In the next several issues of Update, we will profile the deans of our colleges and schools. In this issue, we highlight
Dr. Sylverna Ford, dean of libraries.
Dr. Sylverna Ford
1. What about the U of M made it a perfect fit for you?
"The climate was the first thing. I was in Minnesota before I came here, and I had
nearly frozen to death in Minnesota. I knew I needed to be somewhere with milder weather,
so when I started preparing to leave Minnesota, I really confined my search to areas
that were significantly warmer. I was specifically looking for institutions that were
significantly larger than the one I was at, institutions that had a broad coverage
in curriculum and diversity in the student body and faculty. I wanted to be in a city
that was a real city. I was in a tiny city before, and having grown up in Baltimore,
I missed the conveniences of a real city when I was living in that small community.
Memphis is large enough to have everything you want in a city, but not so large that
you feel overwhelmed."
2. You have represented the U of M in many capacities with the American Library Association.
What were you're duties with these positions?
"The American Library Association (ALA) is probably the largest library association
in the world. Even though it is the American Library Association, we actually do have
members who are not American. We have two conferences a year, the mid-winter conference
and the annual conference, usually in June or early July. In that summer conference,
in particular, we have people from all over the world. I have been involved both as
a committee chair and as a committee member. One committee that I really enjoyed working
with was the ALA/APA Committee on Salaries and Status of Library Workers. I've been
involved in conference planning for some of the divisions and certainly some of the
workshops and training. Yes, I represent the University of Memphis in those meetings,
but it's also an opportunity for me to continue my own professional growth and development.
I have the opportunity to work with and talk to people in other libraries dealing
with some of the same issues that we're facing, and to establish helpful working relationships
as we address those issues."
3. What is the most difficult aspect of being a dean?
"The most difficult aspect of being a dean is coming to grips with the fact that there
truly are not enough hours in the day and not enough days in the week to do everything
you need to do, or want to do. I have to really make choices about those things that
are going to occupy my time and effort."
4. What do you enjoy most about being a dean?
"The most enjoyable thing has been working with people in the library, across campus
and in the community in ways that improve our ability to meet the needs of our students
and faculty. Whether it's through purchasing resources or implementing new programs
and services, I enjoy having opportunities to make library resources more accessible
to our students and our faculty, and to make a difference in information access, whatever
the format. That's the part that feels good, when we get the information out there
and we get that user connected with the information he or she needs."
5. What's the best advice you've ever received and who gave it to you?
"One piece of advice that has served me well, wherever I have been, whatever I am
involved in, probably came from my mother. One of the things she professed and she
instilled in my siblings and me is that it's important to know who you are and what
you stand for and not to compromise your principles. Maintain your integrity."
6. What's the best advice you've ever given to a student?
"I think the best advice that I have given to a student, and I've given the advice
to a couple of students, is that you are responsible for what you get out of your
education. You have to remember that the education you are receiving is going to be
a foundation that is going to be with you for the rest of your life, so you want to
get the most out of it that you possibly can."
7. Who is your favorite author?
"That's the toughest question for me to respond to. People ask me that all the time.
I have never really had a favorite author because I have always loved to read anything.
If you ask me who I have read most consistently, I would say I have probably read
more of Robert Ludlum. I went through a phase when I read every one of his books.
I go through phases, but generally I will read anything by any author, any genre,
any time period, fiction, or nonfiction. If it's written, I will read it. Right now,
I'm a little bit of everywhere. We did a program last year that was centered on Louisa
May Alcott. I realized while we were doing that program that she had written a lot
of materials that were unfamiliar to me. I've been reading a lot of her lesser-known
materials. She had a lot of short stories, short novels and wrote under some pseudonyms.
But, I'm not a one-book person. I read many simultaneously. There was a time when
I was traveling a lot that I would be reading four or five books at a time. I had
my airplane book, my exercise book, my waiting for an appointment book and the book
that was on my nightstand. Now, I'm usually reading two books at a time."
8. What's the one book that's been most influential in your life?
"I keep coming back to this particular book. One of the books that I read in high
school, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, really grabbed me. That was the beginning
of my mature reading because up until then, I wasn't reading anything serious or really
focusing on my reading for my own purposes. Until that point, I was reading a lot
of stuff, but a lot of it was related to school assignments. But reading that book
opened my mind and my eyes to the possibilities of reading just for the sake of reading
and reading for the pleasure of reading. I've always been a reader, but it was at
that point that I really began to recognize reading as a favorite pastime, a hobby,
and something that had the same meaning for me that maybe playing softball or soccer
had for some of my friends."
9. Outside of reading, what other hobbies do you enjoy?
"I love to sew. I don't have a whole lot of time to sew anymore, but I do love to
sew. Once upon a time, I used to make all of my clothes. I don't have that kind of
time anymore. I also like to bake. I back off of that every now and then, especially
when the pounds creep up. The problem is if I bake, I eat what I bake. So, I can't
do that as often as I'd like. I also love to travel to anywhere and I enjoy working
out. That's one of my pastimes and one of my stress relievers.
One of my all-time favorite pastimes, which few people would imagine, is that I love
to do household repairs and remodeling. I just get a big bang out of that 'handywoman'
role. In fact, when my husband and I met, he said that he was totally impressed by
my collection of tools. He joked that I had a collection of tools that would compete
with Sears any day."
10. Tell us about your family.
"My husband, Lou Paris, is a U of M alum. He retired from the Air Force soon after
we moved here and enrolled in the U of M to finish his bachelor's degree. Years ago,
he had dropped out of college to go into the Air Force. We have teenage daughters
who are 15 and 16 years old, and who remind me every day that parenting is not for
the faint of heart. We have a dog named Smokie. She is a cross between a Border Collie
and a Golden Retriever. I have one sister and two brothers, none of whom live in this
area. We grew up in Baltimore, but now we are all scattered."