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Interview with Faye Chadwell, Oregon State University

Photo of Faye Chadwell with dog Tilley

Faye Chadwell, Donald and Delpha Campbell University Librarian and OSU Press Director

Tell us a little bit about your work background.

My career as an academic/research librarian began 30 years ago this August at the University of South Carolina though I’ve worked in libraries since my undergraduate years at Appalachian State University (Boone, NC).  As a young undergraduate student worker, I used to tell the folks at Appalachian State that I always wanted to come back there and be the dean.  Well, that didn’t happen but I did manage to reach my goal of being the university librarian at Oregon State.

Once there was a glimmer of aspiration that I might move on from my course of study in English (with a BA and MA) to get a PhD. I taught composition and  introduction to literature, grammar, technical writing at the university and community college level—plus a stint a high school. Librarianship came calling so I answered. Most of my career has been spent at two terrific Oregon research libraries—more than 10 years at Oregon State University preceded by 12 at the University of Oregon.  As a librarian, I started out as a pretty typical reference librarian with collection development and instruction responsibilities in my areas of strength—American and British literature but I also covered linguistics, folklore, and psychology. My love for collection development work led to a promotion as the social science bibliographer and then from there I took department head positions emphasizing collection development and acquisitions. I came into my role as a CD head as the world of collections and acquisitions was transitioning rapidly to electronic.

Throughout my career, I’ve been very involved in professional associations but didn’t take a traditional academic librarian route for my service commitments.  I was chair of the Intellectual Freedom Committee in OLA and eventually elected as OLA’s president. Within ALA,  I chaired the GLBT Round Table Book Awards Committee and the Round Table itself.  ALCTS was also my home for many years because of the collections connection but in the last several years, I’ve been more involved in ACRL, leading up to my recent election to the ACRL Board.

What has been the best thing that has happened to you since you started your position?

I couldn’t have been prouder than when I was selected as OSU’s university librarian and director of the OSU Press.  The folks I work with at OSULP are among the best in the country.  In my opinion, the university librarian is supposed to support the success of her staff and the good ideas for programs and services they bring forth. So, there have been many “best things” but they haven’t happened to me so much as they have happened to OSU Libraries.  On an individual basis, I think being selected and supported to participate in the UCLA Senior Fellows for Library and Information Science as a an AUL has to be among the best things. I actually attended as an AUL who was moving into an interim UL position after the 3-week experience.  The coursework, nationally known speakers, etc. were good, but the network of peers and close friends I developed has proven invaluable to me in so many ways.  When I need to chat about issues, share ideas, or compare notes, I can rely on this group for support and feedback.  That kind of support network is a necessity for library leaders, especially emerging leaders.

What would you like Oregon academic librarians to know about you?

Personal stuff that I am comfortable sharing: I have been out as a lesbian since I was a teenager. Having grown up in North Carolina, being out wasn’t always easy but I wouldn’t know how else to be in the world.  My partner (since 2000) and I are getting married this summer.  Though no blushing bride, I am pretty excited.  When not working I love to pursue outdoor activities, travel, cook and eat well. One outdoor activity I am still happy to be pursuing is competitive women’s softball at the senior women’s level.  And of course, I’m a voracious reader who typically has 2-3 books going at a time.  In fact I’ve been reviewing books for Library Journal since 1989, mostly fiction by international women writers and occasionally non-fiction titles about women in science.

When you run for ACRL Board, they ask candidates to describe themselves in 3 words.  I chose thoughtful, determined, and fair-minded.  Other folks who know me might add competitive, “tough but fair,” loyal, frank, and great in a crisis.  Apparently many co-workers think I’m a fast walker so that was amusing to learn.

What is the biggest challenge facing your library in the upcoming year?

Again, it’s hard to pick one. Like so many academic and research librarians, we face budgetary challenges every year.  I’ve been proud that the library’s administrative team has managed to acquire about $1.5 million in new, recurring $$$ in the last 3-5 years but it’s never enough to provide adequate resources for all we do or want to do. We also endured some retirements among our support staff positions so we are onboarding a number of new staff. It’s exciting to begin working with new folks, but these kinds of transition take time and energy. One big challenge that I would deem positive: the development and  implementation of a new strategic plan.  Finally, the sociopolitical and cultural environment we are enduring right now is taking its toll.  It will be important for us to figure out how to keep ourselves motivated in the face of ongoing challenges that yield negative impacts on earlier social and political progress we had made in this country.  No one likes taking one step forward and two steps backward.

What would you like Oregon academic librarians to know about your institution?

It’d be cheeky and boastful to say we are the best academic library in the state, right? Okay that’s the competitive streak I mentioned above coming out.  Instead, let me say that I worked my first dozen years at the University of Oregon Libraries which is a wonderful organization.  However, I never knew all the fantastic work—research, teaching, and outreach and engagement going on at Oregon State. We are the best kept secret in Oregon higher education—too humble for our own good sometimes.  I did the research when I interviewed at OSU for the Associate University Librarian position so I knew about the innovative work in multiple areas, but after beginning to work here, I was blown away on a regular basis by my colleagues’ creativity, service commitment, and engagement on campus and in the profession.

What does advocacy for academic libraries look like from your perspective as a library director?

Everyone in an academic library can be an advocate for academic libraries.  There are activities that we all should pursue no matter what our role or position.  For instance, contacting legislators about funding higher education issues because this has an impact on us and/or our constituents.

To be a good advocate, I think you need to do your homework and be prepared. It’s wonderful to be passionate and to be able to tell a good story, but some audiences need and require data. The folks in various units and departments at OSU Libraries are well-positioned to provide great data for me to present in my role to the University Administration.  So in that regard, we all share some responsibilities for advocating on our behalf.

I’m presently the ACRL liaison to the ALA Advocacy Coordinating Group.  We were just discussing how advocacy works for different types of libraries.  I think that advocacy messages do need to be customized but we also need to remember to advocate for all libraries. We are connected and what happens within one arena affects another.  For example, the dearth of school librarians in Oregon has impact on public and academic librarians’ work.  There’s always going to be a learning curve to move from high school to a larger academic library, but I believe children from communities with strong school librarians can have a leg up on others.  We in academic libraries advocate for changes in the scholarly communication ecosystem.  That might be motivated by costs but it’s also motivated by a commitment to broad and affordable (if not free) access for readers to research results paid for by citizens.

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