Oberlin Welcomes New Azariah Smith Root Director of Libraries, Valerie Hotchkiss


John Russell

Former Librarian at Vanderbilt University Valerie Hotchkiss was recently named the next Azariah Smith Root director of libraries.

The College has appointed Valerie Hotchkiss as the new Azariah Smith Root director of libraries, according to a Tuesday Campus Digest email. Hotchkiss’ appointment is long-awaited, as the position has been vacant since October 2020

Prior to her appointment, Hotchkiss worked for five years as a university librarian for Vanderbilt University. There, she oversaw 11 locations, including the Annette and Irwin Eskind Family Biomedical Library and Learning Center, which achieved LEED Gold status through renovations under her supervision. Hotchkiss also created multiple initiatives dedicated to promoting accessibility in research and scholarship. During the COVID-19 shutdown, Hotchkiss implemented high-quality technological substitutes for in-person research assistance through Zoom librarian sessions and asynchronous research instruction. 

“In the libraries she has directed, Hotchkiss has broken new ground in digital scholarship, renovated facilities, and has been a very successful fundraiser,” said Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences David Kamitsuka in an Aug. 16 email announcing Hotchkiss’ arrival. “She has deep appreciation for the essential role of libraries for a liberal arts education, and is a strong proponent of teaching with primary sources.” 

Most notably, during Hotchkiss’ time at Vanderbilt, the university’s Association of Research Libraries ranking rose 22 places. 

Hotchkiss has worked as a university librarian for 28 years. The responsibilities of Hotchkiss’ position are wide-ranging. One of the chief duties of her position at Oberlin will be to work closely with multiple different groups on campus, such as the library staff, faculty, and students.  

“This includes such areas as collection building, staff development, access services, facilities, cultural programming, and, of course, acquisitions, cataloging/metadata processing,” wrote Hotchkiss in an email to the Review. “Above all, our mission is to support the learning, teaching and research needs of users. To do this, we must evolve in response to curricular and research needs and we must stay on top of innovations in technology and information management. A library director also has to put together a budget and adhere to it!”

Another key part of the position is strategic planning — setting goals and priorities for the future. When it comes to improving Oberlin’s libraries and implementing innovative programs, Hotchkiss already has faith in the students, faculty, and staff. 

“The path forward will require us to stay attuned to changes in the information landscape and to our constituents’ needs, reacting in both strategic and responsive ways to provide the best possible support for research, teaching, and learning,” wrote Hotchkiss. “I’m looking forward to carrying on the good efforts and also to collaborating with the students, professors, and staff to find ways to make the libraries better. Among other things, we should always try to make the library a welcoming and appealing place for everyone to work and think. We want to be the place where information is transformed into knowledge, creativity, and discovery.”

A scholar herself, Hotchkiss has also published several books and articles regarding topics such as women’s studies, medieval cultural history, religion, and the history of books and printing. When asked if her background drew her to Oberlin, Hotchkiss wrote that she was attracted to Oberlin’s culture and resources — elements that foster an environment of creativity and advocacy on campus.

“Oberlin’s excellence in undergraduate education — both arts and science — is exceedingly impressive and attractive to me,” she wrote. “Although I am not a musician, I am also excited about supporting students at an internationally renowned conservatory. Many people, myself included, admire Oberlin’s culture of creativity and activism. At some point in its recent history, the Princeton Review listed Oberlin as a ‘college with a conscience.’ That is high praise and it’s a reputation that appeals to me.”

Valerie Hotchkiss will begin as Azariah Smith Root director of libraries on Sept. 7.