About Nel W

Online MLIS candidate at the University of Washington iSchool, interested in archives and special collections.

Reflections on Stack Tracks

My thoughts after reflecting on our proposal for a mobile app, Stack Tracks, are the same as when we decided on the project: I think the idea behind Stack Tracks is a sound one. Bringing attention to libraries by highlighting unique features and services and encouraging people to visit libraries in person are important and worthwhile efforts, for a couple of reasons.

First, as the archivist I interviewed earlier this quarter mentioned, libraries are becoming similar in that it is easier than ever to get access to the same books and resources. Special collections are what make libraries unique.

And second, encouraging people to actually visit a special collection or an archive in person—which Stack Tracks will do via its trip planning functionality—is essential, as I noted in my portion of the literature review, because archives hold our collective heritage. I truly do believe that there is power in viewing a historical artifact in person rather than on a screen or reading about it in a book.

Ultimately, I think the project served its purpose of asking each of us to seriously consider taking our work to a professional setting. That had been intimidating to me, but both through this assignment and in talking with the archivist from my leader interview about presenting at professional conferences, it seems much more feasible and even fun.

Overall, I thought the process of creating our proposal for Stack Tracks went smoothly, especially given the time constraints imposed by receiving the project so late in the quarter. Our group worked well together and it was truly a collaborative effort. It was great working with Christie, Annette, Shannon, and Warren throughout the quarter.


Using apps to bring attention to libraries

For our project, the archives and special collections special interest group has decided to craft a proposal for a mobile application. This app, called Stack Tracks, will highlight libraries and provide information about their collections, as well as integrate with Google Maps or similar geographic information system technology to help users locate libraries that are nearby or on a certain route. We developed a list of topics that relate to different aspects of this project and divided them between us. In this post, I would like to outline my ideas for Stack Tracks, explain why I feel it is important, and share some articles that I found that I think are essential to read when considering using apps and other technology to bring attention to libraries.

A goal of Stack Tracks is to bring attention to libraries by highlighting unique features or services, and increase access to library collections—either by serving as a gateway to other, more in-depth apps and sites related to the libraries it identifies or by encouraging people to visit the libraries in person. This is important for a number of reasons.

First, as Dahlkild (2011) noted, increased interest in the concept of the digital library, or “the library without walls,” has heightened “interest in the library as a physical space” (p. 33). This app will take advantage of this in two ways. Because libraries have long been symbolic centers of learning, many communities have invested considerable time and money in erecting library buildings that are architecturally significant or which have become iconic landmarks (Dahlkild, 2011; Lamster, 2012; Latimer, 2011). Librarians also are becoming “experimentariums” (Niegaard, 2011, p. 177), using space and offering services in ways that are experimental, experiential, and innovative. Stack Tracks will draw people’s attention to architectural wonders and innovative environments alike.

As more library holdings become connected and books digitized and easier to find, it is special collections that continue to make libraries unique (Sandler, 2006). In addition, there has always been an element of the “curiosity cabinet” (Gwynn, 2011, p. 51) in the notion of a library, with many libraries owning or housing unique artifacts and artwork. By featuring these rare documents, collections, and unique artifacts, Stack Tracks will be increasing awareness of items that may have been long ignored or of which many people will have been unaware (Boyer, 2010; Morris & Davis, 2011).

By highlighting the rare and innovative, Stack Tracks will encourage people to consider the effort and thought that go into preservation and planning at libraries (Boyer, 2010). As such, it may work toward reversing stereotypes of librarians as outdated and overly preoccupied with rules and regulations (Radford, 2003), or as mere technicians, and of libraries as warehouses for books (Fernandez, 2009; Garrison, 1972-3).

Ultimately, projects like Stack Tracks are important because they increase awareness of libraries, archives, and collections (Boyer, 2010; Wong, 2012)—part of our effort to live up to the American Library Association and the Association of College and Research Libraries’ expectations that librarians understand “the importance of effective advocacy” (ALA, 2009, 1H) and that they promote “appreciation and use of special collections” (ACRL, 2008, 11.M-N)—and because they encourage people to visit libraries in person. Craig (2011) noted that “materiality, machines, people, presumptions, and multiple players of culture are part of the essential dimensions of any record” (p. 214); viewing a rare document in person rather than onscreen makes history real (Boyer, 2010). We need to encourage people to take advantage of libraries, archives, and special collections because they contain evidence of our past and provide “an account of the present for the future” (p. 233). Stack Tracks will join the efforts of other libraries and librarians to increase online and physical access of our shared heritage. At the same time, we want to remain true to libraries’ heritage as spaces of independent inquiry (Lilburn, 2012); while creating and distributing the app via mainstream commercial platforms is most realistic at this juncture, hopefully non-commercial alternatives will develop and increase the app’s reach.

