Josh Petrusa becomes the new dean of libraries. Photo by Jada Gangazha.
TESSA FACKRELL | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
After serving as interim dean of libraries since Dec. 2021, Josh Petrusa was named the official dean of libraries on Nov. 30, 2022. After a national search, the university — search committee led by Jordan College of the Arts dean, Lisa Brooks — concluded that the best candidate was already in-house.
Petrusa has worked as associate dean of libraries since 2010, working closely with the staff he now heads.
Before working at Butler, he attended DePaul University for his bachelor in media studies and completed his Master of Library and Information Science through the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Petrusa worked at his alma mater, DePaul, and at Norwich University in Vermont before making his way to Butler.
As dean of libraries, Petrusa works to manage all three of Butler’s libraries, offer support to students across colleges and ensure that the collections of rare books and records of Butler University remains accessible.
Moving forward, the new dean hopes to connect the libraries on campus to the students, even if that means taking a meeting with the notoriously irritable Irwin goose.
THE BUTLER COLLEGIAN: Can you tell me a little bit about what your position entails?
JOSH PETRUSA: The library’s dean reports to the provost, but the job is a little bit different in the sense that we don’t have our own curriculum … But all of our library faculty do work to support the curriculum of all of the other colleges and the core and everything else that happens at Butler. So, the dean is responsible for our library faculty. When we’re fully staffed there’s 12 of us, [in addition to] a lot of student employees that work here as well. We’re also in charge of spaces, so Irwin Library is one whole big building, right? [There’s also] the Science Library inside Levinson Family Hall, and the Education Research Library, which is on South Campus. So we have people, we have spaces and then we also have a ton of collections. So that’s tangible physical materials, books, DVDs, CDs, et cetera in each of these buildings, as well as managing all of the online subscriptions for content that we subscribe to from all kinds of vendors and publishers, but we also create our own content. We’ve had something called an institutional repository for 12 years now, which is where we publish … things that have been written by other students and faculty.
The dean of libraries does a lot in the sense that we have a big organization that does a lot of things, but we also try to be supportive of everybody on campus — so all the work that faculty do in their research, all the things that happen with information and research in the curriculum and majors. And then we’re also a space, so we’re a space for students to study even if you do nothing else with us ever. So, it is a big job in the sense that there’s a lot that we have to cover, but I also have great people, and they do a lot of the work.
TBC: What drew you to Butler 13 years ago?
JP: I started here in October of 2010, so that is 13 years … My first job out of grad school was in a small private military college in Vermont. I worked at a very interesting institution called Norwich University in rural Vermont for about four years coming out of grad school. It was a great experience because it was a smaller institution than where I worked before, so there was a lot of face-to-face work with students. It’s a very old institution, so [there were] interesting, tangible collections and history and photographs and things like that. But they were also at the forefront of online graduate programs at that time, so I got a great amount of experience supporting online students, adults returning to college after a while — and this is in the early 2000s, so doing research support for both face-to-face students on campus as well as distance graduate students gave me a lot of experience doing a lot of things.
I’m from the Chicago area originally, and I noticed the job for an associate dean position at Butler, and I had known a couple classmates from high school that had gone here, but [I] never really visited and had only maybe ever driven through Indianapolis on I-65 going from Chicago to somewhere else. But the job of associate dean intrigued me, and the location close to family in Chicago was interesting. And then when I came here for my interview and learned about what the library had been doing, and where it was hoping to go, it seemed like a good fit for me that it was some of the things I’ve been doing in my other job, some new challenges, but also that the university was at a point to do some new things, and also the libraries were as well. So it was the right location, and it was the right sort of fit for what I had been doing and what I was hoping to grow into.
TBC: What leadership qualities do you possess that you take pride in?
JP: I think the main thing leadership-wise that I have learned here is change management. Libraries, academic libraries in particular, have had a lot of changes over the last 20 years … Change is difficult for people sometimes, especially if you’ve maybe been in one position, doing things very similarly for a long time. I feel like we have done pretty well here navigating changes, but my role as the dean moving forward will be to continue to do that — to make sure we’re listening to students listening to faculty finding out what they need from us. We definitely see ourselves as a service profession, like we are here to help people do these things, so that they don’t have to be an expert in every single thing. We can help with some of that and other people bring their expertise to things. So I think a leadership quality is making sure we’re communicating about what’s going on, but also helping people navigate changes. Whether that’s in how libraries work, or students who are coming to college [where] the resources are different, the environments are different and the expectations are different. We can be a part of all of those changes that happen.
TBC: Speaking of changes, are there any big goals that you want to accomplish within the library?
JP: We haven’t had a strategic plan for a couple of years. We’re coming out of a sort of leadership transition and now that I’m in the dean position, we’ll be working to figure out what it is that we’re doing next. What I’m hoping that we do is to really start looking more to the students for what we need to be doing for all of you — which is not to say that we haven’t been in the past, but I feel like that’s a connection that I want to make stronger. I want to remember that [Irwin] is a place that students are using and studying in and the science library too, when all of us that are full time employees who are nine to five-ish go home, this is still part of your home — what else can we do with our spaces that helps make this a good campus environment for you all? Can we do more programming? Can we do more events? I’m well aware that the geese that nest on our building have been adopted by students for humorous purposes. I am happy to continue that conversation with the geese if I can ever get a meeting with the geese. I don’t know if that’ll happen but, things like that I mean, I want us to be a part of the campus culture. There’s aspects of our work in academic libraries that we sometimes like to be invisible. We don’t want you all to have a problem accessing research articles or ebooks; we hope it just happens very seamlessly, so sometimes we’re fine staying in the background. But then on other levels, I want us to do more to be a part of the student experience of campus.
