Interview with Chris Shaffer, OHSU

Continuing our interview series of reaching out to academic library leaders across the state to facilitate “getting to know” our colleagues… the next interview in this series is with Chris Shaffer, University Librarian and Associate Professor, at Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland.

Thanks for talking with us, Chris!

1. Tell us a little bit about your work background.

Chris Shaffer photo
Chris Shaffer (photo used with permission)

After receiving an undergraduate degree in philosophy, I started my career in libraries as an interlibrary loan clerk in a state college in Texas. My mother had worked as a serials librarian in the same library when I was growing up, and my cousin worked in the instructional technology unit as well. I was convinced to go to library school at the University of North Texas. I then applied to the University of Illinois at Chicago’s library residency program for new graduates and was surprised to be offered a job in the Library of the Health Sciences, working half time in interlibrary loan and half time in reference. That was followed by a stint at the National Library of Medicine’s outreach office in Chicago, exhibiting and teaching classes in a ten-state area. My mentor Jean Sayre recruited me to be Assistant Director for Public Services at the University of Iowa health sciences library, and in 2008, I moved to Oregon to become University Librarian and Associate Professor at OHSU.

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

It’s hard to pick one thing, but the establishment of the Ontology Development Group (ODG) stands out. When the federal stimulus act was underway, I received a phone call from Dr. Lee Nadler at Harvard University which resulted in a major grant to develop ontologies in support of research resource sharing. Melissa Haendel was hired to be lead ontologist, and from that beginning ODG has grown to become a department of the OHSU Library. ODG strives to promote research innovations, service development, and education through semantically enabled technologies for the purposes of data management and publication, research reproducibility, and the building of novel tools for biomedical data exploration. If I could list two things, I would add the growth of the OHSU Library’s Historical Collections & Archives programs. HC&A staff have built strong relationships with key stakeholders in the OHSU community that have resulted in significant donations and transfers, as well as rich programming.

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

When I’m not working in libraries, I like to play board games and spend time with my family. My child will graduate from high school this year, so we are spending time on campus visits and applications, which have changed a lot since the last time I did it in the 1980s. As someone who has never owned a car, I love living in a city which has great public transit and support for active transportation. Someone once said that “Portland is a city surrounded by a gigantic park,” and that has definitely been my experience.

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

OHSU is going through massive transformations: from the Knight Cancer Challenge which successfully raised $1 billion for research to the launching of a new data science initiative; from curriculum changes in support of inter-professional education to the opening of a new School of Public Health with PSU; from the establishment of OHSU Partners with Salem Health to the establishment of a distributed rural campus. The Library is challenged to stay relevant and keep a seat at the table in a sea of change.

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

With nearly 14,000 employees and a $2 billion budget, OHSU has nearly as many faculty (2,608) as students (2,861). The Library serves all mission areas: education, research, clinical, and outreach. We have joint education programs with OSU (pharmacy), PSU (public health and healthcare management), and OIT (clinical laboratory sciences and paramedic). There are campuses all over Oregon, including nursing programs at SOU, WOU, OIT, and Le Grande. A campus is being established in Thailand in cooperation with Bangkok Hospital and Siriraj Medical School, and a new rural campus has launched with locations in Coos Bay and Klamath Falls.

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

Academic libraries have such a great future, if we can only look beyond the obvious challenges to our traditional roles. The key to advocating for libraries is providing services and collections that are relevant to users. If people need what you have, they will go to bat for you with administrators and decision makers. It’s all about building relationships and partnering — being an active member of your community.

Uta Hussong-Christian, ACRL-OR President (2015-2016)
Associate Professor | Science Librarian
Oregon State University Libraries

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