Working with Stack Tracks

As Christie and Nel both noted below, the collaborative effort put forth by our group members for this final assignment was great. The proposal/writing about Stack Tracks seemed to fall together with ease–everyone contributed equally to a project for which we held (and still hold) enthusiasm. The learning process for this project–to visualize, research, and present ideas for a new mobile application that could change the way we relate to libraries–was clear and rewarding.

Because the scope of Stack Tracks is so large, the literature review with which we started the project was (to say the least) useful. As I noted in my lit. review of examples that Stack Tracks might study/follow, part of our responsibility as library professionals lies in shaping and presenting information in the best ways we know how, especially where technology is concerned. This project allowed us to think about both raw data and aesthetics. In other words, what coding and testing might be necessary to get Stack Tracks up and running, and how could the interface of a mobile app like Stack Tracks be made visually appealing? Those are just a couple of the many questions we considered and addressed in the course of this project.

As has also been mentioned, there’s nothing that compares to actually visiting a special collections division, or archive, or repository, etc. That said, mobile apps–especially if they’re well designed, informative, and intriguing–could act as great motivators for a library user to visit her school’s special collections division, or encourage a student in search of an in-depth source or artifact to visit an archive. Stack Tracks’ ability to plan and guide is one of its great strengths; ST would prove highly supportive in both of the situations mentioned above.

Working on this project allowed our group time and space to figure the transformations that are bound to occur in future information technology. The project allowed us room to consider information technology’s ever-changing role in special collections and archives, too.

Many thanks to Annette, Christie, Nel, and Warren for this quarter’s encouraging group work experience.


Examples To Live Up To


By now, it’s likely clear to you that our group is working on a mobile application for use amid the stacks. Given this fact, another area we’d do well to look at would be standout examples of libraries—especially academic libraries—at the forefront of mobile app integration. For my part, I found said examples, and in doing so consulted a wide range of sources—American Library Association, Coalition for Networked Information, Library Journal, and Elsevier’s Library Connect, to name those on which I eventually settled. Based on the findings for this literature review, it seems that the past two years especially have seen a rapid increase in research, writing, presentations, conferences, and plain ol’ discussion about how libraries can make space for, and be creative with, mobile technology.

In “The History of Information Science and Other Traditional Information Domains: Models for Future Research,” William Aspray offers excellent reasoning for library professionals’ heightened conversation regarding mobile technology: “We increasingly live in a world that is technology driven, and to study the information domains without paying close attention to those domains most closely associated with information technology is to see the world with blinders” (Aspray). He goes on to note, “Technology influences the nature of work.”

Think about it: how often do you use apps via your iStuff or your Smartstuff to map a location, read a restaurant review, make a grocery list, or take a picture? For many of us, mobile apps have changed the ways in which we go about our daily routines, not to mention the ways in which we store, send, remember (and forget!) information. And the students with whom we’ll work in academic libraries—I’m thinking here of both undergraduates and graduate—likely rely on their mobile technology far more than do most LIS 501ers. Point being: our future as library and information professionals depends on a) our understanding of how information-seeking behaviors have changed with the advent of mobile technology, and b) how well we can adapt mobile technology to fit the needs of library users.

At last year’s American Library Association Annual Conference, mobile apps were widely discussed. Mentioned in David Rapp’s “ALA Annual 2011: Top Tech Trends: Apps on the Upswing” were Oregon State University and North Carolina State University, both for their incorporation of academic course resources into mobile apps. And if you’ll recall, a major tenet of the ALA’s Core Competences of Librarianship requires that we, as librarians, put to use “…principles and techniques necessary to identify and analyze emerging technologies and innovations in order to recognize and implement relevant technological improvement” (4D, “ALA Core Competences…). Not only is it our responsibility to remain up-to-date on technology such as mobile apps, it’s also our responsibility to mold and present information for best use via said technology. With that in mind, I offer a few highly informative pieces that highlight academic libraries’ mobile app creations—examples that our group might aspire to in constructing Stack Tracks.

*”Center of Attention” from Library Connect in conjunction with Digital Collections on DukeMobile iPhone App

Mentioned in Lisa Carlucci Thomas’s “Gone Mobile? (Mobile Libraries Survey 2010),” DukeMobile has proved to be a boon to Duke University libraries and their patrons. Though Library Connect‘s line of questioning with Web Designer Sean Aery and Digital Collections Program Coordinator Jill Katte is succinct, the responses given by Aery and Katte are informative. They’re also a great prep/overview for the YouTube video created by Duke University Libraries as a demonstration of DukeMobile’s capabilities. Aery and Katte articulate examples of DukeMobile aids library users, while the video demonstration provides a thorough how-to of the app.

