Distinguished Staff Award
Photograph of Stephen Weber

Stephen Weber

Access Services Supervisor, Odegaard Undergraduate Library

Nominated by John Holmes, Access Services Coordinator/Psychology Librarian, Odegaard Undergraduate Library

Awarded 2015

On behalf of his grateful colleagues, past and present, I recommend Steve Weber for the University of Washington Distinguished Staff Award. The University Libraries are blessed with one of the finest staffs of any research library in the world, each day meeting the demands of a huge and diverse community with creativity, persistence, and good cheer. It is hard to distinguish one’s self on a staff like this; but Steve has accomplished this many times over in his 14 years of increasingly responsible service in Access Services in Odegaard Undergraduate Library (OUGL).

Steve’s work has been consistently characterized by compassion, calm pragmatism, creative problem solving, quiet leadership, patience, vision, devotion and a willingness to sacrifice for our students. I can recall no colleague in my 35 years in research libraries who has engendered such an outpouring of respect and trust, who has lierally worked around the clock to make our environment safer, smarter, friendlier, and more efficient, and has so moved his peers to follow his lead willingly.

Libraries are complex places at the convergence of multiple technologies, diverse information sources, and divergent information seekers with varied conceptions of the environment within which they seek. OUGL itself contains books, periodicals and study spaces, a writing center, learning technologies with a support team for their uses, and active learning classrooms. Without fanfare or portfolio, Steve has quietly moved among these varied facilities, learned their intricacies and the specific ways each operates and services students, staff and faculty. He has become the untitled glue that holds the enterprise together.

Steve has consistently displayed a singular focus on the special needs of undergraduate students, both overnight and during the day, and he keeps us all focused on these needs. One of our student staff has observed, “Steve goes beyond the common answer and seeks to have students walk away with something other than ‘No.’ He is so great at library service that it’s hard not to feel motivated to provide better service around him.” Another staffer adds, “An example of Steve being an inspirational staff member is his catch phrase ‘It’s another beautiful day in the library.’ I think this sums up his passion for the library and the positive energy he constantly exudes.” Another illustration of this focus is his creation of a student-driven reserves collection that allows students to request a reserve copy of course texts that are not already in the Library’s collection. One of Steve’s supervisees observes that, “These requests have been increasing and are greatly appreciated. The program has been a bold and fresh innovation.” It has also saved many students significant time by providing short-term on-campus access to texts between classes and before exams.

Steve invariably employs a perspective large enough to embrace the common ground needed to resolve conflict among student groups. Typically, he calmly raises critical questions for students competing for scarce resources, prompting their reflection and critical thinking in search of resolution. He combines this with the acuity to identify a single deft solution to an individual’s personal challenge. He has been able to steer our evening and overnight approach of managing the building from a confrontational, security-first stance to using accommodating strategies for conflict resolution. This has resulted in better staff relations, less need to use police services, and the capacity to forestall potentially disruptive behavior. During his leadership of the overnight shift, Steve often found surprising spaces to accommodate groups whose working styles require more dynamic interaction, and it was not unusual to come into work early in the morning to find a group working on a course project in one of our staff meeting rooms or a single student reading in a small storage space.

No interruption is ever met with impatience or brusqueness from Steve. He takes the time to quietly acknowledge the special challenges each of his staff face in taking on new procedures and openly rewards them with concrete praise when they demonstrate good-faith persistence in pursuit of a shared goal. One of his staff has noted that, “Steve never fails to thank others in the department for their hard work. He frequently utilizes the library’s peer-to-peer recognition system.” When the Libraries recently migrated to a new and untested online system, Steve was among the first to dive into the testing process, furiously mapping staff expectations and old workflows to the new applications. When he found himself barraged by frustrated and confused colleagues trying to perform what used to be everyday tasks with a sense of anxiety, Steve was a calm storm center, refocusing his colleagues on positive outcomes and explaining “next best” strategies for reaching desired objectives. He took time to personally prepare each of his staff for change and to facilitate their capacity both to cope with, and to apply their strengths to, the new program. He even reached out to the staffs of other campus libraries to support their work in implementing this complex system.

Steve finds himself in demand for opportunities beyond his employment classification. As a member of the search committee for the new Director of OUGL he was the only classified staff member in a group that included librarians, faculty, department chairs, an Associate Dean, and a Vice Provost. One librarian on the committee remarked, “I was extremely impressed by how calm and unflappable Steve remained in this company, by his smart and cogent comments on the candidates and by his articulate advocacy for the library, for library staff, and for undergraduate students. I was not the only committee member to notice his valuable contributions; at least four other members made particular comments to me about how useful his viewpoint was and WWSWT? (“What Would Steve Weber Think?”) became our unofficial motto at several points during the search.”

The scope and quality of the work Steve does in this complex environment and the goodwill it generates extends to every person or group he encounters within the University. Jenny Halpin, Director of the Odegaard Writing & Research Center (OWRC), provides a fitting overview of Steve’s interactions and their impact:

“Steve has shown extraordinary grace in working with OUGL’s campus partners, though we fall outside of his direct areas of responsibility. He has consistently made the OWRC and its staff feel at home here, genuinely part of the life and work of the Library. From help with the little details to more substantive help navigating library systems we simply don’t have access to, Steve assists with good cheer, humor, wit, and insight. He asks questions about things we hadn’t yet considered, helping us to anticipate problems before they become problems, and he volunteers his time and talents without ever making us feel like we are imposing. He is one of the linchpins of sustained collaboration and community life in Odegaard.”

For the impossible-to-count ways he contributes to a learning environment in which undergraduate students can grow; for taking the time to make sure everyone’s contribution is honored; and for illuminating the difference between just being smart and being wise; it is my honor to nominate, without reservation or condition, Steve Weber for the distinction of University of Washington Distinguished Staff.

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