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Western Illinois University Libraries Dean Phyllis Self, pictured here in her office during Spring 2013, will retire April 30. Nearly 50 years ago, Self began her career in libraries. A retirement reception for her is scheduled from 2-4 p.m. Thursday, April 25 in the Leslie F. Malpass Library Garden Lounge.
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WIU Libraries Dean Phyllis Self to Retire April 30

April 15, 2013

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Nearly 50 years ago Phyllis Self began her career in libraries. And although she worked on the east coast for several years and has traveled internationally in her service to libraries, Self will retire in western Illinois—the same region in which she began in libraries in 1965. She has served as the dean of Western Illinois University Libraries for the last seven years; she will retire April 30.

A retirement reception for Self is scheduled from 2-4 p.m. Thursday, April 25 in the Leslie F. Malpass Library Garden Lounge.

Long-Term Library Vision

She began her career at Black Hawk College's library as a student assistant. Later, she worked at the Moline Public Library and as a school librarian at the Rockridge district in Taylor Ridge (IL). In the early 1970s, she taught biology at the Sciota school district (10 miles northwest of Macomb) and also served as a school librarian there while her husband, Dave Self, earned his bachelor's degree in business from WIU in the early 1970s.

She wound up as a student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she eventually earned her master's and her doctorate degrees from UIUC's library school.

"I had always wanted to be a science librarian, and eventually, I became a medical librarian at the University of Illinois. I was there until about 1987," Self said.

Over the years, she served as the director at the medical library at the University of Cincinnati and as the director of the health sciences library at Virginia Commonwealth University. She said she wound up back in the western Illinois region as a "fluke," after she saw the dean of University Libraries position advertised and decided to apply.

"I remember reading about it and called my husband, Dave (who was also working as a librarian on the east coast at the time) and asked him what he thought about the possibility of moving back to Macomb," Self said.

After her husband searched and found a house they could buy—and added his stipulation that he could retire—the Selfs moved back to Macomb in 2006.

During her time as dean, Self said she is proud of the ways she and University Libraries' faculty and staff have helped innovate the services offered to students, faculty, staff and community library users.

"For example, when I came here, we were still limiting how many interlibrary loan items a patron could request and check out. Now, we do not limit requests. We have also tried to provide more streamlined services, so you go to one desk for check out, for interlibrary loan, etc. Of course, we still have a reference desk, but for the basic things that people want and need, individuals now can go to one place," Self explained. "It was a matter of reviewing our policies and practices and asking, 'How can we do better?'"

During her time at Western, University Libraries has also made advances in offering other user perks, such as Malpass Mocha Café (a counter that serves coffee and food items) and digital workspace for students via the Digital Commons, both located on the ground floor of the Leslie F. Malpass Library. The result of a collaboration between University Technology and University Libraries, in the Digital Commons, students have access to a number of services, including a computer lab area with scanners and printers; a Digital Studio in which two Macintosh computer stations provide digital multimedia production tools; viewing rooms (for viewing DVDs or videos); and an opaque drawing room that can be used for collaborative learning activities.

In 2010, the WIU Libraries and various partners (including the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western) were awarded a consumer health subcontract worth almost $39,000 from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Greater Midwest Region. Through the initiative, "Building the Future with Community Health Information," University Libraries faculty and staff helped the citizens of western Illinois learn about and utilize the Medline Plus online resource, a free, health-information website.

"The subcontract funding enabled us to provide information and instruction about the Medline Plus database to health providers, consumers in the general public and to librarians in the area. In order to reach a wider audience, we partnered with what was then known as the Alliance Library System*, which had service area of 16 counties in our region," she said. (*Note: The Alliance Library System has now merged with the Reaching Across Illinois Library System, or RAILS.)

During her time at Western, Self said she is most proud of her work that has helped University Libraries provide more user-friendly services and has aided in Western Illinois University Libraries gaining visibility inside and outside of WIU.

"We participate in various activities and programs, such as in Welcome Week and Summer Orientation and Registration (SOAR), which we never did before I was here. We actively reach out to the student population, and we try to make the library more inviting to the students and get their input. I have a student advisory committee because I want to hear what student needs are," she noted. "We also have received a few grants, such as for the Medline Plus program. Because of Western's nursing and the health sciences programs, we are a member of the regional network of medical libraries, and with my familiarity of the National Library of Medicine, we have been able to complete such innovative projects. These kinds of initiatives not only help our students, faculty and staff, but they also help increase our visibility in the community so people in the western Illinois region know we are a community resource, as well."

After Self retires this spring, she said she will travel, continue to knit (one of her personal passions is fibers) and continue her volunteer work with the Salvation Army. She said she has does not plan to stay too involved with libraries, although she said she would help out with literacy efforts if such opportunities arise.

"When I started my professional career, I could foresee a time when individuals, such as physicians, would be able to perform their own searches in specialized databases in order to find information to do their jobs better," Self noted. "It is rewarding to see how technology has helped change how people engage with and use information. I look back at my career, and I can truly say it has been great. It's taken a long time for the vision I had as a young librarian to come to fruition. My hope is that I helped University Libraries transition into the 21st century with a forward-looking approach."

Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg (
Office of University Relations