Dissertation Research Ahoy! (a.k.a. Ernestine Rose and the Harlem Public Library: Theory Testing using Historical Sources)

I’ve been talking a lot about my dissertation lately (surprise), and wanted to go ahead and stick a quick run down of what I’m doing here too. I’m very excited about the work I’m doing, and I would love to hear your feedback! I’m also happy to share my documentation and talk more about my process with anyone who is interested. 

What is this project about?

I started thinking about this topic after being encouraged to look at Ernestine Rose by one of my mentors. The project has evolved over time, and while her career is still the jumping off point, I’m now focusing on her work at the Harlem Public Library in particular. She was at this library from 1920-1942. There are a handful of articles in our field that argue that Rose helped make the library into an innovative community space and an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance (e.g. Anderson, 2003; Jenkins, 1990). While she initially worked to integrate the library by hiring people of color, there are some indications that she dampened her support for the advancement and inclusion of these same folks later on in their careers (Whitmire 2007, 2014).

I’m using the documents held in several New York City repositories (New York Public Library’s 42nd Street Branch and Schomburg Center, Columbia University archives, and New York Municipal Archives) that relate to the library to describe the library, and also to test two theories (more on why that matters later). There are a couple challenges/considerations that I want to mention right off the bat. My research is very context-heavy, so it’s vital for me to describe that context and how the library fits within it, rather than describing the library as though it exists in a vacuum. Equally as important is discussing the role of other people besides Rose within the library. While my focus is on her career, I don’t want to risk overshadowing the contributions of others by only talking about her. 

Why does it matter?

There are several big reasons (in my opinion) why this project is important. First of all, most of what’s out there focuses on the library’s role in the Harlem Renaissance, where became a well-known center for events and a place where authors often went to write (Anderson, 2003; Jenkins, 1990). There is not a lot of information currently about the library during the Great Depression and the beginning years of World Way II, both of which would have presumably had a big impact on the library. In addition, no one has thoroughly discussed her work and the library within the broader context of New York City, the New York Public Library system, or society as a whole throughout this 22 year period.

Additionally, no one has applied the two theoretical frameworks I’m using to historical research. The first of these is a framework I’m developing to analyze change (called, appropriately, Change in Historic Institutions). I’ve made a model of this, and plan to share the model in a more detailed post later on, but for now I’ll just focus on the broad concepts. This model focuses on identifying change, discussing whether that change is innovative or adaptive, and its impact and perceptions. Second, I’m looking at Information Worlds, which envisions actors within the variety of contexts they navigate, and uses five concepts (Information value, information behavior, social norms, social types, and boundaries) to describe those worlds and the interaction between them.  Both theories are very broad and adaptable, and very context-focused, making them appropriate for this study. These are drastically oversimplified discussions of both theories, so if you have questions, I’m happy to go into further detail! 

Finally, I think this work has the potential to be used by professionals in public library settings. When she was working in Harlem, Ernestine Rose had already had some experience in her career (she was about 40 when she took the job), and would have needed to draw on this experience while remaining adaptable and flexible to meet the needs of a quickly changing neighborhood. Her employees also faced discrimination from the library system, and used their own experiences to make the library a dynamic and community-oriented place. The story of Rose and the library as a whole might offer some useful ideas for modern librarians on what to do (and perhaps what not to do) in their own institutions. 

 

References for your reading pleasure:

Anderson, S. A. (2003). “The Place to Go”: The 135th Street Branch Library and the Harlem Renaissance. Library Quarterly, 73(4): 383–421.

Jenkins, B. L. (1990). A White Librarian in Black Harlem: Study to Chronicle and Assess Ernestine Rose’s Work during the Renaissance in Harlem. Library Quarterly 60, 216–231.

Whitmire, E. (2007). Breaking the Color Barrier: Regina Andrews and the New York Public Library. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 42(4), 409–421.

Whitmire, E. (2014). Regina Andrews, Harlem Renaissance Librarian. Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.

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#YesAllWomen and Making College Campuses a Safe Space

#YesAllWomen is taking off on Twitter right now, and if you haven’t given it a look, you should. It’s heartbreaking to hear people’s stories of feeling unsafe and unsupported even in the face of reporting sexual violence and stalking, and being denied privileges ranging from the ability to use public transit without incidence to being able to go to work and have an uneventful day. All of these stories are important and need to be heard and taken seriously. Far too many of these stories were ones I can relate to. This tweet touched on something that’s been on my mind a lot lately: Sexual violence on college campuses:

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As a researcher, I’ve been a part of a project that starts to look at getting information to survivors, particularly on campuses. As a woman, I’ve experienced assault and stalking on and off college campuses, as have many of my female (and a few of my male) friends. Once I finish my dissertation, this is a research stream I want to dive into again, and Soraya’s tweet helped reinvigorate me, especially after the recent coverage FSU has gotten for its treatment of rape survivors.

