March 24, 2018

Joshua Finnell | Movers & Shakers 2012 — Community Builders

Thoughtful Generalist

Joshua Finnell Movers & Shakers 2012


Emerging Technology Librarian
Humanities Librarian; Visiting Lecturer, School and Media Library Certification Program, McNeese State University, Lake Charles, LA
William Howard Doane Library, Denison University, Granville, OH

MLIS, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2007; certificate in Special Collections, 2010

Came up with the Dude-ist Philosophy based on the 1998 film The Big Lebowski as a way to explain philosophy to students


Photo by Chris McGuire

Humanities librarian Joshua Finnell has been described by faculty members at Denison University as the serious scholar’s best friend because he helps students and instructors take their research to a higher level. His skills with people, technology, and research garnered him 17 nominations for Movers & Shakers.
“I meet the students where they are,” Finnell says.

Finnell works patiently with the most challenged students to overcome obstacles and pushes the most talented to make “crucial connections” through research, says Susan Kanter, assistant director of Denison’s Writing Center.

Finnell’s approach is summed up by his website title—Thoughtful Generalist. He’s knowledgeable and skilled in many fields. Besides contributing to academic literature in his own disciplines of library science and philosophy, he has published on topics including the ethics of medical research.

Finnell also played a major role in reviving McNeese State University’s School of Library Science Certification in Louisiana following Hurricane Rita. He worked to transform the formerly face-to-face program to be delivered online, resulting in 100 students and 30 graduates, says Debbie Johnson-Houston, library director at McNeese State, where Finnell is a visiting lecturer.

Mark Moller, chair of Denison’s philosophy department, describes Finnell as a natural teacher. “Many of us reach out to Josh because we trust what he does,” says Moller.

As a result, Finnell has partnered with faculty to help them meet their instructional goals by guiding students to build research skills through classroom sessions, online guides, and one-on-one encounters. He also has worked with instructors in growing their own skills by assisting them in writing grants, giving citation database instruction, and helping them interact across different digital platforms.

Finnell is in the process of collaborating with student groups and their advisors to move five undergraduate journals online and creating a digital archive of a sustainable student community at Denison. Once he’s finished, the college’s undergraduate philosophy, classics, religion, criticism, and literature and poetry journals will be online. After Episteme, the undergraduate philosophy journal, went online, Finnell invited representatives from the university’s computer and communications departments to critique the website. Moller says he was impressed by the gravity and high level of discussion the criticism provoked among his students.

Finnell says he has learned to teach by trial and error and his approach continues to evolve. “The one thing lacking in the MLS degree is that no one teaches you how to teach, and it’s the one thing that every library wants you to do.”