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. ❤

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.

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.