Meet the Dean: Shan Sutton

Meet the Dean: Shan Sutton

By University Communications
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Shan Sutton, dean of University Libraries.
Shan Sutton, dean of University Libraries.

They're experts in their fields and essential campus leaders. But how well do you know deans across the University?

This occasional Lo Que Pasa series introduces deans across campus and provides insight into their motivations, challenges and reasons for choosing to work at the UA.

This week, meet the dean of University Libraries. Shan (pronounced like "Sean") Sutton graduated from the UA with a master's in library science. Before he was became dean in February, he was vice dean for University Libraries. Prior to coming to the UA, Sutton served as associate university librarian for research and scholarly communication at Oregon State University and as associate dean and head of special collections at the University of the Pacific.

Part of his vision for University Libraries is to become an essential partner in the research enterprise at the UA.


Name: Shan Sutton
College: University Libraries
Dean since: Feb. 27
Fun fact: He has been to more than 80 Grateful Dead shows and wrote his thesis on the Deadhead community.

Why did you choose to join the UA?

I had a great experience as a graduate student at UA in the mid-'90s, and fell in love with Tucson at the same time. Although my career path took me to other institutions, including Oregon State University and the University of the Pacific, I maintained my connection to the UA and my game plan was always geared toward returning here. In addition to my personal links, I believe the UA offers a powerful combination of valuing undergraduate success while engaging in word-class faculty research, and I'm happy to be a part of it.

What do you enjoy most about serving as dean of University Libraries?

Providing advocacy and support to our librarians and staff as they develop new ways for University Libraries to increase our impact on student learning and faculty research. We are a very forward-looking organization that pushes boundaries, and I relish the opportunity to provide leadership in that kind of environment. I would also add that attending commencement is especially rewarding when I think about how the libraries played a role, and often a vital one, in the success of every graduating student.

What is your leadership philosophy?

Everything starts with integrity and authenticity. If you lead with integrity and authenticity, you'll have a reasonable chance of success with whatever management techniques you employ.

I also seek to find the right balance in facilitating collaboration as one of our core organizational values, while retaining a fundamental commitment to individual accountability. Finally, it's important to not overly complicate things. In a complex environment like a research library, it can be easy to overengineer processes, but the best solution is often the simplest one.

What does the future hold for University Libraries?

The future of University Libraries is largely in our own hands, because we seek to transcend traditional library models. I am especially excited about how we can more fully integrate our expertise and services into faculty research workflows to become essential partners in the research enterprise at the UA. I also believe our long-term future will be based on repositioning the libraries as a disseminator of research outputs (articles, data sets, digital objects, etc.) rather than providing access to research outputs that are packaged and sold by external entities such as commercial publishers.

How do you spend your free time?

The traditional pastimes of rock 'n' roll and sports. I’ve attended several hundred concerts across a range of genres, including 83 Grateful Dead shows, and I'm always looking for a new concert to catch. I'm also deeply into UA basketball, Arsenal Football Club, and as a native Ohioan, Ohio State Buckeye football (unless they were playing at Arizona Stadium, of course).

What first started your interest in working in library science?

I was fortunate to have a mom who regularly took me to our tiny public library, which gave me an early understanding of the power of libraries. That seed eventually blossomed when, after getting a master's degree in humanities, I turned to a master's degree in library science to establish a career path in higher education. I wanted to come to work each day in an environment dedicated to knowledge and learning, and it has worked out quite well.

Since you completed your library science master's degree at the UA, how has University Libraries changed?

When I was a graduate student in the mid-'90s, technology's widespread influence on how academic libraries operate was just starting to build momentum. Now, the libraries are a technological hub for campus, providing broad access to an array of services, from a virtual reality studio to 3-D printing to an extensive technology lending program. On a related note, we are evolving from a place where people access knowledge (traditionally through books and journals) to a place where people create knowledge, often collaboratively with deep technological engagement.

You have a background in scholarly communication. How have open access policies and digital publishing changed modern libraries and scholarly endeavors?

It's clear to me that the way to create an optimal global environment for knowledge creation and discovery is by implementing open access models that remove economic barriers to information and allow for liberal reuses of information. Academic libraries have been leaders in this space, often through facilitating university open access policies, but we need to push the dial much further. Twentieth century publishing models still largely persist, and place libraries and universities at the economic mercy of commercial publishers to secure access to the very knowledge we create. We must find ways to leverage technology in ways that dislodge these legacy models and shift control of scholarly communication back to the academy. Libraries are uniquely positioned to provide leadership in this area, but we need to better engage researchers to build the collective will to do so. Trust me – we're working on it. 

What is one thing most people don't know about you?

Before entering the library profession, I was a scholar of the Grateful Dead. My master's thesis in humanities – which offered an interdisciplinary study of the Deadhead community and Grateful Dead concert experience in a cross-cultural framework focused on ritual behaviors and mystical experiences – was published in the book "Deadhead Social Science: You Ain’t Gonna Learn What You Don’t Want to Know." I also contend that the roots of open access can be found in the Grateful Dead tape trading culture.

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