Former University Librarian Gloria Werner remembered for her visionary leadership

Gloria Werner (left) with Louise Darling
Gloria Werner (left) with Louise Darling
On a sunny June morning, UCLA Library commemorated the life and legacy of Gloria Werner, whose 40-year career at UCLA culminated with serving as university librarian from 1990 to 2002. Werner died March 5, 2021 in Los Angeles at the age of 80.

Described by colleagues and friends as “revolutionary,” “fantastic,” “extraordinary,” “inspirational,” “treasured” and as a “strong leader,” Werner was also remembered for her style and passions: chunky jewelry, high heels, and her love of art and art collecting.

“Gloria was a giant in research libraries and medical librarianship,” said Ginny Steel, the Norman and Armena Powell University Librarian. “She constructed a robust foundation on which further development of the UCLA Library has been built.” 

In opening remarks, Steel shared some of Werner’s reflections on her years at UCLA when she retired in 2002: "Forty years ago when I arrived at UCLA, the library landscape was very different. Construction had just begun on what was then called the North Campus Library, which would open two years later as the University Research Library. The building housing the Main Library, which had not yet been renamed in honor of Lawrence Clark Powell, was bursting at the seams, and its Italian Romanesque grandeur was beginning to look a bit frayed. There was no online catalog or circulation system, the collections had not yet reached two million volumes – and smoking was allowed in the libraries!”

For all of Werner’s gifts, the most notable was her powerful grasp of the future and her ability to harness the resources and people necessary to advance her vision. 

“Gloria thought big, she thought forward, and she thought a lot about people,” said Brian Schottlaender, who served as assistant university librarian and associate university librarian under Werner for ten years before becoming university librarian at UC San Diego. Restoring Powell Library to its original glory was among her most significant projects. “It combined her interest in art – ceramics, paintings – with her vocation,” he said.  

The renovation also exposed an opportunity for Werner to bring state-of-the-art technology to the campus community. When Powell Library reopened in September 1996, the newly retrofitted facility introduced interactive computing classrooms and what is now known as the Campus Library Instructional Computing Commons, an immensely valuable service for Bruins that includes laptop lending services and what has become universal Wi-Fi access.

For important campus presentations, Werner held rehearsal after rehearsal with Library staff, lobbing difficult questions at the group. “We were rarely unprepared,” said Alison Bunting, who had a 33-year career in the UCLA Library, including as associate university librarian for the sciences and biomedical librarian, and as interim university librarian after Werner’s retirement. 

As a retiree, Werner pursued her second passion – art. She was an avid collector and joined LACMA as a docent. She also remained active with several campus groups and was a steadfast supporter of the UCLA Library, always on the lookout for materials that might strengthen Library holdings.

Under Werner, collections across the library system grew by more than 5 million volumes, to 7.7 million. Today, collections across the library system total more than 12 million volumes, which places UCLA among the top dozen research libraries in North America. Users’ ability to search holdings at UCLA, across the country, and around the world online, and to access a variety of services such as renewals, reference assistance, and interlibrary loans electronically is due in part to Werner’s foresight. 

“Gloria spoke often of a library confined neither by walls nor by the hours it’s open,” said Steel. “She was a visionary and strong leader who contributed to the reputation of UCLA for its excellence in teaching and research.”