The Provenance of Your Knowledge

Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago. Photo credit Eric Allix Rogers.

Last Friday, I and two colleagues visited the University of Chicago to attend the 6th Biennial Kathleen A. Zar Symposium. The focus of this year’s gathering was exploring the different ways that librarians, non-library faculty, and administrators can collaborate to help undergraduates engage and succeed in meaningful research experiences during their college years. Most, but not all, of the speakers were from academic libraries. Lots of institutions were represented and it was a delight to see some folks from Miami University (my first archives gig) presenting on first-year research program.

The highlight of the program was a panel on undergraduate research featuring Univ. of Chicago folks, including Christopher Wild and James Sparrow. My colleague, Steve Oberg has also written about the symposium and this particular panel.

…students must understand the “provenance of their knowledge” and this understanding “only comes from [traditional] library research.”

Wild cautioned against using analogies like the library as the “laboratory of the humanities.” These sorts of comparisons privilege a particular discourse around knowledge and research and should be avoided. Sparrow emphasised that students must understand the “provenance of their knowledge” and this understanding “only comes from [traditional] library research.” He pointed out that digitization is a key part of the library’s role in the preservation and dissemination knowledge. Sparrow also noted that digital texts both “presuppose” that folks can be “hooked” in the same ways that print and physical objects and give the biggest boost to folks who already “know and have experienced knowledge and scholarship in a particular way.” In short, novice researchers (i.e. undergraduates) are most disadvantaged in a digital-only space while experienced researchers are most advantaged.

Sparrow and Wild offered some ideas that teachers can use in helping students to understand the “provenance of their knowledge.”

  • Present students with a corpus of materials that have been pre-selected but not completely mined as the basis for a research project.
  • Create a course that is built around an exhibit (online or physical) in which all student work feeds into the final exhibit.
  • Make sure that we remember that “genuine” student research need not be publishable nor completely original. Students need space to practice and explore.

These are all ideas that will make student learning more rich and can be the basis for fruitful collaboration between librarians and classroom instructors.





July, Part 1.

July has been a whirlwind of travel for us as we’ve trekked over 3,000 miles covering Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York (and of course Illinois).

Faith has long had a yen to take the Amtrak on an overnight, multi-state adventure and visiting her family in upstate New York proved to be just the ticket (no pun intended). She is a talented travel agent and everything went off without a hitch. The most tricky part of the trip was actually leaving the house. By which I mean getting all five of us (baby included) down to the Metra Station (only 1 mile from our front door) without leaving our van in one day parking. Hint: the solution involved both the van and Lyft.

Ready to catch the Metra for downtown and Union Station.
At Union Station, waiting to board the 11pm Lakeshore Limited for New York.
We were not dissuaded from our New York plans by the North Dakota Department of Tourism’s display at Union Station.

Out train was nearly two hours late leaving Union Station and the kids were a bit weary of waiting, but not weary enough to fall asleep. Their excitement about the trip had been building for weeks and sitting on a non-moving train for nearly two hours did little to damped their enthusiasm. If anything, it increased it to a nearly unmanageable degree. The train departed just as they were approaching peak travel fever…

Cate has changed into her PJs and is ready to travel.
Clara, the mature almost-first grader, keeps her excitement a bit more under wraps.

We finally go underway around midnight and spend a restful restless night headed to our final destination.

Charlotte was mesmerized by the landscape as we zipped across northern Ohio.
A late night snack in the train’s Café.

After more than 24 hours of travel we arrived at my mother-in-law’s house on Friday afternoon and spent a pleasant Saturday with family. On Sunday, we loaded up our rental car and headed west. More specifically, we headed back toward the Great Lakes to visit Faith’s grandmother Joy near Lake Ontario. Joy is a delightful and spry lady of 83 and Faith and I are grateful the girls were able spend some time with their great-grandmother. She loves art (we share a passion for the work of Andrew Wyeth) and expresses her skills in quilting.

One of my favorites, the pinwheel quilt.
Other of Joy’s creations.

On Monday is was time to head east, back to Albany.

Charlotte eagerly anticipates her first New York bagel.

On Thursday it was time to head south to catch up with some of my wife’s college friends for a terrific 4th of July get-together in the Catskills, just south of the Schoharie Valley.

I forgot to get any pictures while we were in the Catskills, but here’s one from Kevin Kenny.

Before we knew it, Friday had rolled around and it was time to head west and home.

Chicago skyline as we near Union Station.

We arrived back home on Saturday afternoon and began preparations to head north. But, more about that next time.

Primo Levi, C. S. Lewis, and Summer Reading

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Photo credit  anna burchietti

In his preface to If This Is a Man, Primo Levi writes

…many people – many nations – can find themselves believing, more or less consciously, that ‘every stranger is an enemy.’ For the most part, this conviction lies burning in the mind like some latent infection; it betrays itself only in random, disconnected acts, and is not the basis of a system of thought. But when this happens, when the unspoken dogma becomes the major premise in a syllogism, then, at the end of the chain, stands the [camp]. It is the product of a conception of the world carried to its logical consequences . . . The story of the death camps should be understood by everyone as a sinister signal of danger.

Levi is describing the burning hatred for the European Jewish community stoked by the poisonous re-imagining of them as sub-human obstacles to racial purity. He is also alluding to the dangerous, but relatively common, fear that many humans have of one another. Another race, another class, another gender, a citizen of another country, a member of another party or faction. Far too often we humans understand, even defined, ourselves in opposition to others.

The efforts to overcome this, especially in schools, are laudable though often ineffectual. Perhaps one of the least effective and potentially dangerous ways some teachers attempt to engage students is through “living history” in which students dress up and “act like” someone from the past to “really understand” what is was like. As if folks from an earlier era walked around thinking how “exciting” it was to be wearing a wig and living in the 1640s. I would suggest that instead of playing what is, in essence, dress ups we encourage ourselves and our children to read widely. If you want to foster empathy in yourself and your children don’t buy them a powdered wig, enroll them in a summer reading program.

