Photo taken in Armenia during my US Peace Corps service (2006-2008).
I have always been fascinated with history. When I was a young boy, my grandfather took me to Chickamauga, the site of a brutal Civil War battle in northwestern Georgia. I found the site to be a fascinating place. At that moment I wanted to be a historian. Years later, after graduating from Belmont Abbey College in 1999 with a degree in history, I entered a Benedictine monastery. There I began training as an archivist under Father Paschal Baumstein. However, I left the monastery in 2004 and pursued a career in politics, working as a Legislative Assistant (LA) on Capitol Hill. As an LA, I worked closely with the Library of Congress and the National Archives, researching and writing about issues important to constituents. The job demanded many hours of reading and writing. I had to provide meticulous documentation for every letter I wrote to constituents and for every bill I researched.
I brought my passion for authentic research back to Belmont Abbey College a year later, employed as a Periodical’s Assistant in the Abbot Vincent Taylor Library. While there, I published my first research paper, Deepening Union: A Benedictine Commitment, in the June 2005 issue of The American Benedictine Review. The paper focused on Father Thomas Oestreich, the first historian and librarian of Belmont Abbey. Although the monastery was a rewarding experience, I yearned for something more. I knew the world offered additional opportunities to expand my knowledge. I wanted to explore the world in depth before settling down in a career. Thus, I joined the United States Peace Corps in 2006, serving in Armenia from 2006-2008 and the Philippines from 2008-2010.
While living overseas, I taught English, assisted in the development of two libraries, and helped organize a governmental archive. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to travel to several other countries. During my travels and international teaching career, my professional philosophy grew stronger. I learned valuable lessons that have since enriched my career. In particular, I learned how to interact with diverse populations with varied mindsets and values than my own. In addition, I learned how information is presented and accessed all over the world. It was a valuable experience. As Patty Wong and Miguel Figueroa (2015) states: “Diversity connects with, complements, and advances two key principles of the information profession—intellectual freedom and equity of access,” (p. 30).
Accordingly, my professional philosophy is based on the practices I learned as a Benedictine Monk, college librarian, Congressional Aide and, finally, as a US Peace Corps Volunteer. Mary Ann Harlan (2015) affirms: The information professional “expands beyond supporting the basic literacy of reading to teaching students to access, evaluate, and use information, both within their academic environment and as citizens of a democracy,” (p. 54). When I returned to the United States in 2010, I strengthened my role as teacher and researcher, informing students and the public how to access information in an equitable, helpful, and efficient environment.
Now, as an information professional with experience in librarianship, archives management, and historical research, I am employed at Benedictine College Preparatory, a Catholic and military high school for boys in Richmond, Virginia. Primarily, I enforce the mission of the school to our Cadets: “We will form Cadets as Christian men of conscience, discipline and achievement,” (“Our Mission - Benedictine College Preparatory,” 2016.) Within that mindset, I offer the best information available for our Cadets in order to enhance their knowledge of the world around them, thus helping them grow into informed and principled citizens. Furthermore, I am a committed teacher, informing our Cadets how libraries and archives play an important role in not only our school’s preservation, but in the preservation of all of civilization. It is my hope future Cadets will have free and equitable access to the information that is preserved in our library and archives and, to a larger degree, in the libraries and archives around the world.
In keeping with the mission of the school, and in order to ensure intellectual freedom and equitable access, I believe a professional philosophy should strictly measure the ethical issues that are associated with librarianship and archives management. One of the fundamental aspects of the American Library Association states: “We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources,” (American Library Association, 2016). Thus, I am committed to making appropriate and valuable information freely available to any Cadet that wants it. For example, during my studies under Father Paschal Baumstein, I learned the importance of emphasizing both the value of preservation and the importance of providing access to resources. The Society of American Archivists (SAA) asserts: “Archivists preserve a wide variety of primary sources for the benefit of future generations,” and “Access to records is essential in personal, academic, business, and government settings, and use of records should be both welcomed and actively promoted,” (SAA, 2016). I would not have been able to write my essay on Father Oestreich, for example, had those principles not been in place.
