May 18, 2022

Sarah Michalak, University Librarian at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Announces Retirement Plans

From UNC Library News:

Sarah Michalak, University Librarian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will retire Dec. 31, 2016. (Photo credit: Jay Mangum)

Sarah Michalak, University Librarian and Associate Provost for University Libraries, has announced that she will retire on December 31, 2016. Michalak has been UNC’s library director since 2004.

“In more than a decade of service, Sarah successfully transformed the library to meet a new information era,” said Executive Vice  Chancellor and Provost James W. Dean Jr. “We appreciate her leadership and her unwavering commitment to providing the best library collections and services for Carolina’s faculty, staff, and students.”

“It has been an honor to lead Carolina’s libraries into this new era and to help make possible many innovative and forward-looking ideas—so many of which originated with our outstanding library staff,” Michalak said.

During her tenure, Michalak provided vision for a broad reconceptualization of library service, spurred in part by changes in the scholarly and publishing environments. Thanks to an “e-preferred” model of purchasing and licensing, nearly 20 percent of the Library’s eight million volumes are now electronic and most journals are online.

Michalak and her staff leveraged high-density storage leased from the Duke University Library, implemented a campus delivery system that brings most books to faculty offices within 48 hours, and developed the catalog into a robust discovery tool that provides direct access to online collections. As a result, satisfaction with access to library materials remains high, even with the consolidation of several branch libraries.

Reorganizing and Realigning

Michalak initiated significant reorganizations that positioned the staff to modernize operations and expand services. One of the first was a project to align technical services operations with new publishing, purchasing, and licensing models.

The Library later merged collection-building, reference, and instructional functions into a single Research and Instructional Services department. Subject specialist liaisons now work with faculty and students at every phase of the research and learning process, and they draw on their outreach to make selection decisions.

Michalak provided leadership as the business functions of the Health Sciences Library were combined with those of the University Library in 2010, and as the departments within the Wilson Special Collections Library—the North Carolina Collection, Rare Book Collection, Southern Folklife Collection, Southern Historical Collection, and University Archives—began to share services and provide a more integrated experience for researchers.

Michalak’s vision for collections and services has positioned the Library to attract significant gifts during her directorship, including one-of-a-kind audio and archival collections, gifts to support Persian studies, and published rarities including the Library’s milestone six- and seven-millionth books, and soon its eight-millionth.

Building the Digital Future

During Michalak’s tenure, UNC boosted its contributions to the international body of digital research materials. Through early experimentation with high-volume book scanning—and thanks to multiple partnerships and grants—the Library now provides online access to rare and unique materials that previously could be seen only in Chapel Hill.

During this time, the Library built and debuted the Carolina Digital Repository, which will serve as the backbone of the University’s commitment to open access; worked with the State Library of North Carolina to create and operate the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center; and began experimenting with the digitization and delivery of sound and media collections.

Under Michalak’s leadership, the Library has taken an active role in national digital preservation initiatives. She  serves on the Board of theAcademic Preservation Trust and was a member of the HathiTrust Digital Library Board of Directors in 2014.

From 2008 to 2010, she chaired the Committee on Public Policies Affecting Research Libraries for the Association of Research Libraries(ARL) and held an ex officio appointment to the Association’s Board of Directors. She served an elected term on the ARL Board from 2000 to 2003, before arriving at Carolina.

In the last two years, Michalak has guided a significant investment in the Library’s Research Hub, with locations in Davis Library, the Kenan Science Library, and the Health Sciences Library. From data visualization and geographic information systems to 3D printing, the Hub, including a new Makerspace, has demonstrated how the Library will meet evolving technology-driven research needs.

Michalak and her staff instituted most of these developments at a time of extreme financial exigency for the nation and the state.

“There is no way we would have been able to deal with the changes of these last years or develop so many new and valuable services without the dedication and unwavering user focus of the Library’s staff or the generosity of our donors,” said Michalak. “The support and positive spirit of the extended Library family have been the most rewarding things about my time at UNC.”

“I am especially grateful to my team, which has transformed so many new ideas into valuable services for our users. I retire with the confidence that Carolina’s students, faculty, and staff will be in excellent hands,” said Michalak.

Before coming to UNC, Michalak was Director of the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah from 1995 to 2004.  In her 46-year career in public academic libraries, she has also held positions at the University of Washington, the University of California, Riverside, and the University of California, Los Angeles, where she earned her M.L.S.

Deputy University Librarian Carol Hunter will serve as Interim University Librarian, effective January 1, 2017. A search committee will soon begin work to find a new University Librarian.

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.