UW Distinguished Librarian and iSchool alumnus is a 'born cataloger'

As a kid, Steve Shadle ran his very own library. Collecting all of his Scholastic Book Club books together, Shadle gave each one a spine label, put cards in the back and checked them out to all of his friends. Differentiating each as ‘fiction’ and ‘nonfiction,’ he even placed an ‘8’ on poetry books, the work of a Dewey Decimal prodigy. Now, Shadle is this year’s recipient of UW’s Distinguished Librarian award.

“I was a born cataloger,” he said. “It was always libraries as a kid. I was always a reader. Libraries were a comfortable environment for me.”

A Spokane native, Shadle started his undergraduate career at Eastern Washington University, transferring to the UW when he was a junior. Balancing school and work, often times at local libraries, it took Shadle ten years to receive his undergraduate degree. It wasn’t until after graduating did his King County Library coworkers push him to consider libraries as a career.

“I was coming out as a librarian at about the same time I was coming out as a gay man,” he recalled of this period. “It was really interesting to have that whole self-actualization period in my late twenties.”

After putting aside job applications for system analyst and computer programming positions, Shadle enrolled in graduate school at UW, eventually receiving his masters in librarianship in 1990. 

Looking for a change of scenery, Shadle relocated to Washington, D.C., sights set on the Library of Congress. After a lengthy interview process with their prestigious internship program, he was declined a position. Resilient, Shadle knew he would try again.

“I didn’t care what the Library of Congress said, I was going to work there.”

For the time being, Shadle took a contract position as the Technical Services Librarian at the U.S. Agency for International Development where he oversaw the installation and development of policies, procedures and training for a microcomputer-based library system. But after nearly a year, he was burned out and ready to try again at the Library of Congress.

Applying for several jobs at the Library, he was hired at the US ISSN Center as a serials cataloger.

“If someone had told me I would be a serials cataloger, I would have laughed,” he said. “But in that position, I got to work with this whole range of materials that is larger than any one library (not even the Library of Congress) would ever collect.”

After two and a half years of hard work, including cataloging the very first web-based serial that had an ISSN assigned to it, Shadle went to SUNY Albany for his PhD, but, to his own admission, bombed out.

It was then, with a library position open at his Alma mater that Shadle moved back to his native Washington state.

“That’s when I developed the philosophy that life is like surfing,” he said.  “You see these waves coming up, you let most of them go, but every now and then you see one that you want to ride.”

Working first as a serials cataloger, Shadle has progressed to his current position as a serials access librarian, his office situated in the heart of Suzzallo Library. In technical terms, he provides the “coordination and maintenance of integrated systems and services providing access to serials and electronic resources.” But, in simpler terms, as Shadle puts it:

“You’re probably very familiar with the purple button,” he said. “You know the one that says ‘Check for full text at UW’? Well, that’s part of my job.”

It’s more complicated than it sounds, but in general, Shadle helps maintain the knowledge bases supporting this link in addition to enhancing the user experience online and in-person. If you ever have a question about full text access, Shadle is the guy you will meet.

But he’s also the master of presentations. Incredibly outgoing and personable, Shadle has an in-person presence ideal for presenting.

“As a cataloger, there is a stereotype,” he said. “Catalogers are typically introverts. But being the kind of person that I am, I play very much against that stereotype. Because I enjoy teaching, it was really easy for me to find opportunities to do teaching and to lead workshops.”

Recently, Shadle has taken to presenting on the relationship between libraries and publishers, specifically related to scholarly research citations.

“People often rely on data from publishers, trusting that they’re providing accurate information,” Shadle said. “But publishers don’t know our library user—they envision their user is the faculty person who is on the editorial board, or the editor for a journal. But that person uses a journal very differently than an undergraduate who’s looking for 3 peer-reviewed articles. We have to make sure that the data we’re getting from the publisher supports the systems that the undergraduate student is using as well.”

For three years, Shadle has been presenting this idea to conferences with a mix of librarians and publishers, and he’s grateful to the UW for allowing him these opportunities.

“I love the freedom I’ve had to be able to do what I consider important,” he said.

Now, as for that ‘Distinguished Librarian’ award, he laughs.

“Distinguished is the last word I would ever use to describe myself,” he said.

Standing over a towering six feet, with grey hair and a beard, he says he may look ‘distinguished’ in the traditional sense of the word.

“But as soon as I open my mouth…not so much” he says with a smile.

However, looking at Shadle’s range of work, his determination in the field and his passion for life, ‘distinguished’ works for him.

“I think it’s doing a lot of work that’s focused that makes a difference. But also,” he said, “just being yourself.”