Native American Heritage Month

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November is Native American Heritage Month.  Here are some relevant collections at archives and libraries:

  • The Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and other partner agencies have generated a number of online exhibits and collections.
  • The National Museum of the American Indian has an archive center, which “supports the mission of the museum by collecting, organizing, preserving, and making available papers, records, photographs, recordings, and ephemera that reflect the historical and contemporary lives of Native peoples throughout the Western Hemisphere.”  The Collections Search allows users to search for people/cultures, artists/individuals, and places.
  • The Native American Rights Fund operates a National Indian Law Library that includes tribal codes and ordinances, constitutions, court opinions, compacts and agreements, treaties, and legal histories.
  • A group of Native American and non-Native American archivists, librarians, museum curators, historians, and anthropologists created Protocols for Native American Archival Materials.  These protocols “are presented to guide libraries and archives in engaging in culturally responsive care of Native American archival materials and in providing culturally appropriate service to communities” and include sections on building relationships, balancing perspectives, context, intellectual property, and repatriation.
  • NARA has digitized Indian Census Rolls 1885-1940, the citizenship rolls that were developed for the Five Civilized Tribes as a result of the Dawes Act, and the list compiled by Interior Department employee Guion Miller to verify tribal enrollment for the distribution of funds to the Eastern Cherokee Tribe as a result of a 1905 claim.

Reading as art and science

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There’s nothing quite like a cold night to make me want to curl up under a blanket with a good book.  Thinking about reading has also caused me to revisit some articles about books and reading.

In September, The Atlantic included a piece about publishing during World War Two.  But before I reflect on its content, let me fill in two gaps.  First of all, the era of the dime novel ran roughly from the Civil War to the Great Depression.  These stories tended toward the themes of nationalism and good versus evil, and with the development of inexpensive published books, reading was embraced by the working class.  (For more on dime novels, see collections at Stanford, Villanova, and the Library of Congress.)  Secondly, in 1926 the Book of the Month Club was launched, and for nearly a century, it delivered a new book to its members every month.  In so doing, it created a culture where books were items to be consumed in a physical, not just an intellectual, sense.

Now we can pick up with The Atlantic piece.  It points out that before World War Two, reading materials were largely dictated by class status, with dime novels being most popular among the working class and “serious books” the purview of the wealthy, who had both the time to track down these rare tomes and the money to invest in them.  But during World War Two, Pocket Books and Penguin Books decided to start publishing a wide variety of titles in an inexpensive paperback format, to be sold at magazine and newspaper stands.  The Council on Books in Wartime got on the bandwagon, and in February 1943 proposed to sell millions of books to the army at six cents a volume.  W.W. Norton, the chair of the council, convinced his fellow publishers that this business venture would pay off in the long run by creating a nation of readers.  He explained that the purpose was to offer “‘new books and books of enduring value,’ that might keep soldiers and sailors ‘in touch with thought and currents of life in their country.'”  As the author concludes, “By giving away the best it had to offer, the publishing industry created a vastly larger market for its wares.  More importantly, it also democratized the pleasures of reading, making literature, poetry, and history available to all.”  And in the process, these Armed Services Editions destigmatized paperback books.

During Homecoming weekend in 2009, the Duke Magazine hosted a forum about the future of reading and the impact of technology on reading.  Sven Birkerts explained that printed books have always been “premised on individual authorship, on systematized classification, and on cumulative progress along a timeline, at least where scholarship is concerned.”  Libraries have filled the role of providing centralized access to books but in a larger sense have also “been our culture’s way of putting an institutional imprimatur on the life of the mind.”  He goes on to make a compelling argument that physical books in libraries — with their intentional collection and organized classification and arrangement — contribute to the “structure of knowledge.”  And while the printed book undergirds the principle of authorship, the reading that is typically done from screens and databases is much more fluid and collaborative — what Birkerts refers to as “the hiving of information.”

Given the preponderance of electronic devices used today for all sorts of reading and information gathering, there is obvious cause for concern about the future of reading and libraries.  A few months ago, a technology writer for The Atlantic cited a poll by the Pew Research Center that actually found millennials are almost ten percent more likely to have read a book in the past year than their over-thirty counterparts.  But at the same time, they were more likely to have used a library website than to have actually visited a library to check out a book.

The transformation that shaped the libraries that most of us recognize was begun by Andrew Carnegie, who spent about $60 million in the early 20th century to create 1,689 public libraries across the United States.  (Prior to this point, most libraries had been subscription libraries, reserved for the wealthy.)  In the words of a 2013 NPR story, “public libraries became instruments of change — not luxuries, but rather necessities, important institutions — as vital to the community as police and fire stations and public schools.”

