It’s a brand-new year and a brand-new Member Spotlight interview! This month, we spoke with Cindy Lu, former Director of Library and Information Services of Singapore Bible College in Singapore. I loved hearing about her experiences at Atla Annual, her research on Christian communities in China, and how she got a library job before she even had the degree! We hope you enjoy our conversation with Cindy.
AC: How did you get involved in librarianship?
CL: It was back in 1995. My husband was doing his PhD at Westminster and then preparing to teach at Singapore Bible College, which is our alma mater. The president of Singapore Bible College contacted me and said, “Oh, would you please consider pursuing an MLIS?” I said, “Oh! Why?” And he said, “Everybody knows that you like books. You use the library at Singapore Bible College very often.” I’d also made a few suggestions about the protection and preservation of the books. At that time, I had no idea about library science. But they noticed my interest. So, I said, “Okay, I like books, so let me try to apply for programs.” I was accepted to Rutger’s library school. And that’s the beginning.
Part of the reason they compelled me to enter the library field was that they told me that for decades, they couldn’t hire a qualified professional librarian who had degrees in both theology and library science. They said, “You have your Th.M., and now you are in the States. If you can get a degree in library science, you will be the perfect person to be our future Library Director.” And I said, “Okay!” I responded to the calling. So I entered library school, and when I did, I realized, it’s a brand-new world, and it’s a beautiful world! I like library studies, I like book history, archival management, cataloging, and library management.
So I entered library school, and when I did, I realized, it’s a brand-new world, and it’s a beautiful world!
When I finished my program, I went back to Singapore. They decided to pay the tuition fees that I had spent in the program. I was very grateful. I would have paid for it myself, but they decided that I was tailor-made for the position, so they would like to raise some funds to pay off my tuition fees. That was a great help.
AC: When did you join Atla?
CL: I’ve been part of Atla since I was a library student. I was in New Jersey, at Rutgers, and one of the requirements was that we had to do a library internship. I guess it was in 2000. I had to do it, so in October of 1999, I went to the office of the library director at Princeton Seminary Library, Dr. Stephen Crocco. He said, “Well, you’re welcome to do your internship here.” So I started my library internship at Princeton Theological Seminary Library in January 2000. I remember in the first few days everyone was worrying about the Y2K bug! Everyone was kind of alert, but it didn’t happen. But I learned a lot in that semester from the library director and all the librarians, the library staff at Princeton Theological Seminary Library.
AC: Did they introduce you to Atla?
CL: Yes! It was Dr. Crocco. He encouraged me to join the student membership and to attend the Atla Annual Conference. He even helped raise the funds for me to make the trip. It was in UC Berkeley that year, back in 2000. So it’s over twenty years ago.
CL: Yeah. And you know what, I attended Atla Annual fourteen years in a row. I never skipped it for fourteen years. Even when I was working in Singapore, I would manage to come back to join Atla Annual, because it’s very important to me to keep myself updated and to network with other librarians around the world. People from the States, South Asian countries, and even librarians from Canada. The field of theological librarianship is kind of unique in Asia.
I never skipped it for fourteen years. Even when I was working in Singapore, I would manage to come back to join Atla Annual, because it’s very important to me to keep myself updated and to network with other librarians around the world.
AC: Do you remember what your first impressions of Atla were?
CL: My first time at the conference, I didn’t know anyone. And then I remember I was introduced to the new members’ dinner. I was a student at that time, and a lot of well-established senior librarians approached me and talked with me, so I think that’s very inspiring. After that, almost every year when I attended Atla Annual, I usually would volunteer to be someone who teams up with a newcomer, because I was encouraged and well taken care of during my first Atla Annual Conference.
AC: You also had a presentation at Atla Annual 2021 Online, didn’t you?
CL: Yes, I did. I presented with Rebecca Donald and our session was called “Building Trust: How Understanding Users Can Lead to Inclusive and Equitable Library Services.”
AC: Did you come to Atla Annual 2020 Online as well?
CL: No, I was in Taiwan at that time. But I did join the conference in 2019 in Vancouver. For the past three years, we have been serving in Taiwan, so I was not able to come back every year. My husband is pastoring a mega-church; the Grace Baptist Church has about 2,600 church members. We usually will have nine services starting from Saturday night until Sunday night, so it’s quite busy!
I’m also currently finishing up my PhD, writing my dissertation. So I have to be focused. But when I can, I’m always happy to be able to present my research or report or study at the Atla Annual conference. I love being able to share my experience and my research with other colleagues.
AC: What are you writing your dissertation on?
