I sat in on a couple of the concurrent sessions of the day-long “Hand-Held Librarian” online conference on July 30. I was particularly interested in hearing how a library system with the stature of Cornell University had implemented a service which we ourselves have in fact successfully launched already. The participants were Virginia Cole, Reference and Digital Services Librarian at Olin, Cornell University’s humanities and social sciences library; Baseema Banoo Krkoska, Reference & Instruction Coordinator at Albert R. Mann Library for the Colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences & Human Ecology; and Gabriel Marcias, VP of Sales and Marketing of Mosio, the makers of Text a Librarian (TAL). Bearing in mind the 85-90% Americans-with-cellphones statistics, the Digital Reference Committee at Cornell University decided to launch a service that would reach students via their preferred mode of communication. They negotiated important privacy provisions with the service provider, Mosio, in order to disassociate student phone numbers from their queries, but do retain an archive of questions which can actually be searched to find earlier answers to repeat questions. Mosio offers a Q & A technology that has been at the cutting edge SMS, and it uses the same encryption that online bankers use. At Cornell, the service operates on a first come-first serve basis, and any staff can answer; there’s a built-in alert so anyone can see if a question is taken. They market via in-house promotional material, by distributing business cards that include the number for the service, and through library instruction sessions. In the future, they hope to have all librarians offering chat, with hourly shift changes. The types of questions typically cover hours, circulation policies, resources, course-related topics, or the inevitable complaints–an excellent way to preserve anonymity while venting regarding a problem. They began this with a “stealthy” launch, in one course only, in order to test the system and methods, so this totaled 26 texts from April 20 to July 29. A particular challenge, they noted, is the ambiguous question, although some people are savvy enough only to ask precise, specific questions that lend themselves well to this mode of communication. The librarians warned that one has to be prepared for the lack of the reference interview and the general lack of dialogue. They look forward to expanding the service in the coming school year. The Mosio representative, Gabriel, singled out security, privacy, dependability, and simplicity has attributes that their system has to offer. The statistics on texting are impressive; 3.5 billion per day in American in 2008, twice as many as phone calls. He showed the screen features with one- click access to favorite research tools, Web 2.0 sites, and social networks. The issue, he wryly pointed out, is teaching librarians to text, not students, except in the sense that students are not all using reference services. It’s a promising system, but with a price tag of $1199 per year, charges are daunting, and our impending Meebo and GoogleVoice services at the opposite end of the price range promise virtues of their own!
LAUNC-CH Conference March 2009:”Rethink, Redefine, Reinvent:The Research Library in the Digital Age”
The most interesting and relevant session for me at this year’s LAUNC-CH was one entitled, “Outreach and Personalization.”Presenters were Richard Cox (Library Webmaster, UNCG), Lynda Kellam (Data Services and Government Information Librarian, UNCG), Jacqueline Solis (Humanities Reference and Instruction Librarian, UNC-CH),Megan Von Isenburg (Associate Director, Information Services, Duke University Medical Center Library), and Kim Vassiliadis (Instructional Design and Technology Librarian, UNC-CH)
Jacqueline Solis and Kim Vassiliadis presented their course page innovations in the context of studies showing that students are still overwhelmed by research resources and that they tend to approach research without regard to a library’s structure (and web sites tend to reflect an organizational view of the library). So they undertook to find new ways of offering the content traditionally offered in subject guides, simplifying and customizing that content and affording *easy* access to the tools students need. They were mindful of the fact that many students just want the information required for course assignments, and that they are focused on an end product: a grade of “A” for the course.