In light of our changing reading habits, I guess the question that remains is whether public libraries can continue to position themselves as necessities and instruments of change.  I for one hope we as a society can continue to embrace these institutions that sanction the life of the mind.

International Open Access Week

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Today concludes International Open Access Week — the 8th annual observance organized by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition.  The Open Access organization defines the concept of open access to information as “the free, immediate, online access to the results of scholarly research, and the right to use and re-use those results as you need.”  Looking at the list of planned events, this movement seems to have more support outside of the U.S., but there have been notable steps promoting open access within the U.S.

  • Last year, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a memorandum requiring that “the direct results of federally funded scientific research are made available to and useful for the public, industry, and the scientific community.  Such results include peer-reviewed publications and digital data.”
  • The National Science Foundation is developing a public access system to comply with this OSTP directive.
  • Margaret Heller wrote an interesting post about how libraries can encourage conversations and actions regarding open access.
  • The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) represents one of the portals encouraging open access; last month, they announced that nearly 150,000 items from the U.S. Government Printing Office are now discoverable through the DPLA.

There are still numerous lingering issues to resolve, including tenure criteria and copyright, but the discussion of open access is here to stay, so it behooves libraries and archives to figure out how to become a part of the solution.


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Labor Day seems like the appropriate time to consider salaries in the fields of archives and libraries.  In 2012, the Society of American Archivists (SAA) created the SNAP Roundtable — for Students and New Archives Professionals.  But concern about the number of available paid positions and the quality of life afforded by their usually poor salaries reached such a fever pitch that Jackie Dooley devoted her 2013 presidential address to the issue of nurturing new entrants into the archives field.

Applicants beware — no one should go into the archives field with an eye to striking it rich.  A 2007 report by the Library Research Service culled information from a number of sources to generate average salaries for archivists and reported that archivists typically earn substantially less than librarians with an equivalent amount of training.

Library Journal routinely reports on employment issues.  Its October 2013 article includes data on recent graduates of MLS programs and their success in finding jobs.  The results are dismal.  Admittedly, the economy has not fully recovered from the “Great Recession,” but it also appears that schools are inflating their numbers of students despite the paucity of jobs.  The 2012 class of graduates that was surveyed did better in “emerging jobs,” or what the Library Journal calls “The Emerging Databrarian.”  A 2014 article includes a detailed comparison of the pay and job satisfaction for public, academic, and school librarians.  It includes some interesting feedback about the impact of lack of recognition and poor management on overall job satisfaction.

Unfortunately, our society is not one that financially rewards the occupations that I value — but nevertheless, I still find great value in the work of archivists and librarians.  For a compelling explanation of the importance of archival work, I recommend reading the 2009 SAA presidential address by Frank Boles.  His commentary on collective memory and accountability and stewardship will touch you and inspire you every time.

Virtual Library Legislative Week

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This week’s post is coming in a little ahead of schedule.  Yesterday and today are National Library Legislative Day, and the entire week is Virtual Library Legislative Day.  So I think it’s important to call attention to this opportunity before the week ends.  Hundreds of librarians traveled to Washington, DC, to lobby legislators on issues that affect libraries.  The rest of us can have an impact by contacting our representatives and communicating our viewpoints on these relevant issues:

  • Early Learning — effort to recognize libraries as fundamental to early childhood education
  • Elementary and Secondary Education Act — specify funding for school libraries in this reauthorization
  • Innovative Approaches to Literacy — request to continue funding these grants to underserved school libraries and nonprofits
  • Library Services and Technology Act — request to maintain this primary source of federal funding for libraries
  • Open Access — support Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act of 2013
  • Surveillance — support the modification of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and passage of the USA FREEDOM Act (limit email surveillance)
  • Workforce Investment Act — reauthorize libraries to carry out employment, training, and literacy services
  • other issues — funding for Library of Congress and Government Printing Office; E-rate broadband access for libraries; net neutrality

The American Libraries Association has even drafted an email on its Legislative Action Center page.  How much easier could it be to participate in the democratic process?!

