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On Jan. 25, 2024, the first day of the Library of Virginia’s third century, Dennis T. Clark began his role as the 10th Librarian of Virginia. He brings more than 12 years of senior leadership experience in academic research libraries, most recently as chief of researcher engagement and general collections at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Clark has also served as dean of libraries at the University of Arkansas; as associate university librarian for research, learning and spaces at the University of Virginia; and as associate university librarian of research and learning for Virginia Commonwealth University.

Clark’s career path began farther south, in Alabama. He grew up in Montgomery and lived in the same house from the time he was six months old until he left home after college. He received a bachelor’s degree in music from Samford University in Birmingham, and holds a master’s degree in library and information studies from the University of Alabama. With interests in music and libraries, he started with a job that combined both subjects, as a music librarian at Samford. He eventually became director of the music library at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

“At one point, I planned to be a musicologist and get a Ph.D. in that field,” said Clark, “but the slim job prospects discouraged me, so I went into music librarianship. I was in that field for about eight years — it was a good match.”

While at Vanderbilt, Clark and an ethnomusicologist on the faculty worked on a project with Ugandan musicians to provide recording equipment to them in order gather recordings that they felt should be heard and preserved.

“We traveled to Uganda and Kenya in 2004 to provide the equipment, test its usage and expand the network,” said Clark. “I believe the project collected more than 1,800 recordings while it was active, all of which can be heard at”

Clark became familiar with the Library of Virginia during his time at VCU and UVA. He met several members of the Library of Virginia staff over those years, including Librarian of Virginia Emerita Sandra Treadway; John Metz, deputy of collections and programs; and Mary Clark, director of Acquisitions and Access Management. He also heard about the Library at meetings of the Virginia Academic Library Consortium and the State Council of Higher Education’s Library Advisory Committee. “When I saw the position posted, I knew I couldn’t pass up the chance to work at such an amazing institution,” he said.

Clark most recently worked at the Library of Congress, which provided experiences that will inform his role here. Because that library is a federal agency, he found that all his decisions were filtered through a complicated process. “The most challenging work was trying to facilitate change,” he said. “What should have taken three months would take three years, even simple things. So that was exhausting.”

“I’m just so impressed with the depth of our collections. It really is humbling to see what the Library has become through the hard work of its staff over the centuries.”

He enjoyed his role in shaping national library policy, however, and making a difference for the people who were researching in the reading rooms, making discoveries and writing books. “It was a heady place to work, especially for me, as I oversaw the historic Main Reading Room in the Thomas Jefferson Building and the reading room in the John Adams Building,” said Clark. “I learned to respect processes and to have patience — I hope that will keep me in good stead here.”

In familiarizing himself with the Library, Clark said his first impression is that the staff members are passionate about the work they do, and they do it very well. “We’re well regarded in the ‘pantheon’ of state agencies. It’s been a series of pleasant surprises, to be sure,” he said. “I’m just so impressed with the depth of our collections. It really is humbling to see what the Library has become through the hard work of its staff over the centuries.”

He has been involved in large-scale capital space projects at Vanderbilt University, Texas A&M University, UVA and the University of Arkansas. But VCU is where Clark worked on the most comprehensive project — expanding and renovating Cabell Library — a $52 million endeavor. “Each of those projects was specific to its campus but all had the same general rationale: how can this library meet the needs of its students better,” said Clark.

When asked how these experiences might influence his approach to the Library’s use of its space in our third century, he replied, “We can extrapolate that here a bit — how can THIS library meet the needs of its researchers, visitors and employees and how is that different in 2024 and beyond than it was in 1997? The focus of our work here must be on creating agile spaces, so that it doesn’t take a once-every-three-decades capital project to adapt to changing uses and preferences.”

When considering the future of libraries and archival organizations in general and the Library of Virginia in particular, Clark believes that the agency should continue on its current path, but focus on a couple of strategic areas. “The Library of Virginia and most other libraries and archives are doing great things — connecting with their communities, being creative about models of engagement, enhancing access through digitization, and continuing the thoughtful but often invisible work of accessioning, processing and describing our collections,” he said. “But I think that it will be increasingly important for us to be more proactive about marketing ourselves than libraries and archives have done traditionally. Another important trend is to engage with philanthropy more comprehensively. State funding is our primary source of revenue for our collections, programs and services, but being ambitious for our future will require more nonstate funding, and I’m happy the Library of Virginia Foundation is active on our behalf.”

Clark’s first year will be primarily about listening — to the staff, the Board, the Foundation, people in the Department of Education and other government agencies, other GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) institutions in Virginia, our users, and the broader library and archives environment.

“I think that it will be increasingly important for us to be more proactive about marketing ourselves than libraries and archives have done traditionally.”

“Unlike the past two State Librarians, I don’t have decades of experience to lean on when making decisions in this role,” he said. “So I’ll ask everyone I meet to tell me what I need to know, from their perspective. I also think we’ll see some real movement this year on programming around a potential building renovation, and we’ll need to begin a strategic ‘framework’ process. So, it’ll be a busy first year!” When Clark is not working, he can often be found watching college football and cheering the Crimson Tide. His main musical outlet these days is singing in the Richmond Symphony Chorus — along with the Library’s exhibitions coordinator, Barbara Batson. When he lived in Richmond previously, he often ran the Monument Avenue 10K, which he intends to continue.

“As cliché as it sounds, I do love being outdoors in Virginia,” said Clark. “I have an annual National Park pass and I use it! The trails off Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park are one of my happy places.”

A version of this article first appeared in Broadside, the magazine of the Library of Virginia, 2024, No. 1.

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