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Balancing the Books


New Dean of Libraries Lareese Hall is thrilled to join the RISD community. | photo by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH

When she arrived at RISD in late August, newly appointed Dean of Libraries Lareese Hall felt like she was coming home. “Every library is different,” she explains, “and every community is different. What I love about RISD is that we have permission to question everything here. And I don’t need to explain myself as much as I have in the past. People understand the nuances of creative inquiry and the many ways there are to conduct research.”

In her previous role as architecture and art librarian at MIT, Hall relished the challenge of connecting teaching, learning and research in the arts in a science-oriented setting. Now that she is overseeing RISD’s prized academic resources – the Fleet Library at RISD, the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab, the Writing Center and Campus Exhibitions – she’ll have even more opportunities to make vital connections in support of student and faculty research. 

“It’s wonderful for all of us to be under one proverbial roof,” says Hall. “Each of these entities provides an informal learning environment where people navigate ideas using words, images, objects and organisms – both tangible and intangible resources. We’re all providing informal laboratories where students can get excited about chaos and uncertainty, and there is so much overlap and so many possibilities for collaboration.”  

Hall is also looking forward to collaborating with other deans at RISD and thinking strategically about how her work can support theirs. “I’ve never been interested in maintaining the status quo,” she asserts. “I plan to get out of my office and engage with both the RISD and Providence communities.”

Thanks in part to her own undergraduate education at a liberal arts college (Oberlin) and the MFA in Writing she earned from Goddard (before earning her Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh), Hall is particularly inspired by RISD’s strong and diverse Liberal Arts departments. “I love that RISD approaches the liberal arts as an art form,” she says. “I see that practice as unique to RISD and another example of how the college encourages students to think about the tangible and the intangible from various perspectives.” 

Hall has also been exploring the RISD Museum and describes its collections as incredible. “What a gift to have a world-class museum with an outstanding exhibition program right on campus,” she says. “Libraries have a lot to learn from museums about how to put digitized information in order and how to creatively use established collections.”

Hall’s natural inclination to find patterns and “carefully dismantle existing systems in order to reconfigure them in unexpected ways” should serve her well at RISD. Since the collections she’s now overseeing are massive, she feels a real responsibility to the community to make those resources accessible and relevant. 

“People often assume that art students are going to be more interested in the tangible,” Hall notes, “but that’s not necessarily true. We’re all interested in digitized materials as well as physical resources. And the library should continue to be a place where creative people can play. 

“In my own creative work, I surround myself with books, artwork, podcasts and ideas,” she adds. “I still remember going to the library as a kid and getting my first library card, and I want to share that sense of wonder with everyone who enters the library.”

Simone Solondz

tags: academic collaborations, multimedia, research, diversity

RISD has a long history of offering Saturday and after-school classes for children and teens, as this photo from c. 1910 confirms.