Many University of Mississippi employees sooner or later retire, but not everyone leaves behind a rich legacy of accomplishments. When Julia Rholes retires from her position of dean of UM Libraries in December, she will definitely join that short list of people who truly made a difference at the university.
During her 12-year tenure, Rholes has overseen several improvements. These include the renovation of several library areas to create commons areas, the addition of critical research collections and digital humanities collections and the digitization of many critical archival and accountancy collections. Other projects she has spearheaded are improvements to the library website, the creation of critical new library positions, the expansion of public services and growth in the area of fundraising.
“These achievements have been the product of teamwork within the library,” Rholes said. “We are fortunate to have many hardworking, talented people in the Libraries who do really care about their work.”
Prior to coming to the University, Rholes held administrative positions at the University of Kansas (interim dean, assistant dean) and at Texas A&M University (interim assistant dean, head of Reference and Instruction). She recalls the circumstances that led to her decision to accept the dean’s position in June 2003.
“I was very impressed on my interview here by the friendliness of the people,” she said. “I was also impressed by the obvious talents of the people I met.”
Since then, the Rutgers University graduate has had to rise to the many challenges that came with the job, including space limitations and the increase in the number of faculty and students.
“My vision was trying to improve our facilities, collections and services for our different users,” Rholes said. “While growth is a positive development, it has been hard to meet the growing library needs that come with more students and faculty. You always wish you had more funds. I believe we made significant progress, but the job is never really over.”
A second generation Irish American, Rholes is the first person in her family to attend college. She received a B.A. from Mount Holyoke College and an M.A. from the University of Texas (Austin).
“I feel fortunate to live in a country which still offers such strong educational opportunities,” Rholes said. “I consider education to be so critical, especially higher education.”
Rholes’ colleagues have observed and admire her tenacious example of servant leadership.
“Dean Rholes has maintained grace and enthusiasm during her tenure at the University,” said Jennifer Ford, head of UM’s Archives and Special Collections. “She has always been supportive of patron and employee needs. Because of this, people love coming through the library doors and employees love working here.”
Angela Barlow Brown, UM Foundation director of development for special projects, said Rholes has transformed the library to meet the needs of UM students.
“From purchasing databases and journals with Library dollars raised, bringing in a coffee shop, purchasing comfortable seating and overall striving to provide the best working and study environment possible,” she said. “I love her passion for serving the students. She wants only the best for them that she can provide as a Dean and as a library team as a whole.”
For all her dedication and diligence at work, Rholes does find the time to relax and unwind. Among her favorite leisure activities are movies, gardening and occasionally cooking.
“I love to read, in that I am a librarian after all,” Rholes said. “I enjoy traveling. There are a few continents I haven’t made it to.”
With less than three months left before she leaves her campus office for the last time, Rholes looks both back with a sense of gratitude and forward with hopeful anticipation of even better things to come.
“I will miss the people I work with in the library, on campus and across the state. I believe I was very lucky in this regard,” Rholes said. “I hope to devote more time to family and friends who are located across many states. I also hope to give back by volunteering more. I’d also like to sleep past 5 a.m. a little more often.”
Rholes has been active in a number of professional organizations, including elected positions within the American Library Association, the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries and the EPSCOR Science Information Group. In 2002, she was named a Frye Institute Fellow and has authored a number of publications in the field of academic librarianship.
When asked if she had any parting “words of wisdom” for her successor, Rholes waxed philosophical.
“You have a lot of choices and decisions and I think that you should strive to be both fair and kind,” she said. “It isn’t always easy.”
Good, solid advice from a woman who has definitely fulfilled her role in the ongoing UM pantheon.
Patrons and supporters of the J.D. Williams Library are asked to continue their financial contributions to the work Rholes has begun through the UM Foundation. For more information, contact Angela Barlow Brown at 662-915-5944.
By Edwin Smith