Fridays in the Stacks: Encyclopedia of the U.S. Census

Since joining the team at Wellesley College as a Research & Instruction Librarian supporting the Social Sciences,* I have embarked on a quest to beef up my print reference expertise by spending an hour a week in the stacks looking at whatever caught my eye (related to my disciplines of course).

So, I thought I’d get back on the blog horse and write a bit about what I looked at this week. But before I talk about that, let me back up.

Now, I have two strategies (so far) for learning about the print reference sources in the disciplines I support. The first is to take a call number range and skim titles and dates of books we have to get a broad sense of our collection in terms of scope and datedness. I pick up a few here and there that look interesting to skim the table of contents, the indices and appendices, and perhaps an article or two to understand the style and perhaps quality of the source at no fine-grained level.

The second strategy I use to build knowledge of print sources is to select something off the shelf and delve into it for an hour or so. What fun! I often find myself ruing the ticking clock and I tend to finish my hour with a list of follow-up sources I swear I will look up next week only to find when next week arrives that another rabbit hole, err, ahh, book has captured my attention. I digress, dear reader(s).

Encyclopedia of the U.S. Census

Encyclopedia of the U.S. Census

This week I thought I was going to find some sources on immigration but instead got sidetracked before I got to that section by the irresistible HAs. So, I picked up the Encyclopedia of the U.S. Census and started to delve (all the while thinking of one of the only weakest moments from the West Wing from season 1 where C.J. Cregg has to ask Sam Seaborn about the census… come on, a WH Press Secretary who doesn’t know about the census?! I realize this was a plot device to educate the viewers, but wasn’t there any other way to do this?! The lone woman of power on staff doesn’t know about the census?! There I go digressing again.).

What a fascinating read! Entries are organized alphabetically but I picked two to read: the entry describing each of the decennial censuses and the entry on race (about how race is dealt with and characterized over the century and a quarter this thing has been going on). I’ll just briefly talk about the entries of the censuses of ages past, which were gripping: there is a long history of controversies around who shall be counted and how, and whether approximations might be allowed. The political implications of the decisions are crystal clear: greater political representation means simply more power. Two interesting things struck me as I read the summaries on the censuses from the 1800s: prior to the Civil War, some southern analyst looked at the census data from 1850 on whether someone was labeled as an “idiot” or “insane,” and discovered an unmistakable trend that there was a high degree of positive correlation between idiocy rates of African Americans and the northern-ness of the state. Hmmm… I raised my skeptical eye as high as it would go; but the point is this was used as an argument for slavery in the U.S. Luckily, it didn’t hold water.

The second fascinating thing was that the 1870 census counted African Americans as whole people (finally); but that meant that the southern states actually gained more political representation! Obvious point, but I had never thought about it before.

Now, in between these two entries I looked at (the census summaries and the entry on race), there were some glossy images. The pictures of the workers crunching the numbers in the mid-1900s struck me: a room full of women toiling away at their desks! Made me feel like there’s some paper out there for some student on the history of the laborers behind the fascinating-in-its-own-right census.

So, the take away here is that the U.S. Census might seem like quite a dry topic but I assure you its history is filled with intrigue, controversy, and huge political and social implications and critiques and analyses are just waiting to be written. Lastly, I mentioned I often find other books I want to pick up upon skimming the reference stacks. This time it’s this one: The American Census: A Social History.

Happy reading!

* I support Anthropology, Cognitive & Linguistic Sciences, Environmental Studies, Psychology, Political Science and Sociology.

Project Management & Libraries

Below is an excerpt from my portion of a presentation two of my colleagues and I gave at the Michigan Library Association’s May 2014 Academic Libraries conference.  Actually, I could not be there, having recently had a baby, so my colleagues read a script I had written on my behalf.  I wanted to share that with you all to keep the knowledge circulating!  My part was the introductory part, but I still think it’s useful.

Let me know if you have any thoughts!

