Janice Lewis oral history interview, August 15, 2020

Jan Lewis

Patrick Cash
East Carolina University

August 15, 2020
Main Campus Student Center
East Carolina University

PC: Alright, this is Patrick Cash, Assistant University Archivist for East Carolina University,
here interviewing Jan Lewis, Director of Academic Library Services at East Carolina University
is August 15, 2020. And we're on the campus of East Carolina University and the Student
Center. We can start out by please send in your name, your birthday and where you were born.

[Narrator's audio is at a lower volume until 10:40]

JL: Janice Steed Lewis was born September 18, 1955 in Petersburg, Virginia.

PC: Can you share a little bit about your background? You mentioned you were from Virginia,
where did you go to school,

JL: I went to school in Brunswick County, grew up on a tobacco and cow farm, went to college
at William and Mary, and then went straight to law school at UVA, University of Virginia after
that, and then I had a break in education for about 10 years and then went to Catholic University
of America to get MLS.

PC: What made you want to go to law school?

JL: Well, I majored in economics at William and Mary, got a great liberal arts degree and
economics has been a great framework for you in a library director. But there really aren't very
many jobs for a BA in economics when I graduated, and a couple of my faculty members at the -
thought I ought to go to the University of Chicago to get a PhD in economics and I was like no, I
don't think so. But I was also interested in law for no really good reason. I didn't really know any
lawyers, but I thought it sounded like a good career option for me. And so I just did it. And then
my husband set out for a year and then followed me to UVA. So I met him and we were married.
And we got married after my first year of law school.

PC: And as we mentioned you're the director of academic library services here at East Carolina
University, how did you come to be in that position?

JL: Well, when I worked for about 10 years as a lawyer, basically was in research capacities
during that whole time. And I visited many libraries in the DC area, Virginia, and Maryland. And
I was always impressed with how helpful librarians for me. One story though, one library wasn't
all that helpful. I worked for plaintiffs' attorneys in products liability and mal-cases. And I went
to the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Research Association Library and the librarian was really
helpful, but then somehow it came out who I was working for, and she politely asked me to leave
and not come back to use the resources anymore. But generally speaking, I enjoyed research. I
enjoy, you know, finding information and then sharing it with attorneys to help build their cases.
And I thought, you know, I've got a little kid now, not sure that that I want to stay in this legal
profession. So what is it I might want to do next, and librarianship seemed like a good option. So
I went part time while I was still working for the Association of Travelers of America and got
my degree, and right about that time, they changed their model. I've been actually living in
Richmond, and was an early telecommuter, that office was in DC. So I knew that was going to
end - It ended, I started looking for jobs. And I was hired as a reference instruction librarian at
Virginia Commonwealth University. My husband liked to change jobs every five years or so.
And he got a job in Greenville working for the Legal Aid Society here. So I was a trailing spouse
coming to Greenville looking for a job. I thought I taught him actually just you're looking for a
job this time, look at a college town, you know, because I'll be able to get a job piece of cake. So
it was a little harder than I thought I interviewed first for the head of reference job. I didn't get
that. But, but Maury York was on the search committee. He was a longtime faculty member at
academic library services. And he reached out to me after that search told me that a strong
internal candidate got the job, but he encouraged me to apply again. So the next job that came up
and was a new one at ECU, it was coordinator instructional services. So I applied for that job,
met the person who beat me up for the reference job who was Ali Abdullah, who's just
wonderful, fantastic person, and was hired as the first coordinator of instructional services.

JL: Ali gave me free rein to try to create a new service, improve what was going on at the library
at that point in time and you know, to take on other leadership roles within the Reference
Department, then he left to go to the United Arab Emirates, his plan at the time was to come
back. So I was interim head of reference, Ali decided not to come back. So I interviewed for -
and was hired as head of the Reference Department. Then there were leadership changes at the
library. And another colleague Beth Lensted, and we're basically told that we needed to be in
Interim Associate Dean's for - to help out, the person from ECU who was assigned to be the
director of the library - or the Dean of the library, he came from engineering and technology. So
I moved up to the admin suite continued to be head of reference, because, you know, I was like,
I'm going to be going back to that job, I want to keep doing it. And I loved it. I loved it. That was
my dream job at the time. But, you know, I learned to love administration as well. So for being
the Interim Associate Dean, when Larry Boyer was hired, as the Dean of the library, he asked me
to stay on and did a little behind the scenes magic at ECU to have me appointed into that position
so that one I did not have to interview for and then when he left, I was Interim Dean, for a couple
of years, ECU was moving pretty slowly with hiring process at that point, I was looking at
making some, some changes to the organizational structure in both libraries, Laupus and Joyner
libraries at ECU. But then eventually, they had a search, you know, I applied for and was
interviewed for that job and got the position. So it - I kind of fell into it, my husband stopped
looking for other jobs. Or actually no, I that take that back, just look for other jobs in the
commuting - within a commuting range. So he's had a couple of different jobs during that
timeframe, but we haven't moved. So, you know, I was able to stay here and build my career and,
and I've been really fortunate and happy to be part of the ECU community.

