Shirley Bower sees more change in store for RIT’s library

Director of RIT Libraries retires after 30 years with The Wallace Center

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Shirley Bower, director of RIT Libraries, will retire this summer after 30 years with The Wallace Center.

For 30 years, Shirley Bower has been a familiar face at RIT’s ever-changing Wallace Center.

In the wake of the digital revolution, the director of RIT Libraries helped The Wallace Center transform from a space that put books first, to one that places an emphasis on people. She will retire this summer, but not before helping to jumpstart one of The Wallace Center’s largest renovations to-date.

“The prophesy that libraries will disappear is not coming true,” said Bower. “Libraries across the world are evolving to become more robust academic centers—and at RIT we are working to lead that change.”

Bower began at RIT in the mid-1980s as the computing and information sciences reference librarian. Having previously worked as a systems librarian at the University of Minnesota and as a computer programmer, she was excited to find a position that blended her areas of expertise. In the role, she worked with students and purchased scholarly materials on computing.

“When I first came here, everything was print-based,” Bower said. “There used to be a line of students outside my door, looking for help to access books and journals.”

Bower remarks how exciting it was to work in The Wallace Center at a time when computing technology was becoming more relevant in libraries. She remembers when the center became one of the first libraries in the Rochester area to introduce information resources on CD-ROM.

Bower notes what the evolution of technology has meant for faculty and students conducting research. She remarks how the Internet and the explosion of digital publishing has allowed the center to provide resources to students at home, on break, at their cooperative education experiences and across RIT’s global campuses.

“People used to have to come here to use library resources,” said Bower. “Now it’s about delivering vetted information to people where they need it and when they want it.”

Today, nearly 3,500 students and faculty come to The Wallace Center every day. Although many resources are now available digitally, Bower said that print has certainly not gone away. The Wallace Center holds many special collections and unique resources that can’t be duplicated on the web.

After working with almost every department in the library, Bower took on the role of director of RIT Libraries in 2010. She has made it one of her goals to transform the traditional looking library into one that reflects the changing ways that students learn and work.

“During the time that Shirley has been with us, The Wallace Center has gained greater visibility, recognition and support,” Lynn Wild, associate provost for Faculty Development and The Wallace Center. “We can all be proud of what TWC has accomplished as a result of Shirley’s leadership.”

Just a few notable highlights during Bower’s tenure include: contributions to strategy planning that emphasize the center’s focus on student and faculty success; development and implementation of two strategic plans; advancement of the University Press; reassessment of staff openings and funding to redefine positions that better meet current and future needs of the center; renovation of the first floor and enhancements on upper floors; implementation of a new budget model that moved away from the traditional library allocation model; collaboration with the Writing Commons and Digital Humanities initiatives; establishing 24/5 building access; and representing the center across RIT and statewide.

Most recently, she helped to make the renovation and expansion of The Wallace Center a capital campaign priority at RIT. She sees the center as the premier academic center for RIT’s community to collaborate outside the classroom.

“We have moved the center into the digital arena, in terms of the delivery of scholarly resources,” Bower said. “Now we need to make the space meet the needs of today’s students.”

After parting from RIT this summer, Bower plans to spend more time outdoors and visit with her two daughters. She will also volunteer more at local nursing homes with her trained therapy dog Quincy.

“I feel like someone who is about to graduate college, because the opportunities available to me are endless,” said Bower. “Plus, I have the added benefit of not having to establish myself financially.”

To the students, faculty and staff at RIT, she leaves with this advice: “Become a lifelong learner and enjoy every minute that you are here.”