Academic Library/Archives Job Interviews – Generalizations That I Hope Are Helpful

First, my sympathies that you are on the hunt for a job of any kind. Like any activity where you “put yourself out there” (dating, your rec softball league, etc.), you face some amount of upfront emotional labor and potential rejection. Unlike dating or a hypothetical softball league, this rejection is also directly tied to your ability to pay your bills (and maybe other people’s bills) and get a regular meal – so the stress is ramped way, way up. Virtual hugs to you – my guess is, you need them.

Second, who the heck am I to tell you what to do on an academic library/archives job interview? I’m the Curator of Special Collections and Archives at the University of Denver, and I wrote about my professional journey on a series of blog posts for SNAP last year. If you want to know more about me and what passes for street cred in the academic archives world, check ’em out.

What follows is based on my experiences on several library faculty search committees, as well as personal observation and experience at an academic archives / as a hiring manager for the past decade (2007-2017).

Prior to Submitting Your Application Materials

First, know that the first round of “cuts” for academic library positions (and likely other kinds) is often some form of a spreadsheet with “required” and “preferred” qualifications, and narrowing the field based on whether you meet all the required or not. Make sure you can demonstrate that you do, or you won’t make it past the first cut. In some cases, the “cut” isn’t even made by librarians or the search committee, it’s made by the institution’s HR department, so be very clear that you meet them.

Second, there’s a lot of coded language inherent to a lot of academic library/archives job descriptions that isn’t particularly transparent, especially depending on where/how you find the job. Some positions are faculty positions, some aren’t. What constitutes “faculty-ness,” especially in the library world, is a fraught and ever-changing thing that varies quite a bit institution to institution. Meredith Farkas has written about it quite a bit, here and here. So has Nicole Pagowsky, and there have been other articles written from a non-library, academic perspective – I could try to link to more, but my guess is this post will become outdated as to “current trends” sooner rather than later. Suffice it to say, it’s a consideration, and it’s a goalpost that keeps getting moved, but you need to be aware of that goalpost.

Third, do you meet the required qualifications? Apply. Do not pass go, do not pause – apply. Women especially – you do NOT need to meet every preferred qualification (though it helps if you meet some of them) to apply.

Resume or CV?

When applying to jobs, the main reason to keep an eye out for whether or not a position has faculty status (tenure track, non tenure track, or otherwise), is that it will affect how/what you submit. Faculty positions (and even some non-faculty academic library positions) require a curriculum vitae rather than a resume. Check to make sure you’re submitting the correct one – the job announcement should indicate which you should send. The main difference is that faculty positions explicitly call for and care about your commitment to research and service, in addition to your professional archives/library responsibilities. C.V.s include not only your professional experience, but also research (publications, presentations) and service to the profession (officer positions in professional associations, volunteer work, etc.)

A curriculum vitae is more comprehensive than a resume, and it will change (as will your resume) significantly as you progress in your career. If you’re early-career (i.e. just out of grad school), unless you have significant professional experience prior to/during grad school (more than 2 years), I like Purdue OWL’s advice to put “Education” first, and list all entries in reverse chronological order. As you get into “slightly past early career” (2-5 years), or if you have significant professional experience prior to/during high school, I’d put “Professional Experience” first, and still list it in in reverse chronological order. This is a style choice, and it won’t make or break it –  I’ve seen this done both ways, with people in all stages of career, so take that with a grain of salt.

In the “Professional Experience” section, go through that sucker with a fine-toothed comb – if you can make a direct parallel or, ideally, use exactly the same language, to describe your professional experience as the position description calls for, do it. This is doubly the case if there is a possibility that you might not (or that it might look like you don’t) meet the “required” qualifications. For example, if a position description says that you would: “Supervise and train two employees with accessions and acquisitions responsibilities,” and you, say, were an assistant manager in a retail store where you were responsible for time cards, payroll, and training, you could structure the brief description under “Assistant Manager, Forever 21” to read “Supervised four part-time employees. Responsible for all employee annual reviews, managing payroll, and employee training.” It’s not a 1:1, but don’t discount any non-library experience you have, make it count. In the example above, by framing your non-library management experience this way, you can help draw that parallel for the search committee – it all adds up.

If the position is an early-career faculty position (0-2 years of experience), and you’re just out of grad school, it can be tricky to round out “Publications,” “Presentations,” and “Service.” No employer worth their salt will expect to see much in any of those categories for an entry-level position, but you should try to give them something – and the earlier you start thinking about this in grad school the better.

Low(er) barrier to entry options for research and service include:

  • Turn a class paper into a regional library/archives/museum conference poster or presentation submission
  • Present at one of your school’s graduate colloquia, or some other forum for scholarship at your university
  • Run for an officer position at your university’s student chapter of SAA
  • Intern for a section or working group of SAA. The 2017-2018 call deadline has expired, but keep an eye out for next year’s – or if you see something you’re really excited about, don’t hesitate to reach out, you never know!

SAA is also not your only venue for service to the profession – there are a number of regional archives associations, as well as cultural heritage, archives-adjacent nonprofits, community archives, and the like which often need help with governance, projects, etc.

