Member Spotlight: Kellie Barbato
by Ana Cackley/
September 20, 2021
Holy cow! It’s another Member Spotlight column! This month we interviewed Kellie Barbato, Director of Lineberger Memorial Library at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (LTSS) of Lenoir-Rhyne University (LRU) in Columbia, South Carolina. I loved talking to Kellie about the challenges of being a new library director, the diversity of theological librarianship, and how millennials will change the library profession. We hope you enjoy our conversation with Kellie!
AC: How did you get into theological librarianship?
KB: I’ll start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). My first faculty librarian role was at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, New York, which is my hometown. They have an embedded seminary on the campus which I have attended since 2017, Northeastern Seminary. I’m working on an MA in Transformational Leadership and hope to finish next May. Finally! It’s been a long process. But when I started as a librarian at Roberts in 2015, there were two other people on the library team working on degrees at NES, so they were the library liaisons for the seminary. Though I certainly helped seminary students when I worked on the reference desk.
Shortly after I became a student at NES, I took an Access Services Librarian position at Palm Beach Atlantic University, where I became the de facto liaison to undergrad and graduate theology and ministry. While I was the formal liaison to the music and leadership programs, the only other person on the library faculty with a theology background was the Dean, who is generally not tasked with doing a lot of reference or teaching! I enjoyed honing my reference and instruction skills in all disciplines at PBA. Unfortunately, my time at PBA was cut short as I was laid off in May of 2020 due to the pandemic, which, as we all know, continues to wreak havoc on many colleges and universities.
I interpret this to mean that theological librarianship is what I'm meant to be doing during this season of my career. Now I’m a theological librarian and library director!
During the summer of 2020, I moved from West Palm Beach back to Rochester and applied for any position I could find that I thought could fulfill me. I applied mostly to larger, secular universities; while I have a strong personal faith, I didn’t want to work at any other CCCU schools. It’s funny that I somehow managed to end up at LRU & LTSS; they are part of the ELCA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This position is the only one I applied for that is related to theology/part of church-adjacent higher ed! I interpret this to mean that theological librarianship is what I’m meant to be doing during this season of my career. Now I’m a theological librarian and library director! It’s also cool to be around the median age of a lot of the seminarians here at LTSS; they took me in as their own right away after I started this position, being a fellow seminarian, and the genuine connections I’ve made make it easier for students to ask me for research help.
AC: What does a normal day look like for you as the Librarian and the Director of Library Services?
KB: Right now, I’m trying to learn my way around being a library director. I’m learning about budgets, acquisitions, cataloging, and resource-sharing – all of the library’s back-end work – since I have only done front-of-house work in libraries thus far. My intention is to create documentation for every procedure in the library for the sake of continuity planning. Much of the learning happens as situations arise and I need to figure something out! Additionally, I supervise the student employees, so that’s a huge joy. One of my strengths is relationship building, so I love working directly with student employees.
I also attend seminary faculty meetings, chapel, and faculty assembly meetings. I was appointed to the Institutional Budget Committee for LRU. I meet regularly with the Dean of University Library Services, Dr. Frank Quinn, who’s located in Hickory, North Carolina, on the undergrad campus of LRU. I would be remiss if I didn’t give him a huge shout-out for his patience, support, and encouragement as I continue to ask him a million questions! #bestbossever
The best part of my role is speaking into the lives of students (which was my draw to librarianship in the first place) as I teach them about the amazing resources this library holds. The Lineberger Memorial Library’s collections are unmatched in the region, particularly when it comes to Lutheran studies.
The best part of my role is speaking into the lives of students (which was my draw to librarianship in the first place) as I teach them about the amazing resources this library holds.
AC: Is there a project that you’ve worked on or that you’re currently working on, or that you’d like to get started on that you’re really excited about or proud of?
KB: It was exciting to get Accordance Bible Software installed on two of the library computers in our 24/7 space. Some students asked about it as soon as I got here, and I was able to collaborate with the Dean and Rector of the seminary to make that happen. That rolled out in January, so it was exciting to get a quick win and a huge value-add for the library right off the bat.
I’ve been getting involved in library organizations again, and I’m particularly excited to get more involved in Atla. I’ve been trying to get more involved in Core and ALA because I was in the Library Leadership and Management Association before it merged with two other divisions of ALA to become Core. My main interest in Core is the Library Leaders and Managers Interest Group. I’m really passionate about leadership and my goal each day is to be a good leader to my people. I want the library to be a good place to work. I’ve been serving as a co-organizer of the Core New Members Interest Group, which has been fun. I’m also a member of the Association of Christian Librarians and currently oversee their mentoring program.
I’m really passionate about leadership and my goal each day is to be a good leader to my people. I want the library to be a good place to work.
The project I’m most excited about is revamping and documenting our processes for student employee hiring, onboarding, and training. I want to train our student employees to be self-sufficient. They are grad students so we should be able to trust them to do a lot of things, which will free us up for tasks only the full-time team can do. I’m also trying to establish the library’s social media presence because that’s important to Gen X, millennials, and downward. Those are the main things in my head currently.
AC: When did you come into this position?
KB: I joined LRU & LTSS in October of 2020. It’s still fairly new but the pandemic makes it feel like it has been five years already!
AC: Did you join Atla when you came to Lenoir-Rhyne?
KB: I joined Atla when I was at PBA because our dean was retiring and I became the internal liaison for the ministry programs. So, I thought I ought to start reading up on what was happening in Atla. Many people have spoken very highly of Atla. I believe I first joined in the fall of 2018.
