Category Archives: academia

Interview up on Hack Library School!

I’m so excited to have the chance to go back to Hack Library School for a minute to talk with Stefanie about my experiences bringing rare books to the prison classroom, advocating for work with underserved communities, and what I’m hoping for the future.

You can read the article here!

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Citation milestone!

Do you know when you don’t look at your paper citations for a while, then you do, and think ‘wow I had no idea I had reached this huge milestone at some point this year?’

I hadn’t checked my Google Scholar profile for a few months, and during that time my citations shot up to over 100 (as of this writing, I’m cited in 104 places).

I’m cracking open a bottle of champagne (ok, sparkling wine) this evening to celebrate.

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Rare books and archives instruction resources

Today one of my colleagues asked for resources on teaching book history and teaching with rare books in university classrooms. This is one of my favorite things to do (and something our outreach archivist, JoyEllen, and I do very regularly), and her listserv post got me thinking about our approach to instruction.

When the two of us started, we had enjoyable and (hopefully) useful instruction models to work with, but were concerned about two things: First of all, that our sessions seemed to not fully engage students. It was a lot of talking and show and tell, and not that much hands-on experience or critical engagement with concepts. Second, was that we felt like we were coming in and showing students ‘cool stuff’ but not making it relevant to their lives and scholastic careers.
This was particularly an issue for our freshman seminars, where we felt that having two separate tours and talks (one for archives and one for rare books) could feel boring and repetitive, and didn’t give students the opportunity to synthesize an understanding of what primary sources are and why they matter. To address this, we developed a new freshman seminar instruction model that combined the two, and gave students some experience identifying and working with primary sources, while also thinking about when those sources could be used in their own research.

We also developed a second module for other courses, based largely on my background with book arts and book history, and my experience thinking of the book as a technology. One thing that I think is very important when working with rare books is not to simply think of them in terms of their contents, but to also consider their structure, traces of use (marginalia, etc.–also fun fact, ‘traces of use’ is my favorite term on the planet), and what these tell us about the book’s intended vs. actual function. To do this, we talk students through the development of the book as a technology with a focus on how technological innovation can help or hinder information access, and how that access (or lack thereof) might have broader societal implications.
Both instruction session types are highly flexible–we have a basic idea of what we want to cover, but we adjust what materials we bring and some of what we cover based on a particular course (e.g. spending time at the end to talk about book art for a design course, vs. spending time talking about the publishing history of a given author for a literature course). Both types also include a hands-on component: Our materials were purchased with the intent to be used by students, researchers, and community members, so it’s exciting to get them out of the stacks and into people’s hands.

For the most part, I’ve done these kinds of presentations (particularly the second one) from memory, and have not written down much of my process. Today’s Exlibris thread, however, inspired me to write it down and share it with colleagues. To help more folks who are designing instruction sessions, I’ve put what I have in this Dropbox folder. It includes:

  • Two in-depth handouts covering the history of the book. These were made for my instruction sessions with Common Good’s prison education initiative this spring, and are too detailed for most classes, but I find them valuable to pull from to make smaller, more focused handouts as needed.
  • An outline document giving a step-by-step of how we run our classes for 1101 classes (freshman seminars) and for our technology of the book sessions.
  • Two handouts that JoyEllen brought in to our 1101 sessions for students to use in analyzing primary sources.

I hope these are helpful for colleagues–and if you use our materials, I would love to hear how they work for you! I am always evaluating our instructional offerings to make sure we’re teaching the best classes we can, so knowing what works and doesn’t elsewhere is a huge help.
Next up I’ll be making a standardized handout for our book as technology sessions that I can add to as needed: It will be a timeline that maps the specific artifacts we use to larger historical contexts. I’ll add it to the same folder when it’s ready!

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An Announcement (Drumroll please)

I’m beyond excited to announce that I’ll be serving as the new Editor for the Fine Press Book Association’s journal, Parenthesis. The journal combines theory and practice in a way I really enjoy, and I have some big shoes to fill from the previous editors, who have cultivated a journal known for its strong reviews and compelling writing. Is there something new you want to see in the journal? Something we’re doing already that you love? Let me know in the comments!

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Not so rare any more: Reaching new special collections audiences through unlikely collaborations

I just finished giving a presentation for NFAIS on building expanding audiences and empowering community members through unlikely collaborations. The audience, as well as Marcie who was the moderator/cat wrangler/problem solver, were all fantastic and I had a great time chatting with them. I wanted to offer a few highlights from the talk for folks who weren’t able to attend but who are thinking about their own outreach programs.

NB: I focused on rare books since that’s the area I work in, BUT these guidelines could be used for outreach with all sorts of artifacts across many cultural heritage institutions.

Why talk about this? Because outreach is critical for increased access and community empowerment

  • Special collections historically very exclusive
    • Often limited to those doing research or in academic/special library settings
    • Historically excludes those without access to education and other resources
    • Often we do not reach beyond these walls, meaning most potential visitors are not aware of what we have to offer.
  • Physical access is also an issue (e.g. can someone get to campus? Do they need a certain ID or enrollment/employment status to use your services?)
  • Even for those who have access, perceived access may be a totally different matter. Special collections often feel intimidating for the uninitiated, and concerns about whether one has access or what expectations are in a special collections environment can overshadow the desire to engage with collections and programs.  

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Dissertation Link + Updates

I defended my dissertation on May 29th (the day before my birthday!), and since then it’s been quite the thrill ride over here. I’ve moved to Atlanta and started a job as Rare Books Curator at Kennesaw State University, bought a house, and am doing tons of awesome work (as well as some fun travel). I have a new book in the works (two, actually) that deal with culinary history and Colonial England, exhibits, and lots of other things that I’ll share more detail about later. For now, here’s the link to my dissertation, now that I’ve graduated and it’s gone live. I also just had an article based on my dissertation accepted in Library Quarterly, so that’s great news too! It’s crazy to think it’s been almost a year since I defended (and about 10 months since I ended my panic-inducing job search). I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store for me!

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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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