Interview with Steve Silver, Northwest Christian University

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Steve Silver, Director, Kellenberger Library at Northwest Christian University


Tell us a little bit about your work background.

Like many, librarianship is a second career for me. I have a Masters in Choral Conducting (University of Oregon) and did church music gigs in Oregon and Washington for many years. Twenty years ago I took a second job working part time as the technical services assistant in the library at what was then Northwest Christian College (now University, also my alma mater). At the time it was just a job to supplement income. Through a series of fortuitous circumstances I was able to earn my MLS, moved to technical services librarian, and ten years ago became library director.

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

In the fall of 2011 I was awarded a grant from ALA to host their traveling exhibit Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible in the NCU library. This exhibit, jointly sponsored by the Folger Shakespeare library in Washington, D.C, with assistance from the Bodleian Library, Oxford, England., celebrated the 400 year anniversary of the King James Bible. The exhibit explored both the creation of the King James Bible and its impact on culture, language, and literature. NCU was one of only two libraries in Oregon to host this exhibit and one of only a couple dozen or so around the country. It was a huge undertaking for our very small institution but proved to be a phenomenal success, drawing hundreds of visitors to our campus and providing opportunities to collaborate and strengthen bonds with other community organizations.

Tied for best experience, and closely related, was my summer 2011 sabbatical. NCU is fortunate to own one of the most extensive collections of rare early printed English language Bibles in the western United States. 2011 also marked the 100 year anniversary of the founding of this collection. I was able to use my sabbatical to research this founding, including a trip to England to visit still existing book shops where some of the Bibles were purchased, as well as visit sites in Oxford where NCU‘s founding president Eugene Sanderson worked and studied himself. Visiting the old Bodleian Library while there was one of many highlights.

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

As you might surmise from my answer above, I’m rather passionate about the history of the Bible as a book, particularly the early years of its translation into English. I love sharing this history and exhibiting NCU‘s incredible rare Bibles. I welcome inquiries and opportunities to do so (seriously; call me).

I’m also passionate about intellectual freedom issues, which may not be so surprising for a librarian but perhaps cuts against the stereotype of someone from a faith-based institution. I am currently working on a book chapter on intellectual freedom from a Christian perspective.

On a more personal note, I’m a huge Oregon Ducks Football fan. Fantasy is probably my favorite genre for reading, though I also read scifi, some bestsellers along the mystery/thriller line, and of course books on the history of the Bible. I enjoy a wide variety of music (but not country. Or rap. And probably not polkas). Our daughter is getting married this October, so we’re slowly ramping up wedding planning mode (they’ve sure gotten expense since we got married 30 years ago).

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

Probably staffing. NCU‘s enrollment has been growing in recent years, which is great. But over the past decade or so the library’s staffing levels have actually decreased. So we’re serving more students with fewer professional and student staff. Coupled with trying to adequately serve our several distinct student populations with a very small staff we’re stretched quite thin (we have traditional daytime undergrads, evening degree completion and masters programs on accelerated 8-week semesters, and online courses and programs).

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

We are small but growing. Currently around 800 students. Although NCU is un-apologetically Christian, we are fairly ecumenical, welcoming students and faculty from a wide-variety of Christian faith experiences. Students do not need to be specifically Christian. In fact we had a student body president come out as atheist during his term a few years ago. That attracted a bit of attention, but he was allowed to continue his term and graduated. All faculty must have a statement of faith describing their particular Christian faith journey, but NCU does not proscribe any specific faith statement, unlike most other faith-based institutions.

And did I mention we have an amazing collection of rare early printed English Bibles?

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

1) Do our jobs well. Proving our worth by actually being of worth may be the most overlooked aspect of effective advocacy. 2) Relationships. Establishing positive, trust-filled relationships with administrators, one’s supervisor, leaders of other campus units, and significant friends of the university provides opportunities for the advocacy message to be heard. If they know I care for them as individuals, that I care about what they care about, and that I am trustworthy, fair, and honest, they are much more likely to hear my message when I advocate for library needs. 3) Put the institution first. An academic library exists to support the institution. Putting library needs first creates division and competition and undermines trust. Re-framing library needs as ways to support the institution creates collaboration and trust, and keeps my work in perspective.

This is all internal advocacy. Especially in today’s environment external advocacy is at least as important. Others are more informed about best practices in this realm, and I strive to follow their lead. Such efforts are vitally important. I am intentionally working to improve the level and competence of my efforts to advocate for libraries on state and national levels, and challenge each one of us to do so as well.

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