"The library serves the same purpose as the Town Square of old: a place where people can come to find information and to discuss it."
This sentiment, expressed by Paula McGrew, director of library services and associate professor of Library Sciences, in the West Virginia Wesleyan College application for the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf, rings true in this day and age. Now, the Annie Merner Pfeiffer Library at West Virginia Wesleyan has been selected to receive the Bookshelf, a non-cash grant project of the National Endowment for the Humanities Bridging Cultures initiative.
This bookshelf includes a collection of 25 books, three films, and other resources that focus on teaching the American public about the history and culture of Muslims in the United States and around the world.
From left, Director of Library Services and Associate Professor of Library Sciences Paula McGrew, Coordinator of Reference, Instruction, and Outreach Beth Rogers, Associate Professor of Religion Dr. Vicki Phillips, and Dean of the Chapel Rev. Angela Gay Kinkead discuss library services.
For a college committed to global culture, this will serve as an additional resource and will enhance what the library already offers.
"These resources are not just histories and theologies," said Beth Rogers, coordinator of reference, instruction, and outreach at the library. "These books are for general readers who want to know more about the Muslim culture and faith. We need to get students thinking beyond sound bites and connect them with people through biographies and memoirs."
The Rev. Angela Gay Kinkead, dean of the chapel, agreed.
"There is both fiction and non-fiction in the collection, as well as art. Many times, students will learn about the religion or culture through reading fiction and want to know more. This will spark good conversation. It is important for persons who identify themselves as Christian to study Islam because they are cousins in faith. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all connected by Abraham, a common ancestor."
McGrew said, "It is all about people and their stories and perspective. That is what is important."
The collection represents six themes: connected histories; American stories; literary reflections; pathways of faith; art, architecture, and film; and points of view. The grant also includes a one-year subscription to the Oxford Islamic Studies Online database that will allow students, professors, and the community access to the best scholarship in the field concerning global Islamic history, the faith and concepts of Islam, and more.
Although there has not been a huge demand for additional materials explaining the Muslim faith and culture, the interest has been around the campus since before the grant opportunity. West Virginia Wesleyan has students who currently represent 21 different countries, so the College does what they can to be supportive and available for those students who are in the minority.
"In Appalachia, what we hear in the media about Muslims and their faith and culture is incomplete," McGrew said. "This could potentially change that perception for people in this area."
"Religion permeates culture," said Dr. Vicki Phillips, associate professor of religion. "We know that students will interact with people from all faiths and backgrounds, including Muslims. These books will give students insight into Muslim belief and culture."
The library has partnered with the Christian Unity & Inter Religious Concerns Council of the West Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, an effort that could bring additional grant opportunities to provide programming for this topic.
"We can begin applying for additional grant funding this month," McGrew said. "That funding will go toward supporting actual events and programming based on the understanding both culture and faith."
"What is great is that we have the performance rights on the DVDs," continued Rogers, "which will allow us to do more than just show them in classrooms. We can actually advertise the events to the campus and community and hopefully reach outside the walls of Wesleyan, too."
The church would also reap the benefits of this outreach.
"The church is always interested in dialogue with persons of other faiths to deepen the awareness of other religions and cultures," Kinkead said. "In the past eight years, there have been more meetings and gatherings on this campus, and thejibrary is great for collaboration with the conference to learn about and understand people from other faiths."
West Virginia Wesleyan is one of four institutions and one humanities council that received the non-cash grant in West Virginia, and the college is the only private school to obtain it. The library is still in the process of what the programming will look like and how they would like to collaborate with other schools who received the grant.
To learn more about what the Annie Merner Pfeiffer Library offers, or to be informed about upcoming programming related to the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf, please visit the Library's website or contact Paula McGrew at 304.473.8462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.