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!
A few days ago, the Library as Incubator Project posted an interview they did with me about earlier this month. I had a lot of fun doing the interview, and it also got me to think through how my art informs my practice as a librarian (and vice versa). Check it out!
In recent weeks, the State Historical Society of Iowa has been faced with reorganization and funding cuts, which threaten to reduce access to its irreplaceable collections and to displace staff who have dedicated their careers to helping Iowans learn about their past. Plenty of folks have written about the specifics of the situation (the petition link includes links to many helpful sources to educate yourself), but what I want to focus on is my experience with SHSI, and why that experience makes me believe absolutely in the importance of keeping this organization funded and its records accessible .
I was lucky enough to work at SHSI at the start of my Master’s program, and it was one of the most valuable and enjoyable jobs I’ve had. I started volunteering there when I decided I would apply to the Library and Information Studies program, and later came on as a work-study employee after I was accepted. I bounced around to do a few different things at the Iowa City branch, including some cataloging, preservation/conservation, and special collections (one of my first assignments was working with Civil War and World War I diaries from Iowa veterans, which was challenging and lots of fun). I got to learn about some awesome Iowans through the records they left behind, and their stories are the ones I turn to again and again when I talk with others about the value of preserving history.
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.
#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:
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!