Remembering Susan

Posted on Fri, 04/05/2019 - 12:04

Susan at Ribbon Cutting

Susan addresses attendees at the NC LIVE Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, 1998

Dear NC LIVE Community,

It is with great sadness that we at NC LIVE learned of the passing of Susan Nutter, former Vice Provost and Director of NC State University Libraries and co-founder of NC LIVE, North Carolina’s statewide library cooperative.

Susan was instrumental to the formation of NC LIVE in 1997 and nurtured it in her role as the UNC System Librarians’ Council representative for 19 years.  Under her leadership, NC LIVE provided authoritative e-resources to virtually every public and academic library in North Carolina, benefitting thousands of librarians and millions of patrons.  Susan foresaw that if library communities of interest cooperated, all would benefit.  She then used her influence, political savvy, and perseverance to bring the idea of NC LIVE to life.

In my role of Executive Director of NC LIVE, I had the pleasure of working with Susan for two years and would like to share two stories about that experience:

Story #1: Prior to my interview for the role of Executive Director at NC LIVE, I had never met Susan, but her reputation preceded her.  I was nervous to meet such a legend in our field and prepared as much as possible for any questions she might ask me.  Ready for anything, heartrate elevated, I entered the interview room and took my seat.  Susan’s first question: “How did we get so lucky to have someone like you apply for our job?” 

For the record, I was the lucky one.  But this story illustrates what a charmer Susan could be, and how she used this to great success when recruiting.  Susan’s main goal in an interview was to determine what motivated you.  Where did your passion for libraries come from?  What ideas did you have to make libraries stronger, more relevant, more impactful to the communities they served?  Why had you chosen to commit your professional life to this field above all others?

This approach served her well.  Years before Jim Collins’ Good to Great, Susan had already recognized the competitive advantage of recruiting the best talent around a shared culture and then supporting its ongoing development.  It is no overstatement to say that the NCSU Libraries and NC LIVE that we know today would not exist had Susan not prioritized people before all else.

Story #2: Susan and I met once a month.  I always looked forward to these meetings because they were opportunities for the two of us to catch-up on major challenges, try out ideas on one another, and strategize.  Susan was a master strategist.  She knew what motivated people; how to pitch effectively to funders and administrators; when to toggle between cooperation and competition; and could anticipate potential risks to success so we could mitigate them.  And perhaps most importantly, she had the tenacity to overcome the inevitable obstacles that one faces when trying to turn an idea into a reality. 

Part of what made the meetings so enjoyable was experiencing the way Susan thought.  She easily could have excelled in other fields like law, politics, or business.  During one of these meetings I decided to ask Susan the question that had been on my mind: “Do you ever feel like an outsider in our profession?”  Without hesitation she replied: “My entire career.”  We talked about the relative dearth of opportunities to learn political and business skills in our profession and brainstormed how we might help fill the void through mentoring, teaching, and sponsoring.  That conversation inspired me to begin teaching a leadership course to library school students at the School of Information and Library Science at UNC Chapel Hill where, in a small way, I try to teach some of these skills to the next generation of library leaders.

Without Susan, NC LIVE would not exist and the NC State University Libraries would not be the world-renowned teaching and learning centers that they are.  Susan had the unique combination of talents to bring great ideas to life.  In her passing, those ideas live on in buildings, in innovations, in a unique culture, and in the people lucky enough to have worked with her, however briefly.  It is up to all of us who knew Susan to pass on the lessons she taught us to the next generation of library leaders.  In doing so, Susan’s legacy will sprout new buds and continue to elevate our profession.

 

Rob Ross
Executive Director
NC LIVE