Solis and Vassiliadis worked with faculty to identify information needs and to create a course page specific to an individual class.The course page was introduced in librarian-mediated sessions, and the librarians were available for follow-up via email, chat or consultation. Their concerns centered around questions of scalability, being overwhelmed by demand in attempting to reach all students. So their approach was to take baby steps, starting with a small pilot of ten classes, working with targeted faculty in specific disciplines to share the syllabus and to offer an instructional session. They learned that course pages are indeed not scalable and that that’s okay: not all classes need course pages, for example if there is no research component. But they needed to identify faculty and students with that research element, since without teaching faculty involvement, course pages are not used. So far they have 75 course pages, incorporating print and electronic resources, chat, RSS feeds, and shared delicious accounts, all embedded in the Blackboard account. The project has been successful for a number of reasons:because of relationships established with faculty, and because with faculty buy-in comes student buy-in. Another positive outcome is that the project has demonstrated that librarians truly understand student needs.
Marketing of faculty has been characterized by repeat users, word of mouth, cold-calling and e-mailing, targeting First Year Seminars, new faculty, and infrequently taught courses receptive to library assistance.
Assessment using statcounter to count page hits has revealed that students are indeed using the resources, and that there are repeat visitors. The most frequently used ones are those for which librarians visited the classes and used the pages as part of the instruction. The least used ones are those for which there was no library instruction or if the pages were not well integrated with course assignments. In summary, course pages facilitate relationship-building and outreach to faculty, remove barriers to finding information, provide personalized context, embed and focus instruction, and offer easy access from Blackboard.
The approach taken by UNC-G was to use a portal within Blackboard. After considering whether students want librarians in their social networking spaces-surveys showed that students would *not* respond to library presence in facebook– the next question was whether we can expect students to come to our pages, and if so, how to integrate library’s materials into spaces students actually will use. This led eventually to considering integrating with a course management system. There were issues in Blackboard, as we all can imagine: navigation issues, getting out the word, getting buy-in from librarians and faculty, teaching students to access databases and the library’s homepage. Use of the portal involved taking over a library tab in Blackboard and setting up library resources for “My Major”-a great idea. The challenges cited included timing of student data from Banner and workflows, finding the correct data in Banner, outreach and marketing. But there are some 1000 hits per day, a very respectable number.Reactions have been positive from reference librarians, administration, faculty, and students alike.
The final portion in this session was a presentation on the use of Kindles as a means of exploring and exploiting new technologies to benefit both students and communities. Megan von Isenburg from the Duke Medical Center Library recounted their efforts to target a specific group with a specific tool. The technology advisory group had been tasked with finding technology for workflow or students. They bought Kindles with end of year funds, noting that Kindles are cheaper than the $200-$300 textbooks, as well as lightweight and portable. They can be used not only for Kindle books but also for personal documents and include web access with no monthly fee. Medical students could use medical books as well as personal documents and could search the web. The National Library of Medicine has technology and outreach grants, so they got this as an outreach grant. They acquired six Kindles, and shared one book to six readers.Kindle was chosen to accomodate low connectivity locations in the communities the medical students serve, and because of the outreach opportunity, to serve disadvantaged communities specifically within the family medicine arena. Kindles were given both to preceptors and to students, and each loaded books, class documents, and practice guidelines. The e-texts are searchable, accept added notes and bookmarks, and they support looking up terms. Among the lessons were the following:technology is a moving target (Kindle2 came out in the middle of the project), focus on bigger issues i.e. what can be transferred out of the project, grants provide structure to projects, faculty involvement is the key to personalization, test boundaries to explore new territories.
I do think that our use of LibGuides in combination with bibliographic instruction sessions compares very favorably to both of these schools’ approaches. We also customize our research guides, always basing them on course syllabi and assignment information provided by the professors. The idea of a “My Major” resource is a good one, although the constraints imposed by locking all of these research guides within Blackboard are not necessarily advantageous, in my opinion.
