Dean of libraries to retire

Alberta Comer, dean of libraries, will retire on Dec. 31, 2022. Since becoming dean of the J. Willard Marriott Library in August 2013, Comer has initiated impactful changes that have rippled across campus. Under her direction, the library has expanded its outreach to the community, dramatically pivoted to serve students during COVID-19 disruptions and deepened its commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.

“I have said before—and it continues to be true—the Marriott Library is a beautiful building with outstanding services and resources, but what makes it truly exceptional is the amazing people who work here,” Comer said. “It has been an honor to serve as the U’s dean of libraries.”

As dean, Comer oversaw a revitalization of the library that created spaces for the community to connect, including a Family Reading Room, Katherine’s Courtyard and ProtoSpace, an innovation hub. She also expanded ways for the community to access the resources of the library with free checkout to all Utah residents—and no late fees.

Multiple departments across campus benefited from Comer’s leadership and library partnership, including the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, which collaborates with the library on an Andrew W. Mellon grant. The library also works with the colleges of Humanities, Fine Arts and Architecture to facilitate Digital Matters, a multi-disciplinary program designed for collaboration. This year, the School for Cultural and Social Transformation joined the initiative.

When campus closed because of COVID-19, Comer helped navigate an almost-instant adaptation to online services by expanding a home-delivery program to mail books and computers to U students. The library also helped produce and deliver face shields needed by the health care community.

“We appreciate Dean Comer’s contributions to the University of Utah and our surrounding community,” said Martell Teasley, interim senior vice president of academic affairs. “Her influence has been felt across this campus. A national search will be launched in the coming weeks to fill this important position.”

Comer has facilitated improving retention among library staff with significant salary increases and a demonstrated commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. She was key to creating the position for—and hiring—an assistant dean to oversee EDI efforts in the library. Through her leadership, the university’s three libraries, Marriott, Eccles Health Sciences, and Faust Law libraries have increased collaboration to best serve students, faculty, and staff. By building relationships, Comer and her development staff have raised more than $11 million and nearly $30 million in gifts-in-kind, with more than $2.5 million received in grants since 2013.