James G. Neal, the dean of university libraries and director of the Sheridan Libraries, has accepted an appointment with Columbia University in New York and will be leaving Johns Hopkins at the end of this month.
Neal, who came to Hopkins six years ago, departs to become vice president for information services and university librarian at Columbia, the school where he earned advanced degrees in history and library science.
"During his time at Hopkins, Jim has helped reshape how the Sheridan Libraries operate and serve the university," said President William R. Brody, who described Neal as "an innovator and a focused, goal-oriented leader who has reminded us all how central the function of the library is to the mission of the modern research university."
Brody characterized Neal's departure as a "tremendous loss" and said, "I will personally miss his visionary thinking about how we can create and manage the best possible research library for the 21st century."
The Office of the Provost is finalizing the selection of an interim director, and an announcement of that appointment is expected shortly.
Neal came to Hopkins from Indiana University at Bloomington in 1995 to become director of the Sheridan Libraries and later was named dean of university libraries. As such, he has overseen the management of 12 libraries with more than 3.3 million printed volumes; more than 20,000 periodicals; and extensive electronic resources including databases, e-books and more than 3,000 full-text journals.
Neal, who said he will miss Baltimore and the "freedom that one enjoys" at Hopkins, said the job at Columbia is very attractive because it integrates the responsibilities of the libraries and information technology, a pairing he sees as naturally complementary in the digital age.
"It's also attractive to me because of the very strong and very rich library traditions at Columbia," Neal said. "The collections are large [and] very distinguished. And they're very international in scope."
Huntington Williams III, the outgoing president of the Friends of the Libraries group, described him as a leader in the field with both national and international status.
"He's a wonderful guy, a wonderful educator," said Williams, who has worked with Neal for years. "He's basically helped redefine the role of what a research library in the 21st century should be. And he's one of the world experts on copyright, in addition to being a leader of librarians."
Under Neal's watch, the Sheridan Libraries concluded a successful fundraising campaign, thanks in great part to Champ and Debbie Sheridan's $20 million donation. The total of $39 million raised was $12 million above the goal.
In discussing his career at Hopkins, Neal described the major areas where he felt the libraries had advanced under his leadership. He said an increasing level of cooperation and collaboration among the libraries "has made the quality of access to the collections and the services the libraries provide far more seamless and therefore far more efficient for faculty and students."
In another area, Neal said the library has worked "to really build the electronic collections capacity of the library" by providing access to an expanding array of reference sources, online journals, online books and electronic sets of data as well as software tools.
One of the more dramatic developments, Neal said, was the increased usage of Homewood's Eisenhower Library after its 1998 renovation. The number of visits to the library jumped from 528,000 in 1997 to more than 900,000 last year.
Among services provided for students at Hopkins, the library in recent years has consistently received the highest results in student surveys, achieving scores of more than 90 percent satisfied, said James Zeller, associate provost for budgets and planning.
Neal also noted the efforts to advance the overall digital library program. For example, the library secured external funding to digitize 120,000 pages of sheet music and made the Lester S. Levy Collection of American Sheet Music available online. Usage of the collection went from about 150 in-person visits per year to more than 60,000 Internet uses per month.
In addition, a new electronic reserves program allows students to access required reading online, and an electronic document delivery program for faculty delivers journal articles to their desktops.
"I think if you look at the types of developments that have taken place in the Hopkins libraries, in terms of applying technology in areas from collection development to services," Neal said, "I think the Hopkins libraries are much more strongly positioned than they were six years ago. They are certainly very visible in the research library community."