In a vault just beneath the main floor of the Thomas Cooper Library rests some of the library's rarest collections.
From Hemingway to Fitzgerald to Shakespeare, the collections depict not only the history of the books themselves, but one of the main people behind these collections — Dean of Libraries Thomas McNally.
McNally has worked for the university for 30 years and has served in his current capacity for 15 of them, making him one of USC’s longest-serving deans. A new dean of libraries, David Banush, will be taking over the role on Nov. 1.
"So I've been in for 15 years," McNally said. "I think that's too long. I honestly believe that any organization needs turnover at the top. ... I'm excited to see what the next person can do because I've done what I can do, I'm tired. I'm ready to go."
Before his time at USC McNally spent time at the university libraries at Ohio State, Michigan and Loyola-Chicago. McNally then said he made the move to South Carolina to work in a larger library, thinking he would only be in Columbia temporarily.
“I got here, and I just fell in love with this place," McNally said. "Everybody was so nice to each other. The people in the library — they were so nice. They were like a family.”
McNally started at USC in an administrative role as the head of public services for the libraries and climbed his way up as the years went on, stepping into positions like associate dean and, eventually, dean of libraries.
During his time as dean, McNally has been involved in countless library projects from changing the furniture of the fourth floor of Thomas Cooper to the renovations on the South Caroliniana Library, which are expected to be completed by January.
He also sought to add a variety of collections to the library and worked to get closer to USC students during his tenure.
"If I do go to the library and read, I want to be where students are. Because if you guys are happy then I'm happy," McNally said. "I love just to walk the floors of the library. I'll stop and talk to students and say, 'Is there anything you want the dean of libraries to know about?'"
McNally also worked on many projects meant to improve student experience. When he started, students mainly worked independently, but McNally spearheaded renovations for students to work together in group studying areas and allowed them to eat in certain parts of the library.
"I said, 'Well, wait a minute, we all eat at our desks. Why can't the students eat?'" McNally said. "We encourage it. I mean, why should you have to? I mean, if you can't eat while you're studying, we eat and drink while we work."
In recent years, McNally worked through budget cuts that caused a cut back from 24/7 hours at the Thomas Cooper Library. Student Body President Reedy Newton helped figure out ways to extend the hours so that they can return to 24-hour operating hours. She also helped advocate for additional funding to see if they could get money to redo an additional floor. With her help, students are now allowed to work in the library until 2 a.m. most days.
"When you're working on an initiative, especially here, things take a very long time, and they can be very slow. But us working with Dean McNally was the absolute opposite of that," Newton said. "When we sat down, and he invited us over, that was one of the very first things we talked about was the need of the library to return to its pre-pandemic operating hours and functions. And he wholeheartedly agreed with us."
One of the key supporters of McNally during his time as dean of libraries was Elizabeth Sudduth, his associate dean. She helped McNally by updating him on the special collections, including how to promote them, make them available and people who worked in these departments.
"He was very supportive, even though knowing that these were major, major projects," Sudduth said. "So I think some of my colleagues ... would say that they've enjoyed his support over the years."
Lisa Wrightenberry has McNally's assistant for 11 years. Before she had even started, Wrightenberry was impressed with McNally when she researched him online and came across an interview with Cocky.
"Prior to my initial interview, I googled Dean McNally to familiarize myself with him and watched his famous library interview with Cocky," Wrightenberry said in a statement to The Daily Gamecock. "I recognized instantly that he was professional, intelligent, witty, and had a sense of humor."
With the end of McNally's tenure on the horizon, he said he's looking forward to playing golf, taking care of his 18-foot Duffy boat in Blytehwood and more in his spare time.
His Duffy boat goes five miles, and it has batteries, so it doesn't make any noises, according to McNally. This is a benefit for people who prefer to enjoy a quiet and peaceful ride.
"When people come to dinner at my house, I'll say, 'Let's go and have a glass of wine on the boat'" McNally said. "We'll go down and get into Duffy ... it has batteries that will go for a little boat ride."
After he has officially stepped down, McNally said he wants to contribute to the university in other ways, including teaching a class in the Honors College.
"What I like to do more than anything else is teach, and maybe I might be able to help out the people in development, at some point, raise money or get gifts for the university," McNally said. "I mean, I still want to be a part of this place. I love this place. I just don't want to be the dean of libraries."
McNally also plans to provide support to Banush as he transitions into the role, but wants to let the new Dean find his own path.
"David's the new dean so I don't want to ever interfere with him. So if he wants to talk, he can call me. He's a great guy" McNally said. "I would do anything to help him. But I think maybe the biggest thing I can do to help him is to stay away. Turn around, start walking and don't look."