Celebrating the Career of Susan Fraser, Recently-Retired Thomas J. Hubbard Vice President and Director of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library at The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG)

A person with shoulder length blonde hair standing in front of a large wooden table holding open a large book with a plant illustration. A pile of books is on the table next, and a bookshelf full of books is in the background.

Susan Fraser, recently-retired Thomas J. Hubbard Vice President and Director of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library at The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG).

We are honored to celebrate the career of Susan Fraser, who last month retired as the Thomas J. Hubbard Vice President and Director of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library at The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG). During her 36 years at NYBG, Susan made significant contributions to the Garden, the global library and botanical community, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL).

The New York Botanical Garden is one of ten BHL founding members. Susan, who fondly recalls early discussions with colleagues fifteen years ago when the BHL dream was conceived, was instrumental in the creation of the Library. Since these earliest discussions, Susan has seen the Library grow from a consortium of ten US/UK organizations to a global network of over 80 partners across six continents. Beyond her role as NYBG’s Member representative, Susan contributed directly to BHL’s governance and strategic direction as a member of the BHL Executive Committee, where she served as Secretary from 2011-2015.

Under Susan’s leadership, NYBG contributed over four million pages from its collection to BHL and participated in major BHL projects including The Field Notes Project and Purposeful Gaming. NYBG, with Susan as the Principal Investigator, also served as the lead institution for the incredibly successful IMLS-funded project, Expanding Access to Biodiversity Literature, which enabled biodiversity content providers to contribute to the national digital library infrastructure through the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) via BHL. Thanks to the project, over one million new pages and 260 new in-copyright titles were made freely available via BHL and DPLA.

A group of people standing in front of a large wooden display case.

Susan Fraser (second from right) with her Expanding Access team members Susan Lynch (right) and Mariah Lewis (center front) and attendees at “Contributing to a National Digital Infrastructure, with Help Every Step of the Way”, a 2017 CBHL pre-conference workshop dedicated to the Expanding Access project.

BHL Program Director Martin R. Kalfatovic noted: “Susan was a key figure in the founding of BHL. Her excellent design and management of the Expanding Access grant engaged a range of new partners for BHL and resulted in a vast expansion of content. It was a pleasure to work with her during her time on the Executive Committee, and her knowledge and professionalism will be a loss not just to BHL but to the wider botanical garden library community.”

In addition to her accomplishments for BHL, under Susan’s tenure the Mertz Library attained many significant advances and achievements, including:

  • Expanding access to its collections through its digitization program and through the creation and implementation of new tools to increase access.
  • Developing an award-winning preservation program that grew beyond the Book Conservation Lab to incorporate environmental monitoring and the care and treatment of all special collections materials.
  • Launching the Humanities Institute—exploring the intersections among art, science, and culture and creating fellowships and sponsoring innovative programs to a diverse and broad audience.
  • Successfully promoting the use of its unique special collections, particularly the Lord and Burnham Archive, the historical Nursery and Seed Trade Catalogs, and the Botanical Art and Illustration Collection.
  • Facilitating the development of an exhibition and publication program for the Rondina and LoFaro Gallery (now Art Gallery) to showcase the depth and breadth of the Library’s treasures to the wider public.
  • Contributing through NACO-trained catalogers to the Library of Congress Name Authority files, creating hundreds of authority records and adding them to the important database using Mertz Library Collections.
  • Publishing Flora Illustrata (2014), a celebration of key works from the collections of the Mertz Library. This work co-edited by Fraser was honored with two prestigious awards: the 2015 American Horticultural Society Book Award and the CBHL 2015 Annual Literature Award.
  • Publishing The Trees of North America (2018), which discusses and reproduces Michaux and Redouté’s landmark volume of American forestry. Susan edited and wrote the preface for this work, which received the 2018 American Horticultural Society Book Award.

During her career, Susan also contributed to several prestigious botanical and library organizations, including:

  • The Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL), which awarded Susan the Charles Robert Long Award of Extraordinary Merit on 22 June 2018.
  • The European Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Group (EBHL), an association to promote and facilitate cooperation and communication between European botanical and horticultural libraries.
  • The Linnaeus Link Project, an international collaboration between libraries to provide a comprehensive online Union Catalogue of Linnaean publications.

As Susan shared: “One of the most important things I learned during my career is the importance of collaboration. And one of the most gratifying experiences of my career was being a founding member of BHL and being part of the team that was long on determination as we persevered to ultimately transform the way biodiversity research is conducted.”

A group of people standing outside in front of a tropical garden of plants.

Susan Fraser (far left) with fellow BHL colleagues at the 2014 BHL Annual Meeting in New York, jointly hosted by The New York Botanical Garden and the American Museum of Natural History.

Please join us in thanking Susan Fraser for her impact on librarianship, the botanical community, NYBG, and BHL. While officially retired as of 14 August 2020, we are delighted that Susan will continue her association with NYBG under emeritus status. We are glad that retirement does not mean “goodbye” and look forward to continuing our collaborative work with Susan in her new capacity. As her passion and legacy continue to inspire us, we at BHL extend our heartfelt gratitude and best wishes in retirement.

Avatar for Grace Costantino
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Grace Costantino served as the Outreach and Communication Manager for the Biodiversity Heritage Library from 2014 to 2021. In this capacity, she developed and managed BHL's communication strategy, oversaw social media initiatives, and engaged with the public to excite audiences about the wealth of biodiversity heritage available in BHL. Prior to her role as Outreach and Communication Manager, Grace served as the Digital Collections Librarian for Smithsonian Libraries and as the Program Manager for BHL.