So why am I posting about wanting to do this research on my blog? Because I want feedback, and right now seems like a good time to get feedback from the people I ultimately want to help. On a lot of campuses, there doesn’t seem to be much survivor-focused information that’s pushed out where people can access it easily and anonymously (and without prodding to pursue a certain course of action during their healing process). Libraries are an important part of the campus community, and are already a resource people are using (and are potentially less intimidating than other resources might feel). What I’m hoping to do is to construct a shell web resource, available without cost to university libraries, that gives survivors the information they need and can be added to by the library so local resources are also included. This way, it could be included on the library site as a desperately-needed information resource, although it should be emphasized that it will be there to point people to the things they need and provide information that is empowering and nonjudgmental, but it will not be something that turns the library into a counseling resource or anything like that. I eventually want to expand on it more to include resources for other related issues (domestic violence, mental health, etc.) and to offer resources to public libraries as well, but this is such a huge problem on college campuses that it’s important to start there.

So here’s where you come in: What do you want to see in this resource? What do you think would be helpful information to share with survivors at various stages of the healing process? I have plenty of ideas, but I want more! And while we’re at it, what other ways can information professionals (librarians and researchers like myself) be involved in bringing these conversations to light, and what kind of research can we be doing to help (hopefully) make an impact? I’m happy to hear from folks in the comments, but I also don’t want to jeopardize the privacy of any survivors (or non-survivors) who want to share their thoughts, so I’m happy to get emails as well (juliacskinner at gmail dot com). And last but not least, I want to thank everyone who has shared their stories on Twitter–you are strong and courageous for putting yourself out there, and I’m grateful that there are so many people out there inspiring and supporting one another!

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Cats in Space!

The Cats in Space app is a part of the Earth as Art Space Apps Challenge. You can read more about what our plans were for the project at its start using the first link, but now that we’re drawing to a close we wanted to share what the completed project looks like!

The Cats in Space Project

Our project includes several components that we’re bringing together to promote engagement and offer a fun (and hopefully educational) experience to users:

Social media
We’ve got a subreddit and a Flickr group set up and have included example images we’ve located to give users a sense of the kind of things they might find and to generate interest in participation. The subreddit currently pulls from images we placed on Imgur (which hopefully will increase the reach of our project as well), but eventually may include links to other sites as more user submissions are added.
Our project has received a lot of attention on other social media channels (namely Facebook and Twitter) as well, and we’ve heard from a variety of users worldwide (including, but not limited to, other Space Apps participants). It’s been a lot of fun, and a good number of folks have responded to our updates, retweeted us, and told us what a cool project we’re doing. I even got a PM on Reddit from one person at NASA telling me that he and a few colleagues were hunting for cats, which made me pretty excited.

The interest we’ve generated will hopefully be sustained through gameplay and through additional interactions on Flickr, Imgur, and Reddit as more people use the app, and find and add photos to the groups. We chose both these platforms as they each have different user bases, allowing us to further extend our reach across multiple audiences.

Web App
Using the idea of gamification, our goal was to create an app that would get people to engage with satellite imagery created by NASA. The Cats in Space web app (link coming soon!) presents satellite images of earth and deep space images to users who upvote or downvote based on whether or not the image looks like a cat. If they find a cat, the can share the image on the subreddit or Flickr group. Now that we’ve generated interest in our hashtag and are increasing our following online, we can embed the link to the web app in our image descriptions for easy access and to encourage play the instant someone sees and image and becomes interested in the project. The fact that new images are added regularly to the NASA Flickr accounts we’ve identified means that ongoing game players are less likely to encounter only the same images during repeat play.

User submissions 
People can definitely submit things to the photo pools using the web app, but we also encourage users to submit images they find outside of the app as well. We’ve already begun to see this happen on Reddit, and hope it’s a trend that continues!

Why do this?

NASA has huge stores of amazing, publicly-available imagery, but the folks who are going to actively seek it out are probably the ones who are really interested in that stuff to begin with. Creating a fun activity out of these images has the potential to bring in viewers who might not normally engage with the images, and even teach people who already love NASA images some fun new information (I love looking at satellite images, and I learned a lot through sustained engagement with them while hunting for sample images!)

Using a game that’s simple, appropriate for all ages, and encourages imaginative engagement with imagery is a good way to bring the images to nearly any audience (except maybe people who really don’t like cats), so it could be great to use in schools or as a leisure activity. Since the interface is simple, users don’t have to have much technical expertise to interact with it, which makes even more accessible to a wide range of people. Since our project (like all the Space Apps projects) will have publicly-available code, we’re hoping it might also be a resource for other developers who are looking to create this type of game.
Using a fun game to highlight the images will hopefully be an enjoyable educational resource, but will also help make users more aware of some of the great work NASA is doing to document our beautiful planet and universe.

