One of the top historical collection sites in the region is getting a new director set on continuing a good namesake.
Bridget Burke, currently dean of libraries at North Dakota State University, was selected after a nationwide search for a new University of Wyoming American Heritage Center director.
“There’s always been an awareness of the American Heritage Center out there as a landmark in the field,” she said. “The attraction is in the depth and breadth of the collections and the programming they do around the state, and nationally, that serves both scholars and school kids and citizens. It’s really an impressive organization, and I’m really excited to be coming there.”
Interim Director Rick Ewig was on the search committee that reviewed many applicants and gave a recommendation to UW Vice President of Academic Affairs David Jones, who made the final decision.
“She had great experience in many different special collections in different libraries around the country,” Ewig said. “Her wide range of experience was certainly an important factor that we looked at. I was very happy when David Jones selected Bridget Burke.”
Burke spent time in Alaska and at Boston College before moving to NDSU, working with historical collections.
“I have spent about 25 years working in cultural heritage collections ranging from collections up in Alaska that were really looking at the world from the north to much more local history collections,” she said.
While she’s only been dean of libraries at NDSU for two years, her coworkers are understanding of her leaving for UW and the American Heritage Center.
“The response I’ve been getting is, ‘Oh you’re going to (UW). I get it,’” she said. “So, I’ve been getting a lot of support from people here who recognize the opportunity.”
Her main jobs as director will be on both the administrative and collection level, Ewig said, such as budget decisions, strategic planning and personnel.
“An important part of the job is outreach — not only on campus, but to the state and even outside Wyoming’s borders,” he said.
Outreach also means speaking with possible donors, not only for money, but for collection pieces, Ewig said.
“We’re always looking for new collections we could add to our collection areas, so we fundraise money and go out and look for those collections,” he said. “And often times, donors want to talk with the director.”
Leaving a dean of libraries position for a job focused on heritage collections was also an important part of Burke’s decision, she said.
“You go up to that administrative level, and you’re sort of one step away from the thing that initially interested you in the profession,” she said. “I am really looking forward to working with collections.”
While she hopes to continue leading the American Heritage Center forward, an adjustment period is needed, especially during the upcoming months.
“You’ll have a new president, a new provost, a new dean of libraries, and this position will be new,” Burke said. “We’re going to be figuring this out together — what are the next steps, and what are those steps in the context of fiscal restraints.”
Right now, however, she is set on finishing her time at NDSU.
“I’m fully present at NDSU — I have several months more to go here and, not by any means, have slowed down,” she said. “I’m trying to finish well so the next person can just pick things up, but it gets hard and I’m starting to think about the next step.”