Welcome back to another Member Spotlight interview! In this month’s edition, I got to talk to Daniel Smith, Research, Instruction, & Digital Services Librarian at the Styberg Library at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. I loved getting to chat with Daniel about being a librarian in lockdown, getting into the publishing world, and Garrett-Evangelical Seminary’s efforts to support LGBTQ students. We hope you enjoy our conversation!
AC: How did you get into librarianship?
DS: It was something I never considered until I went off to seminary. I was lucky enough to get a job in the library as a student worker; I spent my whole time in seminary there. I was at Garrett, where I work now, for seven years while I was doing a couple of master’s degrees, and during that time, I was able to work in a variety of positions. I started out with the circulation desk and then moved on to technical services, ILL, and different places around the library. I’ve worked some in Archives and Special Collections. I got a really good opportunity to sample around and see what was happening in the library, and I discovered that I like it.
It wasn’t really something I had thought about. Going to seminary, my thought was that I wanted to be working in some sort of ministry setting, probably in a church or something like that. But then by working in the library, I thought, “Well, this is actually really interesting.” There were a number of librarians who encouraged me to consider going to library school. They said, “You know, you seem to really enjoy this, and it seems to be something you’re pretty good at, so why don’t you consider it?” And I thought, “Well, you know, maybe this is where I am called and what I should be doing.”
After graduating, I spent some more time thinking about it; I didn’t immediately commit. I took about a year off and was working as a church administrator close by, and I discovered the LEEP program through the University of Illinois. I knew that they offered the Theological Librarianship class, so I was already somewhat familiar with them. But when I explored the program and realized it was an asynchronous, online program, I thought, “Well, why not? Let’s give this a try.” And I guess the rest is history! In the midst of finishing that up, I received a job offer, and I’m back where I was working originally, at the seminary. It’s been a lot of fun to be back in the new position.
AC: When did you find out about Atla?
DS: I suppose it was sometime when I was working in the library. I probably saw a Proceedings or something on someone’s shelf and may have asked about it; I did know that some of the librarians presented at the conference when I was there. I think I really became most familiar with Atla when I was taking the Theological Librarianship class with Dr. Carisse Berryhill at the University of Illinois in the LEEP program. She really spent a lot of time introducing us to different folks who worked at Atla, but also different things that Atla does and has done over history. So that’s when it became really of interest and something I knew I wanted to be more committed to once I became a professional librarian. My first conference was at the conference in Indianapolis.
She really spent a lot of time introducing us to different folks who worked at Atla, but also different things that Atla does and has done over history. So that’s when it became really of interest and something I knew I wanted to be more committed to once I became a professional librarian.
AC: How was that?
DS: It was nice! Dr. Berryhill wasn’t able to come that year, so I was kind of disappointed that I didn’t get to see her. She was one of the only people I knew. But I was amazed at how friendly folks were. There was a purposeful “first time attendees” gathering or something like that. Certain long time Atla members had volunteered to be in there, so they were trying to help us navigate and get familiar with Atla, but also to meet each other. That was a really fun experience. By meeting them very early, I felt like I already knew a lot of folks at the conference. I was more comfortable through the whole process, because I was like, “Oh, I know you!” You feel more connected.
AC: Can you tell me a little bit about what you do at Garrett now?
DS: My formal title is Research, Instruction, and Digital Services, so quite a few things. I’m spending a lot of the summer working on trying to vamp up our digital presence. We’re affiliated with Northwestern University; we have a shared history and the libraries share a lot of resources. We’re able to utilize a lot of their online resources. But in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we realized that we want to also begin collecting some of our own specific electronic resources. I’ve been really heavily involved in setting up those.
So that’s kind of the digital services piece that I do, but I’m also able to work in our digital collections. I scan some items from our collection and then we post them online, through CARLI or CONTENTdm, and make those things discoverable. I continually work on things like the Methodist history collection we’ve been working on. I was also able to work on a Garrett history collection. We finished up one for Dr. Georgia Harkness, who was a historical figure and one of the first women to serve as a full professor in a theological seminary. She served at Garrett and we have her papers, so it was a lot of fun. We were able to create that digital collection and then have a big celebratory event… except we couldn’t have it because of COVID-19. But we have plans for that at some point.
Research and instruction, that’s kind of self-explanatory, I suppose. I spend some time working directly with students, but also with faculty and in the classroom, helping them with any sort of research questions they have. I’ve been spending a lot of my summer trying to develop some online tutorials since we won’t have as much time to be in-person. Garrett has decided to be completely online for the fall, just out of an abundance of caution. It’s given us the opportunity to vamp up some of our online tutorials, other learning guides, and LibGuides. I stay fairly busy!
