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Photo from Elina Tonkova

When Director of Penn Libraries Constantia Constantinou first came to Penn in May 2018, one of the first rooms she visited was the Moelis Family Grand Reading Room in Van Pelt Library. As she walked into the room, she was immediately struck by the large windows facing the trees on Locust Walk, the tapestry, and the ottomans.

"It looked like a very luxurious space for very important people doing very important things," Constantinou said. "It turned out to be a room of students doing homework."

Constantinou, who was previously Dean of University Libraries at Stony Brook University, was named as the new H. Carton Rogers III vice provost and director of Penn libraries in May. 

She was first invited to apply for the position through an email from a recruiting agency hired by Penn. Once she learned that she was chosen for the spot, she flew home to get her parents' blessing to accept the gig. She formally began her job on Aug. 1. 

Constantinou was born in Cyprus and became a refugee during the Turkish invasion of the island nation in 1974, at the age of 10. At 18, she moved to the United States to study music at Queens College in New York City.

After college, she spent years working in the libraries at State University of New York Maritime College, Rutgers University, and the City University of New York. 

In the email announcing her appointment, Penn Provost Wendell Pritchett emphasized Constantinou’s strong record of embracing technology in her previous roles. 

“She has been a pioneer throughout her career in developing digital, multimedia, and technology initiatives in large university library systems,” Pritchett wrote. 

At Penn, Constantinou said she wants to focus on expanding the world of digital scholarship and enabling research through that medium.

"What excites us is contributing to this new world of free sharing, thinking and scholarship," Constantinou said in reference to Penn's digital scholarship initiatives.

Credit: Borna Saeednia

She added that she hopes to use her position to engage with students to a greater extent, hearing what they have to say about the libraries and inviting them into the libraries. With greater student engagement, Constantinou said, the library is also creating the potential for greater interdisciplinary studies.

"By building this new knowledge here, creating this new knowledge and allowing our librarians to disseminate and and invite our faculty and students back into the library is one of the ways I'm going to cross-pollinate disciplines," Constantinou said.

While she has spent time in many university library systems throughout her career, she said Penn Libraries has more specialized libraries and a greater number of staff than any of the institutions she has previously worked in.

Constantinou also noted that the urban environment and cultural opportunities in Philadelphia add a new layer to the function of a library system.

"I am most excited about being in Philadelphia, being surrounded by cultural institutions that we are interested in collaborating with and are interested in collaborating with us," she said.

"Philadelphia carries the name of the brotherly city but I thought that was just old historical facts. But the way that the community welcomed me here — that was amazing," she said. "Everyone wanted to share with me, everyone wanted to show me around, tell me about their favorite neighborhoods, their favorite restaurants and truly connect me with the faculty."