Alumni Relations Spotlight on Stephen Connaghan

Originally published by Alumni Relations, April 2015.

Stephen Connaghan, B.A. 1991, M.S.L.S. 1994, University Librarian, The Catholic University of America


Alumni Relations: We asked this month’s spotlight a few questions. Below are his answers.

AR: Tell us about your career path. Being an anthropology undergrad, did a career in library science come about as a result of your grad work or did you pursue an MLS because you wanted to get into a library career?

Stephen Connaghan: While an undergrad, I worked as a student employee in the Engineering/Architecture/Math (EAM) Library at first and then also in Mullen Library. In the EAM Library I was supervised by two GLPs, graduate students in the School of Library and Information Science who through a scholarship worked for the University Libraries. They initially planted the seed in my head of going to library school, greatly encouraged, too, by their supervisor Tom Marcum whose wife, Deanna Marcum, was dean of the School of Library and Information Science at the time. After graduating with my undergraduate degree, I in turn became a GLP and started my full-time work in the Libraries. Once I had my library degree I took a position as a professional librarian with responsibilities in delivering remote & electronic resources. My responsibilities grew and shifted over the years to encompass all IT and library building services (which was especially challenging yet satisfying during the 2002-2004 Mullen renovation) and then broader administration and leadership roles. Though my minor in computer science played more into my daily tasks at first, I did come to serve as the selector for our anthropology collection for a number of years. 

AR: Can you briefly describe the role/purview of the CUA library system – I don’t think many know the role of the CUA Archives, for example?

SC: I can barely begin to touch on the breadth of our services and resources ‘briefly’. The University Libraries support all of the instructional, research, and service programs of the university and preserve and provide access to Catholic intellectual heritage and culture through our special collections.

We support the general needs of our students and faculty through our general collections, information desk service, and instruction. We have a collection of more than 1.3 million print volumes, tens of thousands of full-text electronic journals and books, and over a hundred electronic databases. We provide access and deliver materials not owned by CUA. Most prominently, this includes the collaborative collection of the Washington Research Library Consortium (WRLC) at over 12 million print volumes. In our instruction sessions (and even when appropriate at the information desk) we teach students how to find and judge sources of information. We help equip students with the skills and resources needed for continuous lifelong learning.

Through our special collections we support advanced research and preserve our cultural and intellectual heritage. The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives (the Archives) curates university records, manuscript collections, and audiovisual materials which document the history of Catholics in America and the history of CUA. Rare Books & Special Collections contains materials ranging from medieval manuscripts to modern first editions and supports a wide variety of disciplines. The Semitics/Institute of Christian Oriental Research (ICOR) Library supports research on the languages of the Bible and the ancient Near East. The heart of the Oliveira Lima Library are the manuscripts, pamphlets, books and artwork left to the university early in the early 20th century by Manoel de Oliveira Lima, a Brazilian diplomat and historian. 

AR: What are some challenges you face daily in your job? What do you enjoy the most?

SC: Not the least among the challenges we face in the Libraries is protecting our collections and providing modern services and study spaces in an older building. Undergraduate and graduate students in some programs need collaborative study space whereas some still need that quiet individual carrel. Even students who can do their studies with electronic books and journals still need a place apart from their dorms to focus on their work. People study better when in an intellectually inspired space—they want to be near the books whether they need them at that moment or not.  And of course everyone needs more electricity than they did in 1928 when Mullen was built and everyone needs reliable WiFi. The numerous air conditioning systems which need to provide for our grandiose reading rooms and the special conditions for preserving rare materials help keep the university HVAC team busy.

AR: What is a typical day at work like for you?

SC: The Libraries are blessed with a wonderful staff who supervise and manage the operations of all of our service points and collections. I work with the Library Administrative Team and our supervisors on our special projects and other efforts to effect change. I also spend much of my time working with colleagues in libraries at other universities. We are in a new age for libraries where cross institutional collaboration is necessarily deeper and broader than ever before. Students and faculty expect and need a breadth of resources no one library can possibly supply. 

The WRLC partnership is our most important collaboration with other Libraries. I am wrapping up my third year as chair of the Libraries Directors Council and serving ex officio on the WRLC Board of Directors. As I mentioned before, our partnership with the WRLC provides CUA faculty and staff with a print collection ten times larger than CUA’s collection by itself. Behind the scenes WRLC provides: specialized IT support for our catalog and our digital collections, an extremely tight community of colleagues, grant partnerships, and a collective voice in regional and national library organizations. 

In addition to our regional WRLC partnership, we are a founding member of the Catholic Research Resources Alliance (CRRA) along with the libraries of Marquette, Notre Dame, Boston College, Seton Hall, St. Edward’s, the University of San Diego, and Georgetown. I am currently vice-chair/chair-elect of their Board of Directors. The mission of CRRA is to provide “enduring global access to Catholic research resources in the Americas, beginning with access to the rare, unique and uncommon research materials.” We work together to make our special collections easy to discovery and recognize that the digitization of our hidden collections will help all researchers of Catholic studies. 

AR: What are some changes in the library system here on campus that have come about during your time here? (For example, how does the library use social media and why?)

SC: What hasn’t changed in the Libraries? Our basic mission remains to: preserve materials; provide access; instruct in finding resources; and provide spaces which enable learning. But all of those functions carried out differently than they were twenty-four years ago. 

Even in my early career, researchers relied on sifting through volume upon volume of print indexes. Some of my first work was setting up local networks for CD versions of those indexes which allowed you to search all years at once. Now, of course, those databases are delivered over the internet and our discovery tools allow you to search multiple databases at one time. And we all expect the full-text to be online. 

As I mentioned, changes in teaching and learning radically change the needs for our space and they also have a huge effect on our instruction methods. The ubiquitousness of information is a driving force in much of this change. Library instruction used to focus on how to find small bits of information in sources which were already vetted by experts. Now much of our instruction is how to sift through the avalanche of what is findable—how to narrow results and select appropriate sources. 

AR: What’s the coolest thing ever regarding the libraries here at CUA? What would you like to promote about the libraries to alumni?

SC: All of the special collections include books, manuscripts, and objects which simply blow me away. These collections run the gamut of disciplines our faculty do research on. If you have an interest in the American Catholic experience, Catholic labor activists, medieval philosophy, early modern Europe, or the history of Latin America, you’ll find something stunning in our collections. But as it’s timely I’ll mention the epigraphic materials of the Semitics/ICOR Library. 

Materials on Proto-Sinaitic script, which some call the first alphabet, have been recently featured in an exhibit in Mullen Library’s May Gallery. The exhibit focused on the work of Fr. Romain Butin, SM, who served as the research epigrapher to the joint Harvard-CUA expedition to Mt. Serabit in the Sinai desert in 1930. The fragile sandstone inscriptions captured in Butin’s squeezes, drawings, photographs, and plaster casts document a repurposing of Egyptian hieroglyphic signs by Semitic language speakers into a linear alphabetic script close to four thousand years ago.

Another slice of the Semitics/ICOR Library epigraphic collection is currently on display in the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery as part of their Unearthing Arabia exhibition. Father Albert Jamme, M. Afr. was a faculty member at CUA between 1954 and 1997. He served as a research epigrapher for many expeditions on pre-Islamic Arabia including those of Wendell Phillips who is the focus of the Smithsonian’s exhibition. Father Jamme’s materials capture writing from the late second millennium BC to the sixth century AD in South Arabia. 

And of course I’d like to mention that alumni can help support the Libraries improve our facilities and preserve our special collections by donating online. You can find instructions on our web site at


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