Dean's Welcome

Welcome to the University Libraries at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln!

Liz Lorang, Dean of University Libraries

Shortly after becoming dean of the University Libraries in December 2023, I thought to myself, “I have the best job anywhere at a university.” The source of my conviction? The deep-in-my-bones belief that academic libraries are sites of transformational encounters with information. Such transformational encounters with information make it possible to thrive as individuals, communities, and worlds.

Framed in this way, academic libraries have never been more vital—more alive, more crucial—than they are now. Why? Because we live and move within information environments more complex than ever before. Because the greatest issues of our time are, at their core, information challenges. Because we must think deeply about our information obligations to the future, as commitments to those yet to come.

In my own life, academic libraries have been sites of individual transformation through information many times over. As an undergraduate commuter student, I spent hours between classes in my college’s library, where I remember picking up an academic journal for the first time and contemplating entirely new-to-me possibilities. As a graduate student, I found my way to librarians who took me and my questions seriously and who connected me with resources, including people, that forever altered the trajectory of my research and of my professional identity. As a teacher, I observed the transformations in my students as they graduated from being only discerning receivers of information to being creators of information, recognizing their own authority and power in shaping understanding and knowledge. Later, as a librarian, I attended a workshop where I witnessed firsthand how transforming data from historic sources into new sensory formats temporarily rends a veil between dimensions and makes it possible for us to connect more deeply, more intimately, with others’ lives. In my own experience at that workshop, I held onto a wire as sound waves vibrated through, representing the ebbs, flows, and frequencies of historic lives in a special collection. And as a whole person, I have grappled with the devastating realities, both mental and physical, of people I love through the outstanding scientific and creative information available in the University Libraries, transforming my sense of what it means to be.

Academic libraries also enable transformational encounters with information for communities and worlds, those of today and those we dream. Rather than looking to the past or present for these examples, I challenge us to look to the future: Imagine the transformations that become possible if all Nebraskans have ready access to the best information anywhere, to the most inclusive and capacious information, and to the best information experts anywhere—a feat few other states might seriously imagine at this moment in time. Imagine the social and economic impacts of having a population of the most advanced users of high-quality information and data anywhere in the country, across all of Nebraska. Imagine a thriving trust environment, in which our communities and worlds hold spectra of viewpoints and uphold a commitment to the veracity of the information and data that inform those viewpoints, policy, law, and well-being.

This future is one we can create together.

Collectively, we have serious work to do to arrive at such a future. Today’s dominant information ecosystems do not support a thriving planet or worlds. The status quo of locking down the world’s best information in expensive and proprietary systems ensures that people will resort to low-friction systems, those that appear more affordable, more streamlined, more omnipresent, those that offer a smooth path to access but smooth over the unverified, inexpert, fabricated, or purposely distorted information at their core.

These problems are issues not only for human intelligence but for machine intelligence as well. Today’s dominant information ecosystems mean that—by design and default—predictive and generative models often are developed on the information that is readily available rather than on the best-quality information. And even repositories of quality information have major gaps in what they contain, in whose bodies, whose histories, whose languages, whose perspectives, and whose communities are represented. Already high stakes, these gaps grow in potential consequence in predictive and generative models. We all benefit from ensuring that humans and machines have access to the highest quality, most inclusive, and most representative information possible, and we can achieve such a vision while also valuing innovation, intellectual and cultural property, and privacy.

Thriving as individuals, communities, and worlds, living and dying well, requires that we all have transformational encounters with information. Making such encounters possible is the work of academic libraries. This work involves the information itself and also attention to its ecosystems. As information and its systems grow in complexity, so too does the need for people with training to make sense of these ecosystems, from generalist knowledge to deep specialization, and including archivists, librarians, informationists, and data curators such as those here in the UNL Libraries. We must also tend to the environments in which we conduct this work, both physical and virtual, adapting them alongside wider changes so they remain incubators of transformational encounters.

Whether you engage with our collections, our library environments, or our experts—and I hope you will engage with them all—I look forward to seeing where your transformational encounters with information lead you and all of us together.

- Liz
Elizabeth Lorang, Ph.D.
Dean of University Libraries