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M25 SpeedMeet

Welcome to M25 SpeedMeet. Every month we meet someone working in an M25 member institution and ask them to tell us a little bit about themselves.

One of the three strategic themes of the M25 Strategic Plan 2019-2022 is connecting and collaborating through our network. Our aim is to provide a regional network whose members offer multiple perspectives that can inform decision making, and facilitate opportunities for networking and joint working on shared issues. What better way to do this than to meet?

If you’d like to feature in the M25 SpeedMeet, please contact

Who are you, where are you based and what do you do? 

I’m Paul Johnson and I work as the Director of Library and Learning Services at the University of Surrey in Guildford. I started my role in January this year (the first day of the winter lockdown) and so am one of the growing number of people who started new roles during lockdown. I have overall responsibility for all aspects of library and learning services at the University. I report directly to the ProViceChancellor for Education, but I also have a dotted reported line to the ProViceChancellor for Research. I’m one of only two people in the University who sit on all the “big three” committees – Education, Research & Innovation and Senate! 

What do you most enjoy about your job? 

This is my first library director role, and so far, I’m really enjoying it. I’m always happiest when having a really good conversation which helps drive things forward, particularly one-to-one or in small groups. What excites me is doing this with different people – academics, students, members of the university executive board, and of course, library staff. When I started this role, I had good conversations across the University, but I also wanted to do this individually with library staff and offered everyone the chance for a one-to-one meeting. Lots of library staff took me up on this, and they probably don’t realise how invaluable that was for meI’ve been very fortunate this week in attending two in-person events, one to launch a new student-led reading collection, SurreyReads, and one for the opening of a new bridge at the university, named Shepard’s Crossing, after the illustrator E H Shepard (Winnie the Pooh, Wind in the Willows, Punch etc.), whose archive the library holds. Both were great events, and it felt like a real treat to attend in person and engage with a range of different people. 

What motivates you in your work? 

My career has always been about university libraries, with equal emphasis on Higher Education and libraries. I’ve always been driven by the desire to enable independent learning, and for me that’s what university libraries are so essential for. I’m enthusiastic about this role, and what has really struck me in my time at Surrey is how enthusiastic people are across the board, whether they are dealing with education, research, or as is the case with the library, both. In my previous role I spent a lot of time on refurbishment, and during that time, if I ever needed motivation, I’d go for a walk in the study spaces I helped create and watch students or researchers at work. This is always a great reminder of why we do what we do, and I would recommend it to anyone. If I want to motivate myself in a different way, I just have a think about the potentials of Open Access versus the current academic publishing situation! 

How has/can the M25 Consortium support you in your career? 

It’s so important to be involved in regional, national and international organisationsand with every role I’ve had during my career I’ve got involved with different groups. The M25 Consortium is particularly great for those in their early career as it gives them real opportunities to get involved. In that stage of a career, it can be hard to find relevant groups, so when I joined one of the CPD25 task groups, it gave me the chance to organise events (a useful skill!) and gain a great network of people.  

What would it surprise people to know about you? 

Legend on the dance floor. 

Complete the sentence:
If I wasn’t working in a library I would be… in man band because…I’d have blown all the cash I earned in my earlier career as part of a mildly successful boy band.

Paul Johnson, University of Surrey, September 2021

To read more SpeedMeet interviews see the links below!

Sara Burnett, Kingston University – Information Specialist 

Robert Atkinson, Birkbeck, University of London – Director of Library Services

Laura MacCulloch, RHUL – Curator

Rowan Williamson, UAL – Associate Director of Library Services and Support

Frances Willis, National Art Library at the V&A – Assistant Librarian

Robin Armstrong Viner, Courtauld Institute of Art – Head of Library Services

Adam Edwards, Middlesex University – Library Liaison Manager

Linda Coombs, Buckinghamshire New University – Library and Learning Resources Manager

Liz Pinel, Royal College of Nursing Library and Archive – Customer Services Manager

David Allen, Royal Society of Chemistry – Librarian

Russell Burke, LSHTM – Assistant Librarian

Verity Allison, St George’s, University of London – Journals and E-Resources Librarian