Very happy to announce the publication of a new article I co-authored with a colleague:
Roberts, Regina Lee and Mattie Taormina. 2013. “Collaborative Co-Design for Library Workshops.” Behavioral& Social Sciences Librarian 32 (1): 46-56.
Regina is the subject specialist and bibliographer for the social sciences and we team-taught a variety of classes last year. The experience was so rewarding we thought we’d share how we mixed information literacy with archival literacy for undergraduates. Give it a read and see what you think.
One of my all time favorite reads in my undergraduate philosophy classes was Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. I know, dork city, but truly, I loved this book and still reflect on the lessons I learned from it all these years later. Aristotle defined the “virtue of the mean between two extreme states” as neither the excess nor the defect. This definition has come to mind lately as we begin the task of overhauling our webpages. We need to decide how much information is too little and therefore, useless, and how much causes a patron’s eyes to glaze over.
Librarians who work outside of my department noted that our public services pages were information-dense. As the main author of these dense pages, I’m guilty of the charge. Will I repeat this behaviour in the new, shiny, web environment? Most likely yes.
As much as I dislike to put out such dense pages, I know why our pages tend to be text heavy: it is the most reliable way to communicate the information to patrons.
In theory, doing phone reference would help a bit in this regard. We could verbally tell patrons that they will need to bring their photo IDs when they come to register or that they can only bring in single sheets of paper with their laptops, etc. Given our staffing levels we lack the ability to man our phone line for the 6 hours we are open. Thus, all the “dos and don’ts” have to be on one page so that people are prepared (we hope) when they arrive.
Requesting materials is word intensive too. As it is, timing with paging is everything. If our materials were located onsite, it would be just a matter of waiting a few hours if a patron just “showed up” and wanted to see something. Since our materials are located off site, it can take up to 2 days for materials to reach the reading room. Thus, our webpages have to include our paging schedule. Our webpage has to instruct outside scholars (our main users actually) how to use our university-specific-not-very-intuitive paging system. This takes words. And lots of them sadly.
I’m not sure how to skimp on vital information such as this but for the next few months, that’s what I’ll be working on. I’m going to play around with spacing, indenting, bullet points (which some of my pages already have), etc. I hope it helps but I don’t feel like I can take out information either. Trying to keep in mind: neither the excess nor the defect…..
Summer is well underway and now that RBMS is over with, I’ve had a chance to take on some projects I’ve been wanting to get done for some time.
The first project was inspired by the church on campus. It is a beautiful church circa 1906 and frequented by many tourists. Although the church is always full of visitors, there is no official staff—the building is unmanned. Should an earthquake happen while all these visitors are touring, how would they know how to safely get out of the building? Enter the visitor emergency card: the church created laminated emergency cards that stay in the pews, alerting visitors on how to get out of the building safely.
Now, our reading room is staffed at all times and we have procedures in place for what staff are supposed to do if we have to evacuate the reading room. So, we don’t need this right? Logically, that would be correct, but what if staff get injured in the quake (I’m thinking a lamp falls from the roof and hits them)? What if staff gets distracted while trying to clear the room and doesn’t have a chance to tell patrons not to take our materials with them? Since these are real considerations living in Earthquake Country, I created our own Evacuation card. I should note that the card only focuses on evacuation—not fire, or earthquake. Although these events are important, we focused on the fact that patrons should take their laptops with them and leave our materials behind regardless of what the emergency happens to be.
The other project for the summer was to redesign our patron out card. Another archive on campus redesigned theirs and so I modified theirs to fit our needs. Previously, our patrons truly used a normal office “out card” when they pulled folders out of boxes. This caused some minor confusion at times as patrons felt compelled to write their name on the card each time they removed a folder even though it was not necessary. The cards were also the perfect size to fit inside the box (something we didn’t want), so I have no idea how many of these office cards are floating around currently in our archival collections.
Our new cards are much longer so there is no way they can be tucked into a box and include helpful handling instructions that staff verbally tell patrons but sometimes don’t get the chance to if it is busy on the desk. Here’s to summer!
June brings about the end of our academic year, and this year, classes literally ended on a high note. Enter the students of ARTSTUDI 360: Master’s Project Design. In this class, graduate students have to “create and present two master’s theses involving the synthesis of aesthetics and technological concerns, in the service of human need and possibility.” Two graduate students found materials in Special Collections that helped them meet this worthy goal and they asked if they could show their classmates their discoveries.
The class visited Special Collections twice: on their first visit, they viewed a selection of books containing lullabies a student had selected for her thesis. As an added treat, the student arranged for a professional musician to come and perform some of the songs found in the books. Happily, we were treated to a mini-concert in our classroom.
When the class returned to Special Collections in early June, they were greeted by a small array of 19th century games another graduate student had selected for his masters project on gaming. The student’s project focused on modern gaming and how technology takes away some of the tactile element that people used to experience when they physically played games, and how people miss the experience of sitting around the table laughing and sharing. To underscore this point, the students played an abbreviated round of “A Tour through the British Colonies and Foreign Possessions” (circa 1854) using their own homemade paper totems. Watching this group of graduate students laugh and discuss the nuances of traditional gameplay was a wonderful way to conclude what had been a very vigorous year of academic instruction.
Sources cited in this article:
FELT PS1667 .L95 1905 Lullaby-land.
