USC appoints alumna Melissa Just as new dean of libraries

The academic library veteran hopes to elevate USC Libraries’ ability to collaborate across campuses and amplify research.

August 15, 2023 Chinyere Cindy Amobi

Library veteran Melissa Just has been named USC’s new dean of libraries, effective Nov. 27. Just ­— a Trojan who received her doctoral degree from the USC Rossier School of Education in 2007 and spent several years early in her career at USC Libraries — has worked in academic libraries for nearly three decades.

Just, who will hold the Valerie and Ronald Sugar Dean’s Chair of the USC Libraries, joins the university following 6½ years as library dean at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada. In that role, she oversaw the strategic, fiscal and operational success of a library system serving 26,000 students and 1,000 faculty across 17 colleges, schools and professional programs.

“Dr. Just, a Trojan, understands that our libraries are at the heart of USC’s educational mission.”

— Carol L. Folt, USC president

“Dr. Just is a visionary leader for USC Libraries,” President Carol L. Folt said. “Her expertise and innovation will guide USC through the evolving world of library innovation, technology and resources. Dr. Just, a Trojan, understands that our libraries are at the heart of USC’s educational mission.”

Provost Andrew T. Guzman, who served as interim dean of USC Libraries until April, said the university is fortunate to have recruited Just.

“During my time as interim dean of USC Libraries, I found the staff and faculty to be passionate about their work and dedicated to the mission of the libraries,” he said. “Dr. Just is the right fit to lead them, with her many years of library leadership and her commitment to USC’s Unifying Values. I look forward to the vision she will bring to our university library system.”

She’ll be stepping into the position during a pivotal time for libraries in the United States.

“Not only are we responsible for collections, spaces and services — the things we are traditionally known for — we are now managing those functions in a constantly evolving environment,” Just said. “Given the current societal climate with the rampant spread of misinformation, increasing book ban and content challenge activity, the maturation of generative AI, and the drive to make knowledge open and accessible to all, academic libraries’ role of connecting people with accurate and trusted information has never been more vital.”

Just says her biggest achievement during her tenure at the University of Saskatchewan is a goal she hopes to accomplish in her new role at USC.

“I was able to develop the relationship between the library and different aspects of the university — including the colleges and the schools — but also other offices on campus that help the university achieve its research, teaching, learning and clinical goals,” Just said.

Just believes the key to her success at USC will include tapping into her experience as a leader who builds relationships that increase understanding of what libraries have to offer.

“I think we have a really pivotal opportunity at the university right now with the moonshots that President Carol L. Folt has outlined,” Just said. “USC Libraries can engage with people in each of these moonshot areas to make sure that we are supporting learning and amplifying the research that’s happening, making it more visible to the outside world, and increasing its impact.”

These moonshots include universitywide initiatives aimed at making USC the top choice for students, faculty and staff seeking purpose-driven research and innovation, including a transformation of the health sciences, continued investment in USC Athletics, and the acceleration of USC’s impact on advanced computing around the world.

New USC Libraries’ dean has strong Trojan ties

Just describes returning to USC as a “full circle” moment. She credits the university as the environment in which she first received mentorship to kick off her decadeslong career in libraries.

“I had an amazing set of mentors, starting from when I was at USC.”

— Melissa Just, new USC Libraries’ dean

“Early in my career, I didn’t know that I had the capacity or the capability of being an administrator; it was just not something that had ever occurred to me,” Just said. “But I had an amazing set of mentors, starting from when I was at USC, who saw something in me and encouraged me in this direction.”

Just’s first job — only three months after she received her master’s in library and information science at the University of Texas at Austin in 1994 — was as an information specialist at USC‘s Norris Medical Library. She eventually split that position with a role as manager of the Health Sciences Library at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in 1999, before becoming Norris Medical Library’s associate director of outreach and resource management in 2004. While advancing through the university’s library system, Just achieved tenure as an associate librarian. Her diverse experiences at the university prepared her for a career that has touched every level of academic libraries in a variety of specialized subjects and functions.

Early exposure for new USC Libraries’ dean

As a first-generation college student growing up in what she describes as a “blue-collar community” in Vista, Calif., Just didn’t have exposure to a wide range of professional career options and never considered a career working in libraries.

“You don’t have a good sense of what careers are possible in the world,” she said. “It’s really limited to sort of what you see on TV: You’re going to be a nurse, or you’re going to be a lawyer, or you’re going to be a doctor.”

Just didn’t have any idea what to do with her undergraduate science degree from the University of California, Riverside, until she met a friend’s relative who had just earned a graduate degree in library science and another friend got a work-study job in a university medical library.

“All of these pieces came together, and I realized that medical librarianship was a whole career in and of itself,” Just said. “I did some investigating and off I went, because it was a great way to use the undergraduate education I had, but also apply it in an area where I felt like I had a lot of affinity and potential to make a contribution.”

Just looks forward to moving back to Los Angeles with her husband this fall.