Cover Letters

As Eira Tansey said in a #snaprt chat some time ago, “The resume or CV is who you are. The cover letter is what you can do for them.” The resume/CV should connect as directly as possible to what you have done so they can see what your foundation and existing experience is. The cover letter should very clearly lay out exactly how you meet all of the required and as many of the preferred qualifications as possible, based on your experience thus far, as well as why you and this job are such a perfect fit.

It’s a lot of work to tailor each cover letter to the job. However, if you don’t specifically address each aspect of THAT job description in THAT cover letter, as well as address any issues or gaps that might appear in your resume/CV, you’re far less likely to get an interview. The cover letter will tell the committee, again, not only how you meet the qualifications of the job, but why YOU, and not the other applicants, are the right person for that particular job. The cover letter is where you can more clearly bring out the connections between any previous positions’ duties and the posted job – again, especially if it’s not abundantly clear that you meet all of the required qualifications and, ideally, as many of the preferred ones as possible.

And again, do not discount your non-library experience. Supervision, leadership, administrative oversight, coordination, etc. – those are all highly transferable skills that are valuable to academic libraries and archives – and ones that are harder to get in an entry level position, which will make you a more competitive candidate if you play them up!

References

Make sure that the people you’ve listed as references KNOW you’ve listed them as references, and that they can and will honestly give you a positive one. If you aren’t sure, ask them directly. If you submit applications with anyone you list as a reference, make sure they know ahead of time, and that they have a copy of the job ad – and that you jog their memory about job titles, dates of employment, etc. – especially if it’s been awhile since you worked together.

The Interview Process

Ok, so you’ve put together an amazing application packet and you get to the next round. In most cases, this will include a phone or video conference/Skype (or whatever the university’s version of Skype is) interview. In general:

  • If at home, find a room with a closed door that your pets, kids, significant others/roommates won’t be able to get past (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mh4f9AYRCZY). You want to get the job, not go viral – I assume, anyway!
  • Check lighting ahead of time – if you’re backlit, you might be silhouetted and hard to see, or you might blind folks with the sun.
  • Make sure you’re in business casual at minimum, even if you’re at home. No PJs.
  • Having been deafened by keyboards a couple of times, I can confidently say that your interviewers will probably appreciate if you handwrite notes or put the speakers on mute if you need to type to take notes.
  • Be prepared with a fully charged cell phone nearby just in case the video software or the internet malfunctions and you need to switch to a phone call.

Many of the guidelines/tips for in-person interviews hold for phone interviews, though they’re far, far shorter – most are between half an hour to an hour. In general, expect to be asked about:

  • Current trends in the field. For example, if the position is more public services-focused, be prepared to talk about reference, instruction, assessment, etc. – if it’s tech services-focused, be prepared to talk about metadata, collection management systems, digitization, etc.
  • Experience with important aspects of the job description. If there’s a mention of “manages a collection or employee budget of $X” or “oversees strategic planning for Y,” expect to be asked about skills and experiences related to those aspects of the job. You don’t need to have done them all – but be able to relate your skills and experience back to those criteria in some way.
  • Leadership and supervision: Even if you’re not supervising people directly, many jobs ask about leadership and/or supervision. Facilitation and coordination of teams and projects counts (or should), even if you didn’t directly supervise the people in that team. If you haven’t done that, be prepared/able to talk about modeling leadership in a team environment, etc.
  • Research: If it’s a faculty position, they’ll want to know your research interests/agenda. You do not have to have an elevator speech prepared, but you should be able to talk about what interests you, what you’d like to research and write about in more depth, and why. Do you love thinking about the political implications of how and why things are named the way they are? Do you geek out about command line? Maybe you’d like to write about writing simple scripts and hacks for metadata, aimed at non-tech folks. Ideally this relates in some way back to your job, but if you need to draw a connection to something that seems far afield, be prepared to do it.
  • Service: See above in the section about the CV for what that means, but prepared to go into more depth about what kinds of service to the profession you would like to focus on and why.
  • Why this job? Ex: “I like that this is a big research university with a lot of professional mobility and  I’d have the opportunity to work with a variety of faculty across disciplines.” or “I am really passionate about teaching undergraduates and I love that this is included in the position.” Be prepared to give a real, evidence-based answer, tailored to that institution and that position.
  • Vision: They may ask you for your vision of how a position like this would fit into that particular institution. This can be a tricky one, so try and gather as much context as you can about that institution before you answer. Strategic plans, any meeting minutes or agendas, marketing materials – these are all helpful.
  • Inclusion and Diversity: At my institution, we have candidates submit a statement discussing their commitment to inclusion and diversity, and we typically address it at multiple points in time during the interview, both in the phone interview and the in-person. This Chronicle Vitae article “Don’t Dodge the Diversity Questions!” has some good advice. 

In-Person

In-person faculty interviews are a marathon, not a sprint. They are often structured as a day +, starting with a “day before the full interview” dinner with one or more members of the search committee, and usually an administrator and other members of the library faculty. You will get breaks of 10-15 minutes, but even during lunch, which is a bit more unstructured, you are still being interviewed, so be prepared to be “on,” but you can relax a little bit. (A very little bit).