Finally, I took advantage (with Mary Scanlon’s kindly acquiescence) of this trip to Chapel Hill to visit Wilson Library’s Rare Book exhibit on the 19thcentury poet of the English Romantic movement, John Keats. The UNC-CH Libraries’ 6th millionth book was the 1817 edition of his first volume of poetry, and the exhibit was a very well thought-out and inclusive approach to that signal publication (Keats is usually mentioned in the same breath as Shakespeare, Milton, and Wordsworth). Keats died of consumption in 1821 at the age of 25, and his best poetry, that of his “Great Year,” appeared in his third volume, published in 1820. Wilson Library hasa copy of each of the three volumes, which were on display along with the 19th century editions that reflected his growing posthumous poetic reputation. In addition to 19th century giftbooks and anthologies (one has to remember that had he survived, he would have lived well into the Victorian period) , there were separate exhibit cases also for rare books literature by poets who influenced Keats (e.g. William Wordsworth, with a beautiful volume graced by foredge painting of a scene clearly from the Lake District) and by poets who were influenced by Keats, women writers of the 19th century, volumes of Keats’s poetry beautifully reflecting the book arts, and a case exhibiting the other “millionth” volumes, the first two of which were 15th century publications. It was a very enriching end to an interesting day in Chapel Hill.
Lilly Conference on College & University Teaching
“Millennial Learning:Teaching in the 21st Century”
February 20-21, Greensboro
The Lilly Conference focuses on academic pedagogy, but despite the 2009 theme of millennial learning, presenters I heard chose to forgo the familiar litany of millennials’ characteristics, and proceeded instead to address best practices designed to meet this group’s learning styles and predilections.
The Opening Session, presented by Milton Cox of Miami University, actively demonstrated its title, “Strategies, Practices, and Evidence to Encourage and Facilitate Active-Learner-Centered Approaches.” Cox posed questions to be answered by the round-table groups, soliciting consensus definitions of active, learner-centered approaches, as well as instances from participants’ own teaching of effective engagement with students; and cited evidence that such approaches produce optimal results.Discussion, cooperative and collaborative learning, problem-based, active, and experiential were key terms that recurred throughout his presentation and in the proferred answers to his questions, all summed up by his challenge to be the “guide on the side, not sage on the stage.”
I next attended Dr. James Eison’s “Put-Offs and Turn-Ons in the College Classroom.”A faculty member at the University of South Florida in the Department of Adult, Career, and Higher Education, he skillfully launched a lively discussion by asking us to “reflect candidly” on both irritating and desirable behaviors in students and in faculty alike.There was no dearth or reluctance of response.Arrogance, condescension, boastfulness, bias, vintage notes, lack of preparation or currency, failure to respond to emails quickly or to return graded work promptly, “death by powerpoint,” unapproachable, failure to communicate expectations, reading from textbook material, and ambiguous assignments all came to mind as faculty behaviors irritating to students.On the other side of the coin, faculty are averse to lack of engagement, attention, and preparation; excessive familiarity (“YO, Stan!” was a case in point cited by one professor); packing up early; plagiarism; tardiness; and engaging in other non-academic activities such as IMing, email, and ESPN.In contrast to these modes of conduct, faculty cited impressive and desirable student behaviors such as thoughtful questions, discussion of papers and projects with the professor, active participation, demonstration of a desire to learn, courtesy, respect for others’ ideas, and enthusiasm.After having elicted such lengthy lists, Dr. Eison then discussed studies that have in fact corroborated these aversive reactions.Repetitive lectures, reading from textbooks, information overload, monotonous delivery, verbal abuse (!), and poor organization and planning apparently are verifiably counterproductive.He did note that cultural and other elements of diversity (e.g. a younger generation of professors) create fuzziness and uncertainty about expected conduct (witness “Yo, Stan”), and that a syllabus spelling out expected behavior and a classroom code of conduct developed by students themselves would be ways of addressing this type of problem.
