Library Research Seminar: Day 1, Part 1

I’m a bit overdue in posting updates from Library Research Seminar – V (since it ended today!) But, better late than never (I hope!)

Here are my notes from Day 1:

Plenary: David B. Gracy II, Editor of Libraries and the Cultural Record

Title: Is There Counsel in Chose Curtains? Research Agendas for the Times

David Gracy kicked off the conference with “This is a great day for research!” He looked out at the room of attendees and encouraged us to be a part of great conversations.

Dr. Gracy shaped his talk around his time as State Archivist of Texas and the yellow curtains he found in the Archivist’s office.  Why were they so different than the curtains in the other offices? The story behind the curtains is one of interesting people with different ideas of what a state archive and library might be, and how libraries and archives might connect (or disconnect) from each other.

Gracy’s historically informed discussion had many interesting facets worth following up on. He encouraged us to explore the historical dimensions of our research topics and of libraries in general. He emphasized the importance of leading adaptations to the times, especially regarding the relationships between libraries and other parts of the information domain, such as archives. He argued that these domains of the information world confront similar concerns, and that our boundaries are blurred.

Gracy spent time talking about the core questions that seem to be facing the library field, such as: what is a library? For whom does it exist? What functions genuinely fulfill its mission to society? Instead of pulling ideas only from the current community, Gracy urged us to view the questions historically. Many of these questions are persistent throughout library histories. In order to push forward, we must be informed about what has happened before.

I learned about “advocacy history” through Gracy’s speech. He argued that the biographies of courageous librarians can teach us about libraries and how to sustain them through difficult times. He ended with more encouragements and charged us with doing pioneering work. With a keen eye and a sense of context, Gracy encouraged researchers to “open our curtains!”

Sessions I attended, part 1:

Henry Pisciotta: Arts and Architecture Librarian at Penn State University Libraries

The Big Picture: Artists on the Library

For this presentation, Pisciotta selected 60 works of art that critique libraries in some regard. He discussed the ways art can comment on different aspects of library services and collections. Many of the examples he gave were fascinating (and he is going to publish this work at some point). They included everything from sculpture to other physical installations (an artists who placed mirrors behind the self-help books, so that faces would reflect when books were removed – the self-consciousness of someone seeking to help themselves!) The Library Project, produced by a group called Temporary Services, was another fascinating example of art working to critique the library, what it contains (and doesn’t) and who this might benefit.  There were other equally interesting examples of artistic interventions in libraries, which give us points to think about when we are looking in our own self-help mirrors as a profession.

Jennifer Crispin: Using Institutional Ethnography to Explicate Information Work

I first heard about Crispin’s research at the International Association of School Librarians’ conference in Berkeley, CA a couple of years ago.  Back then I heard her presentation about methodology, called Institutional Ethnography. Now she has completed her dissertation and is on the faculty at Sam Houston State University. It was great to get an update and see how the project turned out. (It was also inspiring since I presented my methodology on the morning of Day 2 of LRS-V – seeing her progress and finish gives me hope that in a couple of years I’ll be presenting my own findings!)

Crispin spent extensive time with a middle school librarian for her project. Her goal was to understand more about information work and the influences over school librarian work, taking the lived experience of a school librarian as the point of departure. Crispin found that structures put in place to ensure safety of students and make logistics easier can get in the way of collaboration and student access.  She found that there was a gap between the library literature and on-the-ground library practicalities in this case. Many of the sites recommended by scholars were blocked or inaccessible in this library. There was also little space for students to save their work on school servers. In addition, there was little time for free access to the library for the majority of students.

In conclusion, there are many subtle forces and power relations at work which affect the way a school library works.  Institutional ethnography worked well for understanding these relations. Crispin further wondered about the way teachers figure in to negotiating library access for students (which may be a future area of study).

Charles Seavey: Toward a Geography of Public Libraries 1850-1980

This study tracked library service and growth using public records and maps.  Seavey is examining access and the different levels of library service across time and regions. His presentation showed the way the South has trailed in library service over decades, but has improved in recent times, closing the gap somewhat.  Questions were raised about the inclusiveness of this public data.  Did it include libraries started in churches or libraries emerging from Women’s Clubs? I don’t think we resolved these questions, as the author was not present (a designated representative delivered his paper).  The content and methodology were both interesting. This paper connected back to Gracy’s earlier historical emphasis well.

This ended the first session of papers. I am going to post this section of my commentary now, and continue with more over the next several days. Note that the full schedule along with presenter abstracts is available here.  Read through the program to find out more about the sessions I didn’t attend.  There are also other bloggers writing about the Library Research Seminar. You can read their work here.

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  1. 1 how can we start a little ethnography? | anthropologies Trackback on 10.10.2010 at 10:16 am
  2. 2 Library Research Seminar Recap, Part 2 « because to why Trackback on 10.13.2010 at 12:25 am
  3. 3 Library Research Seminar, Part 3 and Overall Impressions « because to why Trackback on 10.16.2010 at 12:51 am

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