First, I want to start with the question:  What is a project?  Why do I even start with this?  I think in the library, we’re so busy doing lots of things that it can be really hard to implement any project management techniques unless we can fairly easily identify a project as it starts up, as it is underway, and as it finishes, as distinct from the routine processes critical to the operations of libraries or larger programs, which are collections of related projects and processes.

Projects have two key features.  Like a snowflake, a project is both temporary and unique.  (I’d also add beautiful as an adjective that projects and snowflakes have in common!)

Projects are temporary in that they have end points.  Ideally, each project has a defined start and end time, date or milestone.

Projects are also unique, as opposed to processes in which the same set of functions are triggered by some event or action.  Projects also require a specific set of resources (human, organizational, institutional, research, fiscal, etc.) brought together to accomplish a set of well-defined, unique goals.

Given this definition, I think more people in the library work on projects than they realize.  And because of that, project management practices can help library workers be more efficient and have better outcomes for their projects.

Okay, so what is project management?

I once had a collaborator who had a post-it note stuck on his computer monitor to remind him of his little mantra.  It read:  get stuff done.  (Actually, I’m replacing the word he used with “stuff.”) In some ways, that’s not very useful… but, I would argue that project management is a method to do just that (get stuff done), and to do it well if not the first time then better and better over time.

Robert Wysocki, who wrote a very helpful guide to “Effective Project Management” calls project management, “organized common sense”:  Or, in other more descriptive words:

Project management is all about directing activities to execute a project while controlling limited resources (again, human, organizational, fiscal, technological etc.) efficiently & effectively, ensuring the end goal is successfully achieved.

This involves:

  • Understanding stakeholder needs
  • Planning what must be done, by whom, when, to what standards
  • Building, motivating & coordinating a team of people
  • Monitoring work being done
  • Managing changes to the plan, and
  • Delivering (successful and effective) results

As for types of methodologies, I’m not going to talk too much about the different methods, but I wanted you to just be aware that “project management” is not one approach – and not all of these will work in all library contexts:

Traditional Project Management dates back to the 1950s & 60s.  It relies on a strict sequence of phases (define, plan, execute, close) with key tasks identified in each phase.  If you’ve ever heard of a “work breakdown structure” or “gantt chart” – these tools capitalize on this kind of project management approach by organizing the tasks that need to be done by certain times and how long they will take.  This approach is highly linear & rigid.  It’s very:  “do this, then you can do that, then you can do that”.   Once the plan is written, it isn’t altered much throughout the project.



Agile Project Management has been around for about 25 years.  It’s quite well known in software development environments.  Agile project management emphasizes people & interactions over processes & tools; work products over comprehensive documentation; customer collaboration over contract negotiations; and responding to change over strictly following a plan.

Just a quick aside, Menlo Innovations right here in Michigan has an Agile Project Management Workshop if you are interested!



Extreme Project Management is useful for highly iterative and risky research & development type projects.  It is the least structured, and most creative of the three models presented here (there are others out there though).  The failure rate is high.  These projects are fast & change a lot over their course.  There are high levels of uncertainty in these projects (will this work?  maybe, maybe not!) and so they are highly iterative:  There is an emphasis on a sequence of repeated phases, with each phase is based on a limited understanding of goals & solutions.  And so as the project progresses, the team might rethink the scope or plan; and assess the project along the way.


In general, project management approaches all do have some elements of planning or scoping, running and assessing the project.

So, how are libraries engaging with project management?   

Hiring Librarians is a popular blog that often interviews both library candidates and library hiring managers and publishes those as blog posts.  In December 2013, the blog manager looked at all responses by hiring managers in libraries to the question “What coursework do you think all (or most) MLS/MLIS holders should take, regardless of focus?” for which they could select any number of options from a 25 option list (26 options if you count “other”).

Out of the 25 options, “Project Management” was chosen 65% of the time out of 305 responses.  In other words, 199 out of 305 hiring managers listed project management as a coursework topic that all or most MLIS holders should take.  Interestingly, it was the 3rd most popular option (behind Reference & Collection Management).