The formal interview will usually be a full day, and each institution varies their structure a bit, but they will likely consist of a presentation of some kind and then a series of smallish meetings:

      • Presentation: 30-45 minutes on some large prompt or question around “trends in the field,” followed by questions. This will usually be one of your few opportunities to talk to or meet staff outside of the archives or your immediate “up or down” reporting line, so be prepared for questions from outside your field – even outside of the library! This is both your opportunity to show your understanding of the field you’re interviewing for, as well as your presentation skills. Knit as many locally specific pieces of information as examples to underpin your points as possible. The administrators and the search committee will notice.
      • Meeting with Faculty: Be prepared to discuss “facultyness” in whatever form it takes at that university. This is your opportunity to both find out more about individual faculty members’ research interests, as well as impress them if you’ve bothered to find out more about them ahead of time. Be prepared, again, to discuss your research interests, and your service.
      • Meeting with Direct Reports or Folks in Your Dept/Unit: There will probably be a meeting with people who will either report to you (and probably your potential supervisor), or people in your unit who will need to work closely with you. This meeting will likely deal heavily with the nitty gritty of local issues specific to that institution, and will be where your colleagues will be trying to suss out what it would be like to work with or for you. Again, knowing local details, or, once you’ve learned local details, being able to clearly integrate them into your answers, can be key.
      • Meeting with the Faculty Promotions/Appointments Committee: Again, this is only if this is a faculty position. This is your opportunity, if you haven’t sussed it out already, to figure out what expectations, requirements, and systems are in place that govern how library faculty are evaluated and promoted in status. There should be clear, library-specific guidelines if the library faculty are their own series in the institution’s Appointments, Promotions, and Tenure document for faculty. You can certainly ask the search committee for these guidelines ahead of the in-person interview, that’s never a bad idea.
      • Meeting with Your Boss (and Probably Your Boss’s Boss): You’ll almost certainly meet one on one with both your direct supervisor and with the Dean – or in very large research universities, one or two steps down from that. For higher-level admin positions you may meet with an admin outside of the library, but that’s often only for Dean or Director-level positions. These folks are trying to suss out what it would be like to have you as a direct report, and so these meetings – and the whole of the interview process – can get into the very  problematic area of “organizational fit.” I won’t spend too much time on this, as I don’t want this to become a book-length blog post (and it could very easily be its own blog post – heck, book), but the notion of “fit” is problematic a-f. See above link for more on that. In any case, these folks will likely ask you similar questions as above, but what they’re also doing is looking for red flags.
        • Never complain about previous employers, even subtly, even where you don’t explicitly name them. The library world is small.
        • Frame experiences, even negative ones, positively.
        • Watch for how they treat you. Do they seem to genuinely care about your perspective, your research interests, your career goals? If not, that’s a huge red flag.

        Related, It’s a truism, but they’re not just interviewing you, you’re interviewing them. I really like these questions from Ask a Manager if you need a prompt about what to ask during the “Do you have any questions for us” sections of the interview.

There is quite a bit that I could and probably should have expanded on, but I wanted to keep this to advice specifically pertinent to “actions to take” that could be broadly extrapolated to academic library/archives positions.

If you have questions, I’m @kcrowe on Twitter, or you can shoot me an e-mail at my @du.edu account!

Taking Care

Hey y’all. This post has nothing to do with research, teaching, or service, but it is related to all three. As I’ve moved into more public services-facing work and the more I’ve worked with graduate students, the more I’m reminded just how mentally unwell I was during my last year of graduate school, and in more years than not in my early professional life.

For some context, I come from a life that’s pretty darn privileged – my parents were academic librarians/administrators with PhDs. I ultimately decided to follow in their footsteps, for a variety of reasons. However, I wanted very much to avoid being defined by my parents and their careers as I was establishing myself, and so I chose to work outside of libraries (partly because – benefits, hello) full time during graduate school, which I went to almost-full-time. During my last year of graduate school, my mother was diagnosed with advanced, and ultimately terminal, lung cancer. She passed away as I was completing my final semester. In addition, my generalized anxiety disorder and depression, which I had been diagnosed with during my undergrad and had largely been managing with medication, flared up with a vengeance due to accumulated stress about my mom, my job, and completing my degree. Everything began to suffer – I felt like I was falling apart. Even after I got through all of that and got into my first professional position, I was so focused on establishing myself, earning promotion to Associate Professor, and generally “not letting anybody down” during the first part of my career that I realized I needed to build “taking care of myself” into my life or I just flat out won’t do it. It’s really only now, in my mid 30s, that I’ve started to take an active, planned approach to taking care of myself. Most of my tools/techniques either don’t cost money, or are things you’d need to do anyway, like eating, etc.

