Syracuse University Magazine

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Barbara Opar

Engaging Information

Syracuse University librarian Barbara Opar ’73, G’74 isn’t one to sing her own praises. But her peers in the Association of Architecture School Librarians (AASL) were happy to catalog her talents and contributions when they nominated her for the organization’s 2015 Distinguished Service Award, which she received in March. In one letter to the awards committee, for example, Woodbury University librarian Barret Havens acknowledged Opar as a “valuable colleague and mentor” who shares “her enthusiasm for advancing the values of AASL” and epitomizes both the pursuit of excellence and a spirit of cooperation.  

Opar was pleased to receive the annual award, which recognizes a library professional who has demonstrated sustained service to the profession and has made an outstanding national contribution to architecture librarianship. A member of AASL since 1981 and a former president of the organization, she recently served as chair of its Architecture Core Reference Task Force, which produced a comprehensive online guide to architecture research materials. “It’s a very engaged group with a nice mix of senior people and people new to the profession,” says Opar, who also co-edits a monthly AASL column in the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture news. “That makes it kind of fun. And we’re able to learn about trends, share what we know, and learn from and help each other.”  

Originally from western Pennsylvania, Opar began her career at Syracuse in 1973 as a graduate assistant with the School of Architecture, directing the Architecture Reading Room (ARR) in Slocum Hall. She continues in that role today, overseeing collection development—including a sampling of glass, plastics, and other physical materials to help inspire student designs—and also serves in Bird Library as architecture librarian and as subject specialist for French language and literature and Judaic studies and religion research and scholarship. Additionally, she offers group instruction and one-on-one consultations as needed, and co-sponsors and presents at an annual colloquium in the French department—something she’s enjoyed doing for nearly 20 years. “When the colloquium started, I got involved by saying, ‘Can I help?’” says Opar, who majored in French language and literature in the College of Arts and Sciences before earning a master’s degree in library science from the School of Information Studies. “Now it’s grown into a real tradition, and I think I’ve helped keep it alive.”

Being a helpful resource takes many forms for Opar, whose accomplishments include the establishment and organization of the architectural working drawings collection housed in the ARR, directing the publication of the first e-book at SU, and publishing two book chapters and several articles. She is the booklist and exhibition catalog list editor for the newsletter of the Society of Architectural Historians, a former board member of the International Library and Information Studies Honor Society, and has served in various leadership and participatory roles for the Art Libraries Society of North America. And the list keeps growing. “You think you do a lot, but each time you do something new you realize there are more things you could do and more people you could reach,” she says. “That’s what spurs you on and keeps you engaged.” —Amy Speach


Photo by Steve Sartori