Joe Salem

iSchool Graduation Date


Professional Organizations/Affiliations

American Library Association, Big Ten Academic Alliance, Association of Research Libraries

Current responsibilities/How are you using your information skills?

Dean of Libraries at Michigan State University. I am honored to serve in a leadership role within our profession and use information literacy, assessment, and research skills regularly in this role.

What is the best professional advice you can give?

The information professions in general and higher education-based librarianship in particular are opportunities to live a life of impact and to live your values. It may not be all that easy right out of school, but once you have experience and feel free to move about the cabin, be sure to find an organization that allows you to do both and where you thrive.

How do you encourage innovative ideas?

I was able to work directly on this in my last two roles. I try to listen and see my role in leadership as one where I am here to empower, resource, and to facilitate the environment where the colleagues with whom I work can thrive and innovate. I think by creating that environment where ideas can and are encouraged to come from everywhere and where I share leadership within the library, we do get much more innovation and problem-solving than in a top-down organization.

Do you have a mentor? How have they influenced you?

I am fortunate to have had several mentors throughout my career and several colleagues who have invested their time and energy into my development. I believe the best mentors for me have helped me to work through issues and opportunities and helped me to develop the confidence to take on new challenges. They have also modeled great mentorship and in an effort to repay their generosity of spirit, time, and expertise, I have tried to mentor colleagues throughout my career as well, especially as I have been fortunate to serve in leadership roles.

What do you wish you had done earlier or more often?

I wish I would have enjoyed every part of my career more fully. Work is fun for me and I do enjoy it on a daily basis, but I have also been very future-oriented and career-driven, so there have been significant times in my career where I did not take full advantage of the great opportunities of working or living in a great community. I also feel as though I rushed through a few portions of my career. I wish I would have slowed down and enjoyed the ride a bit more.

How and where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration watching my daughter grow and learn and become a young woman and in working with brilliant and talented colleagues who are spending their careers preserving the present and past to build the future she will live in.

To what values are you committed?

I have long been committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in our profession and within the communities we serve. In my case, that is higher education writ-large and specifically the institutions that I have served. I am also committed to student success, which is a reflection of the same value placed on equity and inclusion, but with students as the main focus in particular. I am also committed to empathetic leadership and building and sustaining work environments that put people first.

How do you balance your work and home life?

This is difficult, especially in leadership roles, but I am fortunate to be sharing my life with my wife, Jamie, and our daughter, Summer, so I do try to balance things a bit. That means a work day that is not the same for me as it is for others. For example, I do try to get home for dinner with my family and spend some time together and then get back to work after my daughter gets to bed. I also try to make time for my own hobbies. I am an avid cyclist and enjoy several genres of music. It is best for all around when we get to enjoy all aspects of our lives.

What are some challenges that today’s information professionals will face? And tomorrow’s?

The continued polarization of the country and active disinformation campaigns make our profession more vital than ever and more challenged than ever as well.

How can the library remain important to the community?

The importance of the library in the community is not in question in my mind. If it were, library professionals would not be asked to risk their lives in a pandemic to provide services and materials to their communities. At its core, the library has always offered information resources, the space (virtual or physical) to use them, and the expertise needed to make the best use of those resources and that space. The mix of those three things will change as we go forward, but as long as we stay true to that mission and to that basic concept, we will remain vital to our communities.

What websites, apps, podcasts, or other resources would you recommend to explore?

I have two, recommendations. First, I recommend the Internet Archive as the one Web site to explore, both from a content perspective, but also for the idea of doing things at scale. There is good and bad with that approach. The good is the vast amount of archived and preserved content. The difficult part of scale is context, so I recommend flipping through a section or two and thinking about what a curated approach to some of that content would look like. That is the other end of scale. One app I love in my personal life is Discogs, which you can use to catalog your physical music media, particularly vinyl records for me. I like it for information professionals because so much of the metadata are “crowd-sourced” and yet the app is an extremely rich resource.

What is a book you like that you have to defend liking and what is a book you dislike that you have to defend disliking?

I must have found the right position. I serve as Dean of Libraries at Michigan State University, and one of the things for which we are known is the largest publicly-held collection of comic books and comic art. I like comic books and graphic novels as a genre and for a very long time seemed to have to defend that. I do not actively read many comics any longer, but it is nice to see them studied and taken more seriously. I am not sure I actively dislike a book enough that I have to defend that position very often.

Special thanks to the Kent State University iSchool Alumni Network for coordinating these profiles. Learn more about the Alumni Network on their Facebook page and group. Students are welcome to join and participate.

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