I am a dedicated, perpetual learner. I believe it is important for librarians and archivists to remember the principles of service and guardianship so every user and researcher is served fairly and appropriately. To be effective as an information professional, April D. Cunningham and Stephen Rosenblatt (2015) affirms: “It is impossible to become an effective instruction librarian without dedicating time and energy to professional development,” (p. 167). Consequently, I have enrolled in continuing education classes, participated in professional workshops and conferences, and initiated projects that have improved my skills and knowledge as an information professional, thus enriching my career and the security of Benedictine’s academic community.
In addition to working on a Master in Library and Information Science at Saint John’s University, I also volunteer at the University of Richmond’s Boatwright Memorial Library, and the Catholic Diocese of Richmond archives repository. At the university, I am currently working on finding aids of alumni and associates of the school. For the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, and in association with the archives at Benedictine College Preparatory, I am working on an essay about Father Herman Wolf, a former Confederate officer during the American Civil War. He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in downtown Richmond, Virginia. Dedicating my time to a variety of projects and volunteering at various repositories sets a worthy example to our Cadets, and augments the importance of research and preservation.
I believe the library is the academic core on campus. It is paramount that information professionals not only promote student education and research, but also stimulate faculty research and teaching. Librarians and archivists must provide space where they can successfully collaborate with teachers in order to support student education and research. Without positive communication and collaboration among teachers and information professionals, students fail to benefit from valuable resources. At Benedictine, I consistently work with teachers to build a strong academic community that adheres to the school’s mission and provides superior information literacy education, reference services, and technology literacy that will assure our Cadets have the knowledge and values to succeed beyond our school’s walls.
Information literacy “forms the basis for lifelong learning. It is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education. It enables learners to master content and extend their investigations, become more self-directed, and assume greater control over their own learning,” (Association of College and Research Libraries, 2016). Thus, it is essential that librarians and archivists center their work on collection development and collection evaluation in order to provide a user friendly environment. Furthermore, information professionals should be mindful that not everyone knows how to navigate the online catalog or online resources, and that many users struggle to collect appropriate and accurate information. Thus, I always make it a point to conduct one-on-one interviews with every Cadet conducting research for a paper or project. Through this practice, information literacy education allows students to develop personal research methods that give them the confidence to weave through multifaceted environments.
Since the mid-1990s, informational professionals have supported technological innovations by developing user friendly websites, collecting and providing electronic resources, and providing a vast range of reference services. In 1996 and again in 2011, the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) revised their behavioral performance guidelines that promote both face-to-face and online interaction with users (Reference and User Services Association, 2016). Simmons (2015) affirms; “These guidelines articulate the essential behavioral attitudes of information intermediators: approachability, interest, listening/inquiring, searching, and follow-up,” (p. 131). At Benedictine, the library website was recently revised. Reference resources are now found and accessed by teachers and Cadets alike in a more helpful and effective environment. Although my subject area is history, I work to ensure that other subject areas, such as literature and science, are better utilized. In addition, I facilitate reference literacy, and offer reference guides and one-on-one academic writing tutorials.
Although technology literacy has made enormous strides, it is clear that many teachers and librarians are not familiar or effectively knowledgeable with online reference sources. Cassell and Hiremath (2013) conclude: “reference librarians have been curiously sluggish in wholly claiming, organizing, and charting the course of internet research,” (p. 263). Thus, the first step in internet research is to understand that the internet is a legitimate reference tool. It is up to the information professional to actively and effectively guide users in the search process. Trained as a historian, my research skills are sound. I can easily pinpoint the authority and reliability of a source by analyzing its content (e.g. investigating the author’s expertise) to determine its authenticity and legitimacy.