Another concurrent session focused specifically on multi-cultural classrooms and contexts.Maria Stallions from Roanoke College led a discussion of “Classrooms as Knowledge-Building Communities:A Cross-Cultural Competence and Inquiry Approach.”Her warm-up session was intriguing:looking at photographs and giving one-word responses.For example, there was a Newsweek cover image of a fully armed soldier.All of our responses were variations on the theme of violence, war, or excessive force.However, she said that some audiences in other meetings responded with words like “security” or “safety.” She stressed the importance of developing cross-cultural competence as classrooms become increasingly diverse both linguistically and culturally, and singled out key components of culture and communication, such as perceptions of time, communication styles, social structure, and values and beliefs.This, too, was a very interactive and engaging session for all participants.
For years now we have become quite familiar with LIB 100 assignments involving assessment of websites.So a session on “Meeting the Millennials:Using Wikipedia to Teach 21st-Century Literacy Skills to First Year Writing Students,” by Paula Patch, an Instructor in the English Department at Elon University, certainly seemed apt.The indisputable premise that the online world is more familiar to students than the academic world inspired Patch to use Wikipedia to teach critical literacy skills.She devised a detailed evaluation assignment, requiring the students to write an essay arguing for or against the reliability of a Wikipedia article.A highly detailed questionnaire guided the writing assignment, posing queries regarding completeness of information, organization, referenceerrors, flagging, history and discussion, page linkage, and intended audience.It is a useful guide for possible use in ZSR literacy skills work.
Another session focused on course blogs, in this case the use of a blog to post research findings about pediatric assessment tools.Students of Dr. Paula Hudson , in Elon University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, were asked to post information on a measure, followed by comments by other students.For Dr. Hudson, class blogs offer several advantages:they free up class time, replace solitary classroom presentations with knowledge-sharing collaborative projects, and result in instant publication.Students in this course indeed felt that they had created an information-rich resource.
On Saturday, the Plenary Session was “Persisting with Passion:A Summary of Break-throughs in Teaching and Learning,” led by Barbara Millis of the University of Texas, San Antonio. It was one of the more in-depth sessions, summarizing approaches to cooperative learning, deep learning, and teaching methodologies, in the hopes of enabling teachers to save “years of wasted energy in your teaching life by reducing the cycle of teaching blunders and naivete.”Dr. Millis is Director of the Teaching and Learning Center, and she defined cooperative learning as “a structured form of small group problem solving that incorporates the use of heterogeneous teams, maintains individual accountability, promotes positive interdependence, instills group processing, and sharpens social skills.”She advocated a combination of student self-selecting and teacher-selected group formation,and suggested rotating student team roles as leader or facilitator, recorder or scribe, reporter or spokesperson, and folder monitor.Deep learning was a concept frequently referred to during the conference, and she singled out the key elements of a deep approach to learning:intrinsic student motivation, active rather than passive involvement in learning, interactive discussion with others, and a well-structured base of knowledge in which content is integrated and related to other knowledge rather than presented in discrete pieces.She noted that although deep learning and doing work well together, active learning comprised solely of doing is not sufficient.When students are engaged in activities involving discussion, questioning, clarification, and writing, there is better subject matter retention as well as expansion of students’ critical thinking abilities.Deep approaches to learning incorporate understanding rather than memorizing facts, and relies on integrating new concepts with prior experience and existing knowledge.She elaborated on three learning principles, which she identified as prior knowledge (students create new knowledge based on preexisting knowledge-or lack thereof);”deep foundational knowledge” (students require a conceptual framework and knowledge base; and metacognition (students need to identify learning goals and subsequently to monitor their own progress in meeting them).She noted the importance of knowing where students are and what they know or don’t know, and then helping students take control of their own learning process.Her packet included printouts of some of her own publications referred to during the presentation.