PC: So in total, how long have you been employed at ECU? And then how long have you been
in the position of director?

JL: 21 years at ECU now, and I guess about seven, for director.

PC: And you mentioned a little bit earlier that your undergraduate studies in economics really,
that's has come in - has been helpful in a position, would you mind expanding a little bit on that?

JL: Well because you think about cost benefit. One of my colleagues said to me the other day
that she's just finally understanding that higher ed is a business, you know, so a lot of people,
actually, some longtime faculty members sometimes don't really get that. But, you know,
resources are limited. And so you've got to think about how you allocate them. And, and what
makes sense. And certainly the law degree is, has come in to play many, many times, either from
looking at contracts, or also just having kind of an analytical frame. And I think both of those
degrees helped with that if you're just trying to look at things from a more analytical perspective.

PC: Now, how would you say that you exercise your leadership skills and this current role that
you have?

JL: Well, I think, you know, that's it's important every day to, to really think about every aspect
of what a leader should do and be. And I have to say that going to the Harvard Leadership
Institute, which was an intensive, weeklong session, really helped me learn more about how to be
a leader. One of the things that was really a centerpiece of that program is what they call the four
frames of leadership. So that's what you're supposed to do is before you make any decision, think
about it through an HR lens, a structural lens, a political lens and the symbolic lens. And, and
you know, that - it was important for me to understand that better because I think I used to not
give as much importance to the symbolic realm as I should. So that was an important piece.
Another was not finding what I thought was a leadership style, and just using that one style that a
better model is to think about what the situation of a person needs. So one time I remember in
one of my evaluations, when I was still in reference, the person - meant it in a positive way -
said she leads by example, Well I learned that that's not always the best way to lead, you know,
not everybody wants to, to, to accomplish things in that same way, or that's not the feedback that
they need to do the best at their job. And that with the combination of the four frames -

[Unclear as microphone is readjusted beginning at 10:37 and narrator's audio improves at 10:40]

JL: I think be more intentional about what is it that motivates this person? You know, and how
can I help to help them accomplish their goals that way. And, and then also recognizing that, that
sometimes, you know, you have to take a more authoritarian approach or structural approach. So
for example, in the pandemic, right now, you know, trying to standardize and give advice or
guidance to our employees on what they should do somebody's not wearing a mask in the
building, you know, we don't want to have 15 different ways of doing that we want to have it set,
you know, this is, this is what we're going to do. And, and these are the actions to take.

PC: Um, so since you mentioned the pandemic, as we both know, higher ed changes, life
changes, it seems to have changed a lot more in the last six, seven months with the pandemic
going on. How have you seen - you mentioned, kind of more authoritative role - How else have
you seen your leadership change because of the COVID-19 pandemic? What experiences have
you dealt with here on campus? I know, you're part of a lot of the administrative meetings,
helping to make decisions. So how is - how is the pandemic and the COVID-19 situation
impacted your leadership and her role here?

JL: I think, primarily, it's helped me realize the importance of communication more. And, you
know, I've, I've always said, I knew that you needed to repeat things three times and give them in
different formats - convey information in different formats, but that's really been brought home
to me during the pandemic and the need for communication at different levels. So I definitely
encourage the assistant directors and the heads of departments to meet regularly and
communicate. But I know that I - that can't be the only thing that people want to hear directly
from me, more even than they used to. So I'm trying to do better at that. On campus, the
leadership teams that the deans and I - I always call it the deans and me because I'm the only
director in that group with the provost - we meet weekly now, instead of twice a month, and
those meetings have been really helpful to share information. I think it's been frustrating though,
you know, I've got to admit, it's been frustrating for everybody how late some information seems
to come out, and, and having to just make adjustments quickly. So I think it's also brought home
the value of flexibility and adaptability, trying to be as transparent as possible with the decisions
that we make. I think that, that one of the things that has been helpful to me is how long I've been
here, and the relationships that I have built up over time with other people on campus. That that
now, you know, we trust each other. And so even if it's a quick email, or a quick online meeting,
we, you know, we know where the other person's coming from, and we know that they're going
to be giving us the best information that they possibly can at that time. And I think it'd be a lot
harder if I, you know, if I hadn't been around for quite so long.

