NORMAN – Sul H. Lee, who has served as dean of University Libraries at the University of Oklahoma for more than 30 years, today announced his plans to retire from the university, effective June 30, 2012.
“Sul Lee is recognized among his peers as one of the finest university librarians in the entire country,” said OU President David L. Boren. “It is because of his ability and dedication that he had become the longest serving dean on the OU campus. I deeply appreciate his outstanding leadership of the OU Library system.”
During Dean Lee’s tenure, OU Libraries’ collections – including those in the Architecture, Engineering, Fine Arts, and Physics and Astronomy branches as well as the Laurence S. Youngblood Energy Library – have grown from 1.7 million to 5.5 million volumes and from more than 14,000 to 70,000 serials. The 5 millionth volume, presented to the library as a gift from Mr. and Mrs. John Nichols of Oklahoma City, was Herman Melville’s The Whale, later known by its more familiar name, Moby Dick.
During Lee’s tenure, the library’s endowment also achieved significant growth, from less than $300,000 to more than $25 million. Some of the exceptional grants and gifts acquired by the OU Libraries are:
• a $1 million gift from Mr. and Mrs. Walter H. Helmerich III to endow the Peggy V. Helmerich Chair for the Dean of Libraries; earlier, Mr. Helmerich made a $1 million gift for the Peggy V. Helmerich Library Enrichment Fund
• $7.5 million in contributions from Mrs. Laurence S. Youngblood, made during her lifetime and in her estate, all in support of the Youngblood Energy Library, including an endowed chair for the Energy Library’s librarian position
• a $3 million estate gift from the estate of John and Eloise Cable, including $1 million to establish the John and Eloise Cable Chair for the Curator of History of Science Collections and $2 million for library collections, programs and services
• a $1.15 million challenge grant from the Kerr Foundation in Oklahoma City for library collections and programs
•a $1.8 million endowment from the late Faery and Theodore Loveridge for library enrichment • a $2 million gift from the Neustadt family for the Doris W. Neustadt wing of Bizzell Memorial Library
• and a $335,000 gift from the late William J. Welch to establish a professorship for the curator position in the Western History Collections.
The library also has experienced significant physical growth, including the addition of the Doris W. Neustadt Wing to Bizzell Memorial Library, for which Lee was instrumental in planning and raising funds. The wing opened to the public in May 1982 and added more than 92,000 square feet of space to the main library.
Bizzell Memorial Library, which features Cherokee Gothic architecture and serene study retreats, including the Peggy V. Helmerich Great Reading Room, recently was recognized as one of the most beautiful university libraries in the nation. Along with Bizzell, Campus Grotto: The Inside Source at College’s top 25 “quick list” also included libraries at such well-known institutions of higher learning as Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Johns Hopkins University, Dartmouth and the University of California at Berkeley.
OU Libraries’ expenditures for materials have grown from just over $1 million to $15 million, while the number of library personnel also has grown, though thanks to vastly improved technology, that growth has been relatively modest. The number of professional staff rose from 46 to 61, support staff from 84 to 96, and the number of student assistants almost doubled.
Library operations have undergone significant transformations since Lee was named dean. When he started at OU, the collections were accessed via a card catalog, and reference librarians staffed each floor to provide assistance. Today, library users can get help 24/7 via the Web and have access to many online help options and interactive tutorials.
During Lee’s tenure, the OU Libraries, like libraries worldwide, have revolutionized how they do business; Lee has been key to keeping OU’s library system at the forefront of these changes and innovations.
He attributes much of his success in his university career to the many solid relationships he has formed along the way. This is perhaps best evidenced in the long list of endowments and substantial gifts — most, if not all, of the named spaces in Bizzell are a result of friendships Dean Lee developed among the donors.
Under his leadership, for example, the Bizzell Library Society was developed. This group has been instrumental in building the library endowment and achieving fundraising goals.
He also oversaw the creation or enhancement of several notable collections, including:
• the History of Science Collections, with 12 first editions of Galileo’s works, three of which contain Galileo’s own handwriting
• the Western History Collections, one of the largest collections in the world of documents and photographs that focus on the history of the American West
• the Harry W. Bass Business History Collection, containing materials on the histories of business leaders and firms, and the economic, social and political forces that influence the role of business in society
• the John and Mary Nichols Rare Books and Special Collections, composed of rare books and special materials in English, European and American literatures dating from the 15th century to the present
• the Bizzell Bible Collection, featuring many rare and unusual bibles and related works from around the world
• and the Daniel J. and Ruth F. Boorstin Collection, containing more than 6,000 books collected by Daniel Boorstin, a Tulsan and Librarian of Congress who wrote more than 20 books, including a trilogy, The Americans: The Democratic Experience, the final volume of which was awarded the 1973 Pulitzer Prize in history.
Lee was the driving force behind a major national conference that OU Libraries has hosted in Oklahoma City every year since 1981. The conference, which draws international attendance and features nationally recognized speakers, addresses such topics as digital collections, library space and the role of the research library in today’s world.
Lee also has played a key role in launching Books that Inspire exhibition in collaboration with the OU Athletics Department as a way to celebrate reading and recognize National Library Week in 2001.
Before coming to OU, Lee was dean of library services and professor of library science at Indiana State University. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in political science from Bowling Green State University, master of arts degrees in political science from the University of Toledo and in library science from the University of Michigan, and conducted doctoral work in international relations from Michigan State University.