Dean of Libraries Starting a New Chapter
Dr. Larry Sall Retiring After a Career Serving 4 UT Dallas Presidents
Jan. 27, 2010
Dean Larry Sall is retiring this month after leading the university’s libraries through an era of dynamic growth in a career that included service under four UT Dallas presidents.
Sall joined UT Dallas as coordinator of Special Collections at McDermott Library in 1978. He was selected as director of libraries in 2000 with authority over McDermott Library on the main campus and Callier Library at the Callier Center for Communication Disorders. In 2004, the position was re-designated dean of libraries.
“I think back to the four presidents I’ve been with – Bryce Jordan, Bob Rutford, Frank Jenifer and David Daniel – I’ve had wonderful relationships with all of them,” Sall said. “I think they all understood that my bottom-line concern was the welfare of the university. I wanted to be sure that whatever I did fit into that picture as opposed to being somewhat independent and divorced from the university’s mission and goals. The good of the university should come before all other considerations. They understood I believed that.”
The key accomplishment during Sall’s 10 years of leadership of university libraries was the successful transition from the traditional library model of owning as many books and paper materials as possible to maximizing access in the emerging digital age. Student and faculty expectations of instant access meant that digital material became a priority.
“Very quickly, people became used to the idea that the material was easy to get at online,” Sall said. “It was so easy to find, and there was so much of it that when something wasn’t online the assumption simply was that we didn’t have it when in fact sometimes we did. At first we painstakingly made sure that the online versions of journals and books were as good as or better than the paper versions. Given the serious research mission of UT Dallas, we were able to provide instant gratification via online resources rather than have a faculty member spend days going through multiple volumes for information.
“All of that made it easier for the faculty and made the faculty much more efficient. It will always be one of my great sources of pride that we made the most important and most expensive asset of the University, our faculty, more efficient.”
From the 20 years he spent in Special Collections, Sall’s most poignant memories involved the Civil Air Transport/Air American Memorial Plaque, which was dedicated in 1987.
“I am extremely proud of my career at the University as head of Special Collections,” he said. “With all due respect to the other collections, my proudest moment was the dedication of the memorial plaque because it recognized the sacrifices of a lot of people who otherwise had no memorial anywhere.
“They were civilian employees for a secret CIA entity, so they were not listed on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. People come from all over the country to see it. They regard that plaque with the same sense of pride and love as those who have loved ones listed on the wall in Washington. They stand and weep in front of it. I’ve wept with them on occasion. Very emotional.”
Sall also guided the growth of the Harold Wineburgh Philatelic Research Library and the Louise Belsterling Botanical Collection. In recent years, he helped the McDermott Scholars program interview prospective students..
A native of Portland, Ore., Sall received a bachelor’s degree at the University of Idaho and his master’s and doctoral degrees from Wayne State University in Detroit. His PhD was in modern European history, and he served in the history departments at Wayne State, Henry Ford Community College and UT Arlington. He was a regional archivist for the Texas State Archives and head of Special Collections and Archives at UT El Paso before joining UT Dallas.
Sall is philosophical about his decision to retire: “I feel strongly it is better to go out closer to the top than after you’ve gone over the top or are on a swift decline. I felt that in a couple of years that would be the case with me. I’ll be 70 in a year and a half and you don’t have the kind of energy at 70 that you have at 50. I think it will be helpful to the university to have younger, more energetic talent - somebody who can see the future more clearly than I can now and can lead the library to Tier One status that is going to be necessary for the university.”
Sall says he will miss regular contact with the people at UT Dallas.
“I am very gregarious,” he said. “I love to be with people, work with people and do things in conjunction with other folks. I like solving people’s problems if I can. I enjoy the give-and-take and interaction you have with the lively group of very intelligent people that you have at a university. I certainly have it here on my staff. That is going to be the hardest adjustment I’ll have.”
Ongoing activities include serving on the boards of the Friends of the Dallas Public Library, the Frontiers of Flight Museum and the Texas Audubon Society. He is a member of the Dallas Committee on Foreign Relations, the American Council on Germany, the World Affairs Council, and the Tower Center Forum at SMU.
“The public needs to have a good library system, and I’ve been told by other members of the Dallas Public Library board that they want my input,” he said. “It’s a very important thing to do.”
He also hopes to return occasionally to UT Dallas to serve on the History of Aviation Advisory Board and other events. He will continue translating documents and books from German to English, take part in birding trips and travel. Of all his world travels, he has a favorite, thanks to a former UT Dallas president.
“I’ve taken some amazing trips in my life but the one I would have to put No. 1 would be the Antarctica trip that Bob Rutford got me into. God knows, I can’t thank him enough.”
Sall was selected as director of the University's libraries in 2000. He started work at UT Dallas in 1978 as coordinator of Special Collections.
UT Dallas President David E. Daniel congratulates Sall at a party in honor of the dean's retirement.
Sall said his toughest adjustment in retirement will be missing interacting with UT Dallas colleagues and co-workers.