Cognitive Dissonance

I always thought I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, and now I’m not so sure. 

I have known (like, known) since I was 17, that I wanted to be an archivist. I wanted to be in charge of a special collections or archives in a college or university. I often joke about how I was basically created in a lab (or just breathtakingly unoriginal) to work in academic libraries; both of my parents were academic librarians and my father was Dean of Libraries and later Vice Chancellor at an R1. In July 2012, I was privileged – I’m using that word purposefully – to be appointed Curator of Special Collections and Archives at the University of Denver. I’ve loved a lot of the work I’ve been able to do in this role. I’ve gotten to partner with other educators to incorporate critical pedagogy using archival materials in a bunch of disciplinary areas. I work in a beautiful space/building. I have had great supervisors who generally have given me free rein to do the work that I think needs to happen. My co-workers are/have been great colleagues in a lot of ways. I make a decent living in an incredibly expensive city.

And yet.

The last few years – maybe it’s that I’m staring down the barrel of 40, maybe it’s recognizing that the way I am in/have been in a lot of my relationships (all kinds – platonic, romantic, professional etc.) is not healthy – not for me, and not for the people / organizations I’m in them with. I derive a great deal (read: too much) of my sense of self-worth from the work that I do, and while I do believe that being engaged in meaningful work is critically important, I’ve begun to wonder if the work that I’m doing now is the work that I should be doing, where I should be doing it. 

I want to be very clear; I’m generally happy in my job, and I’m not looking necessarily to stop doing what I’m doing in my “get paid to do what I do” life. The longer I live, though, the more convinced I am that INCITE is right, that a lot of work done in the name of liberation is derailed, co-opted, and gutted of its revolutionary possibilities if it happens in the context of the non-profit world, the “professional world,” really any context where the work is tied to funding from foundations and related organizations that hoard wealth and power and perpetrate violence and harm in many often socially sanctioned ways.

Still, I need to work. I need to collect a paycheck. 

So, I’m in this somewhat odd position where I do genuinely like and sometimes find meaning in the work I’m paid to do, while recognizing that it’s not the work. I have found some places to do that kind of work, and I’m hoping to grow and expand that part of my life. I’m also realizing that I don’t have to move up the ladder, I don’t have to take on additional professional service roles, I don’t have to say yes to work that doesn’t at minimum mitigate harm. I have the luxury to use the flexibility my role allows me to make space in my life to spend more of the privilege (money, time, standing) I’ve accrued. I’m excited to figure out what that actually looks like.

After a nap.

Defund the Police

Below is the public comment I made at the 6/8/2020 Denver City Council meeting. I’m proud of it, and I hope it helps anyone else who is trying to communicate to your local elected officials (especially if you are a white person) what your priorities and demands are if your values are in line with the ones I’ve shared.

I’m Kate Crowe, and I’m here today because I want our city council to radically rethink what we mean when we say we value public safety, and what we mean when we say we want to prevent violence in this city. The city’s 2019 budget says that “all Denver residents and visitors deserve to be and feel safe in our community,” a values statement that I and hopefully the whole of the city council agrees with. Our police department has shown itself to be inadequate to this task. The city’s budget is a moral document – it shows where our elected and appointed officials’ priorities and values are, and it tells us, your constituents, whether or not your priorities are in line with our values. This is not about that cliche we hear over and over again, of a ”few bad apples.”

This is about a system that is violent and rotten to its core, that has its foundations in slave catching, and in the subjugation and commodification of Black, Indigenous, and non-Black People of Color.

This is about a system that costs our city twice what Baltimore spends on excessive force payouts, despite being a smaller city with a lower crime rate.

This is about a system that murders Black men experiencing homelessness and mental health crises, like Michael Marshall and Marvin Booker.

This is about a system that allows police to fire into a moving car, killing a queer Latinx teenager like Jessie Hernandez.

Our own mayor, in a recent interview, called all of these deaths “murders.” So what I would ask from you, my councilperson Jamie Torres, in advance of the elections in three years, is that you commit to working with this council to redirect the city’s $400 million + budget allocated to policing to proven community-based programs focused on affordable housing, mental health care and other public health initiatives developed in partnership with the communities that are most impacted by these issues.

If I don’t see change, I’ll be the first person out door knocking and phone banking for current members’ opponents. Thank you, and I yield the balance of my time.

2019: To Doing Less, Doing Better

I guess you could see this as a follow-up to my last post. It’s 2019, and last year was, indeed, a messy bench. Also, if you haven’t watched The Good Place yet, why haven’t you? Related to my whole mid-career reflection (I guess I could have had a mid-life crisis, but I don’t happen to think anything in my life requires me to flip into crisis mode – yet), I’ve been thinking about things that I’ve either changed or maintained that have worked well, and what I’d like to focus on this next year.


