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20 Minutes with Hannelore Rader on her retirement

by UofL Today last modified Dec 10, 2009 11:49 AM

Hannelore Rader, the University of Louisville's current longest-serving dean, will retire Dec. 31 after having been at the university for 13 years.

As dean of University Libraries, Rader has overseen impressive changes in the library system at UofL, including, but by no means limited to

  • the libraries' entry into the Association of Research Libraries (members are the leading research libraries in North America)
  • the Ekstrom Library wing addition
  • renovation of the main floors of Ekstrom and Kornhauser libraries
  • acquisition of the libraries' two-millionth volume, "GOAT: Greatest of All Times, a Tribute to Muhammad Ali"
  • installation of a robotic retrieval system that keeps books that would have to be stored offsite easily at hand
  • extended-hour study area for students
  • development of the Learning Commons to provide better services for students.

An expert in information literacy and active member of several professional organizations, Rader also gave UofL worldwide exposure. She presented workshops nationally and internationally in such places as South Africa and China, and she had more than 100 publications related to information literacy and library administrative issues.

"Hannelore is one of the outstanding leaders - and one of the fascinating characters - at UofL. The growth of our research library and its expanded role as a center of student life are testaments to her remarkable vision and leadership," said UofL President James Ramsey. "On a personal note, I will miss her enthusiasm and her unique, engaging personality. I know many people across the university join me in wishing her nothing but the best."

Before coming to Louisville, Rader worked at libraries at the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and Cleveland State University.

The Berlin native's personal and professional lives have been much different than she might have imagined as a child growing up in war-torn Germany and later under Russian occupation in East Germany. Rader and her parents escaped and immigrated to the United States via Brazil in the 1950s.

UofL Today talked to her in late November about her time here and her plans for the future.

You announced last month that you're retiring Dec. 31. Why now?

I just really feel I've done everything I can. I've reached retirement age, actually quite a while ago. I've been in my profession for 41 years and I just feel that I need a different life. It's just the time.

You've made a lot of changes in University Libraries. You've overseen the expansion of Ekstrom Library, brought in the robotic retrieval system…

- and getting into ARL (Association of Research Libraries). That was the big thing.

…you brought more students in. That was always your goal.

3 million. And we started out with, I don't know, I was just doing a comparison, 650,000 student visits in a year. We had over 3 million this year.

So what accomplishment are you proudest of?

Well, I don't know proud, but I feel good about having made the libraries the place on campus. That's what I wanted. When I came here in January of '97, the place (Ekstrom Library) was dark, gray. Nobody was in here, really. My thought was, 'This has got to change.' And I now know that I've accomplished that.

I wanted the library to be the place for students so they could be here between classes to not only do their school work but to socialize.

And so the first thing I did was put in a coffee bar. Everybody thought I was pretty crazy. These old-fashioned people: 'Oh you can't have food and drink in the library.' I thought, 'We're in the 21st century. Let's think about that.' Now all of the libraries do it, but we were one of the first. To tell you the truth, these are some of the things you have to do. You have to make things attractive and sociable.

We brought in furniture that's more comfortable. I donated the carpet in the (browsing area). I just wanted it to be attractive, home-away-from-home - and I think we did that.

Then, of course, the other thing was to make ourselves high technology.

When I came there wasn't very much in the way of computers. We now have 600 computer stations and we're totally wireless. Students have access to over 70,000 e-journals. That's an enormous amount. We've had good people in technology working with us.

In spite of not having enough money, we also have grown the physical collection. We're now at 2.2 million volumes. We're still small compared to other ARL libraries, but we're okay. We have a book fund. I tried really hard and finally did get a development person. Cheryl (Crane) now is terrific and Traci (Simonsen) before that. They have done great things. We have a wonderful Library Friends group, Library Associates.

We also started a lot of partnerships. We have a couple of outreach librarians. One in health sciences works with the western part of the community and other parts of the city to get them medical information.

I've also worked on making the libraries more diverse. We have now, four or five tenured African American librarians. We had absolutely zero when I got here.

When you look around now in the library we have as many people of other backgrounds, cultural and otherwise, as the white population. I just love it. It's filled with different people, and that's the way the world should be.

I also got faculty status and tenure back for library faculty. That wasn't easy. That had all been taken away. So we worked on a lot of stuff here. It's been busy.

I think we've done a lot. I hope they can get somebody who can take UofL Libraries to the next level, whichever that will be in the 21st century. We are doing some of it, like the digitization. I've got two digital librarians now and we're doing quite a bit actually, but there's more even left to be done.

What drew you to UofL?

I came here particularly because of Dr. Shumaker. He was very visionary and I could feel that with him here we could do all these things - and we did. We became ARL because of him and his support.

What are your plans for retirement?

I think I want to get more involved with the Rotary Club and many other groups that I belong to that I haven't had time to work with, like the German-American Club and the opera. Louisville is fantastic. There's just a lot of stuff that I could never do because I'm always working. I want to write my book and I just want to have some relaxing time. I don't know how to relax and I want to try that.

You've talked a little bit over the years about your childhood growing up in Germany during World War II and living later under Russian occupation. I imagine you've heard a lot of comments to the effect that you should write a book. So you're going to do it?

I have to. There are a lot of people waiting for it. Right now I'm reading "A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City." I can only read a few pages at a time because it reminds me of my childhood. I grew up in that same area. She was older than I was, but, yes I have to write my story because it's a very different sort of story. I wasn't supposed to live to begin with. I was born weighing 2 pounds. I just feel I need to write a book with some of that stuff we did.

I still keep in touch with two childhood friends. I'm the only one (of the school class) that escaped East Germany with my parents.

My father was amazing. That's another great story I want to put in my book, too. When he was a young man he wanted to come to the United States, but then he was drafted into the German army. He was fighting with Rommel as a parachute jumper in North Africa. When he was taken prisoner of war by the Americans, he was really happy. They took him to Mississippi to pick cotton and Oregon to pick apples. He didn't want to come back, but he had to come back to Russian-occupied Germany. But he said when he came, 'I'm not staying. I'll be leaving. I'll escape.' A few years after that, he escaped. He went to a friend in Brazil. My mother and I, three years later, we followed, escaped, but it was very complicated. We did that.

As a young kid I had to live a double life. I couldn't tell anybody about that. I was an honors student in the East Berlin high school. They would have never taken me if they had known that we had these plans. I had to live by myself at the age of 13, rent a room from somebody in an apartment, and every weekend commute by train back home.

We were in an apartment house that got bombed. We had to leave Berlin and go a couple of hours north by train and that's where we were when the Russians came. My mother and I were hiding in the attic for a while, almost a year, because so many of the women got raped.

Reading that book, it's exactly how that was.

UofL won't be the same without you.

I've loved it here. I really have. You know, it's time for change. I've done enough. It's time for somebody new to come here and do things.

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