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UMSI community mourns the passing of distinguished alumna Nancy Gwinn

Wednesday, 06/05/2024

In an undated photo, Nancy Gwinn is seen smiling at the camera. She is wearing wire-framed glasses and a red shirt.

University of Michigan School of Information alumna Dr. Nancy E. Gwinn, retired director of the Smithsonian Libraries, will be remembered at a memorial service Saturday, June 8, at the Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. Gwinn passed away on Monday, April 29. She was 78. 

Nancy Gwinn was a recognized leader in international librarianship, the preservation of library collections, the application of library technologies and in building wide-ranging collaborations and partnerships.

During her career at the Smithsonian, Gwinn’s achievements included launching the Libraries’ exhibition program, generating an active fundraising program, creating the first external board of supporters and expanding the Libraries’ rare book and electronic collections. During her tenure, the Smithsonian Libraries initiated and became the lead partner in the digital Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) and housed the program’s secretariat. 

A former Fulbright scholar at the University of Oxford in England, Gwinn held a PhD in American civilization from George Washington University, an AMLS in library science from the University of Michigan and a BA from the University of Wyoming. She was named a Distinguished Alumna of the University of Michigan School of Information, the University of Wyoming and Mortar Board. 

A frequent consultant and speaker, she wrote on many library-related and historical subjects. Among her publications, two were awarded respectively the Waldo Gifford Leland prize of the Society of American Archivists and the American Library Association’s Blackwell North American Scholarship Award.

Tamar Evangelestia-Dougherty, director of the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, shared her memories of Gwinn with the Association of Research Libraries. “Nancy’s love for the libraries was steadfast and served as an inspiration for so much of her life. I believe I can say without reservation that even in retirement, Nancy’s heart was always closely connected and committed to the libraries she knew and loved. I am just as certain that in this transition to the end of physical life, Nancy’s enduring spirit and legacy will remain closely connected and committed.”

Nancy Gwinn is survived by her husband John Cole and many other family members and friends.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, June 8 at 11 a.m. at the Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church, 1 Chevy Chase Circle, Washington, DC 20015, where Gwinn was a member of the choir. The service will be broadcast remotely via a link on the church's website.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Elizabeth W. and Nancy E. Gwinn P.E.O. Scholar Award at the P.E.O. Foundation or to the Library of Congress Center for the Book John Y. Cole and Nancy E. Gwinn Fund.