By Steve Zalusky
Christopher Shaffer has transformed the Troy University libraries by bringing in programs that have opened a window to a much larger world to the students living in this segment of rural southeastern Alabama.
During his tenure at Troy, most of which was spent at the helm of the Dothan Campus library, he has exposed them to ideas and topics that they were unlikely to learn about otherwise.
In 2014, as a result of a grant from through the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Muslim Journeys initiative, all three of Troy’s libraries received a set of 25 books on Islamic culture. The Dothan campus library also received funding for the Let’s Talk About It book discussion series relating to Muslim Journeys. In order to gain as much community support as possible, he partnered with the synagogue in Dothan, as well as a mosque and a Presbyterian church on an interfaith initiative that resulted in a series of constructive discussions in a friendly and non-threatening setting.
Additional historical context for the books was provided by a series of four lectures delivered by a scholar on the Middle East, Dr. Matt Malczycki, of Auburn University. History professors from Troy led the book discussions, except for the first which was led by the leaders of the three religious institutions partnering with the library on the interfaith initiative.
In 2010, he partnered with the Dothan synagogue to bring Holocaust survivor Ann Rosenheck to speak at three of Troy University’s campuses, as well as other sites in southeast Alabama. Ultimately, she spoke to over 1,500 people, delivering a lecture that brought home the atrocities she experienced.
His nominator for the 2015 I Love My Librarian Award, Judy Fulmer, said, “The most important part of her lecture though, was her message of persevering in spite of adversity, and also learning of the remarkable power of forgiveness. What was intended to be essentially a history lecture, ended up being much more than anyone expected, with everyone who met Ann, myself included, being touched on a very personal and emotional level.”
As a result of her lectures, multiple departments at the university joined to host a series of educational programs in Dothan, Troy and Montgomery, Alabama, as part of The Year of Holocaust Remembrance.
It is an example of how Shaffer changed the library’s role from a passive one of responding to student requests and providing a study space to an active and engaging one that also embraced the community at large. He also encouraged librarians to become active within the academic community on campus.
The collaboration between the library and faculty was necessary for the library to obtain grants, which Shaffer eagerly pursued in the effort to build the library’s collection and make it more inclusive. For example, grants from the Northeast Asian Council and the Nippon Foundation improved the library’s collection relating to Japanese history and culture and provided a valuable research resource for students in the International Relations program.
In 2011, he received funding to expand the library’s collection of materials on Turkish and Middle Eastern history. A collaboration with two professors from the Education Department in support of a summer reading initiative known as the Summer Spectacular led to $8,000 in grants from Target Corp. to purchase children’s and young adult books. The library matched the grant, which led to the development of a children’s section.
Fulmer said, “It is frequently used by our education students, but is also used by members of the Dothan, AL community who have checkout privileges at the library. It is not uncommon to see parents reading to their children in this part of the library. These books have proven to be a resource for the community that also introduces many people to our University who otherwise might have never visited.”
Efforts such as these have boosted the status of the librarians on campus, with whom faculty is more likely to collaborate.
“In short, because of these various activities and interactions, the library is now a vibrant part of the daily academic life within the University community,” Fulmer said.
Other grants included one from the French American Cultural Exchange (FACE), which provided the funding for the Tournees Film Festival, a series of French films that gave many viewers their first exposure to mainstream French culture. Each of the festivals featured an opening night wine and cheese reception. This concept has since been expanded, thanks to a contract with Film Movement to allow the regular screening of independent and foreign films on campus.
He has leveraged the power of cinema to present programming focusing on African American history, one year hosting three films with support from the NEH and Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, with Troy history professors serving as discussion leaders.
The university has recognized his efforts and rewarded him by elevating him in August, 2014 from librarian at the Dothan campus to his position as for the Troy University Libraries, which gave him oversight of all three of Troy’s campus libraries.
Fulmer said, “He has quickly spread the types of programming that he was hosting in Dothan to our other two campuses, which has led to well attended lectures, film series, and exhibits at all of our sites. Consequently, students and faculty are frequenting the libraries more often than ever.”
Shaffer said the most rewarding aspect of his job is that, “I have managed to take our libraries and turn (the library) into a setting where we’re actually playing a role in teaching through all the various programming that we have been doing.”
On receiving the award, he said, “It means a great deal. It means validation for everything I have been doing for the past 10 years.”
Learn more about the I Love My Librarian Award and the other 2015 winners.