Thursday, January 31, 2013

New Holmes Items on UMedia

For the latest issue of the Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections newsletter I scanned a number of Christmas cards that were reproduced there. But I also found a number of other interesting items in the same batch of material from the Howard Haycraft collection that I scanned as well. Many of these have now been uploaded into the University Libraries' UMedia Archive for your viewing and research pleasure.

Included in this latest batch are a number of Christmas cards from President and Mrs. Roosevelt; a telegram, letters, and short notes written by Eleanor Roosevelt to Haycraft; and a holiday card from the former head of the Baker Street Irregulars, Edgar W. Smith.

Many of the letters written by Eleanor Roosevelt to Haycraft were done so during the holiday season, often thanking Haycraft for the latest detective book or Christmas letter sent to her. One of the Roosevelt Christmas cards included a photograph of the President and First Lady seated outdoors by a table at the White House. These items date from the early 1930s to the early 1940s and provide an interesting glimpse into the friendship between the First Lady and Haycraft.

The seasonal card from Smith, dated 1939, features three carolers singing Noel, lit by lamp held by one of the singers.

There are still a few cards that need to be uploaded and metadata added before they are available on the UMedia site. Look for these shortly. In addition, we are in the process of scanning some of the artwork by Norman Schatell. We will post another note when this material is available.

30th Year Reflections/32: Membership Has Its Benefits

“Standing together in membership lets librarians and library staff access important solutions and resources to address problems you might otherwise face alone. To help meet these challenges, the American Library Association (ALA) works for members in new and innovative ways….” — ALA website

I renewed my ALA/ACRL membership today. I’ve been a member of ALA and its academic division since I entered the profession although the ALA database won’t confirm this. In a few cases over the decades my membership lapsed by a month or so and when I got around to renewing, the system logged me in as a new member. So be it. From my perspective I’ve always been a part of ALA.

I’ve been thinking about the concept of membership for a while. I am a member of some things, e.g. my family, without a choice on my part. I had no say in the matter. One day I appeared and in the process became connected to any number of souls, both departed and still living. I am a link in a long genetic chain. On the other hand, some memberships are voluntary; we choose them. If I wanted, I could change my citizenship or my association with a group. I can join any number of societies and organizations. My motives for joining such groups may differ. As a member of a faith-based community I can access a tradition, set of beliefs, and other activities attached to the group. I assent to those beliefs and try to live accordingly. Something similar might be said about joining a political party. In our voluntary associations we might look for a congruence between our religious faith and political activism. Or we might see such associations as a means of advancement in our career, societal standing, or some other facet of our life. Each link we make in becoming a member of another group informs the whole. Some people might compartmentalize their life and see little overlap between membership in one group with that of another. Such is not my style; it is not who I am. My memberships have meaning.

There is another kind of membership, one that is bestowed on us by someone else. Sometimes we have a say in the matter; in other cases we don’t. Because I was born in the United States I automatically became an American citizen. Such a membership comes with certain benefits unavailable to others. Or, as another example, I might be selected by others (sometimes in secret)—because of some accomplishment or other attractive attestation—and be recognized. I will never win a Nobel Prize, but those who have are now members of a select group. The only say they had in the matter was in the testimony of their own lives and through their work. It was left to others to judge them worthy. I am comfortable with some of these types of membership, especially if they are judged on a depth of character and integrity of soul. If, on the other hand, the judgments are made on some other basis, I would prefer not to be a part of that group. I am happy in who I am and what I do, flawed though I am.

So where does my ALA/ACRL membership fit into all this? Obviously, it is something I have chosen to be a part of, a voluntary association. My relationship with ALA informs who I am as a professional librarian. It offers me opportunities to share my work experience with others, to learn from others, to expand my professional horizons, to enhance my work. I benefit by having access to the latest thinking and theories, of best practices, news, and legislative activities. At the same time, membership demands engagement. Admittedly, this is something I’ve struggled with over the years, especially in trying to connect with a committee or two that matches my professional interests. But I keep trying to find ways to engage with my professional association. Recently I put my name forward for some committee appointments within ALA. We’ll see if anything comes of it. If not, I'll look for other ways to keep connected.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

30th Year Reflections/31: Personality

“Whatever the circumstances of your life, the understanding of type can make your perceptions clearer, your judgments sounder, and your life closer to your heart’s desire.” — Isabel Briggs Myers

The opening quote is found on the web page for the Myers & Briggs Foundation, the folks connected with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® test/instrument. I think I’ve taken the MBTI® at least three times in my life and each time I’ve arrived at roughly the same personality type result. I mention this not to disclose my type, but to say that it was very much on my mind last week as I screwed myself up to attend an event on the East Coast that is important to me and my work. I say “screwed myself up” because I do not find comfort in large crowds of people. I work better in small groups and one-on-one situations. For me to enter into the fray of a dinner or cocktail party with a multitude of people in attendance takes some effort on my part. Once I’m there and engaged in individual or small group conversation I’m fine, no problems. But the amount of effort it takes to crank up any level of excitement and motivation to get myself from the comfort of my hotel room to a large venue is at times mind boggling.