RBC In process (8/1/06) A Tour Through the British Colonies. http://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/6506733
Last week while I was at RBMS, all “photocopier hell” broke loose back at the office. The primary machine went down, our backup machine went down, duplication requests stacked up, and basically our duplication clerk is having to work extra hours to make up for the loss.
After returning to campus and hearing everyone’s take on the situation—and seeing the immense backlog of requests—I have come to conclusion that we have to re-think parts of our photocopy service. Simply said: some patrons LIKE photocopies. They don’t want scans. To pursue things even further: given a choice, I bet patrons would not even want paper copies but digital camera shots instead.
Which brings up my ideal scenario. Ideally, I would let everyone loose with manuscript boxes and their personal digital cameras. Patrons could snap away happily and we could give the edict that we just don’t do photocopies anymore. Either you bring your camera or you take notes. Those would be the only options.
Alas, my ideal doesn’t fit the administrative structure of where I work and so my question is: do WE have to do the photocopying? Why can’t they photocopy loose archival and manuscript materials themselves? Many other Special Collections and Archives allow this practice and we could limit it to only modern, non-bound collections. This would preclude all of our rare books (which only we should be duplicating) and it would hit 75% of the duplication requests we now see.
I realize “modern” is open for interpretation but I think most trained archivists know when something is fragile and should be handled only by staff. Fragile items, awkward sizes, large format, newspaper clippings, etc. would still be done in-house, but a lot of our regular requests could potentially be met by the patrons themselves.
My department head is going to talk to our AUL about the idea and I still have to figure out what to do regarding payment, copy cards, where to put the machine, reviewing the materials before patrons start work, but I still think it could be a great turn of events for us. Stay tuned….
Working in a Special Collections/Archives reading room everyday, I find that every once in a while, you have to review your policies and ask “Why are we saying no to this?” For some policies, the “no” is still valid (I’m thinking ballpoint pens here). For others, maybe the no is no longer valid. Case in point: using cameras in the reading room can be done now since the flash can be disabled, the cameras are small and do not require loads of equipment, etc. etc. The technology for cameras has advanced so well, that they are no longer the “threat” they used to be to our materials.
This week, I tested out a pen scanner to see if we should still be saying no. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a pen scanner and do not keep up with the technology’s advancements as much as I should. I suppose if I got funding to go to ALA every year, I would be exposed to these vendors in the exhibit hall and would be aware of the latest and greatest. Instead, my exposure has been a bit more haphazard.
The product I tested was the WorldPenScan Pro which is geared primarily towards translation. The product states that it can recognize 193 languages which would be handy for our patrons using materials in German, Dutch, Hebrew, etc. I could see undergraduates using the pen to translate non-English text featured below some of the plates in our 1600s and 1700s rare books.
Unfortunately, when I began to test this product on some non-Spec materials, I instantly knew it was still a no. In order for the pen’s scanning function to work, one must press down on the page with the pen’s little plastic roller ball and then slide the pen over the words you wish to scan/translate. The pressing down and sliding of the roller ball made quasi-deep impressions on the paper I was using. By the end of my test, my page had deep impressions that I could feel on the recto side.
The vendor said they were looking into making some changes to their design so we will see if this part of the pen is removed in future designs. Until then, sadly, this is still a no.
Here is the product’s website:
“Hi, I’m working on a paper…..” is one of the more common statements we hear from undergraduates coming into Special Collections. Although undergraduates using our primary sources for research papers might be the most common use, last week, students from an upper division history class focused on the history of information, reminded me that there are many other ways our students use these materials.
The professor selected a small handful of cookbooks from our collections, grouped his students into teams, and then asked each team to choose a recipe, recreate it in their own kitchens, and bring the completed dish to class. The cookbooks selected encompassed a wide range of dates: New American Cookery (published in 1805), 500 Food Extender Wartime Recipes (published in 1942) and the 1953 second reprint of Mr. and Mrs. Roto-Broil Cookbook were among the handful of books on reserve.
The students came to our reading room over the course of a week and a half, discussing, debating, and finally, selecting a recipe that would best meet their own dietary needs. Some were kosher, others were gluten free, and still others were vegetarian. This part of the assignment proved challenging as the selected recipe books did not consider dietary or religious restrictions on foods.
The professor graciously invited me to try the students’ delicacies and hear their discussion about the challenges they faced in recreating these historic dishes using the information contained (and sometimes not contained) in each source. Foreign ingredients (pearl-ash anyone?) and loose descriptions of method added to their learned appreciation for how information was recorded, transmitted, and assumed. Many students turned to secondary sources (mostly Google) to augment and explain what little information their recipe communicated so that they could successfully complete their assignment.
The experience reminded me, once again, of how our young scholars use primary resources in unique and creative ways beyond research papers.
One of the selected cookbooks:
A team of students selected this recipe:
And then re-created the recipe for class consumption:
Another selected cookbook:
A recipe was selected:
Another primary source:
The meal chosen:
And re-created for class:
A journey starts with a single step, so here is mine. This blog is to record in one place some of the observations I’ve had about working in public service in the Special Collections and archives environment. Even the name “public service” strikes me as odd, as I hear those terms and think civil servant or, as my friend said, policeman. Since the words “public service” may not mean a lot to people outside of LibraryLand (say reference and most people know what you do), I was hoping this blog would aid in illuminating what I do for 9+ hours a day.
I also thought it might be refreshing to have a blog solely focused on public service since it seems the industry has many department blogs and quite a few on archival processing. I thought, “Hey, why not have a blog focused simply on the user?”
You’ll have to let me know if I succeed……….