My favorite session was offered byDorothe Bach, Assistant Professor and Faculty Consultant in the Teaching Resource Center/Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia. She presented a very engaging session on using scholarly listservs to introduce students to discipline-specific communication.Aware that students often are intimidated by the scholarly discourse they encounter in academic books and journals, Professor Bach devised an assignment that woulddemystify the process by which questions emerge and knowledge and scholarship are created.She chose the Child_lit listserv from Rutgers University, which discusses theory and criticism of literature for children and young adults, while offering all the immediacy of dialogue and debate.After asking the listserv for permission and giving a heads-up to the community, she asked students to take time first to lurk and to explore threads of interest in the archives, and then to venture into the discussion either by responding in a substantive way to an ongoing discussion or by raising a relevant new topic.(She did recommend peer review feedback prior to posting and defined the characteristics of good postings.)A class presentation and reflection paper discussed the issues raised in relevant threads and articulated responses to this particular listserv culture.The assignment was an exhilarating success.Students were thrilled to have participated in ongoing dialogue with authors, scholars and other individuals on the listserv, and to have been taken seriously by the community as the members responsed to their postings.It didn’t hurt that none other than Philip Pullman (author of the Dark Materials series-The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Skyglass) posted there until the demands of movie-making drew him away.It was an innovative approach to the problem of how to initiate students to scholarly communication in a more informal framework.
Another fun, very active learning plenary session was led by Darby Lewes of Lycoming College.The emphatic title, “Armageddon 101:Dealing with Disruptive Students and Their ‘Natural’ Aversion to a Discipline” actually turned out to be a very lively, energetic hour spent explicating two of Robert Browning’s dramatic monologues, “Porphyria’s Lover” and “My Last Duchess.”As Dr. Lewes paced relentlessly around the Victoria Ballroom, followed by her appropriately name-tagged dog (until the dog dropped out of sight presumably for much-deserved rest), she coaxed answers to interpretive questions.
Finally, to conclude on a culinary note of sorts:mealtimes became forums for exchanging tales of economic woe in academe.At first I thought I had mis-heard when a young academic from the University of Georgia disclosed that office telephones had been taken away:a redundancy in the age of cell phones, email, texting, and IM-ing, not to mention Twitter.But the revelation was corroborated on the following day when a Ph.D. student at UC-Santa Barbara shared a similar story, embellished and enhanced with accounts of increased teaching loads and escalating office occupancy figures.One would-be presenter had to cancel due to a travel ban.Others were only able to attend thanks to the hospitality of friends or family members.Indeed, there was a preponderance of attendees from UNC-G, Elon, and other area schools; however, the conference does attract from distant regions and it was the richer for that reason.
The NCSLA Web 2.0 Roundtable held July 24 at the National Humanities Center at Research Triangle Park offered an informative round of musical tables. Seven roundtables covered blogs & wikis, Facebook & LinkedIn, RSS & News Feeds, Podcasting, Library Thing, SLA’s Course on 23 Things, and Del.icio.us & Flickr. Some 50-plus attendees got to choose four 30-minute sessions, and as sessions drew to a close we could be seen eying the next sought-after table and assessing the most expeditious route for getting there in time to obtain a seat.
A variety of libraries were represented there, not only biotech and business, but art, public, and academic as well. The Web 2.0 library applications presented during these brief sessions shared a common (and commonsensical) premise: reach patrons by making library information available in places where people already are spending time.
Karin Shank of the NC Biotechnology Center demonstrated how Del.icio.us and Flickr can be exploited in libraryland. Sharing categories of URLs with staff, pooling bookmarks, bundling tags, linking in blogs, and using del.icio.us/url to view the history of a website with comments submitted by people are all approaches being explored at her library. Using Flickr, Karin showed an interesting art historical application: the digital image of a Renaissance painting, divided up into sections of apparent painterly issues where students would point and click, and then make comments for an art history professor to view and no doubt assess.
John Wilson from NC State laid out blogs and wikis at his table, focusing on “WolfBlogs,” which can be used for both academic and personal purposes. He said that there are not many light users; once converted, people tend to be committed. He showed a wiki set up for a NCSU chemistry course, as well as his reference wiki which permitted him to pull together numerous subject and instructional guides, whether in print or electronic incarnations, and which are now available through a large and growing, interlinked site .