We learned a lot doing this project, and I’m sure we’ll be blogging about that soon, but for now, we hope you enjoy the app and the photos—be sure to tell us what you think on Twitter, Reddit and Flickr!

 

Our team includes:

Abby Philips (@abigailleigh)

Jeff Chatham (@khhaaannnn)

Julia Skinner (@BookishJulia)

 

 

 

 

 

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Some Quick Thoughts on iConference 2014

Now that I’m back in the states and have had a bit of time to settle in, I wanted to jot down some of the stuff that stood out to me during my time at the iConference.

Standing next to our poster. Photo credit to my co-presenter, Gary Burnett

Standing next to our poster. Photo credit to my co-presenter, Gary Burnett

Creativity and Arts-Based Work

As academics, we (myself included) often get stuck in the accepted modes of production and thinking in order to produce work that is taken seriously by our colleagues and that hopefully helps us advance in our careers. There is obviously a lot of value in the work that we do and the rigorous approaches we employ, but I’m happy to see the same rigor and critical thinking being encouraged in arts-based work that acknowledges the value of play, creativity, and multiple approaches to engagement with a topic. This is something I’ve seen and talked about with folks at ASIST, ALISE, and the iConference this year, and I’m looking forward to seeing more arts-based work being shared in our field. I’m also very interested in pursuing this kind of work and open to conversations and research collaborations for those also doing this kind of work!

At the iConference in particular, I was very excited to see a conference stream centered on creativity (organized by the inspirational Dr. Theresa Anderson). This included the Researchers as Makers conference workshop I was a part of (we made zines!) as well as the iPause space, which encouraged attendees to take a break from the usual conference activities to pause and play. That space offered a much-needed break, and made it ok to engage in play or to sit quietly and reflect. As a supporter of creative play and of having a healthy balance of work and play, this space really spoke to me. I was very pleased that the iConference is open to this kind of engagement, and it definitely makes me more likely to want to attend more conferences in the future!

Social Media

At both poster sessions, there were some amazing social media projects being shared. One of my favorites was a poster on political tweets by the students at the i3 iSchool Inclusion Institute, who were all undergrads  but who blew a lot of their more experienced colleagues out of the water with their work. There were many, many other amazing projects too, and as always I learned so much from everyone I talked to at the conference. I also learned a lot sharing my poster too (which is my favorite part of presenting). I was anticipating more questions about the theory we used, but we ended up getting a lot of questions about how we defined the contexts surrounding the groups we studied. I also enjoyed having the chance to talk about US political movements to an international audience–here, most people know the role of the Tea Party and Occupy movements within our political discourse, but it was fun to get to articulate those roles for people who operate in a variety of political structures.

There are so many things I learned, and so many wonderful people I got to meet, but those two themes were ones that I really wanted to talk about (and they are themes that I’ve noticed at other recent conferences too). The iConference left me energized, encouraged, and inspired, and I hope to attend again next year!

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PhD Debt, “Bad Decisions,” and Misdirected Focus

I’ve been thinking about some of the arguments I’ve seen recently that place the focus of student debt arguments on students. The end of one article I saw last month caught my attention for this reason, and I’ve written a bit of a response. It’s somewhat more blunt and cranky than my writing typically is, but if you don’t mind that, read on!

Last month, an article was published in The Atlantic that brought attention to Karen Kelsky’s PhD Debt spreadsheet in Google docs. The spreadsheet gave current and former grad students a chance to talk about their debt and how they try to manage it. Lots of people have some really good ideas about dealing with debt, and some of these, as well as plenty of information on the rising cost of education, make it into what was mostly a very enjoyable article. However, at the end of the article, the author reminds us that PhD debt can also be the result of “simply making poor decisions,” and points to the following quote:

I tutored, worked 5 jobs, never bought drinks or ate on campus. I had several craiglist tutor jobs up. I also had a 6 years of Research Assistant to an administrator in which I published a lot. I got 3 years fellowships. I played the game and it was okay for the tuition payoff. I don’t regret it but do not recommend it for anyone unless you are rich and want to get a “vanity PhD.”

I have several friends who owe over 100K and are very bitter and they have a right to be. I want to say I was lucky but I worked my ass off!

There were over 14 of us when we started and only 4 graduated. There are 3 more that have over 100K debt and are still in the program. They let some of the people “hang themselves with their own rope” by not funding them and those people withered away. The older grad students were left to fend for themselves and also died on the vine. I also saw just plain bad decision making like some grad students living by themselves when they should have got a roommate or buying a new mac computer every 2 years and attending every conference on credit card debt.