CL: My dissertation was inspired by my former students whom I taught at Singapore Bible College. I was the Library Director there from 2004 to 2006. I also taught systematic theology from 2004 to 2007. I had students coming from the unregistered Christian communities in China, and I noticed their very unique information, behavior, and daily practices in finding theological information. So at that time, I talked with some of my students, and they actually told me that they would like to be understood by the outside world. So I said, “Well if I have the chance to do further study, I will write something for them.”
So at that time, I talked with some of my students, and they actually told me that they would like to be understood by the outside world.
My study is on how theological librarians in the United States can help these special groups of users from China who are kind of suppressed or isolated from lots of resources. When they are studying at seminaries in the States, sometimes, my guess is quite often, they are happy, but they sometimes will be overwhelmed by so much information, so many different interpretations of the Bible, and ideas about theological issues. It’s a very interesting topic.
AC: You were at Singapore Bible College until 2007, yes? Where did you go after that?
CL: I came back to the States and I started my PhD in 2008. At the same time, I started working for New Brunswick Theological Library, the Sage Library, in 2009. I was lucky because the campus of New Brunswick Seminary is adjacent to Rutgers University. So it was very convenient for me to just go to my classes directly from the library, and then after classes, I went back and worked a few more hours! It was wonderful. Then I started working on my proposal and dissertation while I was serving full-time at Yale Divinity School Library and later at the Goddard Library at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
AC: Did you find it difficult to juggle working as a librarian with your studies?
CL: I tried to integrate the theory into my work. And then I used the time after work to do my personal research. I mean, it was a very busy time of my life. I had to write my dissertation during the weekends and holidays. I also needed to communicate with my advisor constantly. But I felt really connected. I could integrate my daily work and my library school studies at Rutgers. So it was a very natural transition from work to classes and then the classroom to the library.
AC: So you know that we celebrated our 75th anniversary this year. In the next 25 years, leading to our 100th anniversary, what do you hope the future of theological librarianship will be?
Read Cindy’s response in our 75th Anniversary: The Future of Theological Librarianship post!
AC: How did the pandemic affect your work, either your research or your work as a librarian?
CL: I think for me it became a pushing hand instead of a barrier. I’m almost finished with my dissertation writing: all of the literature review and most of the writing and research have been done. And I am based in Taiwan so I would just go online and log into the library collection at Rutgers University. So it’s been very convenient. I have access to lots of ebooks. But when it comes to Chinese materials, if I want to learn more about the current situation of publications or the situation of Christianity in China, I have to buy the books and because of the pandemic, sometimes the local bookstore would have limited hours. I think if those books are digitized and if we have enough ebooks, it will be very, very helpful for researchers.
I shared this vision with some local Christians in Taiwan. Actually, I’m in the process of trying to have a team of local Christians set up a foundation to facilitate the publication and communication between scholars, writers, and Christian publishers in the Chinese world. We’re looking for people either from Hong Kong or Taiwan or even China, to work together and to push the development of Chinese ebooks on theological studies. I remember, the first time I realized the importance of this work and shared it with the director of the major Christian publishers in Taiwan, was back in 2009. But twenty years have passed and there haven’t been many events in publishing Chinese theological ebooks. So I think the pandemic just compelled me, and not just myself but also some other Chinese Christians in Asia, to see the importance and urgency to develop Chinese ebooks on theological studies.
We're looking for people either from Hong Kong or Taiwan or even China, to work together and to push the development of Chinese ebooks on theological studies.
AC: What do you like to do outside of librarianship?
CL: Flower arrangements! I like gardening and it seems that I have a green thumb! As a pastor’s wife in a Chinese church in North America, I often help brides with their bouquets and the centerpieces at the church for their wedding, and dinner parties. I love to do flower arrangements. People at Princeton Seminary Library will remember that, as I volunteered to beautify the space! I remember when I first assumed my position in Singapore Bible College, the library was kind of barren. It was a new library, very beautiful, but there were no plants, no flowers, and they were worried about the humidity level in the library. So I said, “Why don’t we create some silk flower arrangements?” And then I was lucky enough to have a sister in a Presbyterian church who happened to be a florist. So she promised to create some flower arrangements for the library. She put flowers and these huge, huge flower arrangements around the library. Every year, the graduates and their family members come to the library to take their graduation pictures, because the space looks so nice! So that’s my hobby.
AC: Thank you so much for talking to me today – I’ve had a great time chatting!
CL: Thank you! It’s great to talk about theological librarianship. I’m not working with any library for the time being, since I have to finish my PhD dissertation. But I hope in the near future, once I’m done writing, I can take another position and make contributions to theological librarianship again.
Member Spotlight is a series featuring interviews with individual Atla members about their journey in theological librarianship. Interested in being interviewed? Send us an email with the subject line “Member Spotlight.”
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