We welcome Jonathan White as he steps into the role of Director of Library and Cultural Services and University Librarian on 1 February. Jonathan hands over from Cathy Walsh, who retired in January 2023 after 8 years of outstanding service to the University of Essex.

Sitting down with Jonathan in the Albert Sloman Library, we get a taste of his vision for the Library and Cultural Services section at the University of Essex, and how he sees the section making positive impact across the University and being central to the University’s mission in transformative Education and Research.

Jonathan White, Director of Library and Cultural Services and University of Essex Librarian converses with four female and one male colleagues in the Silberrad Student Centre.

How do you feel about your new role(s)?

I cannot wait to get started and work more across the University. There is so much great work happening across Library and Cultural Services, and so much to build upon. It’s an exciting role because of this well-established base and the committed teams we have. 

I have worked in HE libraries in one form or another since 2008 and before that I worked in public, school, and FE libraries. It’s been an evolution, but early on in my career I realised that I wanted to work in education and when I came into higher education, I fell in love with it, and knew that was where I wanted to be. 

Prior to joining Essex in the Assistant Director (Academic and Research Services) role in 2021, I was at the University of Derby for almost a decade. What drew me to Essex, other than the advertised role itself, was its joint mission in education and research, which really aligns with my values and interests as a librarian.

What are you most looking forward to?

I am looking forward to the opportunity to work with the diverse range of people across the University to communicate what Library and Cultural Services means for Essex, and how we make a genuine impact.

The role of the library and our cultural institutions (including Lakeside Theatre, Art Exchange, ESCALA and the University Art Collection) in education, research and the experience of students, is key to me, and we also have a wider role to the broader University community in engagement and participation in knowledge and culture.

Essex is a campus-based university, and we are very much a key part of making our campus a place where our students come to feel part of a community and to thrive. There are fabulous study spaces and resources available through the libraries and our cultural institutions are offering a sense of community, place and belonging on campus.

We provide a wide variety of services in terms of learning, teaching and research support, student-facing customer services, and direct support to students and staff We see and help many students every day, from formal research appointments to everyday quick questions at the helpdesk – it’s all important to both the student experience and the service offer.

We can add so much to enrich the university experience and engage people in creating arts and culture as well as consuming them. We will work on positioning the Library and Cultural Services as the knowledge and cultural hub of Essex, accessible to everyone and support the redevelopment of the campus community.

How has the current HE landscape impacted the role of the library and the arts at Essex?

We are a changing University, in a rapidly changing sector, but I believe we are well positioned to meet this challenges, and Library and Cultural Services is an asset to the University and is a catalyst for change.

Recent examples include moving to a digital first policy for new library resource purchasing, supporting blended learning through resource innovation, engaging, and including students in the development of our spaces, collections, and exhibitions, and performing arts, and we are working on new mechanisms to support the University to go open access in research publication. But we are not complacent - we are thinking of the future and planning for how we make Library and Cultural Services fit for the needs of the University in the long-term and support our ambition to be a top 200 World University Rankings University.

I relish these challenges. There are more opportunities within that challenge than there are negatives. We are reaching out to the University community, including students and Departments, to understand their needs are of library and arts spaces, collections, and programming, so that we can collaborate and be ready for the next generation of students, staff, and researchers.

Can you give us an insight into your vision for the Library and Cultural Services and how you see its future position at Essex?

We will be launching the new vision for Library and Cultural Services and the Library and Arts Strategies in the coming months. I can say though that central to the vision and strategies will be our place as a key enabler of the University’s mission of excellence in transformative education and research; how we partner with, enable and empower students, researchers and academics to discover, create and engage with us; the re-development of our libraries, theatre, arts venues, and digital spaces as vibrant, inspiring and welcoming spaces; and being recognised as one of the leading research libraries and university arts services in the UK, fit for a Top 25 UK University and a Top 200 World University.

Fraser Keir, Deputy Registrar (Education and Research) said of Jonathan’s appointment

Following a competitive external recruitment process I'm really pleased that Jonathan White has accepted the role of Director of Library and Cultural Services and University Librarian. This is a significant appointment for the University as we grow and develop across our three campuses and continue to support the excellence in education and research for which we are known for, both nationally and internationally.

Jonathan joined Essex as Assistant Director, Academic and Research Services in 2021 and has played a key role in the evolution and delivery of the academic and research services.

Please join with me in congratulating Jonathan to this new senior appointment and as a new chapter opens for the Albert Sloman Library.

Library and Cultural Services

The library is now part of the Library and Cultural Services directorate at the University of Essex. This encompasses: the Library Services across our three campuses, the ESCALA and University art and special collections, the Lakeside Theatre and the Art Exchange gallery.

Find out more about the library and the services that we offer.