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SILS dean returns to faculty

Gary Marchionini’s 13 years at the helm of the School of Information and Library Science brought record growth.

Gary Marchionini stands behind podium in commencement robes with the University logo in front of him.
SILS Dean Gary Marchionini speaks at the 2021 Spring Commencement ceremonies. Marchionini is stepping down his post at the end of the calendar year. (Jon Gardiner/University Communications)

Gary Marchionini didn’t set out to be dean when he first joined the School of Information and Library Science (SILS) as the Cary C. Boshamer Professor in 1998. Writing and teaching were the primary passions of this renowned expert in human-information interaction, digital libraries and interface design and testing.

Selected as SILS dean in 2010, Marchionini built SILS into one of the top information and library science programs in the world, with record enrollments and growth in faculty and research. After 13 years as dean, Marchionini announced in 2023 that he would step down at the end of the year and return to the SILS faculty.

“Over the past almost 14 years, Gary has led SILS through a multitude of events from economic hardships, program reviews, creation of new programs, celebrating 90 years of SILS, to COVID-19.  Through all the events big and small, Gary has led SILS with diligence, caring, patience and positivity,” said Susan Sylvester, executive assistant to the dean.

As dean, he understood the imperative of preparing students for the challenges of the digital age and championed interdisciplinary programs that bridge the gap between information science and other disciplines.

“Gary’s actions always reflected his commitment to the success of students, staff and faculty, because he genuinely cares and because he knows that the reputation of SILS is reflected in them,” said David Singleton, chair of the SILS Board of Visitors. “His focus on partnerships, research grants and contracts allowed SILS to grow during a time of limited resources.”

Commitment to research ‘tapestry’

During his tenure, Marchionini stabilized, transformed and expanded SILS, developing new programs and certificates to meet the demands of the marketplace, Singleton said, pointing particularly to the Center for Information, Technology and Public Life, “the first center of its kind to focus on the intersections of information, technology and how we live our lives.”

Marchionini’s unwavering commitment to research excellence propelled SILS to new heights. His staunch support for faculty initiatives and cutting-edge projects cultivated a dynamic research community within SILS. By easing collaboration and providing resources, Marchionini strategically positioned SILS as a focal point for pioneering research.

Assistant professor Maggie Melo remembered being inspired by Marchionini to join SILS. “He described the faculty as a ‘tapestry,’ highlighting the diversity and uniqueness that each member brings to the school,” she said. Faculty research was “distinct and varied, contributing to the school’s strength and vitality. Some contributions serve as the structural foundation, while others add vibrancy and beauty to the overall mosaic.”

Marchionini promoted diversity initiatives, creating an inclusive atmosphere that welcomes individuals from all backgrounds and shaping SILS into an institution that mirrors the global nature of the information profession.

“As a dean, Gary worked to build a cohesive and interdisciplinary space. One of the things I valued most was his ability to see, understand and value how scholars from vastly different disciplines approached their study of information,” said assistant professor Francesca Tripodi.

What comes next

As Marchionini returns to the SILS faculty for the next part of his journey, his legacy as an academic dean will be remembered as a period of profound positive transformation for SILS.

“No dean’s successes are entirely their own. They come about through the efforts and commitments they call upon others to make,” said Duncan Smith, a member of the SILS Board of Visitors. “One of my continuing responsibilities to SILS is to support and work to ensure the success of its leader. I look forward to doing the same with individuals who next sit in that chair in Manning Hall.”