AC: What’s your involvement in Atla? Do you read any of our publications?
KB: I joined the Directors’ Only email list and that’s been really helpful so far. I’m also on the Atlantis listserv and it’s nice to see what people are discussing. I attended the Atla Annual conference this summer and recently was asked to join the Professional Development Committee. I also keep up with the newsletters and Theological Librarianship. Really, it’s exciting to press into Atla more as a burgeoning theological librarian.
AC: What do you think is the most challenging aspect of your job as Director?
KB: The biggest challenge, which is not particular to being a director, was starting a new role during the pandemic because nothing is as it normally would be. Part of that process was making two moves up and down the east coast during the pandemic (West Palm Beach to Rochester in June of 2020, then Rochester to Columbia in September of 2020). Looking back on it a year later, I’m not sure how I did it, but am glad I’m on the other side now! I am so thankful to have found a new role within three months of being laid off; I thought for sure it would take a full year to find something because of the way the pandemic is affecting the job market in academic librarianship. And it’s a huge bonus that it’s a role that makes sense in the progression of my career.
A unique challenge of my director position is being located at a satellite campus; I am physically separated from my boss. I can’t just walk down the hall for a quick chat or to ask a question. What makes this arrangement work is that my boss genuinely trusts me. Plus, the dean and rector of the seminary and the chief operations director of our campus are both amazing resources to me. Regardless of the pandemic, there would have been a degree of me teaching myself to do the job since my boss is located elsewhere. The undergraduate campus is a little over two hours away and if it weren’t for the pandemic, I’d hopefully be making regular trips to Hickory and my boss might be coming down to Columbia more regularly. As an extrovert who loves people, it’s hard being away from the person who I report to as well as my other LRU libraries colleagues, who are awesome!
As an extrovert who loves people, it’s hard being away from the person who I report to as well as my other LRU libraries colleagues, who are awesome!
Another aspect of being a director with which I struggle (and I struggled with this a little bit at PBA as an access services librarian who led a team of thirty), is my tendency to jump in and do day-to-day tasks. I’m trying to stay focused on the bigger picture and let my team do what they’re hired to do. I’ve always been a leader with the attitude of “I won’t ask you to do something I’m unwilling to do myself.” So, sometimes it’s hard for me to resist doing something that my student employees or staff member can do. It’s not because I’m a control freak, I assure you; it’s because I don’t want them to feel like I’m a hypocritical leader. I want to demonstrate servant leadership to my team.
AC: Is there anything that you wish that more people knew about theological librarianship?
KB: Theological librarianship is so much more diverse than you might think. It encompasses everything from librarians who serve specific seminaries for particular denominations to those who are serving undergraduate campuses with religion programs, which are two very different ball games. I’ve been learning more about the diversity of theological librarianship firsthand because the seminary I attend and worked at, Northeastern Seminary at Roberts, is very ecumenical. There are students and faculty from all different denominations within Protestantism and they’re mostly adults; only a few students are right out of undergrad. Then, the seminary at PBA wasn’t a separate entity, and it’s a lot of students who were going right from undergrad into an MDiv or MA. PBA is historically Southern Baptist, but the seminary and its faculty are more diverse than I would have guessed based on that fact.
Theological librarianship is so much more diverse than you might think. It encompasses everything from librarians who serve specific seminaries for particular denominations to those who are serving undergraduate campuses with religion programs, which are two very different ball games.
Here at LTSS, there are three main denominations represented among the student body and faculty: ELCA, United Methodist, and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, all of which are more progressive Protestant denominations. Ultimately, I’ve been based in the Protestant Christianity side of theological librarianship for my career thus far, so I don’t know a lot about librarians who serve undergraduate religion programs or bigger universities with rigorous graduate programs.
At the end of the day, I love that Atla brings together theological librarians from all types of institutions. Each of us has really cool gifts and stories to share that help each other learn and grow in our profession. I look forward to getting to know people that I’ve not met before and people who are at different types of institutions. I’m grateful that those in organizations such as Atla help me learn and grow as a library administrator, as a theological librarian, and as a person. It’s such a blessing to have other library professionals to speak into my career.
AC: This year is Atla’s 75th anniversary. In looking forward to the next 25 years, we’ve been thinking about what the 100th anniversary will be like? What do you think the future of theological librarianship will be in the next 25 years?
Read Kellie’s response in our 75th Anniversary: The Future of Theological Librarianship post!
AC: What is something about you that you think would surprise people? Do you have any fun facts?
KB: The first thing that comes to my mind is less about me and more about my family. My dad (RIP, Steve Barbato) was a wheelchair athlete and coach. His involvement in the Rochester community from his early teens was instrumental in shaping me as a kid and teenager. His selflessness is what inspired me to enter a helping profession such as librarianship. Additionally, he and my mom worked in the Rush Rhees Library at the University of Rochester when my mom was pregnant with me. Some might say I was a library baby!
One interesting fact about me is that I’m a musician. My undergraduate degree is in music and I’m a vocalist; I initially thought I was going to be a public school music teacher or choir director. My college choir, the Mansfield University Concert Choir (look us up on Spotify!), won the championship in the Gospel and Spiritual category at the World Choir Games in Graz, Austria, in the summer of 2008. So, technically I’m a gold medalist! Which is kind of silly, but kind of cool in a choral nerd way. MU Concert Choir reunions, which take place every five years in Mansfield, Pennsylvania, bring me life. Our next reunion is scheduled for March of 2022 and I’m anxious to get back to the mountains of Pennsylvania and sing with people I’ve known for half of my life.
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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