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The Source

Q&A with Mark Dahl offers vision for Watzek Library

August 10, 2012

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After several months as director of Aubrey R. Watzek Library, Mark Dahl has no doubt that he landed his dream job. The Source sat down with Dahl to learn more about choosing a career in library science, his vision for Watzek, and what he does in his spare time.

Can you share a bit about your background and how you came to choose a career in the field of library management?

I started working in academic libraries as a college sophomore at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1990. My first position was at the interlibrary loan department of their main library. Something about the vast amounts of esoteric knowledge buried in the library stacks fascinated me so much that it made me want to learn foreign languages and do research. This led to a year abroad in Bonn, Germany, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in European history. Following that, I switched gears into library and information science with a focus on web technologies, an exciting area in the late 1990s. As the years went by, I became more and more interested in management because I like thinking about big picture issues and find satisfaction in coordinating the work of talented colleagues.

What do you consider to be your area of expertise?

With a background in library systems, I have a strong knowledge of library operations and emerging technologies. Another strength is developing partnerships with faculty on scholarly projects, something I’ve done as part of Watzek’s digital initiatives program.

What’s in store for Watzek Library in near future, and what’s your long-term vision?

I love the Watzek Library building. It’s a stunning example of Pacific Northwest modern architecture, so I certainly won’t be advocating to change the structure much, though we may be able to make it even more effective as a spot for research, contemplation, and learning with some evolutionary changes. My long-term vision is that the library will contribute to the distinctiveness of the Lewis & Clark academic experience. I think we already do this with our collections and our support for strong student and faculty research. Going forward, I want us to develop new services and resources that fit with the college’s trajectory and take advantage of emerging opportunities in the broader information environment.

What impresses you most about L&C as a whole?

Both the students and the faculty take on really ambitious and interesting research projects. Whether their projects are print or digitally based (oftentimes both), supporting them makes for exciting and challenging work at Watzek.

What can you share about yourself that might surprise the L&C community?

I don’t think this would be a total surprise, but outdoor recreation has always been a huge priority for me. In the early 1990s, I moved out to Hood River, Oregon, so I could live out of my station wagon for a summer and windsurf. A four-year stint at Central Oregon Community College in Bend after grad school landed me in cross-country ski nirvana. Now my favorite pastime is trail running and Portland is an ideal location. Somehow I’ve been able to make this passion for the outdoors fit with my career, and I’m very lucky that it has worked out so well.

What did you aspire to be when you were a kid?

A carpenter or construction worker. My four-year-old son, Rowan, seems to share a similar aspiration at the moment, though it competes with astronaut and fireman.