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Message from the Dean: Facing Unexpected Disappointments

eNews Edition: Spring 2021

The beloved British writer C.S. Lewis once said, “We must stop regarding unpleasant or unexpected things as interruptions of real life. The truth is that interruptions are real life.” Most of us wish that we could avoid negative things, like a pandemic, but the reality is that we often learn more from disappointments than from “smooth sailing.”

When I was in college, I once wrote a paper that received an unexpected grade, and not in a good way. At first I was disappointed and upset, since I thought that I had written a witty, elegant essay, but after reading the comments it soon became obvious to me that the professor thought otherwise. When I re-read the paper, I realized that my instructor was right. The paper didn’t have any obvious flaws on the surface, but I knew that my rhetoric had been less than precise and that I had not thought deeply enough about the topic. This was an unexpected disappointment, and a bit painful, but I had learned my lesson and vowed to do a better job the next time. I gained wisdom from this experience, and became a better writer through my mistakes and through my unexpected disappointment.

During the past year of COVID-19, which to most of us was completely unexpected, we have all experienced our share of disappointments. Some of these disappointments were relatively small, like the temporary shortage of toilet paper. Some were catastrophic, like restaurants going out of business or families experiencing major health concerns. At the University Library, planned renovations were put on hold, budgets were “right-sized,” projects were interrupted, and students could not come to the Library to study, to name just a few of the challenges we faced. In this edition of the Library eNews, you will learn about how CSUN Library staff and faculty responded to the closing of the Library building and other pandemic-related issues. We learned that sometimes there are silver linings to a world gone wrong, and we discovered that the people and systems that make up the CSUN University Library are far more robust than we had previously realized.

Dean Mark Stover
Oviatt Library Dean Mark Stover

I hope that you get a chance to read all of the articles in this edition of the Library eNews. Library Associate Dean Kathy Dabbour’s article on the Library’s response to the pandemic demonstrates how Library staff and faculty worked tirelessly, both behind the scenes and in the public eye, to provide almost all the services and resources that CSUN students and faculty are accustomed to receiving in “normal” times. Kathy also interviewed three of the Library’s archivists (Julieta Garcia, April Feldman, and Mallory Furnier) and then wrote an article on the Library’s first fully-virtual exhibition. This exhibit delved deeply into several Hollywood films that used Los Angeles as a central theme or setting, and the Library partnered with students and faculty in the English department to create original content related to the films.

In another Spring 2021 eNews article, Gina Flores, Special Assistant to the Dean, has written a fascinating profile of Keith Rice, Curator and Historian at the Library’s Tom & Ethel Bradley Center. Keith’s journey from the military to the music industry to academia sheds light on his work with the Bradley Center, which includes producing original film documentaries, creating oral histories, and preserving historical photographs of the Black community in Los Angeles.

Elizabeth Altman, Library Web Services Coordinator, writes about the most recent upgrades to the Library’s Automated Storage and Retrieval System (AS/RS), the first of its kind in the world. While the pandemic forced the closure of the University Library, which disappointed faculty, staff, and students all across campus, an unexpected benefit turned out to be an opportunity to finish a major renovation project on the AS/RS. Elizabeth’s article describes the importance of this upgrade and some of the difficulties that we confronted in completing it.

In our final article in this edition of the Library eNews, Elizabeth Altman writes about Library donors William and Dorothy Rees, and the impetus for their generous donations to CSUN. The story of how they came to develop a philanthropic relationship with CSUN to honor their late son Teddy touched me deeply. Sometimes tragedy allows us to demonstrate love, remembrance, and legacy in unexpected ways.

This past year, in a world seemingly turned upside down, many of us found ways to cope and sometimes even to thrive. The staff and faculty at CSUN’s University Library responded with courage, strength, and ingenuity. While we hope to return to a semblance of normality in the near future, we in the Library can look back with a sense of pride at how much we accomplished, how much we learned, and our refusal to give up in what first appeared to be a desperate and hopeless situation. COVID-19 was an unexpected disappointment, but the uncertainty and anxiety that we all experienced at first did not end up defining us as individuals or as an organization. On the contrary, it was our resilience and creativity that stood out as the essential features of the CSUN University Library over the past year as we sought to meet the needs of students, faculty, and staff despite the challenges of living through a pandemic.