Garrett has decided to be completely online for the fall, just out of an abundance of caution. It’s given us the opportunity to vamp up some of our online tutorials, other learning guides, and LibGuides. I stay fairly busy!
AC: Do you have any projects that you’re particularly proud of?
DS: I presented at the Atla conference this summer. I had a poster on our support of the LGBTQ community. A couple of years ago, we decided that we really wanted to make our support very clear. We have a number of students who identify as members of the LGBTQ community and quite a few student groups, and we wanted to make it very clear that we support them. We want them to know that the library is a welcoming and safe space for them. As a result, we created things like LibGuides, we did some displays — kind of the normal things.
But I also realized when I was digging in the Archives and Special Collections that there really wasn’t much there. I knew we had had a group called Sacred Worth that had been active for a period of time at the seminary — I didn’t at that time know how long. But I was able to reach out to some folks on Facebook who I knew through the seminary and said, “If I were going to interview anyone and talk about the history of Garrett and LGBTQ inclusion, who would I talk to?” There was a name that appeared pretty quickly, and it was someone I was familiar with. I reached out to her and we had a series of conversations. She thankfully had saved things from her time. She was one of the first founding members of the group that continues today. It was really fun to begin to establish that archive and special collection.
We continue to add to the LibGuide that we’ve created and have had some other displays as well. We have also been trying to make a point of including LGBTQ authors in other displays that we have.
AC: Is there a particular topic within theological librarianship that you are really interested in?
DS: My degrees at Garrett were in church history and religious education. I think it explains why I’m interested in archives and instruction. In library school, of course, they don’t really talk specifically about theological librarianship, other than in the theological librarianship class. I did a degree in religion and theology for undergrad too, so I had been in the religion-philosophy-theology world for quite a while. It was fun to go into a new world and then to think about how what I had learned previously intersects with those things.
I really enjoy thinking about “how does a theological librarian do information literacy?” or “what does it mean to do theological research?” You know, the standard concepts of librarianship, but then trying to add that next layer of, “Well, as a person of faith teaching other people who are going to be in ministry, what would that look like?” I don’t always have clear answers, but it’s a fun thought experiment. It helps me be more intentional about the ways I teach or the ways that I offer services that are grounded in some sort of theological identity.
AC: Is there anything about theological librarianship that you wish other people knew or that you find people have a lot of misconceptions about?
DS: My first thought was, “You don’t have to be a person of faith to be a theological librarian.” Atla’s doing a really good job of trying to expand and push the envelope to move beyond just Protestant Christianity. But theological librarianship is a very open, very expansive discipline, so all religious traditions are a part of theological librarianship. That’s something that I have to continually remind myself, being enmeshed in a Protestant seminary myself, that theological librarianship is much larger than that. I’ve been amazed at the folks I’ve met who have a variety of backgrounds and how diverse the field is.
But theological librarianship is a very open, very expansive discipline, so all religious traditions are a part of theological librarianship.
AC: Do you have any advice for anybody who might be entering theological librarianship or might be interested in it?
DS: I would say reach out and connect with other theological librarians. Hear what they do, hear their stories. I remember when I was exploring Atla, Dr. Berryhill was able to connect me with Kris Veldheer, who is now the editor of The Summary of Proceedings, but who’s also the Library Director at Catholic Theological here in Chicago. It was nice having a really honest chat with her; she’s been a part of the organization for a long time, and hearing the things that have been done, the things that are being done was really encouraging and really helpful for me. I think that sometimes it can be scary, to think about entering a new field where you don’t really know a lot of people, and I think that getting to know folks really makes a big difference. You get a chance to connect and hear their stories, but also you get a really expansive idea of what it could mean to be a theological librarian.
AC: What do you find the most challenging about working in theological librarianship?
DS: I don’t feel like I ever know enough, but I think that’s probably true about being a librarian in general. There’s just so much out there, so when someone comes to me with a research question or wants to learn about a new database or a new technology, I feel like there’s always this opportunity to learn. It’s both a challenge and it’s really exciting. There are so many opportunities to expand your knowledge and skillset. Sometimes that can be overwhelming, I’ll be very honest about that. But also, in the best of worlds, it’s a really exciting challenge.
AC: I’ve been thinking lately that there are so many things that we don’t know right now, especially about how the field is going to change — certainly over the course of the next five or ten years, but even just over the course of the next year with COVID-19 happening. Do you have any thoughts on what’s going to be different, what’s going to stay the same?
