Monday, December 29, 2014

Curating a Diversity Exhibition

A few months ago, I curated a virtual exhibition about the history of diversity at my institution, Oakland University.  Founded in 1959 by Matilda Dodge Wilson, Oakland University has continuously pursued a diversity agenda for over 50 years. Oakland University Archives is replete with photographs and other documents that illustrate this very compelling diversity narrative.

This was my first (but hopefully not my last) venture into Archives and Special Collections. I'm not a trained archivist. I don't know the technicalities of processing archives collections. I hardly knew archives terminology. But I was immediately impressed by the sheer number of artifacts and by the unknown origins of many photographs.  I had entered a foreign land, and I became a much better information specialist for having visited it.

I am proud to have curated this exhibit. I chose and scanned the documents. I added entries to the timeline. I created metadata. But this project wouldn't have come to fruition without the extensive help of library colleagues and university stakeholders, including librarians Barbara Shipman, Julia Pope, Nicole Lane, and Rachel Dineen; archives assistant Shirley Paquette and archives coordinator Professor Dominique Daniel. I received much help from the Center for Multicultural Initiatives and Professor De Witt S. Dykes, Jr.

For more information about Oakland University Archives, please visit this site.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Personal Inventories and that Librarianship Thing

Once a month I take inventory of my personal space. I often find misplaced items, like important business cards, telephone numbers, and other scraps of data. I frequently discover things that are no longer useful, like old shaving blades and bits of soap.

After I complete this inventory, I rearrange the important things for better access and dispose redundant items.

That's the librarian in me. Organizing relevant things for access and weeding other things that no longer serve a purpose in my personal space. Yeah, I am in the right profession.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Librarians: The Ultimate Search Engine

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Librarians: the Ultimate Search Engine! How many times have we seen librarians compared to sophisticated online search engines like Bing or Google?  Only better! Even the American Library Association seems to co-opt this tag line.

I'm an academic librarian, a highly trained information professional who, among many other things, help people build an active relationship with information and data. What does "active relationship" mean? It means questioning the dominant social, political, and economic assumptions that often shape the creation and dissemination of information, especially in late-capitalist cultures. It translates to comparing the validity of even the most "objective" and "reliable" information against lived experiences. In short, I help  patrons recognize the epistemic validity of their own observations and experiences. I show them how their own lived experiences may serve as excellent introductions to scholarly conversations.

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Even the most sophisticated search algorithms cannot do least not yet. Google and other search engines are superb at finding relevant and not so relevant information.  These online tools may even, as Purdy and Walker suggests, even help people make connections among disparate ideas. It may help them become "inventive". But these tools do not seem to engender critical thinking. In the context of this post, "critical thinking" is synonymous with "active relationship".

Does this mean I want to abolish online search engines and return to a totally print-based research model? Of course not. But until scientists invent affective and intellectual computers that can enable affective and intellectual relationships with information, I and other librarians cannot be compared to a search engine--no matter how sophisticated search engine algorithms may appear.


American Library Association. (2014). The ultimate search engine could be you! Accessed 8 September 2014 from

Purdy, J. & Walker J. (2007). Digital breadcrumbs: Case studies of online research. Kairos 11.2, Accessed 8 September 2014 from


Image 1. The ultimate search engine is @ your library. Accessed 8 September 2014 from

Image 2. Librarians: The ultimate search engine. Accessed 8 September 2014 from

Sunday, August 24, 2014

From the Archives

Image of archives
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As I mentioned previously, I am currently curating a virtual exhibition on the history of diversity at my institution, Oakland University. Since last February, several colleagues and I have collaborated on this project. I focused on archival material: photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, and other materials that represent the University's efforts to create a diverse and welcoming environment.

Before this project, I never considered archives "political". I simply thought of them as neutral and objective collections of items unique to a specific institution. But as I work on this exhibit, I realize that my personal biases and political preferences tend to "color" the direction of the exhibit. For instance, I tend to focus on the history of African Americans at Oakland University.

Image of African American Archives
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I rationalized this decision to the project manager by stating that much (if not most) of the diversity material I found seemed focused on this population.  This is not surprising. Oakland University is less than 6 miles northeast of Pontiac and about 35 mile northwest of Detroit, two areas with dense African American populations.  During its initial decade (1959-1969), Oakland University largely targeted this population for admissions and employment.

This is not to say that other demographics (sexual orientation, national origin, gender, etc) were ignored. Many documents in the archives demonstrate Oakland University's commitment to various types of diversity.  I have included numerous documents about these demographics to balance out the exhibition.

Nonetheless, I wonder if my personal identity politics "skewed" the exhibition. I frequently question my choices. Does the exhibition truly represent the University's diversity efforts or does it largely represent my interpretation of those efforts? Perhaps formally trained and experienced archivists ask themselves similar questions about their own projects.

