Tag Archives: Librarians

National Library Week 2018 – Musings

Librarians are the true superheroes–they can help us find our best selves & carve out the future we want, instead of  what’s thrown at us. – Laurie Halse, author

This week (April 8-14) is celebrated nationwide as National Library Week 2018.  During the week, I have fervently devoted a good deal of time reading and pondering the expanding and necessary role of libraries in this, the “Information Age.”

By week’s end, I have once again concluded that what we should be celebrating is National Librarians Week.  Clearly it is people, not buildings, that shape the library experience today.  And never has the role of library workers been more essential for individual seekers of truth, for their communities, and to the fate of an informed and thinking democracy.

As week’s end, I’m at a loss for words to express the urgency I feel about the challenge facing librarians – and for decision-makers who determine the fate of libraries and librarians in a political environment neither recognizes nor values truth-seeking as a priority.

And so, as I grapple with confusion and concern, I look for hope in the words and thoughts of others.   I have sought for and embraced articulate defenders, those who understand and write about the range of ways in which librarians create community, inform decision-making, and preserve American values – with gusto.

Overwhelmed by concerns about critical and independent thinking in this democracy I turn to more articulate spokespersons to share their vision and hope for libraries and librarians. Try to take time this weekend to peruse, if briefly one of more of these thoughtful essays:

And, if we have the snowfall that’s predicted, you might want to take a quick look at some past blog posts on libraries and the critical thinking skills that inform and fulfill the hope that inspires this democracy.  https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/information-and-media-not-weapons-but-tools/

Democracy depends on an informed population. And where can people get all the information they need? —At the Library.” – Elliot Shelkrot,
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Celebrate American Archives Month!

The very term “archives” conjures images of dust and decay accompanied by acrid aromas and tended by bespectacled history geeks.  All wrong.  And anyone who has ever explored family or house history, faced a legal dilemma, or wondered about local lore has had a brush with paper, digital or other archives.

 

October is American Archives Month, a season to be celebrated by the most tempero-centric – a time to think for a minute that those preserved photos, clippings, stories, public records and more didn’t just happen but have been collected, organized, preserved and made accessible through the deliberate and committed work of individuals and the commitment of institutions. 

 

At the time of the Minnesota Sesquicentennial I skimmed the state’s archival surface to compile a random list of irresistible lures to the world of archives.  Over the years I’ve tweaked it a bit – and was amazed to find it posted (sans attribution) on the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information website.  I have not checked to see if the original was edited by that group.

 

For some time I have wanted to share this listing and concluded that American Archives Month 2011 might be a propitious opportunity to resurface the whimsical list, slightly pruned and otherwise modified – not significantly updated because the month is just too short for a serious revision.

 

Many of the materials and descriptions here are accessible online; the print listings suggest a link to digital options. Because the digital resources offer an absolute minimum of the preserved record, we need and always will need multiple access options. Though digitization is growing at an exponential rate, its main contribution is to lure the armchair searcher into a passion to know more and to make the minimal effort to learn more.

 

This random list is absolutely arbitrary and whim-biased  with links to minute bits of Minnesota history.  Each of these guides, descriptions, stories was prepared by a Minnesotan, an organization or a state agency that cared enough about the state’s stories to collect, preserve, organize or otherwise help create the legacy.  Not everything is digitized or on the web – websites are just the most accessible right now.  These sites exemplify the ways in which Minnesotans have used the public records to plumb the depths of their particular interest or passion or legal encounter. 

 

Tending to the record of Minnesota is a collective responsibility and a public trust.  It takes personal conviction, time, talent and public support.  Without these and hundreds of thousands of other records, carefully organized and preserved, the Sesquicentennial would signify the passage of time rather than the values, the experience, the public record, and the recognition that access to information is at the very core of the democracy we share.  The challenge of today is to embrace that principle so that 21st technology enhances access to the building blocks and expands the embrace of this diverse, informed and sharing culture.

