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ODU Libraries' Fowler Has Taken an Unconventional Route

George FowlerGeorge Fowler

As an Army veteran from rural Wisconsin, George Fowler didn't expect that a career as a librarian would await him. He has his mother-in-law to thank for that.

"While I was getting out of the Army, I still didn't know what I wanted to do (even though it had been almost four years), so I asked my mother-in-law, who said she always thought of a librarian when she thought of me," Fowler said.

"I laughed, I cried, then I went to the University of North Texas to get my undergrad and Master's of Library Science."

Fowler's mother-in-law had good sense. Through stops at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Temple University in Philadelphia, to a position at the University of Arkansas, which was interrupted by a deployment to Iraq with the National Guard, Fowler has had his passion for university libraries continually reinforced.

"I am passionate about libraries, technology, higher education and leadership and want to see where these passions take me," Fowler said.

Those passions have taken him to the position of Interim University Librarian with Old Dominion University Libraries, effective when Virginia O'Herron retires from the position August 1 after 21 years at ODU. Fowler joined ODU in 2011 as associate university librarian for information resources and technology.

Though his appointment is for only six months, Fowler has been tasked with continuing an 18-month planning project that was started last summer. This summer, the Libraries will develop strategic goals and an operational plan based on the previous 12 months' work.

There was a consideration to wait until the permanent head librarian was named before starting the strategic goal development, but Fowler said the future of the libraries will be determined by many people, so who is leading the initiative shouldn't alter the outcome.

"It's very much a collaborative process. We are seeking input from faculty, from university administration, and from library staff, because the libraries are very much a shared resource for a university," Fowler said. "The involvement of so many stakeholders is critical because the concern I have is that it not be one person inflicting their vision on the libraries, whether it's me or another head librarian."

Three years ago, ODU's Perry Library underwent a dramatic transformation, with the creation of Learning Commons @ Perry Library, an innovative space for students to work, collaborate and innovate.

While Perry Library shot ahead of many peer university libraries in the service it offers to students with the construction of the Learning Commons, Fowler said it's important that ODU Libraries make strategic investments in research and support for faculty in the coming years. "That's where I'm really trying to focus my efforts."

Fowler has forged connections to faculty through the Ph.D. program in Higher Education, which he plans to complete in 2015, (when) and through projects such as "ODU Writes a Book," a one-of-a-kind effort held in February to write a book flashmob-style over 24 hours in the Learning Commons.

Fowler got the idea for the book after attending a workshop on digital humanities. It inspired him to come up with a way to get the ODU Libraries involved in the digital humanities - the intersection of technology and traditional humanities studies. His collaborator for the project was Dylan Wittkower, assistant professor of philosophy.

The collaborative effort will be available electronically by the end of summer, and in print by the end of 2014.

The project can mobilize the entire university, such as an open access Institutional Repository, which will make available and share publications by faculty and students across every discipline in a single, searchable source.

"All members of academia and the public have a shared interest in the open access to scholarly works of Old Dominion University faculty and students," Fowler said.

Fowler said he's honored by the opportunity to help guide the University Libraries, even for a short period, and looks forward to working with the campus community and library personnel in continuing to evolve the libraries to meet the future needs of ODU's faculty and students.