Friday, February 27, 2015

Celebrating a Third Work Anniversary

Third anniversary image
Happy Work Anniversary!
February is African American Celebration month, and it also happens to be my 3rd anniversary working as a lecturer at Oakland University Libraries.  It has been an honor to serve the information needs of a highly diverse population of students, staff, and faculty. Every moment has challenged me to be the best librarian to I can be.

I am proud to work with colleagues who appreciate the diverse ideas and techniques I bring to the OU Libraries table.  Recently, I helped curate a virtual exhibition on this history of diversity at Oakland University. I also helped pick items for the African American Celebration month display in our lobby. My working-class African American background has allowed me to create authentic, exciting moments in the classroom.  For the most part, students and their instructors seem to enjoy my one-shot instruction sessions.  There is superficial diversity, and then there is the deep, structural diversity that I have experienced at Oakland University.

Currently, I am working on several digital learning objects, including a module in Moodle, the University's learning management system.  In the next several months, I will research and draft at least one article for a peer-reviewed library journal.
Picture of an African american woman with books
I start a doctoral program in Reading Education this fall. I have been in contact with a potential adviser, whose research interests meshes very well with mine.  Even before the start of the semester, this professor has given me very excellent advise. I see a very productive collaboration with this person. How productive, you may ask?  I think I can complete the program in four years or less, in large part by collaborating with this professor.

Last, but by no means the least, I curated a Pinterest page for the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. The page features images connected to the fatal shooting of African American teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.  I hope to collaborate with BCALA on other projects.


Happy 3rd Anniversary

Literacy is Empowerment

Digital Humanities and African/ American American Studies

A Wikipedia Entry:
Digital Humanities is an area of research and teaching at the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities. Developing from the fields of humanities computing, humanistic computing, and digital humanities praxis digital humanities embraces a variety of topics, from curating online collections to data mining large cultural data sets. Digital humanities (often abbreviated DH) currently incorporates both digitized and born-digital materials and combines the methodologies from traditional humanities disciplines (such as history, philosophy, linguistics, literature, art, archaeology, music, and cultural studies) and social sciences with tools provided by computing (such as data visualisation, information retrieval, data mining, statistics, text mining, digital mapping), and digital publishing.
A humanities scholar trained in the interpretive methodologies of English literature, I wondered how this exciting new tools were explored within the fields of African American and African Studies.  What new research questions and epistemological assumptions may digital humanities may data visualization, text mining, and online collections engender?

A cursory Internet search yielded quite a few surprises.

Kenton Rambsy, a University of Kansas graduate student, discusses the implications of text mining in short stories by Edward P. Jones and other African American writers.  Using text mining software, Rambsy discovered a specific pattern of landmarks and geographical descriptions in Jones' short stories.  Rambsy claims that Jones' frequent use of location serves as a type of geo-tagging or literary geo-tagging.

I discovered Africa Past & Present, an excellent site that features podcasts "history, culture, and politics in Africa and the diaspora." If features several podcasts archived as digital humanities. I was particularly interested in Laura E. Seay's podcast in which she discusses her use of Twitter and a blog to document her academic work on the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"African American History", a collection from the American Memory series of digital humanities project from the Library of Congress, features excellent podcasts and virtual exhibitions about African American culture and history.

Overall, the intersection of digital humanities and African American/ African studies seems very promising.


Alegi, P. & Limb. P. (2015, 3 Feb). Episode 89: Digital African studies Part 2 with Laura Seay. Africa Past and Present. Podcast retrieved 27 February 2015 from

Digital Humanities.(2015, 19 Feb). Retrieved 27 February 2015 from Wikipedia:

Library of Congress (n.d). African American History. Retrieved 27 February 2015 from American Memory:

Rambsy, K. (2014, 17 Jan). Edward P. Jones and literary geo-tagging. Retrieved  27 February, 2015 from Cultural Front:

Seay, L. E. (2014). Texas in Africa.  Retrieved 27 February 2015 from

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Black (Librarians) History Month: E. J. Josey

NOTE: This article was originally posted on February 3, 2013. Two years later, it still holds true.

February is Black History Month--a time to reflect on historically significant African Americans who have made equally significant social and  political contributions to  the United States. This month we repeatedly hear about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Du Bois, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and George Washington Carver.

But we usually don't hear about African Americans librarians who have made significant contributions to librarianship and beyond. Elonnie Junius Josey, Edward Christopher Williams, Regina Andrews,  Arnaud Bontemps, and Sadie Peterson Delaney broke the color line in librarianship and transformed the profession. They were, as Library of Congress research Julius Jefferson noted, the "culture keepers" (Pesca, 2008). They went beyond collecting and curating books. They actively promoted diversifying the profession.

This blog entry will briefly focus on Josey.

E.J. Josey, a co-founder of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, wrote many books and articles championing professional multiculturalism. Josey is the librarians' Martin Luther King. He passionately and endlessly battle discrimination within the profession (E.J. Josey). He was a civil right activist, in every sense of the phrase. He understood the political and social ramifications of a largely White profession that served increasingly diverse patron populations. He was not afraid to step out of the dark stacks into the brights lights of world stage to correct this situation.

I wish I had met him before he died in 2009. I wish I had know about him before I entered library school in 2008. But like many other African Americans, my knowledge of historical African Americans was limited to those who were celebrated during Black History Month.

I don't remember E. J. Josey ever being mentioned.

So, let's remember these forgotten librarian heroes. Take time this month to Google their names (Yes, a librarian recommended "Google"). Discover how they advanced librarianship and encouraged many people of color to enter the profession. These librarians may not have marched on Washington or refused to give up their seats on a segregated bus system. But their contributions to librarianship are no less political and thus no less significant than our usual Black History Month heroes.

E. J. Josey. (2003). Retrieved from
Pesca, M. (Interviewer), Jefferson, J. (Interviewee). (2008). "Endangered species": Black male librarian. [Interview Transcript]. Retrieved

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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