For my portion of the literature review, I sought articles that focused on using apps and social media technologies to promote libraries. To locate relevant research, I used the University of Washington libraries to review prominent journals like Library Trends, Library Quarterly, and Library Journal, as well as conducted searches in Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts; Library and Information Science Abstracts; and Library Literature & Information Science. Here are the articles that I found most essential as background for this project:

[Note that if you are unaffiliated with the University of Washington, the article links below may not work]

Boyer, D. (2010). From internet to iPhone: Providing mobile geographic access to Philadelphia’s historic photographs and other special collections. The Reference Librarian, 52(1-2), pp. 47-56. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/10.1080/02763877.2011.521880

In the context of describing a project by the Philadelphia Department of Records to create a mobile site and app of historic photos and records, this article shows the potential of an app focused on special collections to increase access to holdings, use GIS technology to provide context, build interaction with the community, and increase collaboration with other institutions. Boyer also describes some of the challenges the project faced in creating the site and app, and offers guidelines for other organizations thinking of starting a similar project.

Lilburn, J. (April 2012). Commercial social media and the erosion of the commons: Implications for academic libraries. Libraries and the Academy, 12(2), pp. 139-153. Retrieved from http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/portal_libraries_and_the_academy/v012/12.2.lilburn.html

Although this article does not speak to using apps to increase awareness of special collections, I feel that it is an essential read for anyone thinking about whether or not to use social media and other technologies in promoting an academic or public library. Lilburn presents the other side of the story, so to speak, by pointing out that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are owned by private commercial companies, as are sites like iTunes that sell and promote apps. This raises important questions about whether this undermines the library as a place of open access. He asks, “what does it mean for libraries to establish a presence on proprietary platforms…How might libraries continue to offer an alternative to commercial space if we willingly participate in it?” (p. 145). I think the last question is most important. I’m not convinced that libraries can afford to ignore social media and other new technologies, but is there a way for them to participate that preserves the commons?

Wong, S.H.R. (2012). Which platforms do our users prefer: Website or mobile app? Reference Services Review, 40(1), pp. 103-115. DOI: 10.1108/00907321211203667

While taking place at a Hong Kong university, the experiment to determine whether users prefer a mobile site to an app that Wong describes in this article still has relevance to the US. Wong provides some useful and interesting statistics about mobile app use in the US, explains the advantages and disadvantages of apps and mobile sites, and contains tips and strategies useful for others considering building and promoting an app.

Bonus! Here are three other, short articles worth checking out:

Morris, C., & Davis, M. (2011). Expanding effective 21st century access to historical and academic materials: Examples, strategies and implications. Collaborative Librarianship, 3(3), pp. 154-156. Retrieved from http://offcampus.lib.washington.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=llf&AN=67046963&site=ehost-live

This article contains an anecdote about the success of the British Library’s iPad app that articulates a key reason for using mobile technology: to increase access and awareness. As Morris and Davis note, “many of the books displayed in the app may not have been viewed for over a hundred years. More than 60% of the titles in the app are not available elsewhere online, and prior to release, a researcher or casual reader would have had to get to London, make a Reading Room appointment and request books to review onsite” (p. 155).

Fernandez, J. (September-October 2009). A SWOT analysis for social media in libraries. Online, 33(5), pp. 35-37. Retrieved from http://offcampus.lib.washington.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=44372921&site=ehost-live

This brief article contains a general SWOT analysis of social media in libraries and points out the potential of social media to reverse stereotypes about librarians, by letting people see that “libraries are run by real people for real people with information needs” (p. 36).

Rapp, D. (February1, 2012). Apps: What do patrons want? Library Journal, p. 27. Retrieved from http://offcampus.lib.washington.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=70936842&site=ehost-live

This infographic illustrates the results of a recent survey conducted by Library Journal about what services patrons would like to have in a library app.