Closing Loops Before Opening New Ones

I’ve gotten better about this over the past year, largely because I started using a stripped-down form of my own very haphazard combo of a bullet journal, pomodoro timers, and whatever else works at the time. My system is ugly as hell, but it’s functional (mostly) and most importantly, I’ve found it more useful than any other form of “getting things done” I’ve tried.

Bullet Journaling – What Works (For Me)

There are oodles of bullet journal explanations and tutorials out there, including the site created by the dude who came up with the idea, so I’m not going to go into detail about “what it is,” I’ll just show you what I do. The gist is, you take a blank, bound, codex-y thing with whatever layout makes the most sense to you (I prefer lined, some people prefer blank, or a grid – really, whatever you like) and you brain dump and then track whatever you need to brain dump or track, either using the originator’s system, or whatever works for you. Some people make (to me) crazy-elaborate, beautiful illustrated calendars, habit trackers, etc. – all of which you can find with a search of the hashtag #bulletjournal (or #bujo), none of which I use, and which I believe largely exist as a form of organizational one-upsman-ship, because some people are the worst. Or, those people are talented artists and I am a petty, jealous bench – probably the latter. Point being, mine is ugly and functional, but it works.


August 2018 Daily Logs – Bullet Journal

As you can see in the above page of daily logs from August, (i.e. daily brain dumps), it’s mostly lists of to-dos. I’ve found I’m very motivated by being able to cross out, fill in, x-off (whatever) task lists, and for whatever reason, it’s most effective if they’re on paper. As you can probably also see, my task lists are a mix of stuff – personal (non-work) to-dos, work to-dos, volunteer/service to-dos, etc. The Bullet Journal site recommends doing a monthly to-do list, as well as a yearly calendar, but I found that once things get beyond a daily to-do list that I sort of move along or cross off as needed, it really needs to go into my Outlook calendar, which I use for more long-term stuff.

August 2018 Bullet Journal Habit Tracker

August 2018 – Bullet Journal Habit Tracker

Another feature I’ve found helpful – and again, which many other bullet journalers you’ll see turn into insanely elaborate illustrations (yes, jealous messy bench, hi) is habit tracking. I wrote about this a lot more in September 2017 about what’s included and not, some of which has changed a little bit, but most of it’s about the same. As I also wrote about last September, I have diagnosed Generalized Anxiety Disorder and – maybe related – am not good at remembering to take care of myself/my body/my abode. The Habit Tracker gave me a way to incentivize myself to do things that support my overall health and well being. I’ve found that, while there was a lot of anxiety involved in setting up the tracking process (something that’s fairly common for me when I begin something new when I might – oh god – FAIL AT IT), it’s been incredibly helpful for making sure I remember to do things that support my health and well being.


The other component I’ve found useful for actually starting and completing any and all kinds of things is timers. This is the same principle as Unf*ck Your Habitat, basically – set a timer, and do things. I usually set a Pomodoro Timer (based on kitchen timers, which are 25 minutes and have a number of browser extensions or apps you can download – or you can just use your phone’s or another timer). The premise is simple and it has worked wonders for me – I can do just about anything without interruption for 25 minutes. I’m not so great about sticking to proscribed breaks – 5 minutes often turns into 10, 20, or even 25 – but I still get far more done than I would otherwise.

I’ve said I managed to do enough to get through the promotion process largely due to timers, and I mean it. They’re like magic.

Bullet Journaling – What Doesn’t Work (For Me)

One thing that didn’t work – taking anything other than very basic meeting-type notes (usually to-dos/tasks coming out of meetings with minimal context) in the journal. I tried to do research notes, having been prompted to do so after following the terrifyingly well-organized Raul Pacheco-Vega‘s advice to start an “Everything Notebook.” If you have a) great handwriting, b) are detail-oriented by nature, and c) love office supplies, you may love it! I a) have terrible handwriting, b) am prone more to squirrel trail-type anxious thinking – and, related, catastrophizing and feeling mentally/emotionally “flooded” if I try to operate within anything other than a very simple, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, task-oriented system and c) highlighters and tabs and anything that adds complexity just stresses me out and shuts me down. Bless him and anyone else whose brain works that way – I wish mine did – but it doesn’t.

As you can see from my brief attempt at a research log, I found that when I wanted to go back, I couldn’t read a lot of my handwriting, I couldn’t write anywhere near as fast as I could compose in word processing software (I can type ~ 100 WPM), and so my hand and brain kept cramping up. When I’m writing/composing, I tend toward brain dumps and then edits/synthesis later once I see patterns – and this doesn’t lend itself to that way of working.

