Pathways to Paul Joseph Sweeney

Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library

Pathways to Paul Joseph Sweeney

Staff as a Resource Series - Part 2

Paul SweeneyMeet one of the treasures of the District of Columbia Public Library – Paul Joseph Sweeney. He can read, write and speak Sanskrit; loves and enjoys Korean pop music; is a student of nonviolent movements around the world; enjoys reading stories to young children; facilitates a Philosophy Café and a History Book Club every month; is fascinated by art, art history and art appreciation; is interested in reading ancient American, European and Asian history; formally studied world religions, theology and information science. The list goes on and on.

But if you don’t know all this about Paul, what you see is what our customers encounter every single day-–an absolutely kind man, who draws no line at helping people–- teens with homework, the unemployed with résumés and cover letters, a child who wants to print a picture of a pop star and has no money….  You will encounter what his colleagues encounter every day-–a friendly, soft-spoken Paul, with a hearty laugh, who instantly and intuitively invites and includes you in the here and the now. He draws no lines with people or places or positions-–he is a part of it all. He simply flows into everything around him, making it all a part of the whole he experiences. 

I have seen Paul enjoying the sunshine on a lovely summer day seated on the steps of a public building chatting and sharing his lunch with a homeless man. I was amazed to see Paul, in the middle of a busy reference desk, reading a story to a four-year-old, seated on his lap. The child came up to the desk with a book and wanted Paul to read her the story. “Sure,” said Paul. “That was one of my favorite stories, and I would love to read it again.” 

Paul discovered the joy of working in libraries while a graduate research assistant at Catholic University, helping graduate students with their projects. Libraries are the perfect place for someone who craves to navigate the universe of knowledge, zigzagging all over, from discipline to discipline. Because for Paul, no boundaries exist even here. It is all one seamless whole. He sees himself as a life-long scholar, preferring to learn in non-structured ways, reading something on the web, absorbed by a magazine article, attending a lecture, visiting art museums, listening to a piece of music … marvelously retaining all these little pieces of knowledge, integrating them into a whole that only a mind as complex and fascinating as Paul’s can integrate. Casey Danielson, his colleague, says, "Paul reads the densest subjects, the really tough stuff, and he can dig in and pull it apart. Soon after that, he can explain it to anyone at any age or education level. He just gets it, and then he gets passionate about it, and then he just takes you to school. It's rare, and it's a quality I wish more of my teachers had in college. Luckily I can get a graduate-level education just being around him, bugging him about the things I'm interested in."

Born in Rhode Island, raised in Connecticut, Paul comes from a family of scholars. He has several degrees from prestigious universities-–a B.A. in English Literature and Religion from Syracuse University, Masters of Philosophy in both Buddhist Studies and in Theology from Columbia University, New York, and a Masters in Information Science from the Catholic University of America, Washington D.C. He lived in India, near the ancient city of Hardhwar, learning one of the oldest languages in the world–-Sanskrit. He can read the Indian epics and other sacred texts of India in the original.  

Inspired by Gandhi and the Buddhists, Paul reads and lectures extensively on the nonviolent movements around the world. He regularly presents lectures on Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi. He plans to do a series of presentations on art history to expose people to this subject and foster art appreciation. Artists representing New Age and other schools will also present their works and talk about this. He is extremely interested in the nexus of social relationships a piece of art can reflect. Art is one way to see how ideas took hold of mindsets and molded ways of seeing the world. To see this in art through the ages is a fascinating pastime for Paul. There is no political news around the world that Paul is not aware of or interested in. Several customers stop by on a regular basis to chat with Paul about the world's state of affairs.  

However, it is not all intellectual pursuits with Paul. He loves to feel the pulse of the world and enjoys passing the time with friends in a coffee house or walking around Takoma Park or Dupont Circle. For a neat little glimpse of Paul's world, check out this short documentary about him, made by David Ruck.

If you know  your community would be interested in any of the above topics, feel free to invite this resident scholar--Paul Joseph Sweeney--to present a lecture at your neighborhood library.   

Stay tuned as we feature the staff at the Watha T. Daniel / Shaw Library : Anina Ertel, Elaine Pelton, Ellen Hungate, Eric Riley, Jamilla Coleman, Jayanthi Sambasivan, Nicholas Hirsch, Paul Sweeney, Towanda Gravitt

Staff at Watha T. Daniel / Shaw Library

 -- J. Sambasivan