But guiding users in the right direction is a daily challenge, not just among Cadets, but among faculty members as well. April D. Cunningham and Stephanie Rosenblatt (2015) acknowledge: “If faculty do not provide sufficient information to plan effective instruction, it is academic librarians’ responsibility to educate professors about their expectations, demonstrating to faculty how more collaboration will result in better learning,” (p. 165). And I think this can be said about any college preparatory high school as well like Benedictine. The faculty and Cadets I work with on a daily basis play essential roles in demonstrating my philosophy of librarianship and archives management through collaborative learning, research, and hands-on activities. For example, I recently collaborated with one of our physics teachers to ensure that Cadets have the most up-to-date computer software available to conduct experiments related to gravity.
Because I am a historian and archivist in addition to being a librarian, I would like to devote my final thoughts on the importance of historical methodology. This is not to suggest that history takes precedence over any other subject. Simply, I am better suited and more comfortable in explaining research methodologies using history as an example. Furthermore, I plan on pursuing a career in archives management or in a special collections library once I complete my MLIS. In truth, any research practice, whether in history, science, literature, or any other subject, provides students with valuable insight on how to retrieve appropriate and authentic information.
In the article she wrote for National Geographic Magazine, “I, Too, Am America,” Michelle Norris states: “The Smithsonian Institution’s museums are where the world comes to learn what it means to be American,” (October 2016, 123). I believe these words are more relevant today than they have ever been. To watch mainstream media or to read the news in print, one would think America is at its breaking point. Every channel, newspaper, or internet feed focuses its attention on the latest riot, protest, cop killing, or civilians killed by cops. Television and the internet are overflowing with an assortment of documentaries and other educational programs. Facebook posts are considered gospel truth. Furthermore, and what is most disheartening, quasi-historians like Oliver Stone are being acknowledged at an alarming rate. Clearly, the information shared to the public is not always accurate due to intellectual deceit and the lack of moral instruction. Thus, I believe the archivist historian must be of sound mind and spirit before they can appropriately collect and interpret information.
The SAA states: “Archivists preserve such primary sources to enable us to better comprehend the past, understand the present, and prepare for the future,” (SAA, 2016). Unfortunately, however, many academic institutions do not prepare archivist historians to appropriately collect and interpret information. As Edwin Bridges et al. (1993), points out: “…the historical profession no longer has a core understanding of research principles and practices that are essential for graduate students,” (p. 735). However, I was fortunate to have had exemplar training in historical methodology, first as an undergraduate student at Belmont Abbey College, then as an archivist at Belmont Abbey Monastery. It is my focus now to continue my training at St. John’s University, an institution with a mission in which I am passionately committed: “academic excellence and the pursuit of wisdom, which flows from free inquiry, religious values, and human experience,” ("Our Mission | St. John's University", 2016). To this end, I look to fulfill a dream I have had ever since that day my grandfather took me by the hand and pointed across the grand landscape where thousands of Americans, both Union and Confederate, gave their lives for a cause they believed justified and noble.
No matter our academic specialty, we all search for truth. St. John’s University confirms that the mission of an academic institution is: “seek truth through research,” and “to disseminate it through teaching and to act on it,” ("Our Mission | St. John's University", 2016).I am proud to be an American. Despite our many flaws, it is still the best country in the world. Millions cross its borders every year to seek the American dream of financial security and hope for the future. Many students flock to universities to learn important methodologies and put them into practice to generate a cooperative, energetic and democratic society. Those who falsify reports, or are morally corrupted should be reprimanded for their unacceptable practices. They certainly do not have a place in the historical, archives, or information professional community. Whether the stories on mainstream media, the internet, or print material are true or false, they require a professional that can sift through the information without dishonesty or partiality. I believe I am doing my part in preserving the past as accurately as possible. As St. John’s University affirms: all must possess a “responsible dedication to utilize available resources and turn them towards humanity’s good,” ("Our Mission | St. John's University", 2016).
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