Blog recommendation: New & Noteworthy Collections from UCI

As I was searching online I came across this blog from the Langson Library at the University of California, Irvine, and thought I’d share it as an interesting example of a blog specifically dedicated to sharing items and collections from the archives. I especially like how, in some posts, they highlight a specific research situation and how the archivists were able to assist the researcher with something from the library. It really looks like the librarian puts a great deal of time, thought, and effort into this blog. Well done!

Library as Place: Penrose Memorial Library, Whitman College

Founded in 1859, just 12 years after Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were killed at the mission they’d established near present-day Walla Walla, Washington, Whitman College’s early years were lean ones as the school struggled to gain footing (Frazier & Paulus, 2006). Funding and resources were so inconstant that in 1882 the school library consisted entirely of one book and three educational reports (Frazier & Paulus, 2006). That year, though, Myron Eells, the son of Whitman’s founder, Cushing Eells, more than doubled the library’s collection by donating 10 books, 15 pamphlets, and 25 dollars (Frazier & Paulus, 2006). Twenty-five years later, he bequeathed his entire personal library and collections of Pacific Northwest artifacts to Whitman College (Frazier & Paulus, 2006); with these gifts the library that would eventually become Penrose Memorial Library truly took root.

In its earliest years, Penrose was located in the Memorial Building, the first stone building on Whitman’s campus (Frazier & Paulus, 2006). Growing the library’s collections was a priority but, as a consequence, they began taking up more and more space; the library first expanded from one floor in Memorial to two, then into an annex, and then collections had to be scattered to different locations around campus (Frazier & Paulus, 2006). A physical building for the library was needed—and not just because the collections were growing.

In order to remain viable as an institution of higher education, Whitman College needed to attract students capable of paying tuition and of supporting the school as alumni; in other words, students from prosperous families. To show these prospective students and their families that their monetary investment would be worthwhile, Whitman needed to demonstrate that it was dedicated to providing a quality education. Constructing a building for the library was one way to do that because it was symbolic of the value Whitman placed on learning. Education is the school’s raison d’être—it is its core mission as an institution—so it is unsurprising that when Whitman finally was able to build a dedicated library, it placed it in a prominent, central location on campus.

Organization of the main portion of Whitman’s 77 acre campus is reminiscent of northeastern prep and Ivy League schools in that ivy-covered brick academic buildings and dormitories line a central quadrangle (Fast, 2012). At the center is Ankeny Field, the primary common area for students (Crossroads, 2000). In 1957, the earliest iteration of a freestanding Penrose Memorial Library was built at one end of the quadrangle (Jurgens, 2004). Matching the style of the other buildings on campus, Penrose was a three story fireproof stone building (Frazier & Paulus, 2006), situated on the main pathway from one side of the campus to the other, “at the actual and symbolic heart of the campus” (Jurgens, 2004).

Dahlkild (2011) noted that two dominant trends in regard to library architecture have been the idea, on one hand, that library buildings should be iconic landmarks, and the view, on the other, that the library should reflect “the spirit of the place” (p. 28). Penrose clearly fell into the latter; it was well-situated and architecturally it blended in with the other buildings on campus. However, as the collections continued to grow through the 20th century and the college began considering ways to expand and renovate the library, the question arose as to whether something needed to be done to make it more prominent. After all, the library is a reflection of the college’s wealth and status (Gwynn, 2011); “the library building itself [is] a marketing tool” (Latimer, 2011, p. 126). Whitman needed to show current, ongoing investment in Penrose as a way of telling prospective students it had superior resources and, therefore, greater educational opportunities.

In 1974, the Stuart wing of the Penrose Memorial Library was completed and opened. This expansion, which increased the size of the library by 60% (Frazier & Paulus, 2006), had been added to the Ankeny side of Penrose—its natural entrance—and radically altered the appearance of the entire building. The “highlight of the addition [was] the construction of a dramatic entrance area” (Over, 1971); excavation around the library changed the entrance to the ground level and oriented it to the south, requiring students to walk down and away from Ankeny to enter (Crossroads, 2000; Jurgens, 2004; New, 1974; Over, 1971). The design was contemporary, distinctive, and unlike anything else on the quadrangle. It was an attempt to show Whitman’s investment in research and learning through current architecture, but it did so at the expense of “the spirit of the place” (Dahlkild, 2011, p. 28). Even worse, instead of becoming iconic, what was contemporary in the mid-1970s looked dated a quarter century later.

