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The Seventh-day Adventist Librarian — Minister Extraordinaire

Presented by

Bruce McClay
Associate Librarian
Walla Walla College School of Nursing

Twenty-fifth Annual Conference of the
Association of Seventh-day Adventist Librarians
Union College,
Lincoln, Nebraska, USA

July 14, 2005

I want to preface my talk with three things I think you should know: This is not a presentation in the usual sense of the word. No PowerPoint, No bells and whistles. I am simply going to talk about the ministry of the librarian. There are many ways that you can minister, but I am going to focus on one aspect — your positive interaction with students — something that means a lot to me. There is little library research and professional writing in this particular area. I did look. So, my talk is based largely on my observations and experience at both the University of TX & Walla Walla College.I share personal experiences that worked for me. I hesitated to do this for fear that it might be taken wrong — that I was bragging. So I want you to know that I don’t always get it right. I am sharing some of the good times. You have those too.

A baseball bat in my hands it worth, oh, maybe, $15. A baseball bat in Barry Bonds hands could easily be worth a homerun championship.

A basketball in my hands would be good for a few laughs. A basketball in Shaq O’Neal’s hands is worth millions.

So, what do you have in your hands? You are a librarian, so you have a degree in your hands, and, most of you have many years of experience. But what else do you hold in your librarian hands?

I would like to suggest that you hold immense potential, great gifts in your hands, and it is within your power to use or ignore what you hold.

You have the power of influence in your hands — the awesome opportunity to impact a life.

I suspect that librarians don’t often think of themselves as ministers, but I want to correct that misconception. You are an extraordinary minister! I do know what I am talking about. I have served as a pastor — not a regular pastor, but an interim pastor. Currently, I serve as a lay preacher for the OR conference. I have also taught school for 20+ years, mostly on academy level, but with some college teaching too. There is NO calling that has allowed me as great an opportunity to impact the lives of students as being a librarian — not the ministry, not teaching.

Why? There are a couple of reasons. First, I am a neutral person. Pastors do tend to come with a built in barrier. Teachers too — after all they are in a position to evaluate and give grades and that sometimes can create a barrier to open, comfortable communication.

Librarians do have their barriers. Most are aware of the stereotyped perception of librarians — intelligent, but quiet and not much fun. Do whatever you can, anyway you can to break that perception: smile, easily and readily; share jokes; laugh; get involved in campus & student activities out of the library; have a make-your-own sundae day in the library at the end of test week. It is worth it if it shatters the perception. You’ll find that some students will come to you with their concerns and needs when they might feel uncomfortable going to a teacher.

Another advantage is that students usually come to you with a need — true a resource or research need, but that opens the door just a crack. You will sometimes sense that there are deeper needs — issues percolating below the surface. Seize the opportunity. Don’t be too afraid or too busy to ask, listen, and offer to pray for or with a student.

What about the students who work with and for you. Don’t miss that opportunity. Example: I was working with two student library assistants resettling the library after painting. In the flow of conversation as we worked, we briefly touched on the subject of relationships among many other things. I shared a thought about how expectations are almost always a set up for disappointment, but intentions aren’t. I completely forgot the conversation, but one of the students didn’t. A year later, she was struggling through a difficult time with her boyfriend. They worked things out, and got engaged (now they are happily married). Later she said, “I remembered what you said about expectations. Thanks. That helped.” Casual words in an easy conversational flow, impacted a life. Don’t miss the opportunity to listen and to share.

As a general rule, seize, but don’t seek the opportunity. There are some exceptions though — times when you might want to seek the opportunity. If you know someone is hurting, seek them out. I found out that a student’s grandma, who she was very close to, was having a serious surgery. This was a student that I had interacted with several times. I had things to do in my office — emails to answer, orders to process, and I was way behind on ASADL business, so . . . what should I do? What would you do? It is safer, of course, to stay in the office and focus on business. I went looking for the student, caught her between classes, and asked if I could pray with her for her grandma. Almost a full quarter later, I discovered a note on my desk: “I don’t think I ever told you how much it meant to me when we prayed for my grandma on the day of her surgery. So . . . THANK YOU!! I deeply appreciate what you have said and done.”

I am lucky enough to be on a campus with only about 100 students, so I know and see most of them on a daily bases. What if you are on a campus with 1500 students? You can’t go chasing after every hurting student. You will not even know when most are hurting. What about the ones you do know? You do know those that work for you, and some students who are regular library attendees. What about the others. You receive an email that one student’s brother was killed in an automobile accident. You don’t even know the kid, and as far as you know he has never been in the library. So? Could you send him an email letting him know that you care and the library staff prayed for him that morning? How long would that take? Would it be worth more than processing a book?

This is a good time to mention some research that does support what I am saying. As I said there is little research in librarianship, but there is a large body of research in education dealing with student retention and in health care that relates. Education has discovered that a major factor in student retention especially with first-year students is positive, continual interaction with faculty and staff. The first few weeks of the new term are crucial. You have freshmen working for you. You have freshmen wandering in your library. Get to know them, by name if possible. Let them know that you honestly care about their well-being. The best people in your library should be on the front lines. Orient your workers to customer service and remind them of it often. Life is such that the urgent frequently pushes aside the important, and we need to constantly be pushing the important back in front.

Doctor Karen Tetz, a professor on our faculty, has done a significant amount of research in how elderly patients perceive the quality of care provided to them by family caregivers. It should not come as a surprise, but she has discovered that the key is often relationships. Relationships influence the perception of the care and help received as much as the actual quality of the help itself. To transpose this idea into the library world — how you help a student or faculty member is just as important as what you actually help them find. Their perception of the quality of help your library provides will be determined as much by the relationship with the library helper as any other single factor.

