‘A fearless trailblazer’: Distinguished Librarian Award winner on her proudest accomplishments, Willie Nelson, and a lifetime in libraries

Elizabeth Dupuis portrait
Elizabeth Dupuis, director of Doe, Moffitt, and the subject specialty libraries, has won the 2018 Distinguished Librarian Award. (Photo by Jami Smith for the UC Berkeley Library)

It started with a love of reading.

As a kid, Elizabeth Dupuis would spend countless hours in libraries, driven by her voracious appetite for books. (Her earliest memory of libraries traces back to Orange, in Southern California, when she was in first grade.)

Before too long, Dupuis was no longer just a visitor to libraries, but an after-school volunteer and an employee, filing catalog cards, shelving books, and running the children’s film and craft programs.

She has made it her job to work in libraries ever since.

Befitting her lifetime in libraries, Dupuis, who has served as an associate university librarian at UC Berkeley for more than a decade, was one of two people honored this year with a Distinguished Librarian Award. The biennial award, funded and presented by Librarians Association of the University of California’s Berkeley chapter, recognizes “excellence in librarianship” and a commitment to fulfilling the missions of teaching and research at UC Berkeley. Honorees are selected by a committee of peers and faculty members.

“It is heartwarming to receive the Distinguished Librarian Award because this recognition comes from my Berkeley colleagues — people who have a keen sense of librarians’ roles and who have worked side by side with me daily,” Dupuis said.

‘An amazingly rich library’

Entering college, after having spent much of her early life in libraries, “I was certain I had done it all” when it came to libraries, Dupuis said.

But, as it turns out, she had just scratched the surface.

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Dupuis witnessed firsthand the ways technology was changing libraries, and she became intrigued by the possibilities for the future.

“Being exposed to the potential of leading edge research libraries was life-changing,” she said. “It was then I knew I wanted to be a librarian.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English literature in 1991, she went on to receive her master’s in information and library science from University of Illinois, then an MLIS advanced certificate, specializing in legal research, from the University of Texas at Austin.

She spent about a decade at that university in a range of library roles, including the head of the Digital Information Literacy Office. In 1998, after seeing the growing potential of the internet as a tool for learning, she led a team to develop an online tutorial, called TILT, or Texas Information Literacy Tutorial, to help first-year students at the University of Texas system navigate library resources and the web, which was quickly transforming the way researchers found and shared information. (TILT would go on to earn Dupuis and her colleagues the Association of College and Research Library’s Innovation in Instruction Award in 2000.)

Two years later, Dupuis came to UC Berkeley as the head of Instructional Services. In 2006, she became associate university librarian for educational initiatives and director of the Doe and Moffitt libraries, a post that she occupies now, in addition to overseeing the subject specialty libraries. (As of writing of this article, her many roles at the Library also include interim associate university librarian for digital initiatives, leadership for the Digital Lifecycle Program launch, and interim head of the Arts & Humanities Division.)

Elizabeth Dupuis speaks in 2017
Elizabeth Dupuis speaks at a celebration for the opening of Moffitt Library’s fourth and fifth floors in 2017. (Photo by Brittany Hosea-Small for the UC Berkeley Library)

In her time here, she has helped restructure the Library, redesign spaces with an eye toward the future, and bolster the Library’s position as a leader among research libraries, even while funding from the state diminishes.

After becoming associate university librarian, one of the first things Dupuis did was partner with the Center for Latin American Studies for an exhibit in Doe Library showcasing Colombian artist Fernando Botero’s paintings and drawings inspired by the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal in Iraq. The exhibit attracted many members of the Latinx community beyond campus, drawing about 15,000 visitors over the course of seven weeks.

“At the time it was a bold, controversial decision, but it felt right to me,” she said. “Today, it seems even more critical for our libraries and universities to support these types of environments and exchanges.”

While at Berkeley, Dupuis has overseen the continued efforts to reimagine Moffitt as a cutting-edge hub of creation, collaboration, and innovation for the 21st century. After a yearlong renovation, Moffitt reopened its fourth and fifth floors in November 2016. (The grand opening of those floors was “One of the most gratifying days of my professional life,” she noted.)

“It was literally 10 years of effort to get to that day and there was excitement in the air from students, Library staff, campus partners, and donors as they explored floors 4 and 5,” she said. “A project that big takes the creativity, commitment, and effort of many people to succeed — it was thrilling to see it come to life.”

Under Dupuis’ leadership, Moffitt’s lower three floors will soon face a similar overhaul, as Moffitt completes its transformation into the Center for Connected Learning, a place for students of all skill levels and disciplines to come together to think, learn, and create. (Moffitt hosts a number of events and workshops, and its Makerspace allows students to interact with new technologies firsthand, and create everything from 3-D-printed masterpieces to virtual reality worlds to robots.)

With all her responsibilities and accomplishments, what is Dupuis’ favorite part about working at the Library?

“At Berkeley, we have an amazingly rich library — tremendous collections, fabulous spaces, and dedicated staff,” she said. “Together these elements create a sum much greater than their individual parts.

“I am touched when I hear undergraduate students talk about how our library has opened a new door for them — connecting to their personal history, or developing their confidence, or sparking their interest in a field they want to pursue for the rest of their lives.”

‘A gifted librarian’

Among her colleagues, Dupuis is known as a strong leader, innovative thinker, articulate advocate, and effective collaborator.

“Beth is a gifted librarian who combines excellent leadership with teaching and scholarship,” said Sue Koskinen, head of the Library’s Life & Health Sciences Division, and one of the colleagues who nominated Dupuis for the award. “She manages responsibilities with a deft hand, and has the knowledge to bring out the best in her colleagues and get disparate projects and people working together toward a shared goal.”

Dupuis is “a fearless trailblazer” who is helping usher in the future of the Library, Koskinen said.

Brian Quigley, head of the Library’s Engineering & Physical Sciences Division, supported Dupuis’ nomination for the award, citing her strengths not only as leader, but also as a mentor.

“Beth truly embodies the highest standards of librarianship,” he said.

Despite her lifelong work in — and love for — libraries, Dupuis has a life beyond the stacks and the daily demands that come with being among the top librarians at one of the most esteemed universities in the country.

Ever the problem-solver, Dupuis loves games and puzzles. In fact, she keeps her traveling set of dominoes in a wooden box, in which she keeps track of the completed games, along with the state or country where the games are played. (She estimates she has played it in about a dozen countries and about two dozen states. The latest state? South Dakota. The latest country? Iceland.) The outside of the box is signed by musicians (including music icon Willie Nelson and alt-country figures such as Dale Watson, Alejandro Escovedo, and Jon Langford), a trend that started when Dupuis was playing in small honky-tonks in Austin while listening to her favorite local bands.

And it’s her penchant for problem-solving that many colleagues laud her for — and what she cites when explaining why she loves working at the Library.

“Libraries are complex, versatile organizations that encourage curiosity and creativity,” she said. “I love being able to apply the values of librarianship to all sorts of projects that solve a problem or address a need for our users.

“Even better is when my work inspires ideas for others.”