In 2000, as part of a complete renovation of the entire library building, the heavy brick façade from the Stuart wing was removed, the entrance was turned back to face Ankeny, and a two-story atrium was created to allow library users to see onto the field (Crossroads, 2000; Jurgens, 2004). These changes, according to the project’s architect, “repair the campus fabric and restore the intentions set forth by the original campus master plan” (Jurgens, 2004), which were to make “a strong physical connection between Penrose Memorial Library and the campus” (Crossroads, 2000) and establish the library “as the heart of academic life at Whitman College” (Crossroads, 2000). The brick used on the new building is from a “palette of materials that complements Memorial Hall and other historic buildings at Whitman” (Jurgens, 2004).

Since its founding, Whitman’s goal has always been to show students that its mission is education and that it invests its resources in providing the tools students need to succeed. The library as a place symbolizes this mission like no other building on campus can. To that end, Penrose Memorial Library is physically situated in an ideal place, right at the heart of student life on campus. Where Whitman College has struggled throughout its evolution is in using the power of the building itself in communicating the school’s commitment to remaining current, yet staying true to the spirit of the campus. The present day Penrose Memorial Library is a fine balance between these concepts. It may not be an architectural landmark, but it is prominent, eye-catching, and modern, yet its classical structure respects the landscape in which it is situated.


Crossroads of the college. (2000). Whitman College news. Retrieved from http://wwww.whitman.edu/news/libraryrev.html

Dahlkild, N. (2011). The emergence and challenge of the modern library building: Ideal types, model libraries, and guidelines, from the Enlightenment to the experience economy. Library Trends, 60(1), pp. 11-42.

Fast facts. (2012). Whitman College. Retrieved from http://www.whitman.edu/content/about/facts

Frazier, B. & Paulus, M.J. (Fall 2006). The Whitman College Penrose Library. ACRL Washington Newsletter. Retrieved from https://dspace.lasrworks.org/bitstream/handle/10349/827/Penrose%20Library%20Feature.pdf?sequence=1

Gwynn, L. (2011). The design of the English domestic library in the seventeenth century: Readers and their book rooms. Library Trends, 60(1), pp. 43-53.

Jurgens, K. (2004, May 20). College libraries cater to widening needs. Library design and construction. Retrieved from http://www.djc.com/news/ae/11157133.html

Latimer, K. (2011). Collections to connections: Changing spaces and new challenges in academic library buildings. Library Trends, 60(1), pp. 112-133.

New Whitman library almost completed. (1974, January 6). Walla Walla Union Bulletin, pp. 10.

Niegaard, H. (2011). Library space and digital challenges. Library Trends, 60(1), pp. 174-189.

Over $1 million given for Whitman library. (1971, May 24). Walla Walla Union Bulletin, pp. 1.

Library as Place Preview

Although I’ve already posted about a past visit to the Whitman College and Northwest Archives and some of the considerations impacting the design of the archival reading room, for the library as place assignment I have decided to focus on the architecture of Penrose Memorial Library (the library housing the Northwest Archives) as a whole. The readings this week—particularly the articles by Gwynn and Latimer, and their discussions of what a library space symbolizes—have made me think about the library in ways that I hadn’t considered before, namely what Penrose stands for in relation to the college as a whole and how that impacts the library building—from how the college architects oriented it on campus to the evolution in its architecture.

On a slightly related note, I came across this blog post today and thought I’d pass it along. It mentions several things we’ve talked about this quarter—library stereotypes and various ways libraries are “reinventing” themselves.

Keeping sticky fingers out of the archives

The interview I conducted last week introduced me to a few aspects of archival and special collections librarianship that I hadn’t considered before. Although only a little part of the discussion made it into my post, Melissa talked quite a bit about how difficult it can be for people to part with their collections and that’s where building good relationships comes in—it’s important to make sure donors know that you’ll be a good steward of their material. And that involves not just making sure researchers know about, have access to, and make use of the collection, but also having formal policies and procedures in place to govern how people interact with the material—no eating, drinking, or writing in pen, for instance. One thing we didn’t specifically talk about, but which certainly falls into this same realm, is having adequate security for the material in the archives.

