Big Gifts for Campus Libraries Are Unusual. What Can We Learn From This One?

The University of Notre Dame recently received a $10 million gift from the Marilyn & Rudolph M. Navari Charitable Foundation, the philanthropic vehicle of Notre Dame alumnus Rudy Navari and his wife Jane. The Navaris' $10 million gift won't be going toward science research, athletics, or any of the usual suspects. Rather, the $10 million will be going to the Hesburgh Libraries at Notre Dame. 

Yep, you read that right.

This is the largest gift in the libraries' history, eclipsing the $6 million Ford Foundation Challenge Grant that helped create what was then called the Memorial Library in the 1960s.

Part of the gift will be used to fund the planned Navari Family Center for Digital Scholarship in the Hesburgh Library, as well as to "establish an endowment to support digital library services and research projects related to the center."

When we come across a gift of this size in a funding area that sometimes goes under the radar, it's worth taking a closer look.

For starters, it's worth knowing a thing or two about the Navaris. In addition to graduating from Notre Dame, Navari also has a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia and an M.D. from the Medical College of Virginia. He received training in internal medicine at the University of Alabama, and was a hematology and oncology fellow at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Navari joined the World Health Organization last year and now serves as director of the Cancer Care Program of Central and South America, based in Atlanta. Jane, meanwhile, is a registered nurse and has held positions as head nurse in the emergency department at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Medical Center.

The Navaris are clearly a very science-oriented pair, which is something worth thinking about. While libraries are, of course, very important to those interested in the humanities, they're also a vital research tool for those in the sciences.

Another component here is that Navari didn't just launch from Notre Dame for a successful career in medicine—he has often entered the school's orbit. In fact, in 1999, he joined Notre Dame's faculty as director of the Walther Cancer Research Center. In 2005, while continuing as an adjunct professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Notre Dame, he was appointed head of the Indiana University School of Medicine-South Bend, and later became the clinical director of the Harper Cancer Research Institute, an initiative of Notre Dame and Indiana University.

I've written before about the particular profile of faculty members turned donors, and the close bond and unique perspective they have on their school. This definitely seems to be the case with the Navaris' $10 million gift here, as well. Navari was on the ground at Notre Dame not just for his undergraduate years, but also later on, for more than a decade.

Related: An "Inspiration" and Friend: A Prominent Professor Helps Spur An Engineering Gift

The couple also has a history of giving back to Notre Dame, including gifts for the Navari Family Professor of Life Sciences, cancer research, the Marilyn Jane Navari Fellowship and the Mr. and Mrs. Rudolph F. Navari Scholarship. Navari recently accepted an invitation to serve on the advisory council for the Hesburgh Libraries.

Finally, it's worth elaborating a bit on the planned Navari Family Center for Digital Scholarship. "Digital" is a word that comes up a lot these days in library discussions. Funders seem especially interested in harneesing technology to make information more accessible and flatten the world.

Related: Why Did Sloan and Knight Foundations Pour $3.4 Million Into the Digital Public Library of America?

The Navari Family Center for Digital Scholarship is in that vein, aiming to "incorporate state-of-the-art technologies to fundamentally transform the ways in which teaching, research and scholarship are performed, while connecting users to rapidly expanding bodies of knowledge at Notre Dame and around the world."