 

The disorganization is absolutely arbitrary – draw no conclusions. The omissions are legion.  Though a comprehensive and authoritative list would be a wonderful tool, the universe of possibilities is well nigh infinite and digitization is having a daily and profound impact on the possibilities. 

 

Pick a topic, probe a bit, and pause to think a bit about why and how we  preserve the data and the stories of our state.  Some places to start, bearing in mind that each of these tools reflects the commitment and labor, past and continuing, of an archivist and, in many cases, an institution:

 

Minnesota Archives, Minnesota Historical Society – MHS, along with several state agencies, is taking a lead at the national level in preserving the state’s own information digital resources.  It’s a monumental undertaking that does Minnesotans proud!  The depth of resources and the collaborative efforts of state agencies deserve an American Archives Month commendation. 

 

Minnesota Reflections, an overwhelming and growing collection of documents, photographs, maps, letters and more that tell the state’s story – a great starting point for any age.

 

James K. Hosmer Special Collections, Hennepin County Library – actually a collection of collections on topics ranging from Minneapolis history to club files to World War II and Abolition.  Much is digitized but, as always, that is but the tip of the iceberg – a tip worth checking out however.

 

Minnesota Place Names; a geographical encyclopedia, by Warren Upham.  A classic, originally published in 1920 and now available on line through the Minnesota Historical Society.   Overflowing with wonderful stories. 

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West Bank Boogie.  If you were around in the 60’s and 70’s you’ll be reminded – if not, see what you missed!  Cyn Collins is the collector and storyteller.

 

Holland, Maurice, Architects of Aviation, 1951.  William Bushnell Stout 1880-1956.  One man’s determination to record the stories of our aviation history.

 

A knack for knowing things: Stories from St. Paul neighborhoods and beyond, by Don Boxmeyer.  BiblioVault.

 

The Cuyuna iron range – Geology and Minerology, by Peter McSwiggen and Jane Cleland.

 

Ron Edwards, The Minneapolis Story Through My Eyes: A Renaissance Black Man in a White Man’s World. Continued by a bi-weekly column from The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder  and a TV show on Channel 17.

 

Center for International Education (The CIE) – a self-proclaimed “media arts micro-organization” the goal of which is to “make poetic media with people of all ages from all over the world.”  Videos including interviews with Robert Bly, Tom McGrath, Jim Northrup, Frederick Manfred and documentaries on Eugene McCarthy, Paul Wellstone, Robert Bly, and much more. The world of Media Mike Hazard.

 

Alexander G. Huggins Diary and Huggins Family Photographs, Collections Up Close.  This is just one of numerous podcasts and blogs describing in depth the individual collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.  Re-live the day-to-day travels of this mission family in Minnesota 1830-1860.  Just a sample of the podcast/blogs from MHS.

 

Minnesota Tobacco Document Depository – built as part of the settlement with Philip Morris, Inc. et al.  26 million pages of documents.

 

Frances Densmore  Prolific writer and chronicler of the cultures of the Dakota and Ojibwe and other Native American Tribes.  Densmore also recorded over 2,000 wax cylinders of Native music.

 

The Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies, University of Minnesota Libraries.

Ramseyer-Northern Bible Society Collection.  The largest non-seminary Bible collection in the Upper Midwest.  Donald J. Pearce, Curator.

Rhoda Gilman, historian extraordinaire,  The Story of Minnesota’s Past, just one of several books by Gilman.   “The Dakota War and the State Sesquicentennial” is a more current blog representing her ongoing contributions to preserve and elucidate Minnesota’s story.  Google Rhoda Gilman for more glimpses of her writings over the past several decades.

 

Evans, Rachel.  Tribal College Librarians Build Map Database, Library of Congress Info Bulletin, Oct. 2002

The Archie Givens, Sr. Collection of African American Literature, University of Minnesota Libraries.

Perfect Porridge.  A good compilation of the TC’s Electropunk scene and lots of information about what’s happening on the broadly-defined media scene.

 

Saint Paul Police Historical Society, Saint Paul Police Oral History Project.  One man’s (Timothy Robert Bradley’s)  passion shared with the public.