Habit Tracking/Journaling

One of the side effects of my generalized anxiety disorder is procrastination and avoidance. I’ve tried a variety of techniques over the years to capture all my to-dos and keep track of progress, and this year I’m yet another person on the Bullet Journal bandwagon. I decided to try it when several other folks I know and trust whose brains work how mine does, more or less, recommended it (thanks Ruth!). I’d tried “Getting Things Done” several times and become flooded with anxiety – but despite my over-reliance on my cell phone and a variety of apps, this analog method of keeping track of what I need to be working on seems to be working – so far so good. It’s FAR less pretty than almost anything you’ll find on an image search if you search the phrase “bullet journal” online, so don’t despair if yours is also ugly but functional.

The “Habit Tracker” is one way to use a bullet journal (or any journal, really) and all it is is a dated list of entries with all the habits you’d like to be doing on a daily basis. Mine are:

  • kettlebell/bodyweight workout or yoga (AM or PM)
  • hydration (3 40 oz water bottles/day)
  • eating 3 meals of actual, real food per day
  • journaling (not bullet journaling, just “thoughts for the day,” which I keep separate)
  • leaving the building for min of 15 (ideally 30) min/day
  • 2 15 minute breaks during workday
  • 2 magnesium before bed (I take these-most magnesium is citrate which upsets my stomach)
  • text or talk to a friend (not at work)
  • give myself a present
  • in bed by 10
  • read book
  • daily chores:
    • make bed
    • empty/fill dishwasher
    • empty/fill washer
    • empty/wipe sink/counter
    • pick up/put away
    • sweep (I have a lot of animals, this needs to happen daily)

In case you’re wondering – the “give yourself a present” is absolutely a nod to Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks.

Sunday “Prep”

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if I don’t prepare almost every aspect of my meals for the upcoming week, I will end up eating takeout. A lot.

Every week on Sunday I:

  • hardboil 6 eggs
  • rough chop a few peppers, onion, etc.
  • make either:
    • tuna salad
    • egg salad

That way I have emergency food for breakfast/dinner and could make a salad for lunch so I don’t resort to takeout unless I just can’t stand it. I will also usually put on one slow cooker recipe of some kind.

Usually it’s:

Or, soup. I end up eating a lot of pureed vegetable soups because, like a small child, I prefer my vegetables to be hidden. All of these can be made vegan with veggie broth or are vegan. I usually put shredded chicken or beef in mine for protein.

I am not a fan of formalized meal planning – I’m too fickle, and I’d rather buy what’s on sale in the grocery store that week, which I often don’t know until that Tuesday. One bonus is that I have a pretty set flavor palate, and I know what works or doesn’t work for my guts/brain/body. I happen to be lactose intolerant, and while I don’t have a gluten allergy, I’ve found that my brain and guts function a lot better if I stick mostly to rice if I’m going to add in any grain or starch. In addition, rice forms the basis of most of my favorite cuisines – Korean, Thai, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese, Mexican, etc. If you had to call it something I guess you could call it paleo, but I do still eat pasta, bread, etc. just not very often.

If I don’t want one of the things I make ahead, I usually have a defrosted package of ground beef (I would use pork or chicken but I haven’t found a reliable source of either that’s local and affordable). The ground beef often becomes bibimbap. It may look complicated, but try it once or twice and you’ll see that – provided you have the main ingredients (ginger, garlic, vinegar, sesame oil, sesame seeds, some red chili garlic sauce (can be Sriracha, doesn’t have to be gochujang), sugar)), it is WORTH IT. And it’s fast. I make at least a bowl a week, probably more during the winter. Ideally you’ll also have some kimchi, pickled onions (you can quick pickle red onions in the fridge), and you’ll have a meal that feels special (to me, anyway – it’s a staple in many Korean/Korean-American households), satisfies takeout cravings, is fast, and is still pretty healthy. My other go-to is this very simple Thai Beef with Basil recipe. Another is breakfast tacos – just scramble some eggs with garlic and hot sauce, add some avocado/guacamole, put ’em in 3 taco shells, and you have dinner. During the summer I make a lot of tuna poke as well, if tuna is on sale. I finally gave in a bought a rice cooker – totally worth it.

I’m not vegan or vegetarian, but I do try to buy ethically produced meat if possible – which usually means I stock up on ground beef, stew meat, ribs, whole free range chickens, and pork butt/shoulder if I can get it. I then use the whole chicken to make my own broth, which tastes better than the crap you can buy in the store and is super simple to make – also in the slow cooker! Most of the really good ways to prepare cheap cuts of meat involve slow cooking.

Maybe someday I’ll get an Instapot. Until then, my slow cooker will have to do.

Building Movement into your Day

This is obviously super duper dependent on where you live, but one of the best things I’ve been able to do for my mental health is to shift as much of my “driving time” into “biking time” as possible. This kills many, many birds with one stone – first, I hate driving. It stresses me out. Without GPS I never know where I am, or which direction I’m facing. Other drivers make me nuts and it puts me into anxiety overload. Second, the more I move, the less anxious I am. I am not someone who likes to exercise – at all. All of my exercise routines are short, the longest is something like 25 minutes long. I would also rather eat my own hair than regularly attend a gym. I’m too big of an introvert and I am a cheap motherf&@!r. Biking solves all of these problems – I’m by myself, I am getting where I need to go, without being in a car, and I’m exercising.