I know people who have done this. I’ve worked full-time in graduate school. We all work our asses off and make a lot of sacrifices. But ending the article with this implies that this should be the path everyone takes (or is able to take). First of all, huge kudos to this person for having the energy and ability to work so many jobs and balance that with graduate school. If you’re able to do that, good for you, and you have a skill set there to be proud of.
However, how feasible is this for…almost anyone else? How can you tell me and my colleagues that it’s stupid of us to borrow money to attend conferences, when the decision not to attend a conference means not being able to share your research or get a job with your degree? How could someone who’s a parent possibly work all these jobs on top of the insane workload of school and childrearing? How could you tell me that when I elected to live alone when my world was crashing around me last year, that I made a “bad decision” by choosing to keep my sanity rather than living with that insane couple from Craigslist?

Ending the article with a quote that emphasizes other people’s different choices as “bad” places the onus of student debt squarely on the shoulders of debtors, and ignores the much, *much* bigger issue of unreasonable educational costs. Students have always made sacrifices to go to school, but the implication was that they would be able to be more prosperous in their careers. I love my students, my field, and my research so much, and I’m grateful every day to do my work. However, I also am looking at paying back a mortgage’s worth of debt so I can do work that will hopefully help people and improve education.* This means that I don’t have the freedom to be as flexible in where I go or how many risks I can take, which in turn potentially diminishes how well I can do the work I’m paying all this money to do. I feel like in my field I’m very lucky because my colleagues are supportive and wonderful, and wherever I go I’ll probably be in an environment that fosters creativity and professional development, but I know that’s not the case for a lot of people.

Just like every other student, my path is a process of balance as I try to negotiate keeping costs low while in school while also doing the things I need to for success. In my case,  I grow, cook, and preserve as much of my own food as possible, I hand wash my clothes, I keep my heat low and my A/C high, and I walk wherever I can (among many, many other things). But I also need to travel to conferences, pay my rent, keep the lights on, and sleep once in a while in lieu of working a 4th job, and so I take out loans. The idea of paying them back is absolutely terrifying, but it’s also the only option if I want an education (our departments try to offer as much assistance as they can, but in a lot of cases their hands are tied when it comes to how much students can be compensated and for how long).

My path isn’t right for everyone either (I doubt most people are interested in fermenting sauerkraut in their apartments!), but I think it’s a mistake on the part of the article’s author and this former student to judge other people’s decisions without knowing what goes into them. I have very good reasons to live alone, and I have very good reasons to not get a 4th job. Other students have struck a different balance and there are very good reasons behind their decisions too. Yes, sometimes people make bad choices, but that is true with absolutely any set of decisions one is offered with, and the vast majority of the time, student loans are used to try to make ends meet. My advice to them is to remember that this problem is bigger than any one of us, and to turn your judgment and frustration towards those making it near-impossible to get an education. If you still want to direct some feelings towards struggling grad students, make sure they are feelings and actions that help those people learn and put food on the table at the same time.

*I think the biggest problem I have with a lot of this is the assumption that because someone is willing to pay for an expensive education, that it means it’s ok that the education is expensive (and this wasn’t in the article, per se, just a trend I’ve noticed).

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February 11th: The Day We Fight Back

I imagine most everyone who reads this blog is aware of the 2/11 day of action, but if you’re not, the banner below (which will activate at midnight on 2/11) will show you how to get in touch with the people up top who will (hopefully) listen to our demand for real change. You can also visit https://thedaywefightback.org for information. I feel really passionately about privacy issues, although I think our networked world is changing exactly what that looks like.
Whether or not we’re having to rethink what personal information is showing up on the open web for potential employers to see, or any other perennial issues associated with our online presence, most people I talk to agree that whatever information is on our profiles (or devices, or whatever else) should be something our government can’t just listen in on whenever it wants. Using a networked device should not be an unspoken agreement to being surveilled, particularly when our networked technologies offer us the ability to strengthen our democracy and encourage participation. That’s not going to happen, however, if we feel like any potentially dissenting comment we might make, in public or private, is subject to scrutiny. I hope you’ll join me and countless others in tomorrow’s action!

 

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The Spring Semester

A quick note to throw some ideas out there for this semester as we’re all settling into our schedules:

I passed my prelims (hooray!) and am starting on my prospectus. Years ago, myself and a few other folks used the #teamachieve hashtag on Twitter to motivate each other as we shared our daily word counts. I want to ask those folks to get involved again, but I think it would be cool to have as a bigger endeavor too. So if you want in, let me know (or just start tweeting!)

I’m going to the iConference in Berlin this March. I had an absolutely amazing time with my colleagues at ALISE, and I wanted to see if anyone will be at the iConference and is interested in going for a meal or beverage with me! 

I’m really wanting to do some arts-based research lately, but need some inspiration. Does anyone want to do a Google Hangout or Facebook group or something and bounce ideas off each other? 

Happy Spring semester!!

 

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