 

William Watts Folwell,  Though  Folwell was best known as the first President of the University of Minnesota from 1868-1884 he moved on from that post to serve as professor of political science and continued as University Library until 1907.  The Folwell family papers, 1898-1944, can be found in the U of M Archives.

 

This Sister Rocks!  Thirty years ago Joan Kain, CSJ wrote a small book Rocky Roots: Three Geology Walking Tours of Downtown St. Paul.  The book, which  resurfaced during the 2006 International Rock Symposium, is now being edited for reissue by the Ramsey County Historical Society.

 

Lowertown, a project of the St. Paul Neighborhood Network, interviews artists who live, work and exhibit in Lowertown St. Paul.  The website also provides links to the websites of the individual arts.  A rich celebration and close-up view of this area’s art community.

 

Park Genealogical Books are this community’s specialists in genealogy and local history for Minnesota and the surrounding area.  Their list of publication includes how-to’s on genealogy, research hints and unique assists for anyone working on Minnesota genealogy, records and archives.  The life’s work of Mary Bakeman.

 

Fort Snelling Upper Post is a labor of love on the part of Todd Hintz.  Todd offers an historical timeline, a description of the current situation, wonderful photos by Mark Gustafson and an intro to related resources.  Great for anyone who cares of preservation of Fort Snelling.

 

Minnesota Historical Society, Oral History Collection.  Pioneers of the Medical Device Industry in Minnesota.  A sample of the rich oral history collection of the MHS.

 

Scott County Historical Society, Stans Museum.  Minnesota Greatest Generation Scott County Oral History Project.

 

Haunted Places in Minnesota.  Scores of deliciously spooky sites you’ve probably visited – but never will again – without trepidation.

 

Minnesota Museum of the Mississippi. Postcards and lots of memorabilia that tell the story of the river.

 

Special Libraries Association.  MN SLA: Early Chapter History (1943-1957)

 

Land Management Information Center – zillions of maps and mountains of data, plus people to help.

 

Minnesota Legislature, Geographic Information Services – maps of legislative and congressional districts, election results, school districts and much more.

 

Minnesota State University, Moorhead, Library.  Maps and Atlases – great guide to government produced maps and atlases

 

Minnesota Public Records Directory.  A commercial listing of Minnesota’s public records sources.

 

Minnesota Senate Media Coverage – live and archive coverage of Senate floor sessions, committee hearings, press conferences and special events.

 

Minnesota Office of the Revisor of Statutes – statutes, indexes, rules, drafting manuals and more.

 

Minnesota State Law Library, Minnesota Legal Periodical Index.  A practical guide prepared by the state’s law librarians.

 

Minnesota Historical Society Press, Minnesota History.  Quarterly publication featuring original researched articles, illustrations, photographs and other treasures from the MHS.

 

The Civil War Archive – more than you ever needed to know about the Union Regiment in Minnesota.

George, Erin.  Delving deeper: Resources in U’s Borchert Map Library, Continuum 2007-08. description of the massive resources of the U of M’s Borchert Library.

Shapiro, Linda.  Art History Goes Digital..   Description of the digitizing initiatives of the University of Minnesota’s collections.

 

Drawing: Seven Curatorial Responses.  Katherine E. Nash Gallery.  Curators’ perspectives on the challenge of organizing and make accessible this one art format.

 

The Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums.  A forum for peer assistance among over fifty county, city and other local historical societies.

 

Minnesota Historical Society Collections Up Close.  Beautifully illustrated podcasts about what’s new at the MHS.  Regularly updated.

 

The Tell G. Dahllof Collection of Swedish Americans, University of Minnesota Libraries.  The collection encompasses American history seen from a Swedish perspective, the history of Swedish emigration to America, Swedish culture in America, and general descriptions by Swedish travelers to America.

 

University of Minnesota Media History Project, promoting media history “from petroglyphs to pixels.”

