Polly Thistlethwaite is Professor in the Mina Rees Library at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, having served there as Chief Librarian 2010 – 2020 and as CUNY’s Interim Dean of Libraries in 2020. Queer archival work and AIDS activism starting in the late 1980s primed Polly’s focus on open, widely accessible, and networked collections. In the pre-digital era, library entrance policies prevented access to knowledge for those who desperately sought it. Now, with access to research brokered by electronic publishers through library subscriptions, we continue to deny the greatest part of access to scholarship. Higher education must square reader online access policies with professed missions to serve the public good. Academic publishing serves the narrowest of purposes if only elite readers can reach a text to read it.
CUNY Libraries have long focused on sharing materials, on getting books into readers’ hands and onto their screens, in ways that are both crisis-driven and last for an eternity. Intra-CUNY borrowing expanded in 2005, transforming CUNY Libraries into a high-functioning inter-lending system. With the Metropolitan New York Library Council, OCLC SHARES, the New York Public Library, New York University, and Columbia University libraries CUNY Libraries have persistently expanded access for CUNY scholars and for those unaffiliated with institutions. We established the CUNY Academic Works institutional repository in 2014. Just as CUNY readers seek meaningful access to the fullest part of the world’s literature, CUNY librarians press for all CUNY scholarship to be publicly available.
I served as Chief Librarian at the CUNY Graduate Center from 2011, after a year on an interim line, and stepped out of that role to be CUNY’s Interim Dean for Library Services March – December 2020. I started at the Graduate Center in 2002 as Associate Librarian for Public Services. Before that I was Coordinator of Instruction at Colorado State University Libraries. I worked for CUNY Hunter College Library during the early 1990s and at New York University and Yale in the late 1980s. Before that, I earned a BS in Anthropology from the University of Illinois and clerked in the U of I’s Communications Library. I earned an MS in Library and Information Science from the U of I in 1984 and a 2nd MA in Liberal Studies from the CUNY Graduate Center in 1996.
My library administrative work has supported my interest in public history and archival practice. In 2019 I developed a lecture-performance using the archive of material I collected about the Berlin museum founder, collector, raconteur, and queer elder Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. I composed an essay centering the role of lesbians jailed in the New York City House of Detention for Women in sparking the Stonewall Riots. All my scholarship is posted in CUNY’s Academic Works institutional repository.