Sheila Devaney of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School (where former ZSR business reference librarian David Ernsthausen still works), addressed Facebook and LinkedIn. She recounted earlier efforts to keep up with students’ preferred modes of communication; however, by the time a library was able to utilize, for example, a palm pilot as a means of connecting with students, they had long since moved on to something else. She saw students managing their lives from Facebook, using it extensively for communication. So she created Facebook profiles in hopes of making it the first window to library services, essentially a PR function. She noted that friends and fans proliferate virally, pointed out that Georgia Tech started a page this Monday, and by Tuesday it had more than 80 friends. Fan pages can be found for ACRL, OCLC, and NCSLA, as well as UNC- Wilmington and the southern Folklife collection at UNC-CH. The Metropolitan has 8000 fans, not a negligible amount! LinkedIn, because of its orientation to the corporate environment, is “pushed” at Kenan-Flagler. Not many libraries use it, but it is another place to get contact information out; headhunters also use it as a way of doing research on people before interviewing potential candidates. It’s one more example of putting things in a form or medium people are actually using. Incidentally, in an aside she noted that NPR’s Carl Kasell solicits wishlists for program guests via his friends and fans on Facebook. Something to consider!
The final brief roundtable I was able to attend was on RSS news feeds, presided over by Erin Iannoacchione who works for Intermune. As a librarian for a biotech firm, she spends hours each day tracking down news stories of interest to her clientele. RSS feeds have simplified her work enormously, since she no longer has to go out and do individual searches on various databases and web sites; the feeds bring the information to her. She specifically recommended Page2RSS.com to create feeds from web sites that don’t offer any. Like the other four sessions I attended, it was rich in tips and helpful examples.
The National Humanities Center, incidentally, is unique. The only such private, non-profit center of its kind for the humanities, it offers approximately 40 scholars in the humanities a year in which to carry out research. It is not a program for young scholars endeavoring to wrestle a dissertation into a publishable scholarly monograph: generally one has to have already published at least one book. The library director, Eliza Robertson, told me that they provide services ranging from locating online resources, submitting interlibrary loan requests (80% of which are filled by Duke, NC State, and UNC-CH libraries), and assisting in other ways as needed. The WFU English Department’s prolific scholar, Professor Eric Wilson, has been there and gratefully acknowledged the helpful role played by the NHC in enabling him to carry out his research and bring his scholarly projects to completion.
Following Dr. Griffith’s keynote address, summarized by Leslie, I attended the concurrent session on the UNC System Pilot Institutional Repository (IR), which UNC-Greensboro hosts for Appalachian State University, East Carolina University, UNC-G, UNC-Pembroke, and UNC-Wilmington. Presenters were Eleanor Cook (ASU), Stephen Dew (UNC-G), Adina Riggins (UNC-W), and Rob Wolf (UNC-Pembroke). Their discussion included a history of the IR’s development, content and collection policies, copyright concerns, and marketing strategies. After the initial formation in 2006 of a pilot group to create a consortium IR, progress has continued at an expeditious pace. By the spring of 2007, according to Rob Wolf, the group was making content decisions and establishing a timetable. They decided to exclude pre-prints, unfinished works, and data sets, but otherwise to include virtually anything and to rely on policing themselves rather than attempting to anticipate all possible content quandaries. The group considered various platforms, including Digital Commons, EPrints, Fedora, and Content DM, but decided to develop a UNC-G homegrown creation because other products were not set up for a shared IR and were so costly. The homegrown version is fully customizable. Later in 2007 the group met to review content, file types, basic policy guidelines, and metadata standards. They decided on the inclusion of ETDs, Dublin Core metadata, and standard file types for greater accessibility. ETDs are recommended as a “good way to seed your IR,” but they reside in a separate module in order not to “clutter” the search results. Currently, ASU is testing the administrative module, adding elements from an extant faculty publications database, and launching publicity plans to inform faculty of copyright issues. ECU currently has its own IR, “ScholarShip,” but is committed to the joint IR on some level. UNC-G is creating the public module and adding records to the administrative module. UNC-Pembroke plans to market the IR to faculty in the fall, and is testing the administrative module. UNC-W has formed an IR committee for marketing strategies this fall, and is determining the status of ETDs for the IR.