Ten Years of Sculpture and Monument Conservation on the Minnesota State Capitol Mall, compiled by Paul S. Storch, Daniels Objects Conservation Laboratory, Minnesota Historical Society.  Just one of dozens of similar conservation studies you’ll find at this site.

Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records.  Live access to federal land conveyance records for the public land states.  Image access to more than three million federal land title records for Eastern public land states issued between 1820 and 1908.  Much more!

Minnesota History Topics, a list of Minnesota-related topics to get you thinking about exploring Minnesota history.

 

Minnesota Government, an excellent guide to state government information sources compiled by the Saint Paul Public Library.

 

Minnesota History Quarterly.  Publication of the Minnesota Historical Society Press.  Available as subscription or with membership.  This one sample will give you the flavor, but there are lots more where this came from!

 

Revisor’s Office Duties – publications duties.  The Office of the Revisor of States covers many bases, particularly during the legislative session.  This list of publications offers a good overview of the Revisor’s domain.

 

New!!  Library Search, now in beta test phase.  A web interface for locating print (including articles), databases, indexes, electronic, and media items. Try it out and offer your unique feedback!

 

Geographic Information Services, State of Minnesota.  Includes scores of interactive maps of population, election results, school districts, legislative districts and more.

 

Children’s Literature Research Collections (Kerlan Collection), University of Minnesota Libraries, Special Collection.  A unique and inspiring collection of books, illustrations, manuscripts, notes and other records of children’s writers and illustrators.  The Kerlan also offers a robust series of presentations by children’s authors, writers and critics. 

 

Family History Centers in Minnesota.  One small component of the massive resources of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints.

 

Historic Museums in Minnesota.  Prepared by the Victorian Preservation of Santa Clara Valley.  An amazing resource with tons of information and in incredible wealth of links.  They offer this self-deprecating introduction:  “This is all pretty high tech for a bunch of people living in the past, but then you probably know our valley by its other name, Silicon Valley.”

 

Minnesota History Along the Highways, compiled by Sara P. Rubinstein.  Published by the Minnesota Historical Society.  Locations and texts of 254 historic markers, 60 geologic markers, and 29 historic monuments in all corners of the state.

 

Ramsey County Historical Society, the officially-recognized historical society of Ramsey County.  The Society’s two primary programs are the Gibbs Museum of Pioneer and Dakotah Life and the quarterly magazine on Ramsey County history and St. Paul.

 

The Regional Alliance for Preservation, formerly the Upper Midwest Conservation Center at the Minneapolis Art Institute.

 

Minnesota HYPERLINK “http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/lakefind/index.html” Lakefinder, sponsored by the DNR, provides in-depth information about 4500 lakes and rivers in the state – surveys, maps, water quality data and more, including a new mobile app for the water or ice-based fisher.

 

North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries and Oral History, a database including 2,162 authors and approximately 100,000 pages of information re. immigration to America and Canada, 1800-1850.  Produced in collaboration with the University of Chicago by Alexander Street Press.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Finding Aids to Collections Organized by Topic in the Archive of Folk Culture, compiled by Ross. S. Gerson. Minnesota Collections in the Archive of Folk Culture.  Library of Congress.   Sound recording in various formats.  You won’t believe the recordings they have preserved. The American Folklife Center

 

Minnesota Spoken Word Association, formed to create an alliance among spoken word artists and a resource center. Emphasis on youth.

For students – the day of reckoning is at hand

This first week of the new year, a critical time when  millions of students wake to a harsh reality – the end of vacation is at hand and the assignments remain in a state of potency.  Whether the facts face a high school working on a History Day project, a PhD candidate with a dissertation that needs some touch up, a parent or spouse of a student who would rather play than probe, there is one happy thought – The first step is the hardest.

Matt Lee who publishes a rich newsletter for Minitex speaks to that very point, reminding us that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, according to Confucious. (Or maybe Lao Tzu. A Google search cites both.  Anyone knows a college student who can verify this information?)   As verification of that adage Matt points the way to the report, “Truth be told: How college students use and evaluate information in the digital age” .  The survey of over 8300+ students at 25 institutions, conducted by Alison Head and Michael Eisenberg of the University of Washington Information School,  offers  a surprisingly good read.  Though focused on students navigating in a digital environment the findings are totally applicable to any time and most tasks.  Most fun of all is the great YouTube presentation of the results – you don’t even have to crack a book to get the gist of the 72-page report.