I keep hearing about all these “walking meetings” tech people have, but I regularly need to take notes, and this seems to make about as much sense as a treadmill desk to me. This is also why I have a “to do” in my daily checklist to leave my desk for 30 min (lunch) and 2 15 min breaks – otherwise I will convince myself that I can’t possibly leave, I have too much to do, yada yada – which ultimately makes me less productive when I am working.

Bike commuting seems far less doable for those in rural areas or who regularly need to ferry children or other folks from place to place, but if you can swing it, it’s great.

Edited to add: here are some of my favorite YouTube or otherwise-online workouts. 

Neghar Fonooni is one of the few YouTube fitness people who doesn’t totally annoy me.

One of the (very) few good things from my last relationship is that my ex was a certified kettlebell instructor, and it’s one of the few actual workouts I’ve ever done that I liked. I don’t know if I’d recommend going straight into it without having a human walk you through it in person, but Neghar is one of the few people I’ve seen do a decent job of explaining it online.

A good, fast (15 min) workout, especially for someone still familiarizing themselves with kettlebells. She has several others, but this one’s my favorite for speed and efficiency. In and out.

I also really like the Nerd Fitness Beginner and Advanced Bodyweight workouts. They require very little equipment (dumbbell or milk jug, etc.) and are also fast.

I love the few free videos available on YouTube from Jessamyn Stanley. Fair warning, she curses a bit during this video, which I appreciate but wasn’t expecting at first!. She covers some necessary modifications for people who aren’t a size 2. I’m somewhere between regular and plus size, and I regularly need to do these kinds of mods – I appreciate her so much, most yoga instructors don’t deal with that!

Yoga with Adriene is also a great resource for a variety of free videos.

Works in progress: hobbies

I need to get a hobby. I don’t knit, sew, sculpt, write (outside of professional responsibilities), game, etc. That’s my goal for the year. We’ll see how that goes. I’m terrible at doing things that aren’t completely and totally practical, i.e. the antithesis of hobbies.

I’d love to hear from some other folks what their “care” routines are. Hopefully we can help keep each other honest. The school year’s starting, and that’s usually when my ability to focus on myself wanes, thus the impetus to write this post. ❤

I Have Always Thought I’d Be Here: Post-SAA 2017 Thoughts & Feelings

I have a lot of thoughts and some feelings. This was a good year, but one that felt odd, and a little sad, but mostly good and more honest, but with a long way to go. I ventured into badge ribbon-making as my own tiny act of protest, people seemed to dig it. Next year, buttons – you can leave buttons on your bag all year long! If you ever want to do something similar, I used http://www.pcnametag.com/ and it set me back about $130.

This time I didn’t spend the usual close-to-a-full-week in and around the conference. Part of that was because they changed the structure up a bit to accommodate the 1-day forum/unconference, “The Liberated Archive” and so some of the usual Wednesday section meetings were on Friday, so I didn’t arrive until halfway into Thursday, when the conference was already in full swing. There were some amazing presentations it sounds like I missed – Artists as Ambassadors in particular. The presentation covered some of the work that artists are doing as part of Portland’s Artist-in-Residence program to create art with archival material that speaks to gentrification, displacement, police surveillance, the experience of immigrant communities in the city, and it sounds like a lot of other work that uses archives and the historical record to confront ongoing and historic injustice through creative works. Really bummed I missed this one.

I did get to attend Radical Empathy in Archival Practice, which was a punch in the gut – in a good way. It was a series of lightning talks followed by breakout discussion. If I tried to summarize them all and say what I loved about each one, that would be a whole blog post in and of itself – so I encourage you to get thee to the Twitter and search the combined hashtags “#s301” and “#saa17”. Then (or first, choose your own adventure!) read Michelle Caswell and Marika Cifor’s “From Human Rights to Feminist Ethics: Radical Empathy in the Archives”, which was the basis for the discussion. In particular, I’m thinking about Giordana Mecagni’s presentation about how archives selling the rights to primary source collections to Gale and other vendors is explicitly against our code of ethics – compounded by the issues that we’re doing so with materials on black liberation, lgbtiqa+ rights activism, and other activist archives. What does it say about us that we’re willing to literally sell out the records of people and organizations whose explicit missions were/are all about getting free? (hint: it says we’re essentially colonizing the work of liberation movements) Also, and this didn’t come up this time – but related, what does it say that some of the databases we purchase and use (ahem, Ancestry) are full of materials digitized by unpaid prison labor?