DS: In our seminary, more and more students are coming to us, and they aren’t interested in the stereotypical “going to be a pastor in a church” route. They’re interested in serving in a nonprofit or interested in environmental justice or racial justice or LGBTQ inclusion, and we’re thinking about how we can best support those students through the collection and through the ways that we offer instruction. I think it’s something that’s definitely a growing edge for us, and we continue to try to do our best to support that and to involve those students and equip them so that they are best prepared to lead in their ministries and do research or any sort of work afterward. That’s a definite challenge.
But I think for us, it’s really given us the opportunity to beef up any of our online instructional aids and any of the other online offerings that we have. We’ve had distance students for a while at the seminary. You can’t do your entire degree online, but a lot of students have preferred to start off their first year online and then they’ll move to campus or decide to commute back and forth. We’ve been working to support those students.
But now that the seminary will be completely online in the fall, it’s given us the opportunity to think about how can we really increase our online learning tools so that folks can do research and utilize the library tools and databases and resources in the best ways possible. I’ve been working on video tutorials this week and thinking about how we can best support those students and give them access to things like our physical materials.
I think that’s something that we’ve realized: that there are certain things that still aren’t available online. We’re trying to find ways of scanning or mailing materials, or providing curbside service, while trying to keep people safe and recognizing that we need to practice our best care in that sense. I think those are ways we’re trying to revamp. Obviously, I don’t think all of them will stay permanently. I think eventually we will allow people back in the library to access things.
AC: I hope so!
DS: I certainly hope so too. We’ll have a better collection of places we can point people to learn more about library resources if they want to do that. I think that’s something we’re learning about Generation Z — they tend to be independent learners, so I think that having these instructional videos online will be very helpful. In that sense, they can just learn as they have questions, and of course, we’ll be available to help if they want to ask more in-depth questions. Having those resources online will definitely be a good byproduct of COVID-19.
I think that’s something we’re learning about Generation Z — they tend to be independent learners, so I think that having these instructional videos online will be very helpful.
AC: What kind of books do you like to read? What kind of movies do you like to watch?
DS: I’m definitely more of a nonfiction reader myself. I enjoy watching period dramas and films of that nature, so yeah, that’s a big thing for me. Nice and historical, but also a way of escaping a little bit. I enjoy reading historical nonfiction that’s written more like… I don’t know what you would call it… more like a novel, like Eric Larson. I love Eric Larson. I also just finished reading Rebecca Makai’s The Great Believers. That was a lot of fun to read. Tragic, but very enjoyable to read.
AC: Have you been enjoying working from home with COVID, or is it starting to get to you a little bit?
DS: At first, it was novel and new. I think I’ve settled into it now. Every other week, I work in the library, so every other week I help with curbside service. We’re just a staff of five, so we have to vary who works when and recognize that we all have different tasks that need to be done besides just doing curbside pickup, scans, and mailing requests, interlibrary loans, things like that. That’s offered a nice variety and it’s nice to be back with books and have access to those things. I will be happy to be back in the office eventually, but I’ve made do.
It’s been nice that we’ve been able to find plenty of things to do from a distance. I think that was a worry for a while, but our IT department set us up in a good place, so we were able to access a lot of things and do a lot of the work that we would have normally done in person. It’s not been too bad.
Atla’s been really a nice place to dip your toe into the publishing world. It’s kind of fun to share findings and to share what we’re doing and to continue to do my own research and be a part of that, even though that’s not required as a part of my job. Atla makes it easier. It’s a good opportunity to begin the process.
I do miss seeing people more and being with the students and active in the library and things like that. But for now, we have a virtual Zoom room; it’s kind of like a virtual study room, which was something that our students asked for originally. We drop in there a couple of times a day and offer our office hours and meet with students and chat with them, so we still see them, but it’s still a little different, and it would be nice to be back in person one day.
One thing I’d like to say before we leave: it’s really nice that I was able to do a book review for Theological Librarianship last year. I was really nervous about the whole publishing thing. It was very nice that the folks at Theological Librarianship were open to me presenting that and publishing it. Another thing that was really fun was contributing to the distance learning forum that’s going to be in the October issue. I enjoyed that. Atla’s been really a nice place to dip your toe into the publishing world. It’s kind of fun to share findings and to share what we’re doing and to continue to do my own research and be a part of that, even though that’s not required as a part of my job. Atla makes it easier. It’s a good opportunity to begin the process.
Member Spotlight is a new series featuring interviews with individual Atla members about their journey in theological librarianship. Interested in being interviewed? Send us an email with the subject line “Member Spotlight.”
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