Gustavus Adolphus faculty member Barbara Fister, writing in the Library Journal, reports that 84% of the students surveyed reported that getting started – defining a topic, narrowing it down, and filtering through relevant results — proved to be the three major stumbling blocks to confident student research.  This in the day when everything is right there on the computer – or not.   Fister reflects on the good news that today’s students are “very conscious of the need to evaluate the sources they encounter.  They don’t take them at face value, but are choosy about finding sources that are current and authoritative.”

Fister’s mention of “unhealthy info-gluttony” suggests a concern of mine.  A quote from the report resonates, though I’m quick to note that there’s a generation gap: “A 32-year-old librarian relates what now seems like a quaint memory from a simpler time. Not that many years ago, while conducting a literature review for her own humanities dissertation, she was able to search and exhaust every information source her campus library had to offer. .But for many of todayʼs undergraduates, the idea of being able to conduct an exhaustive search is inconceivable. Information seems to be as limitless as the universe. And research is one of the most difficult challenges facing students in the digital age.”  Still we information enthusiasts need reminders that, in some cases,  more is more, not better.

Happy New Year’s Resolution (beats dieting)  is to  research, think and write more about the world of digital resources in blogs-to-be.  The inescapable fact that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” is inescapable.   Defining a topic, narrowing it down, and filtering through relevant and reliable results require time and active engagement with the topic.  The iPad and laptop are quick to fetch, not so good at figuring it all out.  Time, teachers and librarians are essential to the process.

Happy surfing and sifting to learners who can pretty well discard the old alibi that “the library didn’t have anything about…”

 

Thoughts while thinking about Edward Swanson

The library world lost a friend when Edward Swanson died earlier this month. Everyone who knew Edward seems to have experienced a different facet of a complex man. Each of us has a personal memory. My most poignant memory is of Edward, the consummate believer in the power and purpose of libraries and librarians, who worked without stint to create Quatrefoil, a unique library by and about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender writers and readers. My keen memory is rooted, no doubt, in the controversy generated by the mere suggestion that Quatrefoil be welcomed into membership in the library network I was managing in the mid-1980’s. It’s painful, but instructive, to recall those times – inspiring to honor the memory of the vision Quatrefoil represents. In honor of Edward Swanson, some thoughts on Quatrefoil, an organization that embodies the spirit, the professional skills and the beliefs that permeated Edward’s very existence.

Begun in the 1980’s as a dream of a few committed individuals, the Quatrefoil Library is today a stable, yet nimble, institution in a world that has changed dramatically. The mission is “to collect, maintain, document and circulate gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer materials and information in a safe and accessible space, in order to promote understanding, an appreciation of diversity and history, and the value of communities.” The lofty vision shapes a community that lives by the stated mission.

In 2009 Adam Keim wrote a remarkable history of Quatrefoil Library, published by the Friends of the Bill of Rights Foundation. A revelatory feature of this momentous story is that the entire book, History of the Quatrefoil Library, is available online for anyone to read, download and print! This is SO Quatrefoil! It’s a captivating story of an organization, the people involved, and societal change.

In his introduction to the book Keim, who did not experience the pains of an earlier time, observes that “the Quatrefoil Library has opened my eyes to these things. Before now, I took all these events and people for granted. I gaze over the shelves of books in the Quatrefoil Library and I feel overwhelmed. There is so much history buried in there and it is all important, especially for the younger generations of gay people to realize why they have the freedom they have. And what a monumental feat the Quatrefoil is doing by collecting and preserving all of this. They do it for people such as me, who didn’t even know who the founders of the gay liberation movement were until now.”

Though today’s Quatrefoil Library is accessible through a range of social media the basic principles of the collection, its organization and structure, will forever reflect the underlying principles and labors of Edward Swanson and other visionaries.