This was also the year that Jarrett Drake dropped a bomb on the archives profession (again, in a good way) with his Medium post “I’m Leaving the Archives Profession: It’s Better this Way.” If you haven’t read it already, read it, and then listen to Fobazi Ettarh’s keynote for the Women in LIS “Pushing the Margins” symposium on “vocational awe.” Then read the text of Chris Bourg’s Triangle Research Libraries’ Network 2017 talk, “NC* is a no-go: bathrooms, libraries, and the limits of welcoming.” Fun fact: our conference got a mention because one of the attendees overheard folks snickering about the all-gender bathrooms – on the same day that our 45th president issued, via Twitter, a statement that transgender members of the armed forces, would no longer be eligible to serve in the military. A week after our organization’s Executive Director issued a statement of concern about having our conference in Austin in 2019 due to pending legislation that would restrict bathroom use for transgender and gender nonconforming people.*

To quote the phenomenal Michelle Caswell (and thanks to Joyce Gabiola for the tweet!):

I can’t say enough good things about Walidah Imarisha’s keynote that opened the Liberated Archive Forum on Saturday. For some context, I went down a dystopian fiction rabbit hole right after November 2016 and read most of Octavia Butler’s works, among others. This culminated in me buying Octavia’s Brood, which Imarisha co-edited, and when I found out she was doing the keynote, I managed to barely restrain myself from fangirling all over her in person (I did a little bit via Twitter). She brought together her work in archives, community organizing, activism, histories of white supremacy/racism/exclusion in Oregon/the Pacific Northwest, and science fiction/fantasy in ways that I can’t articulate nearly as well as she did, so I’ll edit this post later to add in video, which I’m told is going to be posted soon.

Literally, every single one of the Liberated Archive Forum sessions in the AM looked interesting, save maybe 1 or 2 – if anything, while I appreciated that the forum made space for a more unconference-y time at the end, I would have loved to see that time shortened and more spread out with two sets of sessions. Really, I would have loved to see the entire conference be structured around this theme, which I know some folks advocated for but which ultimately didn’t happen. I also would have loved to have seen more community members up/out front. The session I went to on the Plateau People’s Web Portal was 1 archivist and 1 community member who split time fairly evenly for presentation + questions (1 other community member who was going to present couldn’t attend), I heard that several other presentations were dominated by archivists over community members. Not cool.

A lot of my thoughts and feelings around these issues were wrapped up in a conversation between me and two of my favorite people, which ended up with both of them saying: “I literally never thought I’d be here.” Not just in the profession, but like – in a nice hotel, drinking a cocktail, not living paycheck to paycheck. My first thought was: “I always thought I’d be here.” I have never doubted, for a minute, that I’d be in that space, or that I had a right to be there, or that I’d eventually get there, even when I was staying in a Motel 6 in Emporia to finish library school, or when I was in a crap contract position with no benefits. Never.

I know what that looks like – and I could see myself in that position because right now, “success” in our profession looks like me, sounds like me, and presents to the world like me. And that’s the problem.

*corrected: I had initially read coverage of the bill (SB6) incorrectly – as of the time I posted this, the bill has passed the Senate, and is on its way to the House, but it hasn’t yet been voted on by the House.

 

 

Sabbatical Research Post: Month 2? – I Continue to Not Have the Range, But I Do Have a Plan

As you can see, I’m not great at tracking discrete amounts of time. I went on sabbatical, like for really reals, close to mid-June, so I’ll say that I’m in month 2. Why not. Per my last blog post, I was wrestling with a lot of things having to do with census data and how/whether my research methodology is sufficiently rigorous and centering of Black voices/the Black experience. Also if you want to know why I capitalize “Black” and not “white” please read Touré on the subject – his take made sense, so I just went with it. I am also not super consistent because not all style guides agree with me, and also because I could use a copy editor who follows me around and fixes things – but who couldn’t?

I’ve settled on an approach that is ultimately more time-consuming and will probably require reading glasses by the end, but which is still in keeping with the primary source-focused nature of my research. It also does a better job of centering the Black experience/Black voices. I’ve been spending lots and lots and lots of time at the microfilm readers at Denver Public Library’s Western History Department going through close to the entirety of the Colorado Statesman, a Denver-based, Colorado-focused Black newspaper that has coverage for the years I need (it ran ~1895-1961, but DPL has 1904-1954 accessible via microfilm). So far – I’m only at 1914 – I’ve located useful biographical information about the first two graduates to actually graduate from the University of Denver – DU’s technical first African-American graduate, Emma Azalia Hackley actually graduated from a private music school which was later absorbed by the University, and is very well documented already.

Fun fact, I also discovered that a good chunk of the public records that I’d discovered for Annie Marie Cox, DU’s third African-American woman to graduate (AB 1910), were actually records of a different woman with a very similar name, a few years older, who was also African-American and WENT TO THE SAME CHURCH. The only way I realized this is that both women were mentioned, separately, in a “Scott Chapel Notes” (predominantly Black Methodist church in Denver) article in the Colorado Statesman. Basically, thank goodness for the Colorado Statesman – the “real” Annie Cox actually has – to me – a much more interesting story.

Annie Marie Cox, AB 1910 (University of Denver)

Here’s her bio so far: “Annie Marie Cox was born to Dr. James Monroe and Hattie Robinson Cox in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1888. Her father was the first Black president of Philander Smith College, a HBCU with connections to the Methodist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. Dr. Cox graduated from Clark University (now Clark Atlanta), and was the first graduate of the Methodist Gammon Theological Seminary, also in Atlanta. Before assuming the presidency at Philander, he served on the faculty for 11 years as a professor of ancient languages. [published encyclopedic sources say he wasn’t president after 1924 but he’s listed as “president, college” in the 1930 census]. Hattie Robinson Cox also taught at Philander Smith College.