Stephen Dew surveyed the marketing strategies employed in order to advance the IR cause. The Faculty Scholarly Communications Committee at UNC-G for 2007-2008 includes two librarians, eight faculty members representing each school or college, and one representative each from the Office of Research, University Counsel, and Technology Transfer, and Continual Learning. The group has sent out three ARL brochures covering “Author Rights,” “Open Access,” and “Create Change;” created an “Addendum to Publication Agreement” with a cover letter from the Provost; and held two faculty forums. The first one, “Taking Control of your Scholarship: New Trends in Copyright, Patents, and Publishing,” consisted of panelists from the Office of Technology Transfer, University Counsel, and IT; the second forum, “Open Access to Scholarship: Benefits for the Scholar, University and Society,” invited as guest speaker David Shulenburger, of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.
Dew has been working with library liaisons to educate them on the issues of scholarly communication. They are encouraged to read selected articles and the ARL/SPARC handouts. He has developed a six-page list of talking points to provide background for discussions with faculty, as well as a one-page IR handout for faculty explaining “how, why, and what. ” Educational meetings for liaisons have focused on specific subjects: the background to scholarly communication issues, the open access movement, author rights and publication addenda, and institutional and disciplinary repositories. In addition, potential early adopters at the University have been identified: highly published scholars, department heads, NIH grant recipients, new faculty and newly tenured faculty, other leaders and opinion-makers, as well as people deemed likely to be enthusiastic about the initiative. Liaisons obtain resumés for each department and identify articles from prospective contributors. They then conduct SHERPA/ROMEO searches for journals and publications (the site lists the permissions usually given as part of publishers’ copyright transfer agreements), contact editors or publisher for those not in SHERPA, and for each article establish what the rights are for contributing to an IR.
Also underway is the development of presentations, including demonstrations of the IR and Google Scholar, that will highlight the advantages of contributing to the IR: how it can showcase scholarship and promote higher citations and a wider readership. Other marketing strategies include IR discussions held by the Provost and Deans with the faculty, campus news articles, library newsletter articles, general campus mailings to faculty, a web page highlighting new contributions and high use articles (indicating hits for the number of times an article has been downloaded), and a blog about new developments. These strategies are well thought out and thorough, and surely will inform the approaches of our own campus-wide Scholarly Communication Committee.
Old Salem is certainly among the most apt of locations for conferences and symposia pertaining to the history of the early American South, and on March 9, I attended a day-long symposium there devoted to the achievements of “Working Women of the Early South.” Presenters from Old Salem Museums and Gardens figured prominently, but speakers from Wake Forest University and Colonial Williamsburg contributed substantially as well to the program.
Dr. Michele Gillespie, Kahle Associate Professor of History here at WFU, provided the keynote address, an engrossing account of “Enterprising Women: A New Look at the Daughters of the Early South.” She summarized the record of scholarly inquiry and emphases of recent decades including the newer arenas of research and investigation, thus providing an academic basis and context for more specifically focused talks that were to follow. Not surprisingly, she commenced by noting how little attention has been paid to women’s work, its diverse nature and worth. Although there has been a veritable explosion of books about women in the early South, the locus of interest has been largely the plantation world, i.e. plantation mistresses and slaves. Challenging Tara-esque stereotypes, these studies have drawn substantially on a legacy of educated and literate women who wrote letters and diaries that have long since formed the core of collections of family papers and subsequently, university and state archives. These surviving private genres have revealed that long-standing stereotypes have been false, that these women frequently lived difficult rather than romantic lives running households, managing servants, even making business decisions–all punctuated of course by childbearing and by disease. Furthermore, these elite women were often lonely, depressed, overburdened, and oppressed by a sense of an imprisoned existence.