TBC: Are there any challenges that you hope to address?
JP: I think we have a real growth opportunity coming up with what is happening with our department. That is our special collections, rare books and university archives. So our librarian who ran that area for the last 22 years, Sally Childs-Helton, retired as of December. Her replacement will be starting in March, and this is an area that’s of real importance for us because this is us preserving the university’s history, the documents, photographs, all kinds of things that are telling the story of Butler. We have been trying to collect and preserve and also digitize for the last few years, and we just want to do more of that. The Sigma Gamma Rho centennial celebration that happened last year; Sally was a big part of getting that started, collecting documents and artifacts, and being a part of putting together digital exhibits. So in libraries, yes, we’re a part of getting you the books you need for your courses, or articles you need to do your research, but we also have this job in preservation and access, so the special things that we have that nobody else has tell the story of Butler University and the students and its history. I’m hoping that what we do more of, moving forward, is collecting things from campus that help tell the story of all the diverse student experiences that are happening on campus right now so that a researcher 40, 50 years from now has resources that will answer the question of what was going on at Butler in 2022-23. We want to keep preserving and digitizing our past, but we also want to keep documenting what is happening now. And so that’s a good opportunity for us to grow into as we have one new person starting and hopefully we’re going to fill in another few vacancies in that area.
TBC: What sets Butler libraries apart from other libraries?
JP: What sets Butler apart? … We have collections that nobody else has, and those are our special things. Whether those are pertained to the university history, or a book from 400 or 500 years ago where there’s only five or six copies left in the world — we have some of that too. But we also just have … a set of people who work here who care about the mission of the university and the success of the students. So I don’t know if that sets us apart from everybody else, but I feel like it’s something that we do well. We’re not the size of [Indiana University] Bloomington or Purdue or Notre Dame, but we are commensurate with Butler size and having a good collection, the budget that supports online resources that support all the needs of the six colleges. And we have connections that our librarians make with libraries around the state and around the region, to get things that students or faculty need access to that we don’t have. So I guess what sets us apart also, the thing I probably should have said first is this building [Irwin Library] is also very special, designed by Minoru Yamasaki [and] first opened in 1963. Yamasaki was also the architect of the former World Trade Center towers in New York City, a lot of other important buildings from the mid 20th century. So another area for me in the future is to really make sure we’re investing in this building and its architectural heritage. It’s a little interesting to work with sometimes, but it’s very distinctive, and is important for architectural history as well. So there’s lots of great people, and we do our best to connect students and faculty to resources and we have a really great building that a lot of us work in. And the geese, although I shouldn’t even mention them.
TBC: How do you plan to continue engaging and interacting with the rest of campus, colleges and students?
JP: Yeah, so that’s, engagement with the colleges, we have a liaison program. So we have all of our library faculty are the liaison, which means the contact for either a whole college or a few departments … So like I said earlier, this is a part of that connection that I want to rebuild with Butler students. I feel like a long time ago, the position of the library on campus was “We are the library. We are important. Of course, you must come to us.” And I think that’s different these days, and I want this to be a conversation about what students need from us. So we have a traditional liaison program. Students who are majors in the Lacy School of Business know that Teresa Williams is their librarian, and they make appointments with her to do all kinds of research consultations. We try to build connections with students in First Year Seminar work. I always end up making connections with First Year Seminar students who come back to me for the next few years like “Hey, you helped me with this one thing can you help me with this?” So we try to make those little connections, but I am interested in us doing more. And I don’t know whether that’s social media engagement or different kinds of programming or different kinds of outreach. I am open to that. What I’m interested in doing moving forward is solidifying what we’re dealing with our collections, especially our Special Collections, but also trying to do more with student outreach. So I think it’s a cliche that it’s like “My door is open. If you see me on campus, come talk to me,” but it’s true, like I’m here because I care about what it is that a library contributes to a university, and students are a huge part of the university. So whatever you all are needing from us, I am ready to hear those things.
TBC: What is your favorite book in the entire library?
JP: I will go with Generation X by Douglas Copeland. It’s a novel from the early 90’s. I read it when I was in college and loved it, and I’m pretty sure we have it on the shelf.
TBC: Is there anything else that you want to say?
JP: I feel like we have … done a decent job with the connections that we have, and I’m looking to build some new connections. [That could be] getting more input from students about our spaces and what they’re needing from them. It seems like the 24/7 access to the Science Library has gone well, it seems like the self checkout machine at the Education Research Library has gone well. Do we need different furniture in Irwin; what is it that we like about it? I’m interested in what else we can be doing for campus. I know what our strengths are, I know what we contribute, and I know the little ways that we do things that are hopefully invisible, but I’m looking for us to be a little bit more visible in the right ways.