**Mobile Library Projects at North Carolina State University

An extensive presentation of several mobile projects at North Carolina State University, Tito Sierra’s PowerPoint stands as an invaluable example of the varied ways in which mobile apps might/can be of help to library and information professionals in their work with library patrons. Sierra’s “Guiding Principle” slides are must-reads for anyone thinking of (and for those preparing to) build useful mobile apps. Plenty of pictures—excellent here as clear examples—and minimal text make this PowerPoint a useful, necessary tool.

***Gone Mobile? (Mobile Libraries Survey 2010)

Lisa Carlucci Thomas’s Mobile Libraries Survey for Library Journal covers a great deal of ground in a clear, no-nonsense manner. With examples of academic libraries that have taken great strides in mobile technology—Duke University, the University of Oregon, and Yale University, to name a few—and data presented in useful charts and graphs, Thomas’s survey is a good comprehensive picture of where mobile technology is, and where it’s headed. The subheads/divisions here are helpful as well—Budgets, Priorities, Skills, Perception, etc. Thomas addresses both the benefits and challenges of working with mobile technology, while also discussing possibilities for future funding and implementation of all things mobile.


NYC Municipal Archives Boon

A few weeks ago, New York City’s Department of Records debuted its photo database–nearly 1 million images of NYC that date back to the mid-1800s. I’m sometimes wary of massive digitization projects (if you haven’t, take a look at Google’s awesome/terrifying digitization flubs at The Art of Google Books), but the NYCDR’s project has turned out well. I’ve been gawking at old images of the city for several days now. Have a look!

Library as Place: Seattle University’s A.A. Lemieux Library & James McGoldrick Learning Commons

In the eight years I’ve lived in Seattle, a handful of those years were spent living near Seattle University, on the border of the city’s Central District and Capitol Hill neighborhoods. At the time I lived near SU, its library was undergoing extensive renovations. Nearly two years after the A.A. Lemieux Library & James McGoldrick Learning Commons September 2010 dedication, I made my way back to SU to explore the Lemieux Library’s functionality and design. Moreover, I wanted to glean how/whether the library and learning commons’ functionality and design are aiding the undergraduate learning experience at SU.

Before I address my time at Lemieux/McGoldrick, I want to make note of a standout assertion from Scott McLemee’s “For Books, Against Boilerplate,” which is this: “Using a library involves certain skills; they must be conveyed between human beings, rather than Googled.” Now take a look at the Lemieux Library’s mission:

A.A. Lemieux Library integrates comprehensive collections, flexible and personalized services, innovative instructional programs, collaborative relationships, and enabling technologies – operating in, and accessible through, the physical and the digital environments – to make a powerful impact on the educational and scholarly processes of inquiry, discovery, teaching, and learning for the Seattle University academic community (Lemieux mission statement).

Clearly, the Lemieux is into conveying information between human beings (the phrase “collaborative relationships” is big, no?), in addition to helping said human beings make intelligent choices in their use of all things digital. When I walked into the Lemieux (now 125,000 square feet when combined with the learning commons), I walked into a bright, pristine entryway. One of the great features of Lemieux/McGoldrick is that large, easterly windows allow excellent natural light into the building—on all floors. Goodbye gritty flourescent glare!

To my immediate left near the entryway was a reading/technology room (with sound mixing station to boot), and in front of me was a directory before a flight of stairs that leads to the library’s collection. As you can see in the directory picture, floors and the materials on said floors are well labeled. Once on the second floor, I walked into the collections section of the library. The first thing I saw: an information desk. After that, a writing center, math lab, research stations, comfortable seating areas for study, and two large staircases that wind upward to the third through sixth floors—where books, circulation, reading rooms, and library departments can be found.

I appreciated that I wasn’t bombarded by books upon entering the library, and that the reference librarian at the information desk was nearby for help. The design of the Lemieux gives library users time to adjust to surroundings, and the staircases (which seemed massive to me) are obvious visual cues to go up.

On the third floor, many students made use of study rooms, reading rooms, and the circulation desk. In fact, one reading room on the third floor is a designated quiet room (see picture) – no keyboards allowed. And folks, it is quiet—hear-a-pin-drop quiet. Everywhere I went in Lemieux/McGoldrick, students were at work, others were taking it easy with a book, and most seemed to be enjoying their time there. It was so nice outside that students were studying on the library lawn, too.

