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Fred Stoss: The entrepreneurial librarian

fred stoss

Fred Stoss' office in the Silverman Library reflects his passion for sustainability research and environmental advocacy. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

Published June 19, 2014

“I try to help students, especially, see their library research as more than drudgery, as a discovery process that furthers their knowledge beyond the assignment”
Fred Stoss, Librarian
University at Buffalo

 

Fred Stoss, with his signature mustache and walleye tie, is a well-known name among certain circles on the tiny Caribbean island of Aruba. He’s also met former Vice President Al Gore several times.

With degrees in biology, zoology and information studies, and nearly a decade of research work in toxicology and environmental health, Stoss has dedicated his professional and personal life to sustainability research and environmental advocacy.

It all started, Stoss says, when he was growing up outside of Johnstown, N.Y., where he fished with his father and grandfather, and explored the outdoors in his “backyard” and the southern Adirondacks.

“I spent hours catching critters in nearby fields and streams,” says Stoss, associate librarian for the biological sciences, geology and mathematics.

Stoss also remembers the first Earth Day in 1970, when he was a sophomore at Hartwick College and had discovered the cross-disciplinary work of theologian and ecologist Joseph Sittler. All of these early experiences shaped Stoss’ future career.

These days you’ll find him, among other places, at his computer in his warren-like office on the second floor of the Silverman Library.

Stoss is recognized for having a bit of an entrepreneurial streak in research, education and outreach.

“I try to help students, especially, see their library research as more than drudgery, as a discovery process that furthers their knowledge beyond the assignment,” Stoss says. “I learned that when I did my own research—to look beyond the obvious, to push at the questions a bit more and collaborate to find the answers.”

One of Stoss’ proudest accomplishments was helping build a national acid rain database “from scratch,” based on his graduate research at Syracuse University and conducted for the Center for Environmental Information in Rochester.

The project eventually spun off into a comprehensive global climate change reference work, “Trends: A Compendium of Data on Global Change,” that he helped develop while a University of Tennessee researcher working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He landed in Buffalo after that, in 1996.

Since then, he’s served in countless leadership positions in his field, and helps UB students and faculty uncover current data compilations, journal articles or locate relevant online textbooks.

Still, Stoss is driven by the feeling that there is so much more to do.

“I’m motivated by my desire to inspire others, to help them think more about living in a world unconstrained by greenhouse gases,” he says.

He remains active as a speaker and writer on sustainability issues, having published such articles as “Librarians Taking the LEED and Sustainable Communities” and “The Roles Libraries and Librarians Play.” In the latter, he illustrates the continued need for librarians to organize and synthesize a growing sea of digital information.

The Aruba connection came about five years ago when he gave a keynote address, “Sustainable and Green @ your Library,” for the annual meeting of the Association of Caribbean Universities, Research and Institutional Libraries in the French Antilles. Concerned about his “carbon footprint,” he requested and was given an opportunity to give a Caribbean perspective of climate change.

Stoss’ presentation impressed the Aruban contingent, who invited him to be part a speakers series hosted by the National Library of Aruba and the University of Aruba. He was invited back a year later for their annual “Green Aruba” conference, and in 2012 he was featured at Aruba’s first environmental education symposium.

Aruba, it turns out, has a well-developed environmental movement for a tiny island. Stoss says its size and arid climate make it an ideal “test tube” for such green experiments as wind turbines, electric cars and solar power.

In 2006, Stoss and his wife went to see “An Inconvenient Truth,” the documentary based on the groundbreaking book by Nobel laureate and former Vice President Al Gore. “It was career-changing; I was blown away by his work,” says Stoss.

In 2007 and 2010, Stoss was trained by The Climate Project, Gore’s environmental advocacy nonprofit, to give Gore’s climate change slide presentation. He was selected in 2012 as a mentor for Gore’s Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps and went on to help train 950 volunteers—including his daughter, Kaeti.

Stoss has given Al Gore’s climate presentations for several undergraduate and graduate classes here at UB and throughout the country.

These days Stoss still plans to visit sunny Aruba, but he also wants to figure out how to help UB navigate the rapidly changing library landscape. As books are replaced with data, he wants to ensure that finding the best environmental knowledge and scientific literature is still as easy as picking a volume from the shelf.