Casey Hoeve portrait

UNL associate professor Casey Hoeve poses for a portrait in his office on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

From a young age, Casey Hoeve has always been interested in a wide range of topics — history, science and culture among them. His hunger to learn often led him to the public library, where his mom would take him to browse the stacks of books and participate in summer reading programs. 

In his undergraduate days at Grand Valley State, Hoeve would spend his free time at the library studying, perusing and chatting with librarians. But in the moment, it never occurred to him that his wealth of knowledge and countless hours spent in the library would eventually place him in his current position as an associate professor and head of content and collections at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries.

“It never really struck me as something that I would be interested in,” Hoeve said. “I just had never really considered it. But when someone kind of gave me that idea, it's like, ‘yeah, I could do that with the broad range of interests that I have.’ It really just kind of connects everything together where I didn't just have to choose science or social science, I could really get a little bit of exposure to everything and kind of be a jack of all trades.”

Hoeve began his position with the university at the start of August 2019. His job is to maintain and grow the library’s collections, facilitate relationships with information and data providers and provide a vision for what he called a “21st-century library.” But Hoeve’s path to this point was anything but typical; in fact, his first job in high school was on an egg farm, where he worked for nine years and rose up the ranks to be an assistant manager.

During his undergrad years, he worked as a maintenance assistant for the city of Zeeland, Michigan. After graduating, he began graduate school at the University of Michigan in 2008, where he said he first started to get an inkling he was interested in librarianship. He decided to finish his master’s degree at Drexel University, focusing on collection development, and then took a position at Kansas State University in 2011 as the arts, architecture and humanities content development librarian.

While at KSU, Hoeve had two notable opportunities outside of his job. The first was his involvement in the Popular Culture Association — a national group of scholars who study over 100 subject areas related to scholarly activities in popular culture such as movies and music. A colleague of his from KSU was the chair of the libraries, museums and archives subject area. When he couldn’t make some of the meetings, Hoeve was asked to fill in. 

He eventually became co-chair in 2016 and has held that position ever since, facilitating discussions and conducting research on past historical periods of librarianship, the collections of universities around the nation and how librarianship is portrayed in pop culture. On the latter topic, Hoeve did a study of “The Simpsons” where he watched every episode and analyzed each time libraries, archives or museums were mentioned, comparing the demographics that the cartoon presented with real-life demographics from the American Library Association.

Hoeve said his time as co-chair has been quite rewarding, as it has exposed him to new avenues of thought and allowed him to meet librarians from around the country.

“It's a conference that I enjoy going to every year because I can mix with so many different types of people,” he said. “If there's a session that you're interested in, you just go and sit in and learn about Generation X studies or the LGBTQ community or anything like that. So it's a good place for librarians to kind of represent librarianship outside the traditional library conferences.”

The other unusual entry in Hoeve’s resume from his time at KSU is his induction into the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels — the highest title of honor bestowed by the governor of Kentucky for service — in 2018. He was bestowed this distinction because of a mission trip he took to Fleming-Neon, Kentucky, which Hoeve said is a very impoverished part of the state. While there, Hoeve said he built houses and worked with community members, learning valuable lessons about service which he tied to his profession.

“It was really about … providing services to those who didn't have as many resources [and] what we take for granted often in our own lives,” he said. “And I think that's a lot about [what] librarianship [is] too. It's always a good reminder with the plaque on the wall that it's about service first and in your profession, that that's always what comes first.”

After eight years of working at KSU, Hoeve said he was looking for some change in his life when the position at UNL opened up. Through the interview process, he identified UNL Libraries as an exciting place open to new ideas that he wanted to work at.

“It was kind of right up my alley that they were really looking for new ideas,” he said. “They really had a good vision of what they wanted to do and how I would kind of be placed in there and given some opportunities to work around and do some different things that I wasn't really able to do at Kansas State University.”

In his first six months on the job, Hoeve said he’s tried to develop a vision for moving into the library’s future by figuring out how to incorporate streaming media, support research and promote diversity in its collections. He also said he sees libraries as “keepers of truth” in the cultural zeitgeist, emphasizing the importance of objectivity to keep collections as well-rounded as possible.

“We have examples that are documented … in the library that are very noble and altruistic, but we also have examples that are rife with deplorable, despicable activity … and this is all part of the shared culture. We not only try to store that, [but] we make people understand that this was what happened in this place in time. It may be right, it may be wrong, but when we reflect upon that we can say, ‘This is what the collection looks like, and how can we make it more diverse? How can we make it more representative of the community?’ That's why I really think libraries are important because [they] really give us the opportunity to reflect upon these particular examples.”

Charlene Maxey-Harris, the interim associate dean of University Libraries, said Hoeve is the right kind of sharp mind the institution needs to help meet its goals and lead it into a bright future.

“We’re excited about him being here,” Maxey-Harris said. “His role is to lead us to make strategic directions as we think about our content. He’s got a very analytical mind, and he can bring together data and research to help figure out our collections and where we need to go in the future.”

As the library continues to adapt to meet the needs of the students and faculty it serves, Hoeve advises students to take advantage of the prolific resources that are available to them within the walls of Love Library. 

“That's one of the things that I encourage people to do is just explore the wealth of information [here],” he said. “[They’re] at one of the great libraries in the United States, and when they leave college, they often won't have access to that type of information. And so I really encourage people to take advantage of that, to use those opportunities to really educate yourself beyond the classroom.”

culture@dailynebraskan.com