I’m not saying my current process now is great – I’d love to improve it – but this approach ain’t it.


What I’d Like to Work On

  • E-Mail/calendar management. Inbox Zero seems like an impossible goal, but I’d like to at least try.
  • Doing less.
  • Committing to less.
  • Committing whole-heartedly to the things I say “Yes” to.
  • Getting better at knowing when to reverse course and shut shit down/transition.

Celebrating Love, Success, and Progress

My anxious brain’s tendency toward catastrophizing has some other not-so-fun effects, namely – when successes happen, milestones are reached (see, I’m writing in passive voice, because even if I had a hand in them, I can’t possibly take credit) – I don’t celebrate, pause, reflect, or breathe. I set my eyes on the next milestone, and then the next, and the next. It’s made for a very productive life in a lot of ways, but it’s also meant that I don’t properly reflect on what is good, great, and beautiful in my life – I don’t live in the now, I live in the next milestone.

I tend to think by ‘chunking things out,’ – but I also am pretty good at stepping back and seeing connections between goals and activities, which makes me pretty decent at prioritizing within my work life what to focus on. I’d like to take this and some of the other strengths I’ve brought to work more into my personal life. If you look at my Habit Tracker, it’s mostly “to-dos” – which makes sense generally, but given how well it’s worked for my work life and self-care, I’m hopeful I can find some way to make it work for more of my personal goals as well.

I could write up a “here’s what I did that I’m proud of in 2018” professionally and personally but since I need to actually do a variation of that for the professional stuff for work eval purposes because – shocker, I didn’t talk myself up enough – I’m going to hold off until I get a chance to go through my calendar/notebook more thoroughly.

Taking More Risks, Showing Up

This is the only “more” of things, and a lot of this goal goes back to recognizing that my anxious/depressed brain is lying to me, or at minimum, not working in my favor a lot of the time. I see risky things on the horizon – dating prospects, professional prospects, ways I might be required to show up and be present and vulnerable, opportunities to learn and maybe fail at – and my brain tells me to run the other direction. I don’t like to think of myself as a self-helpy person, but I have read damn near everything Brené Brown has ever written, and I loved Shonda Rhimes’ “Year of Yes,” – same idea.

I’ve grown a lot in this respect this year in ways I’m not going to talk about in detail – largely because I haven’t asked the organizations or people I’ve spent time with, and so I won’t name them. Suffice it to say, I did ok. I need and want to do better.

So – here’s to doing less, doing it better, following through on promises, and growth.


The messy bench part of me is sticking around, though.

The Wobbly Tripod of Library Faculty-Ness: Librarianship, Research, and Service

I wish I’d done a better job of writing down my thoughts when I came up with the title for this post. Let that be a lesson to you.

I think, though I can’t be certain, that this comes out of conversations with a number of masters students (those seeking doctoral programs and not), as well as early career professionals looking for some guidance, as I sometimes fancy myself helpful to folks, and hopefully am to varying degrees. I came back to it partly because of this Librarian Parlor post. Maybe I will never shut up about this, who knows.

I’m entering what I guess I would call “mid-career” phase, and have been through the promotion process (context: faculty at MPOW are not tenure-track, we are a faculty series with continuing contract, we’re not union, etc.) which is close, but not anywhere near as intense as what Sarah (see link above) wrote about going through. If I look through my promotion packet, like her, I don’t think it’s particularly reflective of the essence of “me” as…an archivist, a librarian, something in there – broken down into the familiar three categories: librarianship, research, and service. Like her, I’ve done a lot. Like her, a lot of it doesn’t show up in these documents. I’d wager that’s true of a lot of us. The relationships we begin and sustain, the communities we belong to and build. Not only the innovation, but the maintenance. The maintenance. The m-a-i-n-t-e-n-a-n-c-e. Building and maintenance.

Don’t get me wrong, innovation is great. I’m all for (context-appropriate) innovation. I’m all for (calculated) risk. But I also spent the better part of the first half of my career chasing innovation at someone else’s (a lot of someone else’s, not just one someone’s) behest while also trying to build and develop sustainable infrastructure, without sufficient resources to do either well. But the publications, presentations, and service I’ve done over my career, the work (a lot of which isn’t in my CV) I’m most proud of, is about building (sure, maybe you could call it innovating) and maintenance. The bit that makes this all wobbly is a lack of commitment to a shared vision, and a lack of commitment to one another. That commitment is dearly won, and when it goes, it often goes bit by painful bit – often only visible in retrospect, when things have unraveled.