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Long Hiatus

The name plate says it all: L.I.B.R.A.R.I.AN
I apologize for a very long hiatus. I want to think that I have gone through an "existential dilemma" or a mid-life crisis for the last  7 months. The truth is that I have been too lazy to write blog entries, despite completing two of my goals. I successfully applied to the Reading Education doctoral program at Oakland University. I started my own business and have one client so far. market my skills and expand my client base.

Life is good.

At work, I'm currently working on several projects.  Although I am no archivist and have not archives training, I am doing archival research to compile an Oakland University diversity timeline. A virtual archives exhibition, this project focuses on the key people and events that shaped diversity and inclusiveness at the University.

Although I tend to focus on African Americans, who were the target population of many University diversity efforts, I include other ethnic groups (Native Americans, Asian Americans, Whites, and International Students) and diversity categories (sexual orientation and gender).

The above also applies to archivists.
Having reviewed many photographs with no metadata (Date, Title, Location, etc), I give much respect to archivists. I have done some research to complete this timeline, but not the type of extensive research I imagine archivists do on a daily basis.

I have never curated an archives exhibition before. This challenging experience has inspired me to think about going back to school for a post-MLIS archives certificate. I definitely want to do more archives-related projects.

I have developed several skills being the main curator of this project. I have learned how to develop and organize metadata, create and implement artifact selection criteria, and manage various media formats. The most important skill I honed is probably collaboration with diverse colleagues. I have learned to actively engage the expertise and wisdom of my colleagues.

I constantly conduct research for my scholarly article. I hope to have a publishable manuscript by April 2015.

Until next time....which will not be another 7 months.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Holiday Greetings and 2014 Goals

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Happy Holidays!

This holiday season and my 50th birthday have prompted me to examine my professional goals. Because I believe that being an African American male librarian is somewhat  "radical," I still have professional goals that the support my mission: to encourage patrons to establish critical relationships with information and the information economy.

In other words, I think being a librarian means more than providing access to information or finding the right answers for patrons. I think librarians are collaborators. Public library librarians collaborate with their community to provide spaces and expertise that enhance the social, political, and economic status of community members. Academic librarians collaborate with students, staff, and faculty to help create and disseminate new information (research) and to support other educational goals.

Within that context, I have several goals for 2014.  This list isn't complete.

I will enter a doctoral program in Education. I think the tools I gain from earning a doctorate will enhance my information literacy sessions. My teaching methods will most likely improve because I will learn different theories about teaching and learning. I may even parlay this credential with the third goal below.

I will publish at least one article. Although this isn't an official requirement for my present position, I think publishing at least one article in a peer-reviewed journal will help establish my professional reputation and allow me to extend my ideas beyond this blog.

I will become a part-time independent contractor. I think I have the skills to make money during the thing I love: research and business consultations.  Of course, I have to research the market and discover ways to distinguish myself from potential competitors. But I think I can do just that.

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I don't think these are overly ambitious professional goals. I think it is a matter of creating objectives that facilitate this goals.

2014 looks very promising.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Half Century Mark or A Long Time to Discover One's Calling

Selfie taken 12/20/2013 at 5:45pm

Today is my birthday. My 50th birthday. I have officially been a member of Club Earth for 50 good years, and it has only been within the last 5 years that I discovered I was a librarian.

That's a very long time, isn't it?

Instead of calling myself "An African American Male Librarian," I should call myself  "The Grandma Moses Librarian". Grandma Moses was the nickname for Anna Mary Robertson Moses, a folk artist who started who art career in her late 70s. 1

Unlike that of Grandma Moses, I don't expect people to celebrate my late entry into a profession. I  hope that I may inspire other Black man (especially the younger ones) to enter librarianship. I also hope that my blog encourage my colleagues to "transgress" their professional and personal comfort zones to advance librarianship. If this blog influences one young Black man to enter the professor or encourages one colleague to change their perspective about being a librarian, I will consider it to have completed its mission. 
Selfie taken 12/20/2013 at 5:44pm

Today is my 50th birthday.  On this special day,  I do the very thing I love: being a librarian who serves the information needs of my patrons by helping them form more critically and socially aware relationships with information.

That is my calling.

Before you go, please enjoy this video. It features Andrew P. Jackson, whom I believe was a protégé of the E. J. Josey, speaking about a recent anthology on Black librarians, The 21st-Century Black Librarian in America: Issues and Challenges. This excellent monograph features the ongoing triumphs and challenges of many Black Librarian in the United States.

Happy Holidays to all!  See you next week.

1. Grandma Moses Wikipedia Entry: