Fifteen to One | Masud Khokhar

He’s got the coolest job title in town, but what makes our University Librarian and Keeper of the Brotherton Collection tick?

Masud Khokhar is the University Librarian and Keeper of the Brotherton Collection

Fifteen to One | Masud Khokhar. December 2022

Masud Khokhar answers some challenging questions in our latest Fifteen to One feature. 

Discover how his father had a huge impact on his life, his pride at being the first Russell Group University Librarian from a minority ethnic background and his plans to position us to become one of the greatest libraries in the world.

You can also find out how he came to rub shoulders with both King Charles III and Dr Who!

Can you describe your role in 100 words?

People tell me I have the coolest job title at Leeds, which is University Librarian and Keeper of the Brotherton Collection! I provide strategic leadership for the libraries, including five physical library sites, two galleries, the public art, learning development and academic skills service, research support service, cultural collections, digital library, content, discovery, information resources service and several other functions. 

I also provide sectoral leadership, as Vice-Chair for Research Libraries UK (a consortia of 39 research-intensive libraries), through national negotiations with publishers like Elsevier and Springer, and by providing guidance to the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Simply put, I’m an enabler and connector.

How have you enjoyed your time at the University?

I’ve been here for about a year and a half now, and it has been exciting, welcoming, invigorating and challenging at times. People in particular have been extremely nice. There has also been a significant amount of institutional and wider change, which pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a leader in a volatile and uncertain world.

What’s really impressed you about Leeds?

Exceptional people and very supportive teams. What makes complex organisations like universities successful is a good balance between an ambitious vision, actionable policies, effective systems and creative, hardworking people. We have exceptional people here at Leeds and a fantastic vision – we just need to get some of the basics right with policies and systems, and the rest should follow. 

What question have you most frequently been asked in your new role?

You are a librarian; you must read a lot? The honest answer is not as much as you might think or I might like to! My background is in computer science, so I do read quite a bit on systems and computing, but it’s not all long form.

What are you most looking forward to working on?

My mission is to deliver on the ambitious vision for the libraries for 2030, called Knowledge for All. My aim is simple – to position us to become one of the greatest libraries in the world. At a personal level, I’m looking forward to how digital and physical can come together to provide a highly personalised and impactful learning experience for our students and wider set of users. I want us to be bold, creative and relentless when it comes to caring for our users and their learning needs.

Is there something, or someone, that has inspired you in your career?

My father has had a huge impact on my life, as a role model and an inspiration for always striving for truth, justice and fairness. He instilled a passion in me for libraries and a recognition that hard work pays off in the long run. He was the national librarian of Pakistan and retired in 2000. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could see me in a university librarian role. 

We all have that professional or personal achievement we’re incredibly proud of – can you tell us yours?

As far as I know, I’m the first Russell Group University Librarian from a minority ethnic background. This makes me immensely proud, both professionally and personally.

What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career that you know now?

That you will need to make lots of compromises. You won’t always be pleasing people as not many people like change, and you need to believe in yourself and do what’s right for the organisational success in the long run.

If you didn’t work in HE, what would have been your chosen career?

Probably dabbling in organic chemistry or astronomy. I was very good at organic chemistry in my A Levels equivalent, and I’ve always had a fascination with stars, planets and space. I can’t imagine not working in HE, though. I passionately believe in the power and values of higher education. It transformed my father’s life, which gave us a chance to succeed in our lives.

What are your campus highlights so far?

All the libraries, of course, but in particular the Brotherton Library. There’s something so magical about the Brotherton Library that it evokes a different kind of feeling in you, a feeling of learning and imagination. Another highlight for me is the public artwork by Quentin Bell of the Levitating Woman, known as The Dreamer. It gives me the inspiration and invitation to think differently and horizontally. In higher education, it’s so easy to think vertically, which leads to a siloed approach and outcomes.

Have you found a favourite location on campus?

Caffè Nero at the Laidlaw Library is my usual early morning or late evening spot. You will often find me sipping a flat white there! 

What’s still on your ‘to do’ list to visit?

While I’ve had a chance to explore campus quite well, there are a couple of linked locations I would like to visit at some point. One of these is the University farm in Tadcaster, and the other one is Deep Store, based in the salt mines of Cheshire, where we temporarily store some of our collections. 

What do you do to relax away from University life?

Spending time with family. I have a five-year-old autistic boy, who takes up all of my free time. I also like to read technology related stuff, particularly with a social and ethical lens on. I’m not a very outdoorsy person but if you do find me outdoors, it’s most likely on the way to a lovely café for a coffee!

Where’s your favourite travel destination and why?

Italy. I love the culture, food, people, weather and, of course, the coffee! I’ve been to the country several times but there’s so much more to explore. 

What’s your random claim to fame?

Not really a claim to fame but I once had the pleasure of hosting King Charles III at the Saïd Business School library in Oxford. I learnt a lot about the royal protocol back then. I also randomly bumped into Matt Smith at a Tesco Express in Cardiff when he was on television as Dr Who. He was trying his best to hide in a black hoodie! 

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