One of the things that reading offers us is the opportunity to overcome our innate biases against others and see the world through their eyes. In his book An Experiment in Criticism, the writer C.S. Lewis argues that in reading great literature

I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.

I’m not so naive as to suggest that reading widely always makes one a better or more ethical person, there are plenty of counter examples. I am suggesting that as a way to develop empathy and compassion it beats a costume box.

Learning to sing another language

Himnos de Gloria

A few days ago I received a package in the mail from my Aunt Rachel. Inside was a portal that pulled me into the 1930s. Well, sort of. The package contained two books that belonged to my grandparents. I was pleased, but not surprised, to see that one was a book of hymns in spanish. I’m not sure if my grandmother could speak spanish but she was endlessly interested in other languages, people, and cultures and it wasn’t a bit surprising to learn that she had owned and used a spanish hymnal. I know she used it based on her notes in the margins (see below).

Margin note from April 27, 1939

My grandmother was born in 1918 and would have been 20 or 21 in April of ’39 and living in Cincinnati, Ohio. I remember her as interested in world affairs and she would have known that German troops had streamed into Prague only the month before. She may have known that Neville Chamberlain had, the day before, brought a bill to parliament introducing military conscription for all males aged 20 and 21. The Thursday before, Billie Holiday, only a young 20-something herself, first recorded “Strange Fruit” a haunting lament and remembrance of the ‘Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze.’ As the daughter of sharecroppers in Alabama my grandmother would have known about that too.

By fall, the world would be at war. A war that would consume millions of lives and the next several years. My grandmother was 27 when it finally ended. I never heard her refer to any other human with anything less than respect, dignity, and yes . . . love. She loved Jesus and she believed, down to the deepest part of her soul, that Jesus loved everyone. The not loving others meant not loving Jesus. And so, when the world was on the brink of a conflict rooted in hatred of other people, other languages, and other cultures . . . my grandmother was trying to learn to sing a language not her own. That’s not a bad lesson for all of us. When the newspapers and internet are full of ugly words and ugly caricatures of others, maybe we should work to learn how to sing a song that’s not our own.

Instruction Showcase @ North Park University

Opening Keynote

Last thursday a colleague and I gave a presentation at the 7th annual CARLI Instruction Showcase held at North Park University. The day opened with two longer presentations, followed by 5 “showcase” presentations. The first focused on culturally sustainable pedagogy and self-reflective practice in creative inclusive classrooms for students with diverse identities. The second was a Q+A with the creators of the “Library Sessions” podcast.

Library Sessions Q+A

In the afternoon we presented on the final (capstone) step of Wheaton’s information literacy curriculum. It was a delight to present in North Park’s impressive, and fairly new, science center. We’ve co-written a chapter in a forthcoming book about the entire information literacy plan at Wheaton, but this was the first time we’ve presented about the capstone component. We were pleased with the feedback we received.

Science Center @ North Park University

After the conference, we visited North Park’s Library and were delighted with some of their design ideas and features, especially their bold use of color.

Research Librarians . . . arrgh!!
Research Librarians near the stacks.
Lots of fun colors, even in the archives.

My Time, My Money, Myself

Image Credit to Pictures of Money

…all kinds of virtue lie open to those who are masters of themselves, their time, and their fortune.

William Law

Ourselves, our time, and our money. Billions of tips, tricks, and “hacks” have been written on how to live our best life, spend, save, or invest our money and manage our time.

I don’t have the answer to most of these important questions but I think that organizing ourselves, our money, and our time around the pursuit of virtue seems a good start.

Reflections on two years

It’s been quite a while since I posted anything personal on my blog. It’s also been two years this week since I started a new job at Wheaton College. Here’s what I’ve been up two in the last two years.

California
Shortly before we moved, Faith and I took a short trip to Southern California. We enjoyed the exploring San Diego, hiking in Joshua Tree, exploring a mission, and just spending time together.

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Joshua Tree National Park

 

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Mission San Luis Rey

 

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Seals and Sea Lions

Job
I started a new position at Wheaton College (IL) as the librarian for outreach and promotion and the group leader for the teaching and outreach group. I’m grateful to have been welcomed into a wonderful community of scholars and friends.

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Blanchard Hall, Wheaton College (IL)

 

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Buswell Library, Wheaton College (IL)

We Moved . . . Again.
We lived in three different homes in under three years, leading our middle daughter to ask a few hours into a road trip, “where we were going to be living now?” When we first moved from Cincinnati we rented for a year to give us time to get a sense of the neighborhood and one year ago we purchased our home in Wheaton, IL. Nevertheless, we’ve had lots of fun exploring our new neighborhood and places nearby.

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An afternoon at Lincoln Park Zoo

 

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A quick visit to the Shedd Aquarium downtown

 

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Enjoying the gardens at Cantigny

 

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Picking apples in Wisconsin

 

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Exploring St. James Farm

Charlotte
We welcomed a third little girl to our family, Charlotte Ruth.

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Clara and Charlotte

Travel
One of the more exciting aspects of my job has been participating in the planning project for a proposal to expand the college library. Part of the planning involved a fair amount of travel. Between travel for meetings, conferences, and committee work across the last couple of years I was able to visit nearly twenty other libraries. Here are some of my favorites:

Tutt Library, Colorado College
Anderson Academic Commons, University of Denver
Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, University of Chicago
Patricia R. Guerierri Academic Commons, Salisbury University
Suzzallo Library, University of Washington

Conclusion
It’s been a great two years but I’m looking forward to a few less changes in the next two.