From QC Music Major to Vice Provost and Director of UPenn’s Libraries
Constantia Constantinou BA ’87, MA ’91, MLS ’95, vice provost and director of the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, had never left her home country of Cyprus until she enrolled at Queens College at the age of 18. The Turkish invasion of Cyprus divided her country and displaced her family, driving her to pursue an education in America. After three QC degrees and a successful career as a librarian, she returned home to help bridge the gap between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
It was in 1983, eight years after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, when Constantinou went to the United States to pursue her education. Her parents had no idea what school to send her to, so they sought the advice of someone from the U.S. Embassy. Since Constantinou was an aspiring musician, the Embassy recommended Queens College because she could study at QC’s Aaron Copland School of Music while also getting a well-rounded education studying its liberal arts curriculum.
“My parents would always say that during wars, people can lose their possessions, their homes, even their countries and families, but the one thing they cannot lose is their education,” said Constantinou.
America and On to Queens College
Her parents took the Embassy’s advice, and Constantinou came to the US for the first time, alone, and began her studies at Queens College. She arrived in February of 1983 just as New York City was hit with one of the worst blizzards in its history. It was the first time she had ever seen snow—one of many life-changing experiences she would soon encounter.
“[Queens College] was the most eye-opening experience of my life. It helped me discover the world,” said Constantinou. “It was a kaleidoscope of nations. So many of my friendships were with different people from different countries.”
While a student, she took a job working for Joseph Ponte, head of the music library at the time. Ponte mentored Constantinou and showed her how the library works. It was there she first discovered her love for libraries.
She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in music and a master’s in music theory at QC. After graduation, she spent two years working in the library at New York University where she realized she wanted a career as librarian. So, she returned to Queens College and earned her master’s in library science in 1991.
She went on to work in libraries at LaGuardia Community College, Iona College, SUNY Maritime and Stony Brook University where she became a pioneer in developing digital, multimedia, and technology initiatives. At Stony Brook, she was promoted to the SUNY Distinguished Librarians Professorship rank—just the fifth person to earn the honor. In 2018, Constantinou was hired at the University of Pennsylvania, in a career move she calls the “capstone of her career.” As vice provost and director of libraries, Constantinou represents Penn's interest in the national and regional library consortia that enhance scholarly access to information and advocate for libraries in public and government arenas.
However, perhaps her greatest career accomplishment had already occurred a few years prior during her work as a Fulbright Scholar. With the support of the Fulbright Commission and the American Embassy, Constantinou worked to connect the Greek and Turkish library communities of Cyprus. In 2003, she returned to Cyprus and crossed into the UN-controlled Green Zone to serve as the connection between the two libraries and to share information between the two. She also worked to put their scattered collections online so they could search and discover each other’s treasures.
She made a second trip in 2009–10 to build upon her first visit, arranging a face-to-face meeting between librarians from both regions. Librarians shook hands and met for lunch and later traveled to the United States, where they toured prominent New York City libraries and visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was at the Met where Constantinou and the Greek and Turkish Cypriots shared a powerful moment, as they collectively viewed an exhibit of Cypriot antiquities that dated back as far as 5,000 B.C.
“I became convinced that people can learn to live in peace—even collaborate if they could develop trust in their common values of scholarship and service,” remarked Constantinou on the experience.
In 2014, Constantinou was named a Queens College Distinguished Alumna of the Graduate School of Library Information Studies. In a speech delivered to library graduates that year, she wrote “Libraries continue to be the cornerstone of our communities. They are the inspirational symbol in our hearts and our minds. Despite the challenges of communities and nations that remain divided– there is always the spirit of enlightenment that rises above differences to reveal our humanity and unite us in a common purpose.”