UW Art Museum

The University of Wyoming announced Monday that American Heritage Center Director Bridget Burke is resigning effective Dec. 8 and will be replaced in the interim by Dean of Libraries Ivan Gaetz.

UW is using the director’s “unexpected” departure to review the American Heritage Center, with plans to bring in a team of outside library and special collections experts, who will report on the center’s strengths, weaknesses and future.

“There hasn’t been an external review done on the American Heritage Center for about 17 years,” said Gaetz, who will head up the assessment. “So, it’s been quite a while and given the development of digitization and technologies, it’s probably time to kind of reassess the big picture of the American Heritage Center.”

The center is a repository of rare books and primary source documents, with a focus on the politics and history of Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain region.

“The American Heritage Center is a very important asset for the university and for the state for that matter,” UW Spokesman Chad Baldwin said. “But it’s always a good idea to assess how things are going and this departure of a director presents such an opportunity.”

Gaetz added the center had a “tremendous reputation” among scholars as a research center for primary source documents.

“Scholars come here on a regular basis from across the nation and even around the world to do research on the American West and different subject areas that are well-represented in the American Heritage Center collections,” he said.

“We don’t want to lose that; we want to build on that.”

By building on the center’s strengths and identifying areas in need of attention, the center should be in a better position to enhance the university’s research arm — a goal detailed throughout the university’s strategic plan, Gaetz said.

“It’s a good opportunity to step back, do a broad assessment and kind of figure out ways that really develop the American Heritage Center for the future, in step with the university and where it’s going,” he said.

Burke is resigning to take a position as associate dean for special collections with the University of Oklahoma Libraries, according to a UW news release.

“The American Heritage Center is an extraordinary research asset to the University of Wyoming, and a collection of national significance,” Burke writes via email. “Dean Gaetz is an excellent choice to serve as interim and to steward the external assessment.”

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