We hold these truths

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National Library Week has been celebrated since 1958, but as this year’s celebration comes to a close, my main takeaway is that libraries are still very much trying to define their role in a world of ebooks, online databases, and social media.  The American Library Association sponsors the week, and the theme this year is “Lives change @ your library.”  The focus of the ALA very much seems to be on the Declaration for the Right to Libraries.  It does provide some interesting food for thought:

  • Libraries empower the individual.
  • Libraries support literacy and lifelong learning.
  • Libraries strengthen families.
  • Libraries are the great equalizer.
  • Libraries build communities.
  • Libraries protect our right to know.
  • Libraries strengthen our nation.
  • Libraries advance research and scholarship.
  • Libraries help us to better understand each other.
  • Libraries preserve our nation’s cultural heritage.

Curiously enough, some of the celebrations of National Library Week had nothing to do with libraries.  For instance, Oxford University Press offered free access to a number of its online resources.  ProQuest also had a similar promotion.  Given that many people wonder aloud what electronic resources mean for the long-term viability of libraries, it’s an interesting time for these publishers to choose for these promotions.

Some of the most interesting acknowledgments that I saw about National Library Week came from Parade.  They posted a gallery of nine of America’s most beautiful libraries.  Although libraries are increasingly reaching patrons online, there are still some exquisite architectural specimens out there.  Parade also excerpted an essay by Ann Patchett that’s included in Robert Dawson’s book The Public Library: A Photographic Essay (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014).  Patchett offers a simple definition of a library: “a collection of books, however many or few, that are loaned out and gathered back.”  She implicitly comments on one of the assertions in the Declaration for the Right to Libraries — that of libraries as the great equalizer — by calling on those who have more resources (and, therefore, may not need the resources their public libraries) to support libraries as the place where people go to find a better life.  May this better life continue being what libraries deliver, 52 weeks out of the year.

For the love of language

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“If language were liquid

It would be rushing in

Instead here we are

In a silence more eloquent

Than any word could ever be

Words are too solid

They don’t move fast enough

To catch the blur in the brain

That flies by and is gone”

Suzanne Vega, “Language” (1986)

I attended my first North Carolina Literary Festival when I was a student at Duke.  This event is presented on a rotating basis by the Duke University Libraries, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries, and the North Carolina State University Libraries.  What I have appreciated about this event since the beginning is its ability to bring together very diverse audiences — university students, retirees, academics, casual readers, families.  I’m not in a position to evaluate whether this attendance is primarily the result of good advertising or more a reflection of the make-up of the Triangle population or solely due to the star power of the authors, but no matter what, this Festival certainly counts as public outreach done well by these libraries.

This year, the theme was The Future of Reading — a challenge to the theory that reading is on the decline and also a recognition that reading is now occurring in different formats.  This afternoon, I got to listen to Tom Brothers talk about his research on Louis Armstrong that led to his book Master of Modernism.  Having long been a fan of the Satchmo, I was interested to learn more about his career in the 1920s and early 1930s, but I was also struck by the language the Brothers employed in his analysis.  I’m trained in history, so I already knew of the awkward line that black musicians walked in this era — often times playing to whites-only crowds — but Brothers spoke of Armstrong’s embracing the African American vernacular in his music played even to these white audiences.  I had never applied to term vernacular to music, but upon hearing Brothers’ use of it, I immediately understood and appreciated his meaning.

I also had the opportunity to hear Wiley Cash and Lee Smith read from their latest books — for Wiley Cash This Dark Road to Mercy and for Lee Smith Guests on Earth.  For me, the readings are always great because I like being able to hear the author’s words in her own voice.  Cash and Smith also prepared questions to ask each other as a means of providing the audience a window into their creative processes.  In speaking about inspirations, Cash explained that he thinks he learned how to write by reading others.  In answering a question about writing from different perspectives, he referenced the notion of Charles Chesnutt that all fiction is the act of rearranging your memory.  Smith had an interesting way to distinguish fiction from other genres, suggesting that “fiction is all about trouble.”  Without conflict, a story can be a form of reporting, but in her opinion, it doesn’t qualify as fiction.  Smith also talked of occasionally being surprised at the choices her characters make.  I one time heard Margaret Maron speak of a similar bafflement caused by her lead character Deborah Knott, so I wasn’t surprised to hear Smith speak in this fashion, but it still amuses me to consider that these characters they create can seemingly take on lives of their own.  Both in their printed prose and in their answers to impromptu questions from the audience, Smith and Cash caused me to marvel at their ability “to catch the blur in the brain” and share with their audiences language and characters whose voices and troubles are so compelling that we keep turning the pages.

Events like this North Carolina Literary Festival obviously require a great deal of planning and fundraising, but it is a worthy service to the community that should continue being supported by these university libraries as well as the sponsors.