This point was brought home to me when I opened up my copy of Washington State Magazine’s Summer 2012 issue, which also arrived last week. The issue contains a fascinating article about the Regla Papers, how WSU (then Washington State College) acquired them in the 1940s, how parts of them disappeared in the 1980s, and how they (and as it turns out, lots and lots of other incredibly valuable items from universities and colleges all over the US) were recovered. I loved this part: the thief—the infamous Stephen Blumberg—“later told a writer that he believed he was protecting the books and manuscripts from neglect or worse in the hands of the libraries.”

It’s an extremely interesting article and worth checking out. As the article notes, because of this case, many libraries “have changed the way they house and use their rare materials.”


Interview with Melissa Salrin, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian

Melissa Salrin is the Archivist and Special Collections Librarian at the Whitman College and Northwest Archives in Walla Walla, WA. She received her MA in history and her MLIS from the University of Illinois, where she also spent nearly three years as Archival Operations and Reference Specialist. At last year’s national meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA), she was one of the speakers on a panel discussing Practical Approaches to Born-Digital Records. For me, she personifies leadership through her commitment to lifelong learning, good stewardship, and helping academic and local researchers make connections.

How did you become interested in librarianship?
My mother—a librarian—always said, “You don’t have to know everything, you just have to know where to find it,” and that stuck with me. It’s all about helping people figure out what they need, how to get it efficiently and not be overwhelmed by the amount of information that they can find, and how to vet the information. To me, being a librarian allows you to do that, to help people. The point of education is learning how to think critically, analyze sources, and understand arguments. Librarians are crucial to that entire process because we help people make connections.

What’s one of your goals for the Northwest Archives?
We have Pacific Northwest holdings, records pertaining to Whitman College’s history, and materials to support the research of the students and faculty on campus, but there also are people in the community who are interested in these issues and I’d like to promote these kinds of connections. I’d love to do something with local schoolchildren to help them see what kinds of things you can find in the library and get them excited. I think if you can help students understand from a young age why libraries are important it sets them up for a lifetime of being good advocates and stewards of these kinds of collections.

What’s an important issue facing archives and special collections?
People really want to know what to do with electronic records. The possibilities of promoting access are greater but the dangers are also greater. If a professor retires and says, ‘Here, empty out my office,” now you have 20 cubic feet of material that probably won’t be digitized. Obviously you go through to remove sensitive material, but if you accidentally miss something a researcher will show you and you can just take it out. But if the professor says, “Have my hard drive,” you can provide access online but people then can troll through it more easily, too.

But to not act, to say, “It’s too impossible, so we’re not going to worry about it,” isn’t a good solution. As good archivists, we need to be involved in records management issues because people aren’t very good about imposing order on the way they use electronic records. That’s something I didn’t really appreciate before library school—that you need to be aware of copyright, law, what court cases are saying, what responsibilities you have as someone who works in a library. It’s a lot more complicated than people think.

When people find something in the archives, do they recognize the work of the archivist in making those records accessible?
If they’re good researchers they do recognize the value of the archivist. Since there’s so much unprocessed material in the archives, if we can do minimal processing to help expose this content and put finding aids online so that they’re indexed by Google, so that people can just search and say, “Oh gosh, here’s something in this little archive,” that’s really valuable.

It’s enjoyable and gratifying as a librarian when you see someone working on a project and you can say, “Here’s another search strategy you may want to use” or “You’re studying this, and it’s drawing to mind for me this other thing, so let me pull that for you.” You’re a scholar and you have to be able to know how to talk to other scholars so you can anticipate what they’re seeking and know when you’re processing something who is going to be using it and what kinds of research questions might they ask. It’s important to engage your own mind and help them find and use the resources in your archives or special collections to the fullest.

Do you have any advice for MLIS students interested in archives or special collections?
For most jobs in special collections and archives it’s good to have a second master’s degree in a subject area and some language skills, especially reading skills. And it’s really good to have a record of professional engagement. Join organizations like ALA and SAA and attend conferences. Don’t be afraid to throw your hat out there and say, “I want to present.” You have things to say and people really want to hear your perspective. So don’t be shy about getting involved.