Visionary leadership among strengths of new dean of Vanderbilt libraries
Connie Vinita Dowell has track record of building community relationships
by Ann Marie Deer Owens
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Connie Vinita Dowell, a Vanderbilt University graduate with three decades of experience working in academic libraries, will begin her new position as the university’s first dean of libraries on March. 2. Dowell previously served as dean of the library and information access at San Diego State University.
Under Dowell’s leadership, Vanderbilt will initiate a comprehensive study of its libraries, with a view toward launching a major library-enhancement effort. The Heard Library system has a collection of more than three million volumes and an annual budget exceeding $20 million.
“Being asked to return to Vanderbilt in this capacity is truly a dream come true,” Dowell said. “Vanderbilt’s generosity to me as a student paved the way for my entire career.” Dowell has visited campus several times since last fall to meet informally with administrators and staff and begin the planning process for her new responsibilities.
Richard McCarty, Vanderbilt provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, said that Dowell’s superb talent for bringing together different groups across campus and the community for the shared purpose of learning makes her the ideal choice for Vanderbilt’s first dean of libraries. “Connie’s high energy, innovative thinking and her commitment to the broader Nashville community will be invaluable as we continue the work of transforming our libraries into vibrant hubs of scholarly activity.”
At San Diego State University Dowell was responsible for the overall guidance and leadership of the library, which has a collection of almost two million volumes.
“Dean Dowell is a visionary who transformed our library into an outstanding resource not only for our students, faculty and staff, but also for the community outside of the university,” said Gordon Lee, professor and chair of the Senate Library Committee at San Diego State University. “She is a hardworking person who brings optimism and excitement whenever she comes into a room.”
While Dowell was at San Diego State, the library co-sponsored a symposium with the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians called “Spirit of the Land.” More than 1,700 attended the two-day event that helped raise the library’s visibility in the community. “A key role for any academic library is to help its school develop a strong sense of community with those on campus as well those outside the institution,” Dowell said. “As generalists, librarians are uniquely suited to provide leadership in connecting the disciplines and bringing together people with shared interests.”
Prior to going to San Diego, Dowell was employed at Connecticut College for six years, starting as college librarian in 1993 and then dean. In 1998 she became vice president/CIO and oversaw the merger of libraries and computing. Connecticut’s faculty elected her to chair their academic strategic plan for the college.
Other institutions where Dowell has worked include the University of California at Santa Barbara, University of North Texas, St. Mary’s College of Maryland and Morgan State University. Her earliest library positions were as reference assistants at Vanderbilt’s Central and Science libraries.
Dowell earned her master’s in library science from Peabody College in 1979, the same year that Peabody merged with Vanderbilt. She had received her bachelor’s degree in 1977 from Middle Tennessee State University, where she double majored in mass communications and social work.
Dowell is a three-time recipient of the John Cotton Dana Public Relations Award from the American Library Association’s Library Administration and Management Association.
She also received the SirsiDynix-ALA-APA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Promoting Salaries and Status for Library Workers, 2006-2007.
Dowell has participated in numerous panels and made many presentations, including the Library Science Alumni Lecture at Peabody in October 2006. Her talk was titled “Libraries: Rapid Change, Enduring Values.”