You also have the power of belief, the gift of vision in your hands.

I gamble in my library. A student comes in looking like her pet dog just died.

“What happened?”

“I just failed the Acute test.”

“I’ll bet you didn’t. What grade do you think you got.”

“If I’m lucky a low C or high D.”

“Na, I’ll bet you an ice-cream at Baskin Robbins that you got at least a B. If you get a C or lower, I buy you an ice-cream, but if you get a B or above, you buy me an ice cream.”

Guess what — I win more of those than I lose, and even when I lose, I still win. Know why? When we are eating ice-cream together, we talk. If I’m buying we talk about what happened and what could be done different next time. If I’m being treated then I get to make my point: “See I believe in you more than you believe in yourself! You are smart. You are going to be an excellent nurse.”

I received the following email after a student took the State Boards. For those not acquainted with nursing, that’s the test that determines if you are qualified to be a nurse. Four years of education comes down to one test. This was a student that struggled with learning and test anxiety. She had asked me to pray for her during the test.

“Thanks for the words of encouragement, for your prayers, for remembering when to pray, and most of all, for believing in me. I was told a couple of days ago a story about how you can strengthen yourself even when there are negative vibes from everyone surrounding you. It was actually quite an interesting story — I’ll have to tell you some time. Anyhow, the trick is to think of someone who believes in you. The only people I could think of and truly believe that they believed in me was you, Michaelynn, and Michael. So, during the test, every time I felt my anxiety start inching up, I closed my eyes, said a prayer, and then thought of how much you three believed in me and knew I could do it. My nerves calmed down and I was able to keep going.”

Then a later email: “I PASSED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m an RN. I’m a nurse. Gotta run — lots to do, but I promised I’d tell you when I found out.”

That is a very special note. By-the-way, it isn’t me. I’m a channel. My Jesus has chosen to see students through my eyes. I was an encouragement to her, but she is an encouragement to me — to let students know that I believe in them — often, regularly, with passion, whether they are doing good or struggling — to let them know that I believe in them.

I Cor 15, “Christ’s love compels us . . . so from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” C.T. 224 “. . . see in every pupil the handiwork of God.” Rich Carlson echoed this is his worship talk when he said, “see in each student a miracle in the making.” Do you have that vision? Do you have the absolute belief in the awesome potential of every student? Do you tell them?

This last Friday, my wife (she’s a mental health nurse) got a professional newsletter. The lead article reported on research in Learning Disabilities and ADHD in Adults. After stating that “Learning disabilities persist into adulthood and can affect college success” the article goes on to outline the factors that tend to improve an individual’s success. Several are listed, but the one that caught my eye was this quote, “unconditional positive regard from parents and teachers.” Did you catch that? I, of course, would add librarians. What a marvelous gift you have that you can give each student — your unconditional positive regard!

Have any of you seen the movie The Day After Tomorrow? Do you remember the library scenes? There is sudden, radical, and devastating climate change around the world. Torrential rains flood NY City and then a tidal wave sweeps in. A small group finds refuge on the upper floors of the NY City Public Library, where they fight for survival. A dramatic change in the upper atmosphere brings instant temperature drops to 150 below zero. People outside are frozen where they stand (much like the mammoths they discovered in Siberia chewing buttercups that were frozen before they could swallow). The ones fighting for survival in the library discover an old, unused-for-many-years, fireplace in a reading room, and then they search for fuel. Guess what they discover that they have a lot of? Books. In one scene a young man is ready to start the fire, and two librarians are there. They say, “What are you doing!? You can’t burn books!” His reply is a classic of priority analysis, “Would you rather freeze to death?” Thankfully, they do start with the fairly extensive legal section of the NY Tax Code.

We are probably not going to freeze to death, but some day this world will end. Books and the preservation of knowledge is important — no question about that. History has demonstrated clearly what happens when knowledge dies. But books, with apologies to the archivist, are not worth much when a life is at stake — either here or for eternity.

Jesus spent much time talking about priorities. He said, “Woe to you. You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill, & cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters — justice, mercy and faithfulness. Yes, you should tithe, but you shouldn’t leave the more important things undone.”

George Summers referred to priorities another way. Do you remember his phrase, “Counting paper clips and saving rubber bands”?

In my library, I keep statistics. I count the number of books, periodicals and media items that circulate both in and out of the library. I even sometimes count students. Every year I send the statistics to Carolyn. She processes them and sends some on to administration and some even to ASDAL. It is a strange story of our world — not just libraries — that we count the least important and don’t count the most important. No one ever asks: How many students did you pray with this year? How often did you laugh with a student or faculty? Did you hug a student when they were hurting? How often did you listen patiently to a student or faculty who needed to rant & rave a bit? Did you cry with a student or cheer for a student this year? How often did you say, “I’m proud of you. You will do well.”? Those questions — the important ones — are never asked.

A word on hugging: We are sometimes afraid to touch for fear that it will be taken the wrong way, and we do need to be cautious, but sometimes a touch or hug can say more than any words. Two rules: always ask, and never — never — in private.

A baseball bat in Barry Bonds hands is worth a homerun championship. A basketball in Shaq’s hands is worth millions, but what you have in your hands — what you hold in your librarian hands — is worth infinitely more. You can impact a student; you can change a life, like no one else on your campus can. I guarantee it. You ARE an extraordinary minister! Never, ever forget that!

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