Some who know me well might be surprised by this revelation. After all, I speak regularly to large groups and classes and find enjoyment in those acts. But I think those cases are different, for I am engaging a group in a different way. In a more social setting, where the conversation can at times be, frankly, a bit tedious, I am not in my comfort zone. And yet my work calls me to such venues, to such conversations, as a way to engage people with similar interests in the work that I and others do here in my own setting. I need to bring my best game to such situations, to be engaging and personable, to call on other reserves in my own character and being to create meaningful relationships and engage people where they are, at their own point of need or interest. At those times I need, in some ways, to break out of my “type” and become something a little bit different or more expansive. I don’t in any way view this as artificial or “phoney.” It just means that I need to stretch myself in those circumstances to something larger, and perhaps even better, than that place where I feel the greatest comfort and where I reside most of the time. Stretching ourselves is good and we should probably do it more often.

I mention this, in part, because of the continuing stereotype that exists for librarians. I generally don’t like to talk about our professional stereotype because I think, for the most part, it is nonsense. Collectively we’re a varied bunch, a wild garden of delight, taste, and color. And yet, we’re viewed by the majority of the populace in certain set categories. Everyone has their own idea of the prototypical librarian. And they’re wrong.

I remember another time I took a personality test as part of a professional development exercise with a group of librarians in the Chicago metro area. In this case it was the 16PF [Personality Factor] Questionnaire. As I recall, the test was administered by someone associated with the FBI. The questionnaire was administered during one session and some time later we reconvened to have the results explained. What I remember most from that second session was the look of utter amazement on the face of the examiner as he passed the results back to us and began his analysis. We were, he explained, all over the map with our scores; it was not something he had anticipated. He had his own set view of what librarians were and they were false. Our scores on these personality factors “blew him out of the water.” He admitted to his own stereotype and felt chastised by our results. It was a good day to be a librarian.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

30th Year Reflections/30: Sad Tidings

“For a second time this week, I am sharing sad news about a former colleague.” — opening words of an e-mail sent to library staff from Wendy Lougee, University Librarian

I was studious in avoiding communications from work over the holidays, the one exception being the two days I was in the office between Christmas and New Year’s Day. So it came as a shock to open my e-mail yesterday and see a note from Wendy sent on the last day of 2012 informing us that Bill DeJohn, the much-loved former director of Minitex, had died that morning. His obituary in the Northfield, Minnesota paper informed me that he “passed away peacefully…after a short battle with pancreatic cancer.” At about the same time I heard about Bill, a call came from a friend asking me if I’d heard anything about the death of Joseph Branin, a former library administrator here at Minnesota. I hadn’t heard anything about Joe, but then came Wendy’s second note this morning informing us that Joe was also gone, again from cancer. I said that opening the initial e-mail about Bill was a shock. That’s not right. It was a kick in the gut, a punch that took the wind out of me and brought me to my knees. The news about Joe was another body blow, a one-two punch that leaves me sad, angry, and numb.

My path may have crossed Joe’s while I was in graduate school. I do not know when, exactly, he served at Minnesota. But I do know he had a profound influence on the profession, especially in his work at Ohio State, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, through consultancies, and as editor of College & Research Libraries. My condolences go to his family and friends. He will be missed.

The greater blow for me comes with Bill’s passing. I feel a great sadness for my colleagues who work in the same building as I do—home of Minitex—and the great work that Bill and his staff did together for so many years. I bumped into Bill almost every day in Andersen Library (when he wasn’t out and about or lobbying in St. Paul for more funding). Occasionally, we presented together for a class or professional group. Every now and then he’d call me down to his office to consult with him on something related to rare books or preservation. But perhaps the greatest memory for me was meeting Bill for the first time as part of an interview for a position in Minitex. Not many people know that two years before I landed my current position at Minnesota I was invited to come to Minneapolis for a job interview. I can’t remember what the position was, except that it involved travel and training, both of which I was happy to do. But I was a little short on cataloging experience and that was what sunk me in the end. My meeting with Bill lasted perhaps half an hour. What struck me at the time—besides Bill’s personality and probing questions—was the fact that his office was piled high with papers and seemed rather cramped and undersized for a man as busy and important as he was. There was a modesty in both the man and his context that didn’t seem to tell the whole story. I learned later, after arriving at my current post, what a dynamo he was and how forceful and persuasive he could be when lobbying the legislature or advocating on behalf of libraries wherever his work brought him.

Much of what we have access to today in terms of interlibrary cooperation, lending, cataloging, training, purchasing, and tools comes from the mind, work, and leadership of Bill while at the helm of Minitex. Every time I access the Electronic Library for Minnesota, request an item through interlibrary loan, or walk through the doors of Andersen Library I will probably think of Bill, remember the times we had together, and give thanks for his life. He would not want me to be sad, angry, or numb. He’d want me to be about my business and make the library a better place. I will take that, and his enduring legacy, as a testament of what it is to be a true professional. My thoughts and prayers continue for his family. He will be missed by the many, many friends he had in the library world and beyond. Peace to his memory.