The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded Salem State University a bookshelf on Muslim history and culture. The university was one of 843 libraries and state humanities councils in all 50 states to receive the bookshelf, which consists of a collection of books, films, and other resources that will introduce the American public to the complex history and culture of Muslims in the United States and around the world.
Each participating library will receive 25 books, three films, and access for one year to Oxford Islamic Studies Online. All libraries that have received the package also will be eligible for upcoming public programming grant opportunities provided by Carnegie Corporation of New York.
“I think it’s important for us and certainly our students,” said Susan Cirillo, the dean of the library and instructional learning and support. “One of our goals is to teach our students to be global citizens, in particular Muslim culture. There’s a lot of misinformation out there so I think it’s an opportunity to give them a window into that world and understand more of the culture. “
Zachary Newell, a reference and instruction librarian at Salem State, submitted the university’s application for the two-part grant. He was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to work with the arts and multimedia library at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt, for six months in 2012. Newell is looking forward to spearheading the project on campus and facilitating a conversation of Islam as it relates to different themes like faith, art, religion, American stories, and literary reflections.
“Salem in general is a diverse population of students, faculty, and people that live in the area,” Newell said. “In some ways it’s as much about a discussion about Islam and having that open conversation about our relationship to Islam, Islam and America, but also about a larger conversation about diversity.”
Newell’s excitement about building bridges between diverse cultures was ignited by personal experience.
In 2012, Newell was sitting in a café in Egypt during his six-month fellowship, just as the presidential election was taking place. He remembers the turmoil, but he also remembers how the man behind the café counter was wearing an ‘I love New York’ T-shirt.
Newell said he remembers how the everyday Egyptian wanted to make a connection with the world and the US. Today, he’s attempting to make that connection real.
“I think in general the Salem State community and North Shore is interested in having a conversation and I know Islam and the Middle East has occupied a large part of everyday conversation,” Newell said. “Whether it’s about women’s rights, or the Arab Spring and democracy, or peace. Whatever the initiative I think it’ll generate a lot of interest.”