Deb Ward Retires from Rewarding Career at the University Libraries 

In November 2023, Deb Ward announced her retirement from the role as vice provost for libraries and university librarian, effective May 31, 2024. She has seen many changes throughout her career, including big changes to Ellis Library, obtaining a prestigious grant for improvements to the West Stacks, and assisting with increasing digitization of many collections. In her final year of her appointment, Ward oversaw the hiring of twelve NTT faculty for the libraries.

“I love being at the center of the scholarship, the touchpoint for the flow of scholarly information,” Ward says.  

Her career in various library positions on campus has spanned over 25 years, resulting in her final role at Mizzou that she never even aspired to.  

Starting as director of the Health Sciences Library in 1997, what she refers to as her “dream job,” Ward then moved to interim associate director for Research and Information Services for the University Libraries in 2009 and later became the associate university librarian for Specialized Libraries in 2017.  

Ward was appointed interim vice provost for libraries and university librarian in 2019, and then accepted the permanent role in 2022. 

Ward considers herself very fortunate to have a career that turned out like hers did. She was happy in the Health Sciences Library and wouldn’t have even thought of applying to be the director of an academic library but was encouraged to apply. She learned that the skills were transferable, and she really enjoyed the position.  

The Future of Libraries  

Ward knows that libraries face many challenges in the future, including space planning, recruiting and retaining staff, and increasing digitization. She says that some make the assumption that Ellis is the “same old library that existed back in the 80s or the 90s.” 

However, university libraries are well positioned to look towards the future. They created a new Department of Digital Initiatives, staying on top of the latest electronic tools in digital scholarship, digital curation and preservation and open scholarship. 

One of Ward’s most lasting achievements was serving as project director for a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Challenge Grant to assist with upgrading the West Stacks in Ellis Library. This project included challenges such as upgrading climate control systems to be able to manage humidity, dealing with accessibility issues with areas that don’t have elevator access, and managing structural stacks supports that can’t be moved. This would obviously be a costly project, so the idea for the grant was to close the gap between how much they could raise from donors and the remaining project costs.  

Being awarded a grant from a nationally recognized organization such as the NEH was meaningful, Ward said. 

“It gives you vetting by someone at the national level who understands library programing, the importance of the preservation of the materials, somebody who understands the building design–all those people scrutinized it and said this is a terrific project,” Ward said. 

The project was originally planned to finish in September 2026, but they are working on getting an extension to allow time to do more fundraising. Ward is happy to say they have hit the halfway point on their fundraising goal. Although she won’t be here to see the project to completion, she has complete confidence in Jeannette Pierce, associate university librarian for Research, Access, and Instructional Services, who has been involved in writing the grant and in relocating materials from the West Stacks so work can begin.  

After such a long and fulfilling career, Ward plans to slow down and enjoy retirement. She plans to do some gardening, work on the genealogy history of her family and spend more time with her family, including one daughter, son-in-law, and a two-year old granddaughter in Lexington, Kentucky and another daughter in Denver, Colorado.  

Vice Provost for Libraries finalist candidate visits were scheduled at the end of April and will be continuing through the beginning of May. More information about the search committee can be found on the MU Vice Provost for Libraries & University Librarian search page

Deb Ward’s Accomplishments 

She collaborated with partners on significant projects in the health sciences: Integrated Advanced Information Management Systems (IAIMS) (which resulted in the implementation of the electronic health record at UMHC); an academic partner in the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM); creating a digital library for the state in partnership with the Area Health Education Centers in Missouri (MDL), and the Family Physicians Inquiries Network (FPIN), which created publishing opportunities for residents and faculty, while advancing clinical scholarship and evidence-based practice.

As the leader of MU Libraries, Ward navigated challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring uninterrupted library services while implementing safety protocols and managing a shutdown.

Ward is the project director for a Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to upgrade the climate control and security in the West Stacks of Ellis Library, so that they can function as a permanent location for distinctive collections.