The newest dean at Shepherd University is David Gansz, who became the library dean in August 2015. Gansz brings with him a diverse background that includes writing, publishing, information technology, and music.
Gansz was born in New Jersey and grew up in Philadelphia where he attended the William Penn Charter School, the oldest Quaker school in the United States (founded in 1689). When he was 9, Gansz’s family moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, where his father headed the music department at Guilford College, a Quaker institution. Gansz returned north, however, and graduated from the Quaker-run Westtown Friends Boarding School (founded in 1799) in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
“I then was abroad for a couple of years in England,” he said.
Gansz studied at the University of Kent at Canterbury, earning a university diploma in theology, and at the University of Oxford where he studied literature. Then he returned to the U.S. to attend Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, where he earned a B.A. in art history and an M.F.A. in writing.
Gansz briefly taught writing at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. At that time Gansz also wrote poetry and was senior contributing editor of Notus: New Writing magazine. During these years he corresponded with many writers regarding their work and his. Gansz’s letters and manuscripts for what he considers his poetic magnum opus published in 2000, Millennial Scriptions: The Ashen Book of Logres, are now held in the special collections at the University of California, San Diego.
Gansz became fascinated by the fast-growing field of electronic information and went on to earn a second master’s degree, in information and library studies, at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
Gansz continues to be a practicing Quaker and often leans on the lessons he learned all the years he spent in Quaker schools.
“What Quaker education instilled in me was an enhanced reverence for learning, but at the same time a sense of cooperation, collaboration, community, and decision making by the consensus model, which I feel is most fair,” Gansz said. “It’s certainly instilled in me a sense of social justice. I think of education in terms of peace and social justice.”
The career path that led to Shepherd
Gansz’s first job as a professional librarian was director of the Allen Ginsberg Library at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, the only Buddhist-inspired accredited institution of higher learning in North America. The library is named for the counterculture and Beat Generation poet who founded the university’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.
“That was an interesting experience,” Gansz said. “When we dedicated the library, Ginsberg was there with all the Beats who were still living at that time. Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) drove his bus to be there for the festivities. It was quite the wing ding.”
Gansz also gained experience outside academia, working three years as a research specialist for ProQuest, a company that sells electronic information databases primarily to colleges and universities.
“I intentionally worked for them to get a behind-the-scenes look at how information was gathered, how it was cataloged, how access points were used in the database, and how it was marketed on the academic side,” Gansz said.
“As I looked around and surveyed the landscape of librarianship in higher education, Shepherd really stood out as a shining example of that unique mix of liberal arts in the traditional sense with public access.”
After leaving ProQuest, Gansz spent about three years working in a public library in Lexington, Virginia, and another four as library director at Wilmington College, a Quaker school in Ohio. During this time he was editor of Educating for Peace and Social Justice (Wilmington College, 2002), founder, publisher, and editor-in-chief of Stone House Press, which published his chapbooks Quaker Education: What Is It? and The Sacred Mission of Quaker Education. He was also editor of College Libraries and the Teaching/Learning Process (Earlham College Press, 2007).
Then Gansz took a job as dean of Learning Support and Information Systems at Edison Community College in Piqua, Ohio. He worked there for 10 years, eventually becoming vice president of information technology. Budget cuts forced him back in the job market, which Gansz said wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“It gave me an opportunity to sort of re-envision where I wanted to spend the last 15 years of my career before my retirement,” he said. “As I looked around and surveyed the landscape of librarianship in higher education, Shepherd really stood out as a shining example of that unique mix of liberal arts in the traditional sense with public access.”
Gansz said because they moved from a similar small town in Ohio, he, his wife, and daughter were attracted to Shepherdstown and the fact that the university is very integrated into the town.
“My wife and I are connoisseurs of the coolest small towns and have lived in several of them—Lexington, Virginia, where we met, Yellow Springs, Ohio, where we’re from most recently, and now Shepherdstown,” he said. “So this is our third cool town!”
Developing an expertise in the guitar
For about 20 years Gansz focused on his writing and specifically on poetry. But in the past 10 years or so his primary interest has turned to music.
“Growing up in a musical household I had access to two guitars, a banjo, a piano, a ukulele, violin, viola, mandolin, and all manner of percussion instruments,” Gansz said. “So I pretty much had my choice of what interested me.”
Gansz settled on playing the guitar after seeing a live 1968 performance of Classical Gas by Alvino Rey, a big-band leader, early pedal steel guitar innovator, and classical guitarist.
“That inspired me greatly at the age of eight, and guitar became my instrument from then until now,” Gansz said. “In fact, I just finished recording a CD of my original instrumental compositions that I’ve been carrying around in my head for 30 years.”
Gansz grew up playing flatpicking, old time, and bluegrass-style guitar, but these days he’s more of a classical guitarist.
“My compositions are solo, acoustic, and instrumental on a classical guitar in a quasi-classical style,” Gansz said. “I consider myself an amateur of a relatively high caliber.”
But Gansz’s interest in the guitar extends beyond playing the instrument and composing music for it. Over the last 15 years or so, he’s also been involved in buying, selling, and refurbishing antique guitars. At one point he began focusing on 19th-century guitars from the United States and Spain.
“Those interests led me to a scholarly investigation which then resulted in my writing a couple of book-length manuscripts in collaboration with other scholars on the history of the guitar in the 19th century,” Gansz said.
His research was condensed into chapters in two books. One, Inventing the American Guitar: The Pre Civil War Innovations of C.F. Martin and His Contemporaries, is the history of the development of the instrument in the U.S. during the 19th century. Gansz contributed three of the 11 chapters and helped with a museum exhibit on the topic.
“We had assembled 50 instruments dating from approximately 1832 to 1868, and those instruments were mounted as an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in the musical instrument collection,” Gansz said. “The show ran for the entire year of 2014, and the book served as the exhibition catalog.”
A guitar maker in Granada, Spain, also asked Gansz to contribute a chapter on the history of the guitar from the 19th century to the present for a bilingual book published through the provincial government there titled La Escuela Granadina De Guitarreros (The Granada School of Guitar Makers).
Now that he’s settled in Shepherdstown, Gansz is looking forward to being part of the campus community and overseeing the Scarborough Library.
“The facility is marvelous. It’s extraordinarily well outfitted. Physically and technologically we have everything we need. The staff seems to be very enthusiastic and very collegial,” Gansz said. “What I find in Shepherd is a somewhat unique mix of both the liberal arts in the traditional sense and also the workplace development, first-generation college, community college completion—that model of the democratization of education for the masses.”
Listen to the David Gansz interview HERE.