One of my (minimal) grouses with the library’s design is the public’s inability to take an elevator to the fourth through sixth floors of the building (again, see picture). Once on the third floor of the library, students, faculty, staff, etc. can make their way to subsequent floors, but others have to be okayed to do so. The intent behind the six-floor design at Lemieux/McGoldrick is to have each floor become successively quieter. If you don’t like third floor noise, again, go up for quiet. Granted, when I visited, quiet seemed to be easy to find. Study rooms were full, but groups working at tables in the library were considerate about their sound.

Given that the critical factor in Lemieux/McGoldrick’s functionality and design is to integrate—that single word in the mission statement does a lot of work—the library more than succeeds at what it sets out to do. Take a look at Lemieux/McGoldrick’s floor plan. Notice that stations, stopping points, room to catch one’s breath, etc. are all present in the building’s design.

To me, it seems that using a library isn’t a linear progression of events. In other words, one browses in a library, whether browsing via technology (catalogs, databases, etc.) or browsing stacks. Lemieux/McGoldrick not only allows its patrons to wander and explore for awhile, it also places library staff at the points where they’re likely to be needed most—near the entrance to the library (reference) and near materials (circulation desk on the second floor). A library user at Lemieux/McGoldrick isn’t alone in the process of finding material, accessing databases, getting help with editing a paper, or studying, and through intelligent design and functionality she’s given choices. Providing students with interesting choices for academic assistance, especially in a research and study setting, might make them more apt to hang around, or even…come back.

In “NYPL: Where’s the Model?” Mark Lamster notes, “The library can’t help but face the future, and do so in a proactive way.” And though he’s talking about New York Public Library, the same notion can be applied to Lemieux/McGoldrick. A complete remodel of the old SU library, the present Lemieux/McGoldrick came to be through $55 million in donations to the school. Yes, technology is all over the place, on every floor. But tangible materials (books, media, etc.) are just as present in Lemieux/McGoldrick. Students are engaged with their surroundings at Lemieux/McGoldrick, they’re engaged with one another, and they’re engaged with library staff. Needless to say, I was impressed by the Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons, where the physical and digital realms are equally represented.

Ask an Archivist

A few days ago, The Hairpin (one of my morning reading sites) featured a Q&A/write-up called Ask an Archivist. Intended as an introduction to what goes on in archives, what archivists do, etc., the Q&A is smart and humorous without being too snarky. Answers are given by women who happen to be archivists, though their identities aren’t revealed (likely due to workplace privacy/policy).

If you’re curious and have a little bit of reading time available, this Q&A’s a good, informative ticket. Check it out!

Nancy Kuhl, Curator of Poetry for the Yale Collection of American Literature

Nancy Kuhl is the Curator of Poetry for the Yale Collection of American Literature at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. In addition to working as a curator, Nancy is also a poet. She’s written several chapbooks, as well as two full-length collections of poems—The Wife of the Left Hand (Shearsman Books, 2007) and Suspend (Shearsman, 2010). Beyond that, she’s co-editor of Phylum Press.

Given her thorough knowledge of librarianship and poetry, her enthusiasm for sharing that knowledge, and her practical outlook on the field of librarianship, Nancy exemplifies dedication and leadership.

Where did you work on your master’s?

At SUNY-Buffalo. By that time, I had two master’s degrees—a MA and a MFA. I wasn’t entirely sure that I’d like working in a library, but it seemed like I ought to try. And I liked it. When I started taking classes in library school, I also got a 10-hour-a-week job in the rare books collection at Buffalo. It was in that context that I learned about rare books librarianship. I also worked reference and supported curators with research, and I had the opportunity to see how scholars were using the collection. It was a great asset going into the field.

What was your first full-time library job?

It was as a reference and instruction librarian at Amherst College for a year. Amherst has a terrific library for a school of its size. Working there was an important opportunity in terms of becoming aware of the day-to-day work that librarians do.

The Assistant Curator job that I was hired for at Yale was posted when I was in library school, and I applied even though I hadn’t finished my degree. But the search was cancelled. In the interim, I graduated and got the job at Amherst, and then the Assistant Curator job was reposted. I applied, and that’s how I ended up at Yale.

What’s the layout of a typical work week for you at Yale?

My day-to-day work is dynamic. Building the collection, managing it, and then outreach and interpretation are three major parts of my work. I do collection development, and for me that means working with booksellers, doing donor relations. It means managing a budget, too. I work with my colleagues at all levels to give them a sense of what I’m acquiring, why I’m acquiring it, what kinds of preservation needs it has. It’s a very collaborative, open conversation.

Then there’s interpretation and education. That means everything from managing major exhibitions, writing exhibition catalogs, meeting with classes, going to conferences to talk about the collections, meeting with the fellows who use the collection.