I don’t want to build what i can’t maintain, and if I build it with you and we can’t maintain it, I want us to tear it down together, and use it to build something new. That’s what I want the second and third chapters of my career to focus on. That’s what I’m looking forward to. If that sounds like a plan, then let’s build together. Let’s maintain, together.

Maybe I initially intended this to be a meditation on the three prongs of academic librarianship, but – nah. Let’s do something outside those boundaries. Let’s do something way more meaningful, way more fun. Let’s do this.


Archives, Art, Mortality, Ephemerality, Empathy, Trauma…and Memorials

Longest blog post title ever. Today is Memorial Day – it’s been awhile since I’ve written – and the reason I am writing today is twofold.

Photo from “Steve Gordon, Denver Artist Remembered,” by Lauri Lynnxe Murphy

One: it’s a three-day weekend and for the first time in months, my house is semi-clean and groceries are bought and – even though I have a million things I do still need to do – I am not in a fog of simple carbs and caffeine and anxiety over how behind I am on seemingly everything. Two: I attended a memorial service yesterday/Sunday for Denver artist Steve Gordon.  I never met Steve, though I was somewhat familiar with his work – but I do know one of the people who dedicated herself to his care-taking during the last months of his life, Katie Taft – so I went, for her.

As an archivist, I spend a lot of time thinking about – and with people who are thinking about – their legacies and their mortality. I’m also the child of parents who are/were hyper-aware of mortality; for context, the most recent e-mail from my dad is a detailed update to his medical power of attorney documentation.  My mom died of lung cancer just over 10 years ago. I teach with professors who structure their writing classes around the rhetoric of memorials. You could probably say I’m steeped in an awareness of and, to a degree, am comfortable with talking about, death. I’m amazed I wasn’t goth-ier as a teenager. Still, we’ll see how I feel about it when mortality is closer at hand in my own life.

In any case, Katie and I talked a bit during the service, and she shared that she had been working with Steve to collect some of his materials to donate a time capsule to ArtHyve, a community arts archives that we’re both involved with, which is also how we met. Steve, an artist to the end, chronicled much of the last year of his life in a journal and a series of artworks that are still being released, called End/Stage, some of which is available via BandCamp. In the readings from Gordon’s journal, you hear:

“What do I do? Plan my legacy somehow? What the fuck does that look like? My art? My music? My instruments? Are those my contributions? So be it.”

This quote, independent of context, makes Steve sound far more sanguine about dying than he was – his journal is raw and honest, full of fear and reckoning – it’s beautiful. His musings also made me realize how, probably inevitably, my own personal history and narrative gets into my thoughts and conversations about the intersection of mortality, legacy, and archives. My family’s own history with illness and archival donation comes up a lot; my mother’s chronic illness (diabetes), and then her terminal illness (cancer) is ever-present. I frequently reference my maternal grandmother’s meticulous notebooks when I talk to donors, using them as examples of how personal papers can be used for research and teaching. My mother was born in 1945, and was part of the first generation of Type 1 diabetics for whom the diagnosis was not a death sentence – these notebooks are invaluable to anyone studying what daily life was like for a diabetic in the late 1950s. Gordon’s journaling about alone-ness, loneliness, and facing terminal illness as a single person with no children hit home as well, both in my own life, and in a number of donor relations conversations. I was also reminded of Elvia Arroyo-Ramirez’s amazing presentation on suspended grief and trauma as part of the “Radical Empathy in the Archives” session at the 2017 Society of American Archivists’ annual meeting. All of this is there, in whole or in part, whenever I think about or discuss archival donations. I really do mean it when I say that my main goal is to find the collection its best possible home – sometimes it’s not with any of the archives I’m affiliated with, and that’s ok.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the necessary incompleteness of either art or archives as a documentary record, and also how art and archives, together, as a form of creative inquiry, can memorialize and extend legacy while reckoning with trauma. Art Spiegelman’s Maus is not only an illustration of his father’s experience of the Holocaust, it is also Art’s exploration of his own experience as a child of survivors. Colorado artist Kaitlyn Tucek’s most recent works have engaged with her experience as the mother of a daughter with a serious congenital heart defect. There are countless other examples of people who have taken their broken heart(s) and made it into art, which I love, have always loved.

This brings me back to ArtHyve, its mission, and the community that it aims to represent. Katie will be submitting a time capsule of some of her work, which will live alongside Steve’s, and hopefully many other of their artistic collaborators. She also shared with me that some of her students had made her some folded paper cranes while Steve was sick, and that she was going to burn them in remembrance and commemoration.

So on Memorial Day, I say:

Not all memorials should be permanent.

Not everything should be saved.

Sometimes the best home for a collection isn’t an archives.

Show up for people you love while they’re here, and honor them when they go. ❤

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!


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: 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 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 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 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,

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.