Dr. Dennis Swanson
Ask Dr. Dennis Swanson what it is like to be a police officer in Los Angeles, and he’ll tell you about his experience guarding Pope John Paul II. Ask him about his time as an ordained minister, and he’ll tell you about the church he pastored in Long Beach, Ca. Ask him where he was before he became Dean of Library Sciences at UNCP, and he’ll reflect on his time as a consultant in Saudi Arabia.
It could be said that there is nothing Dr. Swanson hasn’t done.
Before he was appointed to take the helm of the library in May of 2016, Dr. Swanson followed multiple career paths that ultimately led him to find a passion for library science.
Decades before he stepped foot on campus at UNCP, such an occupation seemed to be out of the picture.
Dr. Swanson found his first job as a police officer in Los Angeles. Although he was primarily involved with traffic accident investigations, many opportunities presented themselves along the way.
In addition to protecting the pope, Dr. Swanson also served on the planning committee for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
He thought law enforcement would become a long-term career. One night while checking out the scene of an accident, things took a turn for the worst.
“I was investigating an accident one night and I fell into a well shaft,” Dr. Swanson said. “It was about 30 feet deep up in the mountains. It wasn’t covered, wasn’t marked, and that was back in the days before we had portable radios.”
Luckily, Dr. Swanson was able to climb out of the hole and find help. After multiple operations to repair injuries sustained in the fall, he was relocated to a desk job. Working as the commanding officer’s assistant, Dr. Swanson realized that going to work was no longer enjoyable.
He didn’t waste any time changing his life around, working as a pastor while pursuing a master’s degree in divinity.
After taking time to analyze his future plans, Dr. Swanson decided to not go forward with his career as a pastor.
“It was just boring,” Dr. Swanson said. “By Wednesday I had done everything.”
In yet another change of direction, he chose to go back to school at San Jose State University and earn a master’s degree in library and information science.
At that point, Dr. Swanson had found his true calling. He took charge of the library at Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley, Ca., for 25 years before a shift in management caused him to be let go in April of 2015.
Dr. Swanson began sending out applications to multiple employers, a process that felt foreign to him after being at one place for a long period of time. One of the places he applied at was UNCP. After conferring with members of the university’s administration, both sides decided that Pembroke would be a good fit for Dr. Swanson.
After spending five week doing previously arranged consultation work in Saudi Arabia, Dr. Swanson packed his bags and made the long trek to rural North Carolina.
Changes and the Future
Dr. Swanson said that it’s important for people to enjoy their job and have a good working atmosphere so he does what he can to make sure that the library staff has a good, working environment.
“I can’t make people be self motivated, but I can give them the best options to move forward,” He said.
There’s many future plans and changes that Dr. Swanson hopes to make. He said that mostly the library needs a ‘new pair of eyes” but he is very happy with the staff and praised their work ethic, skills and abilities.
“We have the best,” he said. “We may not have as many as Chapel Hill but I’ll put the staff I have up against the quality staff of any school in the country.”
Dr. Swanson said that in the future he hopes that a new library will be built but there has to be changes made to the current library until that happens.
UNCP had talked about building a new library in 2008; an idea that never came into fruition. Dr. Swanson said that during the time, back in 2004 or 2005, they were preparing for the new library to be built but in the meantime the current library hadn’t been kept up. He said the result is that the building hadn’t been remodeled or updated in nearly 15 years.
He said that one of the things he hopes to do is start remodeling and updating the current library but not wasting money or making extreme changes when they could move out in 5 years.
One thing he noticed is that there are only 290 seats in the library, which he said is less than 4 percent of the enrollment at UNCP. He said that number should be up to about 10 to 15 percent.
An idea Dr. Swanson is proposing for the new library is an around-the-clock study area. He said that one of the problems now is that when the library closes students don’t have anywhere to study. His idea is for there to be an area that is opened 24 hours a day that can seat 300 students. The library will keep normal hours and close but that area will always be open to students and there will be a place for them to study.
“I think that that is as important as shelving for the books,” he said. “It’s vital that we have something like that on this campus.”
One of the first decisions Dr. Swanson made as library dean was to shorten the library hours. He said that currently they don’t have the right amount of staff that is needed to keep up with the previous hours.
“Trying to maintain the hours that they had to maintain was killing the staff,” he said.
He said with all the hours the librarians were keeping, it was “remarkable” that they were able to get as much as they did done.
Dr. Swanson has proposed to other deans at UNCP that he wants the LIB 1000 class to be required for freshman students. LIB 1000 is a 1 credit hour class that teaches proper research techniques. It is considered an elective but studies show that students that have taken the class have a greater graduation or success rate than students who haven’t according to Dr. Swanson.
Dr. Swanson said that he noticed that 3 years ago there were 30 student workers. He said when he came in there were only 10 student workers. He said that they rely on student workers for a lot of tedious work. He doesn’t know exactly how or why but “it somehow fell through the cracks.” Dr. Swanson wants to get that number back up.
Many worry about technology taking away physical books and the need and purpose of the library. Dr. Swanson believes that the world is becoming more electronically driven but there will always be a need for the library.
“The thing that’s not going away is not the library building as much as the librarian,” he said.
He wants to make sure that the librarians will always fulfill that need to students.
Dr. Swanson looked at the slogan that Chancellor Robin Cummings came up with for UNCP “Changing Lives through education” and he asked the question to himself and to the staff, “If education is what universities are using to change lives,” he asked. “How are we helping education?”
In the end they came up with “Enhancing Education through Research.” That will be his main goal at UNCP and he is excited about the challenge.