When Stephen Nichols, who is chairman of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, was asked last summer to head the search committee for a new dean of university libraries, he had a pretty good idea what the position requires--he had once served as interim director of the Eisenhower Library.
Nichols also knew of a top candidate, someone with whom he had served on an artifact preservation task force: Winston Tabb, who directs the national library programs at the Library of Congress.
"I knew it was a long shot," said Nichols of recruiting Tabb. "But when I called him, he did sound interested."
Tabb applied and was one of a number of promising candidates in a nationwide search for a new dean of libraries.
The more Tabb learned about the position, he said recently, the more he wanted it. "This has been a surprise to me and to my family and my colleagues," Tabb said. "It really had a strange allure that I didn't expect."
And now it's official. Winston Tabb has been appointed dean of university libraries and director of the Sheridan Libraries, and will begin work at Johns Hopkins on Sept. 1.
Highly recommended by his peers in the library community, Tabb was the clear first choice of the search committee.
"We knew it would be a challenge to find another national leader to follow in the footsteps of Jim Neal, but the search committee has succeeded brilliantly in that task," said Provost Steven K. Knapp. "Winston Tabb is ideally suited to the task of balancing technological innovation with the key traditional mission of service to our faculty and students."
As associate librarian at the Library of Congress since 1992, Tabb managed 53 divisions and offices with more than 2,400 employees while overseeing all services and programs.
Sarah Thomas, university librarian at Cornell University and a former colleague of Tabb's at the Library of Congress, said of his recent work there, "He really had responsibility for all of the national library activities at the Library of Congress and was absolutely the critical individual for the work that reflects what most people think about when they think about the Library of Congress." In his domain are cataloging, circulation, the reading rooms, special collections, archives, preservation and the presentation of digital materials online.
Thomas, who received her doctorate in German from Hopkins, described Tabb as an ideal supervisor and leader.
"He's very buoyant. He's very energetic," she said. "He's terrific at sensing and understanding the importance of an issue. He's a very quick study. With Winston, there was that sort of luxurious ability to discuss issues, while at the same time he does have a propensity for action."
Born and raised in Tulsa, Okla., Tabb graduated from the Oklahoma Baptist University and went to Harvard as a Woodrow Wilson fellow, earning a master's degree before serving in the U.S. Army as an instructor of English in Thailand. He earned his degree in library science from Simmons College in 1972 and was chosen as one of six outstanding graduates recruited to join the professional staff of the Library of Congress.
"While I've been here 30 years, I've had 13 jobs," Tabb said. "That's the reason I've been able to be satisfied for so long."
A self-described workaholic, Tabb is known as a diplomat with outstanding people skills and a great sense of humor. He also has a voracious curiosity that led him to work in all three of the Library of Congress' branches: copyright, congressional research services and the national library.
"When you think of his portfolio, it's so broad," said Thomas, his former colleague. "It covers the collections--those wonderful, rich collections--and yet he would be knowledgeable about authors and artists. And at the same time, he's knowledgeable about preservation techniques and about digitization. So he has this enormous breadth of knowledge."
In addition to his work at the Library of Congress, Tabb has served on a variety of national and international professional library associations, including the Association of Research Libraries.
When Tabb made his first visit to Homewood, he said, two things that struck him were the openness of the campus and how polite people were. "I was very impressed by the high degree of civility," he said. And although Tabb and his wife have lived in Reston, Va., for 30 years, they are talking about moving close to the Homewood campus. "The idea of being able to walk to work is quite appealing," he said.
"I'm very excited about this new position because I've worked my entire career thus far at a very different kind of library--a national library, a large library and a government library," Tabb said. "I think one of the things that will be extremely different is that at Hopkins there is a very clear user community," he said, adding that he's looking forward to managing a library system with a "very clear and focused mission."
Initially, Tabb said, his mission at Hopkins simply will be to really get to know his colleagues and support them. "This is one thing I think I've been very good at--I like working with people."
Tabb said he's especially interested in learning about Hopkins' digital collection and preservation efforts and will be looking for opportunity for synergies. He also said he has a special interest in rare books, manuscripts and special collections.
One of the things that so impressed the search committee, Nichols said, is the vision and leadership Tabb has shown in the area of information technology.
"He has been very influential in figuring out the new kinds of things the library community needed to do to meet the new challenges provided by information technology," said Nichols, who added that Tabb's efforts made the Library of Congress a leader in digital preservation and also helped establish "one of the finest analog audio-video preservation programs in the world."
Finally, Nichols said, Tabb will be an effective spokesman for the library system, "someone who can really make the case--to trustees and to donors and to the Hopkins community at large--just what libraries do. People tend to take libraries for granted. One can't take libraries for granted."