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From Student Worker to Associate Dean, Cunetto’s Career With the MSU Libraries Spans More than Three Decades

July 3, 2024
Dr. Lis Pankl, Dean of the MSU Libraries, presents Stephen Cunetto with a cowbell in honor of his retirement.


When Stephen Cunetto walked into Mitchell Memorial Library for his first day on the job, he was just a college student. More than 35 years later, he is walking out an Associate Dean for the Mississippi State University Libraries.

Cunetto leaves an impact not only on the MSU Libraries, but on libraries across the state. Through his work and leadership with the Mississippi Library Partnership, patrons from 66 member libraries now have access to resources that otherwise would not be possible.

“Stephen Cunetto has provided invaluable leadership and countless dedicated hours of labor for MSU Libraries for over 30 years. His evolving expertise in the field of librarianship and his unwavering commitment to MSU are nothing short of inspirational. He will be sorely missed by the entire campus community,” said Dr. Lis Pankl, Dean of Libraries for MSU.

Cunetto’s full-time career began as Systems Supervisor in 1991. It was a different world then, and computers, laptops, tablets and cell phones were neither commonplace nor even imagined. Under his leadership, the MSU Libraries became the technology and information hub it is today.

“When I began, there were only two or three computers in the building and no automated catalog,” Cunetto said.

Today there are computers on every desk, at every service point, two computer classrooms, two computer labs and multiple technology study rooms. That growth all took place under Cunetto’s guidance.

After several years, he was promoted to Administrator of Systems. It was during his tenure in this role that he co-founded the Mississippi Academic Library Consortium and launched the Mississippi Library Partnership (formerly the Golden Triangle Regional Consortium). Under his leadership both programs grew, and the impact of his work will be felt for years to come. “Stephen expanded the Mississippi Library Partnership (MLP) from the founding two libraries, MSU and MUW, to a formidable consortia of 12 library systems with over 66 branches,” said Anita Winger, Associate Professor of Practice / Discovery, Systems & Innovation Librarian. “Without Stephen’s leadership, mentorship, and attention to detail, in addition to his love for libraires, this partnership would not be where it is today.

“We owe Stephen a huge thank-you for his insight to creating this partnership to expand the resources of our community and libraries,” Winger added.

In addition to the MLP, Cunetto’s work on MAGNOLIA (Mississippi Alliance for Gaining New Opportunities through Library Information Access) expanded student access to key resources that would otherwise have not been available.

“It is extremely gratifying to think about the reach these two projects have on our state and the impact they are making to improve access to trusted information resources and to advance our educational systems,” Cunetto said.

Not one to “rest on his laurels,” as former MSU Libraries Dean Frances Coleman liked to say, Cunetto also co-founded the Charles H. Templeton Ragtime & Jazz Festival, which celebrated its 18th successful event this year.

In 2016, Cunetto was promoted to Associate Dean of the Libraires. During this tenure he continued to provide leadership for various programs and a number of departments including Access Services (Circulation, Course Reserves, InterLibrary Loan); Charles H. Templeton, Sr. Music Museum; Digital Initiative and Web Services; Digital Preservation and Access Unit; MaxxSouth Digital Media Center (DMC); and Systems – the area where he got his start.

During this time, he was instrumental in the expansion, renovation and enhancement of the DMC which resulted in the naming donation from MaxxSouth Broadband and the creation of a state-of-the-art television studio, as well as a makerspace and virtual reality and gaming studio.

“Stephen was instrumental in ushering in the DMC from infancy to fruition. It was exciting to see that happen,” said Dr. Terry Likes, professor and head of the MSU Department of Communication. “The DMC has been a vital resource for Communication faculty and students, and I am thankful for all Stephen and the Libraries have done to support us.”

Cunetto worked with countless university faculty, staff and administrators over his 30-plus years. Many reached out over his final days to thank him, wish him luck and offer congratulations. When asked to describe him they lauded his ability to see the big picture, his loyalty and dedication and his understanding of collaboration.

Dr. Tommy Anderson, Dean of the Honors College at MSU, worked closely with Cunetto when Anderson served as interim dean of the libraries. It was through working with Cunetto, Anderson shared, that he truly understood the Libraries' role in the university.

“During my time as interim dean, I came to understand the centrality of the Libraries to the university through Stephen’s commitment to it. He respected every aspect of the MSU Library. My own deep respect for the library and its staff and faculty is a product of his love of the place,” Anderson said.

For the last few years, Cunetto has served as Associate Dean for Community Relations & Strategic Initiatives. In this role he put to use his years of experience and community relationships not only to help promote the libraries but to shape its future by serving as chair of the Strategic Planning Committee. Cunetto and his committee crafted a plan that details the libraries’ vision, mission, strategic directions and values. Approved by the Libraries’ faculty, staff and administrators, this document will serve as a roadmap for the next five years.

Over his career, Cunetto served in numerous leadership positions for professional organizations, published papers, presented at countless conferences and received multiple awards, including MAGNOLIA Steering Committee Chair, Mississippi Library Association President, Chairman of the Mississippi Library Commission Board of Commissioners and Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Directors Strategic Planning Committee.

Those who worked with him on campus, across the state and regionally continue to recognize his contributions.

“Stephen’s contributions to the development of Mississippi libraries have been without parallel for many years, as he helped develop programs specifically designed to increase the knowledge base of both students and instructors. Done in the arena of cooperation, he has been a true asset to the Mississippi library community,” said Hulen Bivins, Executive Director of the Mississippi Library Commission.

"Stephen has been a great colleague and 'Friend of ASERL' for decades," said John Burger, executive director of the Association of Southeast Regional Libraries. "His love for MSU is obvious in everything he does and in the innumerable leadership roles he has played across campus and across the Magnolia State. We will miss him and wish him only the best in his future adventures.”

In 2015, Cunetto was awarded the Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education - Thad Cochran Distinguished Arts Educator Award in Theatre. In 2014, the Mississippi Library Association presented him with the Polaris Award, created to thank Cunetto and the MSU Systems team for enhancing the MLA’s network infrastructure. In 1999 he received the Mississippi Library Association Peggy May Award. When asked to reflect on his time with the Libraries, Cunetto admitted he never thought he would become an Associate Dean.

“I was fortunate to have several mentors who assisted me along the way. They encouraged and assisted me in advancing,” he said.

He said there are a number of accomplishments of which he is proud, including having been a part of the development of what is now the Mississippi Library Partnership, a multi-type library consortium, and the statewide MAGNOLIA project, as well as the development of the MaxxSouth Digital Media Center and the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library. His longevity makes it hard to narrow down his fondest memories.

“There have been so many wonderful experiences over the years that it is hard to pinpoint one. Certainly at the top of the list is the opening of the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library and the Frank and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana Gallery,” he said. “This event was years in the making and brought hundreds of people to the library.”

But with all the accomplishments, promotions, awards and accolades, what makes Cunetto’s career mean the most is simple: the people.

“The people are what make the libraries special,” he said. "We have such a caring and dedicated staff. It has been an honor to work with them to advance the libraries.”