You could say Lorraine Haricombe didn't choose Kansas University; KU eventually chose her.
As she begins as libraries dean at KU this fall, Haricombe says much of her initial action will include getting to know library employees, the facilities and members of the KU community.
It will be less about making sweeping changes for Haricombe, who is leaving her deanship at Bowling Green State University in Ohio after five years.
"Once you lay groundwork and people know who you are, it becomes easier for them to work with you," she said.
Haricombe was recruited and encouraged to apply for the position after Stella Bentley, dean since 2001, announced her retirement plans in November.
"It came at the right time in my career," Haricombe said recently. "I've been moving up for the last three years."
After three days of interviews and presentations on campus, administrators named Haricombe the new dean in April.
Now she says she is ecstatic to take advantage of the opportunity.
She grew up in the republic of South Africa, the daughter of a librarian.
After earning a bachelor's degree in information and library science, Haricombe moved to the United States in 1986 with her two daughters to pursue a master's degree from the University of Illinois. She also eventually earned a doctorate in library and information science there.
After her education, Haricombe worked in the campus library system at Illinois until she moved to take an associate dean position at Northern Illinois University. In 2001, she was hired to the top position at Bowling Green.
South Africa to the Midwest
Haricombe's path to administrator of a major campus library may seem atypical, unless you know her family history.
"I grew up as a daughter of a parent who was not a trained librarian, but my mother grew up in the town library," Haricombe said.
Her early exposure included helping with daily tasks around the library and other programs.
"I'm not sure if that planted a seed. I didn't want to become a teacher or nurse, which were the other options," she said.
After graduating from the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, she worked as an administrator at Peninsula Technikon in South Africa. It was a job she thoroughly enjoyed, and it was where she also learned the most basic service libraries provide - something she thinks about often.
"I rather enjoyed helping and directing people to the information we had in the library," she said.
When Haricombe decided to pursue her education further in 1986 in the United States, she also encountered quite a transition. Her daughters, Heidi, then 11, and Gretchen, 5, also made the trek across the Atlantic Ocean.
"I was an adult with 11 years of experience before I decided to come to (Illinois). In the mid-1980s, it was quite a conundrum," she said.
Haricombe received a scholarship and opportunity for her studies just as her home country came out of years of political turmoil.
A 'consultive leader'
Now, after years working in university libraries in the Midwest, Haricombe is ready to take over her most daunting task to date. She leaves behind a staff of about 80 people at Bowling Green for 177 people at KU.
"I felt a connection with the library employees the day I met with them. They are very versatile, quite frankly," she said.
With her new position, the larger library facilities are spread throughout the campus.
"I am familiar with some of the issues, but KU is much larger, and I am open to learning in new ways. I'm certainly not coming there with a magic wand to fix everything," she said.
But as Haricombe reflects on her tenure at Bowling Green, she says some changes are inevitable. She worked to help facilitate more use for computers and other technology in the Bowling Green library, and with the exploration of changes, its important to seek input from others on campus in major decisions, Haricombe says.
"My leadership style is consultive," she said.
As she aimed to seek out and hear from faculty members, students and researchers on campus, Haricombe said that helped develop a "culture of change" on the campus, which made library users more willing to accept some changes.
"Lorraine understands the challenges and opportunities of research libraries everywhere, as well as how critical collaboration and partnership will be to libraries' ongoing work of transformation as they prepare for the future," said Denise Stephens, KU's vice provost for information services.
During her interviews at KU, Haricombe became impressed with the level of involvement from faculty and library staff members in the search.
"They wanted to be sure that somebody who came on board would hear them," she said.
In her initial semester, Haricombe plans to be visible and meet as many people on campus as she can. This is part of a likely broader plan to help the campus community become more familiar with the libraries and their services. Haricombe also has worked to some extent on library fundraising.
"Libraries don't have alums," she said.
At a time that sees many leadership changes at KU, longtime and new KU administrators and staff members have cited Haricombe's leadership and track record as the reason for her hiring.
"I find her and observed her to be in both small meetings and larger venues to be just thoughtful and approachable," said Bill Myers, KU's director of library development.
"The libraries are the lifeblood of great universities, and Haricombe brings to the job a sophisticated understanding of the complexities and challenges of preserving and disseminating the staggering amounts of new knowledge at our fingertips," said new KU Provost Richard Lariviere.
"Libraries are barometers on the health of a campus," Haricombe said. "And we're there to serve faculty, researchers and students. To listen to what they need and be observant, so we remain relevant to the people we serve."
Haricombe recently married Horace Chapman, who will eventually join her in Lawrence. Her daughter, Heidi, 31, is now a general surgeon who practices in Charlotte, N.C. Her other daughter, Gretchen, 25, teaches in the Chicago area.