Philander Smith College, “Miss Annie Cox,” Philander Smith College Digital Archive, accessed July 15, 2017, https://pscdigitalarchive.omeka.net/items/show/674.

While in Denver, Annie was active at Scott Chapel, the predominantly African-American Methodist church at 2201 Ogden. In 1909, the Colorado Statesman noted her father’s significance to the African-American community, calling her a “chip off the old block” and noted that Dr. Cox was “one of the leading educators of the South.” Annie graduated from the University of Denver with an AB in 1910, majoring in Latin and minoring in Greek and Science. She gave a nod to her Arkansas connections with her yearbook quote: “I’ll go home to Dear Old Dixie.” After graduation from the University of Denver, she received an offer of a teaching position in Oklahoma.  She also taught rhetoric, literature, and modern languages at Philander Smith College, and retired as Instructor Emeritus of Modern Languages and English in 1966. She passed away in Oklahoma in 1978.”

 

As you might imagine, the Philander Smith College Archives have already been super-helpful (the information they provided fleshed out the biography significantly), and it’s been really incredible. Seeing the power of archival research from the other side has been enlightening – and not that I wasn’t already sympathetic to patrons, but things are so much easier when you can reach out directly to a friendly archivist if you have a remote inquiry!

More soon…

Sabbatical Research Log, Days 7-14ish: I Don’t Have the Range

Annie Marie Cox, AB 1910. Student yearbook vol. 13, 1909-1910

As I’ve progressed on this project, I’m wrestling with a couple of things.

First, as context (and just in general) I recommend that you read Gina Schlesselman-Tarango’s excellent recent article in Library Trends “The Legacy of Lady Bountiful: White Women in the Library.” It has me shook, in a good way (and, again, you should read it – and the other articles in the issue, they’re all great). Got me thinking a lot about whiteness, its relationship to femininity, the patriarchy, and how all that manifests in LIS – all things that are deeply resonant in general, and definitely related to this project. Second, and related – I’m feeling a bit unmoored on this project.

Robertann Barbee Cuthbert, AB 1911. Student yearbook vol. 15, 1910-1911.

Some of the “why” about my unmoored-ness might be obvious given the context – I’m a white woman researching and writing about Black women at the University of Denver (DU). I started this project with a main co-author/co-lead (Dr. Nicole Joseph) who, at the time, co-led a group of graduate women at DU (the Sistah Network) who identify as Black . Our goal was, ultimately, to mount an exhibit to coincide with the university’s 150th anniversary, celebrating the history of early Black women alumnae. Due to time and resource constraints, we weren’t able to complete the project at the time, but it was an example of the kind of work that both Dr. Joseph and I felt that our archives needed to be doing – and that, to be frank, we didn’t do, for a lot of reasons that are too obvious and mundane to go into – as a part of the celebration of the University’s sesquicentennial.

Kate White Harris, AB 1912. Student yearbook vol. 16, 1911-1912.

Fast forward to 2017 (DU’s 150th was in 2014), and my sabbatical proposal, which I made about this project, was accepted. I’m now deep into the throes of original biographical research. As a related aside, it’s a good thing I put aside the whole of a summer to work on this because doing original biographical research, especially on women, and especially on African-American women, is NO JOKE. First, ladies get married – they change their names, sometimes multiple times. Aside from all the usual transcription and other errors with census and other readily accessible public records, you also have to contend with all of the issues with how census enumerators dealt with race and ethnicity. For just a glimpse into this, read Christine Hickman’s “The Devil and the One-Drop Rule” which is not only a foundational text of critical legal studies, it includes, in a footnote, an example from her own family which I found particularly illuminating: “In reviewing the 19th century census records for my own family, I noted that a “W” had been crossed out and replaced with an “M,” suggesting that my great, great grandparent may have gently corrected the mistaken impression of the [enumerator].”

It is this footnote that, I think, gets at the crux of my concern. The goal in this project is deceptively simple: document early African-American women alums at the University of Denver. However, the records that we have at our disposal – or at least those that we’ve been able to identify – have the same, and in some cases, even more issues than those noted in Christine Hickman’s article. The University (and my guess is, most universities) did not retain race or ethnicity data on admitted students until fairly recently (2001-on). So, in 2014, we decided that the place to at least begin to identify students was one of the few places where we did have at least some data – yearbooks. There are numerous flaws in this method. First, not all students appear in the yearbooks, even by name, and definitely not all students are pictured. Second, even if a particular African-American woman happened to appear in an image in the yearbook, we’re using visual cues to identify students as either “African-American” or “not African-American.” (again, see the Hickman article for a far more detailed explanation of the legal implications of hypodescent, i.e. “the one-drop rule”). We added in a second “check” to this process – each potentially African-American woman, once identified, would be cross-referenced in these super-problematic historical records that denoted race/ethnicity. So – we could take one of two routes: either, we could circle back and look at another set of records – say, commencement programs or even student transcripts – and take each name in each commencement program or transcript and cross-reference those names against the census – or, we could take a shortcut. We could use yearbook pictures to In order to identify some early African-American graduates, and cross-reference our visual analysis with census records.