PC: Alright. Shifting focus. Um, why do you think it's important to see females in leadership
roles, either in higher ed, or outside of higher education?

JL: Yeah, um, I think you have to see it to believe you can do it. And that's something that I
think I've understood more over the years to when I was - I wasn't the first woman to do X, Y, or
Z, I don't think but, but I was often the only woman in a cohort, you know, at work in various
environments, and so forth. And that never really bothered me in any sense. But one thing that
that was remarkable to me was when I was named, I guess, Interim Dean - and then again when
the permanent position - there were so many female alumni, who approached me and said how
excited they were and how it was about time and, you know, things like that. And, and it was
really important to them to see it. And so I'm sure it's, you know, even if you don't, younger
people don't think about it, that it's still it has some value for them as well, to see people in
positions of leadership. And you know, and I'm waiting for the day when they see you as a
female Chancellor, we have not had one in all this time, over 100 years, we did have a female
provost. But for the longest time there were not very many female Dean's either. And now we
were doing better in that regard. And I do you think it's really important.

PC: Um, you mentioned those alumni, reaching out to you and speaking to you when you were
the Interim Dean and if you don't mind sharing, were there any negative reactions that you have
experienced or any - I guess people who are not excited about you being named Interim Dean?
Are you being in this position? Or any - or any negative feedback?

JL: No, I don't think so. I think that - I think there's, there's been some what you might consider
patronizing attitudes, you know, but again, I've dealt with that pretty much all my life, and I just
let stuff roll off.

PC: Um, do you have any advice for other females who - how they can add their own leadership
skills, how they can gain positions, like yours? Again, either on campus in higher ed, or off
campus in higher ed, since you've been successful in both areas,

JL: I think that people should develop strong mentor relationships. And remember that you can
have multiple mentors for different aspects of things that you're working on. I think that
everybody should practice, you know, or to find the opportunities, whether that's through
volunteer work, you know, being a leader in place, wherever you are, there's so many service
opportunities where folks can stretch those leadership skills. And I honestly think that you can
practice to, you know, it's almost like scenario playing. And that that can be helpful in thinking
about how you can maybe, if this is a concern - I'm not saying it is for all women - But for me,
at one point, it was to be more assertive, you know, to just work out scenarios in your mind.

PC: Um, so one of the things that I've really enjoyed, and I'm very grateful for during my time
here in the library, is how yourself and other leaders around the administration, they're so open
for our faculty and staff to take on, you know, we can talk about social changes, we can talk
about issues that are going on in society. And we can feel free to do that, which I know
personally, in other places I've been, that's not the case. Do you think it's important to use your
leadership skills to further positive social change? And if so, can you talk about some of the
examples of that have that in your own life?

JL: Yeah, I do. I think that it's important for everybody to do what they can in that regard, you
know, and I think it really begins with the values that people hold individually, and the values
that we try to stress at the library, you know - of respect, of diversity, and inclusion, of listening,
of ethical behavior and so forth. And, and then that we try to find ways to that that is not just
reflected, but that, you know, that we are proactively trying to diversify our collections, to have
programs that involve the community, and that show that that we respect and value different
opinions. I think, you know personally, my husband's black, our daughter is biracial. And, and,
you know, so I have a perspective that I think has helped me learn more and hopefully be a bit
more sensitive than maybe I would have been otherwise.

PC: Um, so this is - this is a question that a lot of people kind of, don't really like to have asked
because they always say it's a team effort or you know, other people doing it. But what
accomplishments are you most proud of in your career, and in your public service in your
position of leadership? Because I know you've been successful. And the library's been successful
underneath you.