My favorite reflection on libraries and their role is an essay by Archibald MacLeish entitled “The Premise of Meaning.” In words that echo an earlier time, MacLeish affirms that “a library, considered not as a collection of objects that happen to be books that have been chosen to constitute a library, is an extraordinary thing. It is not all what it is commonly supposed to be, even by men who describe themselves as intellectuals – perhaps I should say particularly by men who describe themselves as intellectuals. It is not a sort of scholarly filling station where students of all ages can repair to get themselves supplied with a tankful of titles…On the contrary it is an achievement in and of itself – one of the greatest of human achievements because it combines and justifies so many others. That its card catalogues and bibliographical machinery are useful no one doubts…That its housing and safekeeping arrangements are vital, essential, necessary goes without saying. But what is more important in a library than anything else – that everything else – is the fact that it exists. For the existence of a library, the fact of its existence, is, in itself and of itself, an assertion – a proposition nailed like Luther’s to the door of time. By standing where it does….at the e center of our intellectual lives – with its books in a certain order on its shelves and its cards in a certain structure in their cases, the true library asserts that there is indeed a ‘mystery of things.’ Or, more precisely, it asserts that the reason why the ‘things’ compose a mystery is that they seem to mean, that they fall, when gathered together, into a kind of relationship, of wholeness, as though all these different and dissimilar reports, these bits and pieces of experience, manuscripts in bottles, messages from long before, from deep within, from miles beyond, belonged together and might, if understood together, spell out the meaning which the mystery implies.” (quoted in Reading Rooms, edited by Susan Allen Toth and John Coughlan, pp 482-83,

Quatrefoil asserts just that premise of meaning. And that’s why thinking of Edward Swanson and his life makes me reflect on history, commitment, and the premise of meaning.

Kee Malesky, a Librarian’s Librarian on NPR

Whenever I hear the credit to “librarian Kee Malesky” on National Public Radio I give a nod to that unknown librarian for her professionalism –  and to NPR for overtly acknowledging that librarian’s role.  Though librarians always get sometimes condescending mention in prefaces to historical tomes and doctoral dissertations, NPR puts it right out there.  Kee Malesky, who I always assumed was a male librarian, has become somewhat of a hero to me over the years.  I knew instinctively that she – or he – has to be good to get public appreciation.  I think I even took a little professional credit for our collective contribution to combating ignorance.

 

Now I know, Kee is a woman, a delightful, vivacious, vociferous, dedicated and determined woman who keeps the information wheels greased at NPR.  I know because Kee has just published All Facts Considered: The Essential Library of Inessential Knowledge (Wiley 2010),  a catalog of some of the facts that she has researched over the years as NPR’s longest-searching librarian.  From what I heard in her conversation with Weekend Edition host Scott Simon, the book is a lovely read, especially for anyone who savors the quest for good information – anyone who understands that the joy is not so much in the fact as in the thrill of the quest.

 

Good librarians have that thrill of the quest in their DNA – time on task just sharpens the skills and expands the possibilities.  Kee’s librarian DNA comes to the fore most prominently in her affirmative drive to get ahead of the questions reporters may initiate.  “We (librarians) read all the time,” she says.  “We’re constantly looking at new sources, at websites, at all kinds of things that are happening in the world….We’re all very proactive. It’s really a part of the proper job of a librarian.”   In spite of a hint of hyperbole in her description the “proper job of the librarian” she describes is as it should be in the best of all information age worlds.

 

Kee’s work makes a difference.  For one, the NPR reporters, editors and hosts have ready access to the facts, even before they need them.  For another, she deserves and probably demands credit for her work.  She’s also created a template that other high test librarians might emulate – the compilation of the searches, whether proactive or reactive, of any good librarian offes not just a reflection of a profession but a small glimmer of the many information paths being explored within any community of ideas, whether it’s a small town, an elementary school, a corporation or a university.

 

Fun staff, particularly since in today’s technology the information barriers are minimized and the quest is of the mind.