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About

Polly ThistlethwaiteThe contemporary Library is a network, not just a book stack or a portal for journal subscriptions. To provide equitable access to the world’s academic and cultural heritage, libraries must focus on sharing materials widely, on getting books into readers’ hands or onto their screens, not simply preserving books and archival material. We must tend our collections and tend our networks. New York City’s elite libraries engage in open digital publishing to benefit all readers, but policies for on-site access sometimes reflect legacies of elitism. To serve democracies in crisis, libraries must embrace access as a tenant of library practice, not as a privilege for a select few.

My early work with queer archives and AIDS activism primed my present-day focus on open, networked library access. Research libraries held information crucial for survival and resistance by people on the social and economic margins, but library entrance policies unconscionably prevented access for those who most desperately sought it. Academic libraries, now as then, must square their access policies with their professed missions to serve the public good.

To counter commercial and institutional restrictions to library material, I helped expand intra-CUNY borrowing in 2005 and steered the GC Library’s development into a high-functioning inter-lending hub. I consistently engage with the Metropolitan New York Library Council, OCLC SHARES, the New York Public Library, New York University, and Columbia University libraries to enhance library access for scholars unaffiliated with institutions. I chaired the committee that established the CUNY Academic Works institutional repository in 2014. I support the as yet under-attended effort to make all CUNY scholarship publicly available.

In 2013-2015 I co-PI’d the JustPublics@365 project with Prof. Jessie Daniels to engage academics with social justice efforts using technology and social media. We authored a book based on the project, Being a Scholar in the Digital Era,¬†Policy Press, 2016.

I became Chief Librarian at the CUNY Graduate Center in 2011 after starting 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’s Bobst Library and Yale’s Cross Campus Library in the late 1980s.

I earned a BS in Anthropology from the University of Illinois after which I became serials clerk in the U of I’s Communications Library. I earned an MS in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois 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 Berlin furniture collector 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.