Long-serving librarian to step down

Jack Siggins will move out of his second floor office in Gelman Library just in time to miss its demolition.

By the time the longtime University librarian steps down Aug. 31, the library’s second floor will be gutted – the start of the $16 million renovation project Siggins spearheaded.

Siggins, 73, admitted the timing of his resignation – announced June 7 – may seem “awkward,” with construction starting in just one month. But the advisory role he will assume in the provost’s office through next winter will cut out the more time-consuming parts of his job, like fundraising and staff management, carving out more time for the renovations.

“All I have to do is focus on the construction and getting this project finished, so that’s what I’m going to do,” Siggins said.

The redesign will transform the first and second floors of Gelman, with construction starting this month, University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said. After the project is completed in 2014, about 400 more students will be able to study in the library, Provost Steven Lerman told the Faculty Senate at its meeting last month.

The library’s entrance will also move from H Street to Kogan Plaza, part of a design plan to make the 39-year-old structure appear more welcoming.

This summer, Siggins said he will focus on completing design details and emptying the second floor, now home to administrative offices.

After renovations, that floor’s administrative space will shrink as most of the office’s records go digital.

Renovations come on the heels of extensive student advocacy to remodel the library, following complaints of crammed facilities and a dungeon-like interior that have dogged Gelman’s reputation.

Siggins said former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg projected these changes to libraries when he hired Siggins 17 years ago, particularly with GW’s limited campus space.

“Steve said to me, ‘You know, we can’t build Yale here, in terms of the library.’ Yale has 10 million volumes and at that time we had a million and a half,” Siggins said.

The librarian has headed up projects including the National Churchill Library and Center, an $8 million collection of research materials dedicated to former British prime minister Winston Churchill, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Labor History Research Center, archives that recount decades of labor history, along with the Global Resources Center, a headquarters for political and economic records spanning the globe.

Aria Varasteh, Gelman’s former student liaison who graduated in May, said Siggins has prioritized student feedback in the design process. He recalled a town hall meeting earlier this spring where Siggins took careful notes of students’ comments.

“He’s not the kind of person who sits there and goes away. He gets on the ground floor of it, and he actually cares,” Varasteh said.

After retiring, Siggins said he is looking forward to finishing long-delayed research projects, including a book about organizational development he will co-author with his wife.

“I’m also going to spend some time sitting on the beach drinking beer. I’m not going just sit inside and work all the time,” Siggins said.

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

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