The issue(s), I hope, are obvious. These women, all of whom graduated prior to 1940 (1960 if I have additional time), are now deceased. We can’t ask them how they self-identify.  The University of Denver is now, and has been since its founding, a predominantly white institution (PWI), and the number of African-American graduates, let alone African-American women graduates, is statistically very low relative to other race/ethnicity categories. In addition, I only have 10 weeks to not only identify women, but do a significant amount of additional biographical research on them. In additionally addition, though the first round of identification was done by a generous group of women from the Sistah Network, the remainder of this ID’ing and cross-referencing is being done by me.

I’m left wondering: how much of Lady Bountiful is at work in this project? Do I have the range? How can I circle back around to ensure that this project serves the community it was initially intended to serve, now that my co-lead has moved on to literally greener pastures at Vanderbilt? I think I have the beginnings of answers to these questions, but they seem like important ones to keep circling back to as I’m doing this work. I’m sure there are questions I’m not considering. But, as Dr. Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” So I’m going to keep trying to do better.

Sabbatical Research Log – Days 1-?

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 10.36.20 AM

Grace Mabel (Mabelle) Andrews from the Kynewisbok, the University of Denver yearbook (vol. 11), representing academic year 1907-1908.

As some of the folks who know me IRL (in real life) know, I’m currently on a research sabbatical to continue a project that I began in partnership with then-University of Denver (DU) Assistant Prof in Curriculum & Instruction, Dr. Nicole Joseph. One aspect of her research focuses on using primary sources to surface the histories of Black women in STEM education, particularly at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). As a Black woman teaching at a PWI (Predominantly White Institution), she is also interested in the retention of Black women scholars, and has focused some of her service efforts on bringing together Black women in the academy. My research interests focus on centering the experiences of marginalized communities on historically white campuses in the historical record, and specifically in this case, surfacing the histories of individual students, faculty, and staff who identify as part of one or more of these communities. As an undergraduate in history, I was entranced by Gerda Lerner and Merry Wiesner’s feminist analysis of history, bringing in primary source analysis and individual women’s voices and stories – and I wanted to do some of that work myself.

As we’ve written about in several co-authored articles and chapters, our interests literally dovetailed during the 150th anniversary of the University of Denver in 2014, when Dr. Joseph reached out to me to ask if we could collaborate on an exhibit to highlight early African-American alumnae. We very quickly realized that there was little to no information on these women readily available and visible in the archives, so we got to work. The Sistah Network, the group for Black women in graduate programs at DU co-run by Dr. Joseph, began digging through yearbooks and student newspapers, in search of these early students. We quickly realized that there was no good way to determine who might have self-identified as Black women during the early years of the University. We landed on an imperfect initial method of cross-referencing women who, based on halftone photomechanical prints in early 1900s yearbooks, may not have identified as white, with census records that listed race and ethnicity as prescribed by that particular decennial census. Due to time restrictions, we were unable to identify these women in a sufficient amount of time to get an exhibit up during the 150th, but by this point, I could see how much work needed to be done, and I was committed – thus the sabbatical proposal.

Fast forward to 2017, and restarting this process, using this methodology, is still something I am deeply uncomfortable with, as it doesn’t allow the women to speak for themselves with any real certainty about how they identified. As Christine Hickman writes in “The Devil and the One-Drop Rule,” her detailed examination of the legal and cultural implications of hypodescent in America (i.e. the “one-drop rule”), “unlike in the modern census, the classifications were ascertained by the enumerator, they were not self-ascribed.” (1185). She follows this up with a personal example in a footnote on the same page: “In reviewing the 19th century census records for my own family, I noted that a “W” [for “White”] had been crossed out and replaced with an “M,” [for “Mulatto”] suggesting that my great, great grandparent may have gently corrected the mistaken impression of the ‘beardless boy.'” That said, we have no other records (that I’m aware of, if they’re out there, I’m all ears) that would allow for cross-referencing names of known students with self-identified race/ethnicity. So – I’m going to keep plugging along.

More as research progresses.

Assessment Word Cloud – Comfort with Discomfort

Here’s my word cloud for 2016-2017 assessment of my instruction sessions. The question is: “What three adjectives would you use to describe your experiences in the archives today?”

I think a lot about assessment – and I think a lot about assessment in the context of why and how we assess what we assess. I’m all for it if it helps us improve student learning, evaluate what’s not working, where there are gaps, etc. I have read and re-read the work of my lovely colleagues Maria Accardi, Zoe Fisher, Emily Drabinski, Kevin Seeber – and today, the fabulous Chayla Haynes, and so many more about how to enact critical, intersectional, feminist pedagogy, how to do the work of not enacting the “banking model” of education. I think a LOT about the affective components of instruction. And in that context, I…like what I see, but I don’t like all of what I see.

I guess what I’m saying is that next year I want to see “uncomfortable” as the biggest word in that word cloud.