The Ring

Bengtson appointed university librarian

Tue, 2011-09-06 12:19

Photo of Bengtson by Sheila Eaton
Bengtson. Photo: Sheila Eaton

Here’s a riddle for you. What do medieval studies and digital humanities have in common? The answer comes in the form of UVic’s newest university librarian, Jonathan Bengtson.

Bengtson is currently the director of library and archives at the University of St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto, as well as the library director for the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies (PIMS), one of the most important libraries for medievalists in North America.

He trained as a medievalist at Oxford and has been director of academic and special libraries in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. Before arriving at UofT in 2004, Bengtson was head librarian of The Queen’s College, Oxford, and, afterwards, the executive director of the Providence Athenaeum in Providence, Rhode Island.

“The 1753 Athenaeum is one of the oldest cultural institutions in the State of Rhode Island, and was established before there was even a bank in Providence,” Bengtson explains. “An independent membership library, it is part private club, part community centre, part special collections library and part local lending library. It’s a place where the card catalogue is still in use and it was a fascinating place to work.”

However, what enticed Bengtson to UofT in 2004 was a desire to engage with the transformations to research, teaching and learning brought on by the digital revolution. “There has never been a more exciting time to be an academic librarian,” says Bengtson. “UVic’s interest in digital humanities and its Canada Research Chair in Humanities Computing were compelling reasons for my interest in moving out West,” he says. “I have been spending a great deal of time interacting with libraries that are in transition, moving away from print and learning how to deal with digital objects.”

“There is a need to be cautious while transitioning into the digital age,” says Bengtson. “St. Mike’s is Marshall McLuhan’s old stomping grounds. And as McLuhan pointed out, one type of media doesn’t supersede the next, so the shifting balance between the physical and the digital is an interesting one and will engage scholars and librarians into the foreseeable future.”

Bengtson says libraries will increasingly be less of a service organization and more of a partner in the educational enterprise within institutions. While at UVic, he wants to work with faculty to exploit the potential of digital tools.

Bengtson takes on his new role in January, and he’s looking forward to the move.

“Right now it takes me about 90 minutes each way to commute from my home in Whitby to my job in Toronto. I’m looking forward to walking or cycling to work, and I must admit my wife is not a big fan of snow.”
In his spare time, he enjoys being outdoors, camping, kayaking, playing ultimate Frisbee, squash, racquetball and beach volleyball. He also likes to travel.

The father of two young children, Bengtson is married to a librarian. In fact, he and Sue met at University College London when they were both working on their master’s of library studies. One consequence is that their seven-year-old daughter is already beginning to classify the books in her room.

Bengtson’s predecessor is Marnie Swanson. She is only the second university librarian, having succeeded Dean Halliwell in 1988. Swanson will retire in December.