When John Danneker took over as director of Eckles Library nearly a decade ago, the three-story library at the top of the Mount Vernon Campus hillside had few programs that tried to draw students from Foggy Bottom.
Since 2005, he has turned Eckles into a coveted study spot during midterms and finals, a haunted house on Halloween and a year-round showcase for student art.
Danneker will leave GW next week to lead the undergraduate library at the University of Washington in Seattle. Vern staffers and professors said during his tenure, Danneker has helped make the campus a destination for students.
“I’ve been lucky because personally, for me, I’ve been involved in many campus decisions,” Danneker said. “Just having a voice within it has been great.”
As the campus’ population has nearly doubled with the construction of West Hall, and more students have flocked to the campus to take the required University Writing course, Danneker has launched programs like free tutoring, foreign language cafes and research opportunities.
He said working with University Writing professors and student organizations has helped him learn what students look for in a library, and in turn, he was able to make changes that fit their needs. When students pushed for longer hours and activities to relieve stress during finals, he organized midnight snacks and late-night movies.
“When I first got in, there was really quiet foot traffic that has been increased. There’s greater student interest,” he said. “Obviously, over time, I’ve been more active in teaching with UW writing courses, which has given students more reason to be using our facilities.”
Before earning a master’s degree in library sciences, Danneker studied music history at Bucknell University. While earning his master’s at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he worked as a library assistant at the university’s Mills Music Library.
He oversaw Eckles’ circulation desk for about four years before taking the helm in 2005.
Junior Elisa Egonu started working with Danneker the second week of her freshman year, and said he played a important role in creating a sense of community on the Vern. Egonu said Danneker was like an uncle or grandfather, going out of his way to make sure students knew he was there to support them.
“He’s just always open to having Eckles people at his place for something. His first priority is the students,” she said.
Michael Svoboda, a University Writing professor who has taught classes with Danneker, said one of his greatest contributions was his dedication to making Eckles a comfortable resource for all students.
He remembers that Danneker regularly proved he was loyal to student employees, taking their shifts during snowstorms or working late into the night so students could use the facility.
“He was always there. When a particular crisis arose, like the big snowstorm that shut down the city, he was one of the only ones who actually came in, just to make sure the library was available,” Svoboda said.
Sarah Richter, a student who has worked at Eckles for the last two and a half years, said Danneker would invite student staffers to take a break from campus life over home-cooked meals. In lieu of regular staff trainings, Danneker would develop camaraderie through scavenger hunts in the library and visits to the National Sculpture Garden.
She said he also helped her with conduct research and apply for internships.
“He didn’t have to go out of his way, but he did cheesy things and would go out of his way to make sure everyone was satisfied,” Richter said.
Danneker said working with students competing for the Eckles Prize for Freshman Research Excellence every year was one of his favorite parts of the job.
“It allows freshmen to share what they feel is significant and asks them to reflect on the process,” he said. “[It] engages them with the product and enables them to see the whole academic process, so that’s a really great program.”
University Librarian Geneva Henry said in an email that Danneker’s work has left Eckles well-equipped to move forward. She declined to answer questions about how the library would search for its next director.
When she arrived at GW last year, Henry said she hoped to open multimedia labs in Eckles and offer training sessions for students and faculty.