good communication in place is important, German emphasized. 

This is especially true when in-person nuance and connection is not possible, she said.

“It’s even more important that you have a clear message, that you’re compassionate, that you can make informed decisions and that you have empathy towards all the folks who are depending on you,” German said.

Butler said German has been very understanding of difficult situations that staff are currently facing.

“I think Lisa has very clearly put forth a message: We do the best we can, and we need to support our staff in these circumstances.”