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Liz is ready to embrace the pleasures of retirement

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At the end of July, we say farewell to Liz Waller, our Director of University Library and Collections, who will be retiring from her role at the University. 

Liz has been working within libraries in the Higher Education sector for 39 years and joined Durham in May 2018. Over the last five years she has fundamentally reshaped the University Library and Collections. She has reorganised the division into a single service that looks after our significant collections and underpins the delivery of our research, education, and wider student experience.  

Liz led the Library service through the pandemic, working swiftly to ensure continuity of research and education in a hybrid environment. This included introducing new online services, significantly scaling up digitisation provision and increasing access to digital resources. Liz also helped produce award-winning online exhibitions and an innovative schools engagement programme. These service improvements remain in place, underpinned by a new Library Management System recently implemented under Liz’s leadership.

Liz has also championed the role of University Library and Collections nationally and internationally. She works with a wide range of partners including the British Museum, the Palace Museum, Beijing, the National Museum of Japanese History and Durham County Council.

Dialogue spoke to Liz and here is what she told us. 

Tell us about your time in Durham, Liz. 

I had very little experience of Durham University before I started here just over five years ago. I once attended a Northern Collaboration Library Directors meeting here and my memories were of getting hugely confused about crossing rivers on my walk to the University. 

Durham was both familiar and different from institutions where I had worked previously. In my first week I attended Senate and found some of the discussion themes very much aligned with my last university, but my portfolio was different with responsibility for museums and of course the college system was also new to me. 

I always say I have the best job in the University, working amongst the wonderful collections and all my colleagues who manage everything – books, bones, and beautiful museum objects. It’s been great working on the World Heritage site too, alongside colleagues from the Cathedral and Durham County Council. Drawing those collections and teams together over the past few years has been a pleasure and we have all learnt so much from each other in doing this. 

2020 saw the arrival of Covid which closed the physical campus in March, but ULC buildings reopened that summer to provide access to space and collections for students and staff - and we remained open! It was a difficult time and I’d like to pay tribute to all my team in the department and ACS and H&S colleagues who were so supportive over that period – you know who you are! Most memorable was the week in January when Boris changed his mind over universities and restrictions three times which meant three sets of planning… 

It’s been truly delightful to see all students returning onto campus and to have our libraries and museums full again as they should be. Fantastic too that schools and community groups have remained so central to our work, pandemic and beyond. I had the opportunity to work closely with colleagues across the county on our bid for City of Culture 2025, and whilst we didn’t win (well done Bradford) it’s taken our engagement in this area to new heights which will reap benefits for the region and for the University now and in the future. 

All in all, it’s been a wonderful experience, made so by the amazing people at Durham University across professional and academic teams and the people of County Durham. 

What are your retirement plans? 

I’m definitely retiring but want to stay engaged with the sector. 

I’m interested in volunteering and hoping to become a museum trustee in the near future, then I’ll see what opportunities present themselves.  

And of course, travel! My husband and I have a bucket list of places and experiences. We’ll kick this off with a month in France in September and plan to visit our daughter who is going off to work in Australia for a couple of years.  

And of course, as I’ll be a retired librarian, I’ll be catching up with a long list of books to be read. And lots of swimming, and knitting.

What is your parting message to colleagues at the University? 

Well, thank you for everything of course, but I have always been inspired by and return to some words of Martin Luther King when things are difficult, so I’d like to share: “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope” or even these words from Chumbawumba (showing my age)

I get knocked down but I get up again – ain’t never gonna keep me down

We'd like to take this opportunity to wish Liz all the best in her retirement. Farewell, Liz! 



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