Get to know a Theological Librarian
By Beth Kumar
Beth: October is Theological Libraries Month, and at the GTU, we want you to get to know one of our Theological Librarians: Naw San KD. Naw San is the Reference and Outreach librarian and has been at the GTU since 2015.
Many returning students may know you, but for our new students and faculty, we’d like to learn a little bit more about you. First, some students might not know that subject librarians often have advanced degrees in their areas of subject specialities. Where did you do your graduate work?
Naw San: I received MLIS (Master of Library and Information Science) from San Jose State University, M.Div. from Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, VA and PhD in Biblical Interpretation from Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University.
Beth: Could you tell me about your dissertation? Did you spend a lot of time in the library doing research?
Naw San: My Dissertation was on Postcolonial-Diasporic reading on the Gospel of John. And, yes I made myself home in the library carrel for several years to complete my dissertations. I did my writing at both the university library and public library when I moved to another state while working on my dissertation. The only place to get my work done seriously was at the library for me.
Beth: I know you are also a pastor, when was your church started? Are there many pastors in your family?
Naw San: Yes, in addition to being a reference librarian, I am also a pastor of a small church in the Bay Area. Members of the congregation are immigrants and refugees from Burma. My father is a pastor and my mother is a lay leader and missionary and thus I took up the baton. Being a practicing pastor helps me assist my fellow preachers (and those who are being equipped to be) in a more empathetic and practical way.
Beth: What was the impact of your church moving online due to the pandemic?
Naw San: The pandemic surely pushes us to find different ways to sustain a community than it used to. Our services and bible study went online since the beginning of the shelter-in-place and still are now. Everything we do has to be intentional and essential acts since the routines are no longer there. We need to be an adaptive community by letting go of some regular activities, continuing some activities that are essential, and building or learning new ones.
Beth: And was it your plan to become a theological librarian from the start of your schooling?
Naw San: When I was in seminary during my M.Div. program, I worked at the seminary’s library for three years. I worked at different departments of the library and came to feel very comfortable with the environment. Moreover, the director of the library, John Trotti (Union Theological seminary) was one of the people that influenced me to be a theological librarian. He taught a class while managing the ins and outs of the library’s daily operation. I saw in him a passion for educating and making resources available and accessible to the community. My experience as a student worker at the library definitely was an inspiration.
Beth: What made you decide to go to library school?
Naw San: I did not know at first that one needs a Master Degree to pursue a librarianship. And as I found out the need for a degree in library studies as I started looking for a job. So, it was more like a required degree for me. But I learned alot about the seriousness and challenges of the profession that requires ongoing learning.
Beth: What is something that you love about working in a theological library?
Naw San: My favorite aspect of the job is an opportunity to interact with students and faculty and pursue research questions together. I have an opportunity to learn and grow in every question that I receive from patrons while I am at the desk or chatting over the internet.
Beth: Tell me, what are personal or professional challenges you have as a pastor or librarian?
Naw San: The Pandemic posed a series of challenges in my professional and personal lives. As I am originally from Burma and currently pastoring a Burmese Church, the situation in Burma takes a toll on the community I serve. The Burmese military removed the existing government and took power in February of this year (2021). The country is heading toward becoming a failed state as it faces violence and instability in all aspects of life.The pandemic hit really hard in Burma since there is no stable government and many healthcare infrastructures and professionals are not able to function as needed. My parents and most people I know got infected by Covid-19 and many died. It is estimated that 10-15 percent of the population will perish. Life is hard in Burma and the pandemic and political situations make it even harder to deal with the challenges and sustain hope for a better future.
Beth: Thank you for sharing that. Before we go, do you have any advice for students thinking about becoming Theological Librarians?
Naw San: Since when I started as a theological librarian, things have changed rapidly. Seminaries are downsizing due to the decline of student population, library collections and resources are increasingly digital and the physical building of the libraries are being reconfigured and repurposed responding to the institutional needs. The formal and traditional roles and responsibilities of the librarian are thus changing as well. Due to the fluid and changing nature of the profession, the attitude and task of a theological librarian is more about creating a path rather than following it. So bring your passion as a custodian of information, a philosophy to adapt, and a creativity to work with changing cultural and technical landscapes of the profession.