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Sarah Thomas, a woman with pale blond hair wearing a red blazer.

Sarah Thomas, former University Librarian at Cornell University, University of Oxford and most recently Harvard University, has been named a Senior Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. In this role, Thomas will undertake a systematic analysis of special collections, working with staff to prepare a report and recommendations for a collections strategy that is agile, innovative, and global in focus.    

“Special collections play key roles in realizing the shared vision of the University and the Penn Libraries,” says Constantia Constantinou, H. Carton Rogers III Vice Provost and Director of the Penn Libraries. “With strategic input from Sarah Thomas, we intend to explore and define our strategy for building and maintaining dynamic and inclusive repositories that expand diversity, accessibility and preservation in all formats.”  

Thomas’s fellowship is connected to the Penn Libraries’ year-long initiative to develop a broad-based, modern strategy around special collections with a special emphasis on building distinctive collections with a global focus. As part of this initiative, a Libraries’ team, partnering with Thomas, will assess collection strengths, map the alignment to current research and teaching emphasis at the University, and gather information on use by the Penn community, external researchers and others.    

Brigitte Weinsteiger, Associate Vice Provost for Collections and Scholarly Communications, and Sean Quimby, Associate University Librarian and Director of the Jay I. Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, will closely collaborate with Thomas and lead the team that will develop a forward-looking strategy guided by principles of sustainability and resulting in collections that represent a significant contribution to scholarship and society. “This initiative will build upon deep strengths while at the same time identifying new opportunities to make our special collections more diverse, more inclusive, and better able to support and inspire future generations of scholars,” notes Quimby. Scholarship on these collections will reflect the overlapping and intertwined nature of the Libraries’ holdings in rare books, manuscripts, photographs, and other formats with the unique and distinctive acquisitions in areas such as the Middle East and Asia.   

“As libraries continue to respond to rapidly-shifting circumstances, our ability to focus and yet remain agile and open to innovation, whether technological, social, or educational, will be critical to our success,” says Thomas. In addition to holding leadership roles at three major research libraries, in 2005 Thomas organized the ground-breaking Janus Conference at Cornell, a tribute to the formidable contributions to collection development by thought leader Ross Atkinson, and in 2016, the Hazen Symposium at Harvard, celebrating the legacy of Dan Hazen, noted Latin Americanist and global studies expert to the fields of area studies and building collections of excellence in libraries.  

The Penn Libraries’ distinctive collections strategy will incorporate the University of Pennsylvania’s strategic pillars of inclusion, innovation, and impact, while supporting collaboration within the Penn community, Philadelphia, regionally, nationally, and internationally. “Sarah’s longstanding experience and collections-building expertise will help guide the Penn Libraries’ collecting efforts into new areas for development, ensuring that our distinctive collections contribute internationally to the provision of access and preservation of global scholarship and cultural heritage materials for decades to come,” says Weinsteiger.  

For press inquiries, please contact Monica Fonorow, Communications Coordinator for the Penn Libraries. 



April 27, 2021