Slave women have only recently been discovered in the historical record. Until the 1980s the attention paid was “gender oblivious:” the slave experience was perceived as if it were exclusively male, and female slaves were regarded as genderless workers in fields and in houses.
However, Professor Gillespie pointed out that the vast majority of southern women obviously did not reside on plantations, and moreover, that this large segment of the population was in fact central to a developing southern economy. These women in the middle were mostly white (approximately 1% were free black) and generally have been omitted from the historical record, inhabiting instead a rather shadowy realm apparently invisible to historians’ eyes. Part of the problem is that women have been defined by men and valued only in relation to men. (I once heard another historian recount how difficult it was to track down archival records pertaining to women, since they were buried there only under the names of the men whose mothers, daughters, and wives they were.) But in fact, despite constraints imposed by both their reproductive and other productive labor, the roles they played in the development of the southern culture and economy form a rich and diverse mosaic of contributions.
Alluding to the much-lauded Jeffersonian ideal of yeoman farmers, Gillespie emphasized the centrality of these farmers’ wives and daughters in attaining and sustaining the sufficiency essential to the independence of this population. Women worked alongside men in the fields as well as in household production. In addition, early industrialization in the South benefited from women’s hands at the looms, utilizing poor white women and children as a labor force–as was also the case in New England, where farmers’ daughters worked in the Lowell mills. Thus, there was an early and significant working class that was in part a feminized force at the forefront of the transition from an agrarian to an industrialized economy. Lines separating white from black women were not universally clear; color boundaries were permeable. Black as well as white women owned shops, and even the world’s oldest profession could at once observe racial distinctions for clients, but also could offer cross-racial services!
This new area of women’s historical scholarship must rely perforce on records of business transactions and similar types of data as sources for research into the achievements of working women. Lamentably, there is for this group a dearth of private writings which exist for other, literate groups of women possessed of a modicum of leisure, and consequently the personal voice is clearly missing as is any account of working women’s interior lives.
The remainder of the symposium consisted of more specific accounts of working women who labored either singly or in groups. Johanna Brown, Director of Collections and Curator at Old Salem, described the work done by the women of the Single Sisters’ House. Deeming no task too menial, these women spun cloth, did needlework and laundry, gardened, worked for families, and taught school. So successful were they that they paid off Single Brothers’ debts no less than three times.
Sandy Hegstrom, Education Associate and Tour Manager at MESDA, spoke about some women who achieved a bizarre celebrity of sorts due to physical deformities and essentially gave (paid) performances demonstrating feats such as cutting silhouettes minus the benefits of fingers or hands. Strange as this seems to the modern sensibility, Ms. Taylor characterized this as an instance of a deformity permitting certain women to perform outside the constraints usually imposed on young ladies’ occupations.
A dramatic interlude came in the form of a theatrical interpretation in the St. Philips African American Church by Valarie Holmes of Colonial Williamsburg. She presented an interpretation of one Lydia Broadnax, a slave of George Wythe, who confronts the possibilities and challenges of new-found freedom. But she will not feel truly liberated until she finds her young daughter, from whom she was separated when the girl was 4 years old. Her account of this physical and emotional journey, which morphs into an intense experience of the present moment, received a standing ovation from the audience.
The final event of the day was an optional tour of the Single Sisters’ House, which is in the process of restoration. It will be used in part as office space for Salem, and in part as another site to visit in Old Salem. Interestingly, the House will not be entirely restored to pristine condition; rather, portions will remain “as is” to reveal old German construction methods: wood and brickwork, plastering, even eighteenth-century graffiti that has been exposed on early layers of plaster. (And there will be a re-creation of the original Lovefeast for the Single Sisters’ House on April 22, at 3 p.m. in the Old Salem Square.)
I always find it very enriching and exhilarating to attend occasional conferences outside of the borders of library land. They always underscore the point of so much of what we do here. This symposium fulfilled all such expectations.