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‘There’s almost no boundaries’: USF Library dean finds ways to combine passion and work

Dean of USF Libraries Todd Chavez plans to use his two-year extension, as well as USF’s new AAU status, to expand the library’s access. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/TODD CHAVEZ

As Dean of USF Library Todd Chavez and his wife embarked into the Gulf of Mexico on his kayak, he could not have imagined how a seemingly insignificant summer morning was going to change his life. 

“I get a text that says I have to be on a phone call in 30 minutes,” he said. “So I stayed out there and got on the call, and it was President [Rhea] Law telling us we had been accepted into the AAU. I almost dropped my phone in the water. That moment felt like such a long time coming.” 

The Association of American Universities (AAU) is an association of leading research universities distinguished by the quality of their academic research. 

USF’s acceptance into the AAU may be just a passing thought to most students. But for Chavez, it represented something that he and his colleagues had been fighting for since he arrived at USF 44 years ago: recognition. 

Related: USF joins the Association of American Universities 

In the position of dean, Chavez is required to provide leadership and direction for all aspects of the library, including budgeting, personnel planning and developing new guidelines for operations. 

While Chavez came to USF as an undergrad, his path to the library was not immediately clear. 

Graduating in 1984 with a bachelor’s in anthropology and archeology, he started his career at Barnes & Noble. It was a place that gave him an unlikely connection to one of his future colleagues, Director of Library Initiatives Terry Hutchings. 

While the two never crossed paths during their respective times at the bookstore, it gave them an unexpected conversation starter when Hutchings came to USF.

“It’s certainly a strange, small world,” Hutchings said. “We also both have a background in anthropology, so that makes for easy conversation. But he’s just such an approachable person, his door is always open. Anything that you want to run by him, he’s there to listen.” 

Chavez realized he had an unfulfilled desire to continue his studies in the archeology field, and returned to USF to pursue a master’s degree. Knowing that USF staff were able to take courses at no cost, he applied to be a night weekend supervisor at the Library Services desk. It was there that he decided to make the shift from studying archeology to library information science. 

“I came back to do work in archeology because that’s what I love to do,” he said. “But when I took the job at the Services desk, I realized that librarianship was incredibly interesting, and represented for me an unknown desire, something I didn’t even realize I wanted to do.”

“Working in this space, there’s almost no boundaries on what you can pursue and learn and discover. So, it was an incredible place for me to come into.” 

Chavez may have chosen to make the switch to work within the library, but his love of archeology has remained present throughout his career. 

Hanging in his office is a cover of “Nature” magazine, which displays a model of a 75,000-year-old burial in East Africa created by two USF library researchers. He said that seeing his two loves collide has been one of his proudest moments. 

“I’ve always been interested in archaeology, but they took a second seat to being focused on the profession of librarianship,” he said. “But that just makes me really proud because [the]  library’s work being represented on the cover of “Nature” is just astounding. It made for such a full circle moment.” 

Chavez quickly rose from his position at the services desk. After doing some field work in academic librarianship, he became the assistant director of human resources. In 2015, after the previous dean stepped down, he was asked to take on the role. 

He planned to step down from his position as dean at the end of this year, as he believed that it was time for someone with a newer idea to take the reins. He didn’t plan on leaving the library entirely, instead returning in a new role working in geospatial initiatives. He now plans on staying after being asked by Provost Prasant Mohapatra to stay at USF for two more years.

Alongside him for the majority of this journey was Carol Ann Borchert, Senior Associate Dean, who said that watching Chavez’s unique problem solving solutions have made him a vital component of the Library. 

“From the moment I met him, I knew we were going to get along well,” she said. “He’s a bit of a maverick, he thinks outside the box.”

“He’s always coming up with interesting, cutting edge things. There’s never a dull moment with him.” 

Chavez knows how many moving parts go into keeping a library healthy. He said that what keeps him accountable is an acknowledgment of his own strengths and weaknesses, as well as keeping around people who are as passionate about the work as he is. 

“We all work together really closely,” Chavez said. “Every single person is at the table, all of our library leadership, all of our library staff and faculty. They all participate.” 

While Chavez did plan on stepping down, he now finds himself greeted with a renewed sense of optimism about what he’s able to accomplish within the next two years. “

“One of my missions in life is making sure that USF students know as early as possible the resources that the library has made available to them,” he said. “Now we’re looking forward to what the library of the future is going to look like.” 

“Being able to make the library a more accessible place for everyone, that’s what I’m hoping to do.”