JL: And it definitely is a team effort. Right? We have got to say that, but actually trying to help
foster employee development is really important. And, and what, what this year, in particular,
with all the challenges we've been facing, I can't tell you how proud I am of the administrative
staff that I supervise, and the ambitious goals that they've set for themselves, that they've all
thought about ways that they want to grow professionally. And you know, and then it's my role
to help them do that. So that goes out throughout the whole library, it's just that core and admin,
you know, that I'm particularly close to and, and really, really proud of, but everybody
throughout the library has stepped up. And, and I think that, that the special collections exhibits
that have highlighted areas in ECU history that that we need to learn more about have been really
helpful, really proud of the NEH traveling exhibit that we had on civil rights, the work that
Heather White was done with Sycamore Hill community - those are some things I'm really
proud of. But one thing that that look, you know, that was the very first thing that that I did was
we went to 24/5 hours, as soon as I became Interim, it had been used kind of as a bargaining chip
for funding in the past, and it had not worked. It didn't cost that much. It was what students
wanted. And so we did it, and it was successful. And so I'm pretty proud of that. I'm also proud
of how we've changed the library, so that it's a more it's a friendlier place for students. And, you
know, it's a much more comfortable studying environment. And I think that that's a really
important thing, the textbook affordability initiatives that that again, all these big group efforts,
takes a lot of people for any of these things to succeed. And equipment loans have been really
helpful to help students succeed, and have helped, I really do think with, obviously, with
affordability, but also with retention efforts. So I'm, you know, I'm proud of all this things.

PC: And going forward, once we're on the other side of this of this pandemic, and on the other
side of other changes that are going on in our country in society. Do you think your leadership
style is going to be permanently changed? Do you think you're going to take adapted lessons that
you've learned over the past, say, year? Six months? Going forward? I guess what do you think
your mindset is going to be after this? If you can share with us.

JL: Yeah, no, I definitely I don't see going back to, you know, to communicating less or
anything like that. And another piece that that we've learned certainly as to be more inclusive in
terms of how we do large meetings. So I think we'll continue to use an online meeting format for
the people who are working the service desk or out sick that day or whatever, so that they can
feel more part of meetings that they might have missed, too. So I think that there are a lot of
communication strategies that we've, that we've implemented that will need to continue and, and
probably, hopefully, some service changes to some things that might enable users to be more
self-sufficient. Those are important, I think, to continue on with and, and honestly, even the way
we've spaced out the furniture is probably something that's better, you know, at this point in time
and will continue to be so there's a whole spectrum of things that I think will change.

PC: Alright, we've covered a lot is there anything else that you want to talk about or anything
that you want to mention or any advice for individuals who are in leadership roles now, or will
be leadership roles in the future that see this?

JL: Um, I think that you know, again, I just want to thank the folks that I work with, for really
being part of a team and realizing that that none of us can do any of this alone, right think about
the number of hours the library's open, think about all the different ways that we help serve
people. So I guess I just, you know, would want to stress to anyone who wants to be in a
leadership position in the library, but I'm sure other environments as well, is to try to take a
broad perspective not always feel like well, you know, if you're in charge of one area, yeah, you
need to be an advocate for that area. But you also do need to think about how that fits into the
overall picture. And, and remember to take that kind of a broader view.

PC: Alright, well, thank you very much.

JL: You're welcome. Thank you.

Janice Lewis oral history interview, August 15, 2020
Oral history interview with East Carolina University's Director of Academic Library Services Janice Lewis created as part of a created as part of a 2020 Library Services and Technology Act Community Connections grant received by ECU Academic Library Services. Lewis begins the interview by discussing her background, her first career as a lawyer, her time in libraries, the affect of the COVID-19 pandemic on work in the library, and her views on leadership and women in leadership roles. Interviewer: Patrick Cash.
August 15, 2020
Original Format
oral histories video recordings
Local Identifier
Location of Original
East Carolina Manuscript Collection
This item has been made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. Researchers are responsible for using these materials in accordance with Title 17 of the United States Code and any other applicable statutes. If you are the creator or copyright holder of this item and would like it removed, please contact us at als_digitalcollections@ecu.edu.
Preferred Citation
Cite this item
Materials on this site may include offensive content, which does not reflect the opinions, values, or beliefs of ECU Libraries. Public access is provided to these resources to preserve the historical record.

Contact Digital Collections

If you know something about this item or would like to request additional information, click here.

Comment on This Item

Complete the fields below to post a public comment about the material featured on this page. The email address you submit will not be displayed and would only be used to contact you with additional questions or comments.

Comment Policy