And once in awhile I’ll get a call from someone who might say, “I found something in a cabinet that might be in Langston Hughes’s handwriting. My grandmother knew him…” That kind of possibility keeps things interesting.

With what frequency do you work with students and faculty at Yale? And with what frequency do you work with the general public? Based on what you’ve said, it sounds like there’s not an even divide.

At Yale, we think of undergraduate students as our primary constituents. There are a lot of sessions with undergrad classes. For all the classes that I meet, maybe four of 18 students in each class will come in to do research. And that seems like a good return to me.

I’ve been at the library over ten years, and I’ve developed relationships with faculty who are frequent users of the collection. And visiting fellows come from all over the place. It’s an opportunity for me to learn how scholars are interacting with my collections. Then I know how to fit acquisitions into the bigger picture of where scholarship is and where it might be going.

What’s an example of a recent exhibition you’ve worked on?

I worked on an exhibition last year for the 100th anniversary of the Yale Collection of American Literature. We (my co-curator and I) did a greatest hits celebration of the collection. It was very popular because it included what people love—first editions of important American works, real highlights of our collection.

The other exhibition I did last year was called Psyche and Muse: Creative Entanglements with the Science of the Soul. I co-curated it with three other curators, which we hadn’t done before. I proposed it as an exhibition about literary modernism and psychoanalysis in the American Lit. Collection. That’s another kind of exhibition we do—look at a theme across a different range of different collections. It’s much more driven by our academic and scholarly interests. We look at the collection and draw out a component that’s really compelling to us.

How has digitization affected the work you’ve done, and how do you see it affecting the work you do in the future?

We’re trying to figure out if we’re making tools that are useful to scholars and the general public. There’s the conversation that’s happening around born digital materials and library archives. We’re actively collecting email and digital versions of things we’ve been collecting in paper—manuscripts, notes and documents, journals, correspondence. We’re asking a lot of questions about how to do this in a sustainable, long-term way. It’s exciting to imagine keyword searching across emails and Word files to find all the occasions where a writer’s interested in a particular subject.

There’s all this textual exchange that happens now in environments where nothing is saved, and that upsets me. I’m glad that the Library of Congress is archiving Twitter.

In addition to working as a curator in a library, you’re also a poet. How do those parts of your life intersect?

I feel really lucky. I’m fortunate that I have the extraordinary opportunity to work with this collection—that I happen to be a poet who loves H.D. and William Carlos Williams, and I happen to be the curator of their papers. It never gets boring.

And archives, just by their nature, especially in a huge collection like the one I work with, are always revealing themselves. I’m never going to know everything about H.D.’s papers. A great example of this is that I’d just put up this enormous exhibition (Psyche & Muse…) that included information about H.D. and her relationship with Freud. A professor asked me to show his students H.D.’s correspondence to William Carlos Williams, which I’d never looked at because I’d never had occasion to. And there were these compelling letters that H.D. wrote to William Carlos Williams when she was 18, 19, 20. It was so funny to me that I was steeped in H.D.’s work, and here was this opportunity to explore a different H.D. in a different time and place. It was exciting. I like that I get to share that with people.

What advice would you offer to students considering careers in academic librarianship, archives, special collections, rare books, etc.?

My experience working as a reference librarian equipped me to do my curator’s work in a way that was very complementary. I knew I wanted to be in a rare book library, but I didn’t rule out other possibilities. If you think you’re interested in being on the front end, look at any reference and instruction job, any kind of outward-facing job. If what you’re really interested in is more technical stuff, look at any cataloging job, any entry-level archivist’s job.

Casting a wide net is useful—to limit oneself at entry level would be a mistake. In terms of what kind of work you want to do, I think it’s a good idea to have a big imagination.

Searchable Civil Rights Movement voice recordings now available via Vanderbilt University

Interviews recorded by Robert Penn Warren as he traveled the U.S. to speak with civil rights leaders in 1964 were made available in digital format this week (click the link to make the jump). The Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt University now houses the recordings. The archive at the RPWC also includes interview transcripts and photos.

For me, the crucial point in this piece of news comes courtesy of Mona Frederick, executive director of the RPWC: “This is a wonderful example of how, in the age of digital humanities, split collections can be made whole and anyone with access to the Internet can use the material.” 

A question that comes to mind after reading about the Penn Warren Center digitization is this: Is digitization the best way to present fragile/valuable material to the public? And another question: How do we decide what to digitize (in terms of “worth”)? True, these questions have been posed to those with archival/special collections/curatorship interest before, but what do you think?