So I think this shows – at least a little bit – that project management skills and understanding are valued quite a bit in libraries.  But, it is not necessarily clear that library workers (or those coming out of library schools) are adequately trained in project management.

The rest of the presentation discussed the wonderful project management community of learning (our special interest group) we have developed over the past two years to talk about addressing this issue of how to create professional development opportunities around project management.  Our hope is that other libraries can take this presentation and begin their project management networking and professional development groups to learn more about this subject and how to apply it successfully to library work.

Professional Development: Communication

As is fairly standard I think, our library does an annual performance evaluation in the spring.  Last year, one of the things I wanted to work on was “communication” – a broad topic indeed!  In general, I wanted to be a better listener, improve my active listening skills, and have an ability to control my enthusiasm (I am… easily enthused and that can overshadow others and their ideas in a conversation).  This, clearly, is a life-long commitment – one I’ve been working on and will continue to work on.  And sure, I wrote a bunch of SMART goals and whatnot (those were supremely helpful), but I wanted to reflect briefly on one thing I did to get to this better state of communication.

Over the past year, our library has done some great work in the area of raising awareness around and improving our cultural competencies.  One tactic we’ve taken is to bring in a facilitator – Nehrwr Abdul-Wahid of One Ummah Consulting – and he’s just great.  I highly recommend bringing him to your library if you have the budget and the inclination.  I digress.  One of the things I learned from Nehrwr (pronounced Nay-wah) is that to be really culturally competent and to be able to communicate across differences – however defined – is to first be able to understand your own perspective, habits, ways of communicating and thinking, then to be able to understand those of others, and then develop strategies for communicating across different perspectives, habits, ways of communicating and thinking.

So, I have taken that mentality to heart and decided to try to recognize and identify more ways in which I myself communicate.  As one component of becoming more self-aware in conversations, I listened to a series of audio lectures by the fabulous Anne Curzan.  As I walked to and from work, I’d listen to ten to fifteen minutes of Dr. Curzan explaining how effective and ineffective conversations work and when to use certain conversational techniques.  Oh what a wonderful course!  It was never earth-shattering, but I found digesting it in little chunks gave me something to think about all day.  I began to regularly notice little back-channeling elements in conversations, how different people were approaching face-threatening acts in person and over email, indirect and direct speech acts people used and when, and when people were or were not doing their fair share of maintaining a conversation (by picking up on questions or cues and returning with similar conversation-enabling tools).

Just listening to these lectures did not make me an expert at conversation, of course, nor did it get me all the way to my desired state of total conversational awareness and skill.  But, it got me to a point where I have definitely begun to recognize conversation tools and habits of myself and others.  This is good!  I’m pleased!  I have another set of audio lectures to listen to on my walk to and from work on communication that I will likely start up soon, but just these have given me plenty of food for thought – both in my professional life and my personal one!

As an added bonus, Anne Curzan is faculty at the University of Michigan, and when I suggested to our Staff Development team that we bring her in for a talk or two, they were all about it.  So here’s hoping we can get her to come talk to us more and in person!  Yay!

What are you, dear readers, working on in terms of your self (personal or professional) development?  If communications, how are you tackling that?  I’d like to get more tactics and approaches to working on my communications goals (besides listening to lectures and going to staff workshops).  Thoughts?

Sponsored Content – not for me!

On two or three occasions, seemingly real people (actually, I bet they are, in fact, real) have emailed me to (1) praise my blog (um, thanks?), (2) suggest that the content on my blog fits well with their product/service/content, and (3) request that I blog about them OR request that I put some banner or ad on my site.  The most recent request even offered me a $300 gift card to Amazon for participating in a “blogger partnership program.”  At first, I was flattered – I even replied to the first person, not realizing that this was just a way for them to get sponsored content onto my site.  But after mulling it over for a minute or two, I realized that this was so not what I wanted to do with my site. 

My site is a place for me to document, to reflect and to question.  It is not a moneymaker!  Not in practice nor in intent!  So, if you have some sponsored content (or “native advertising” as I’m learning it’s also called) you’d like me to add to this site, I’m not terribly interested.  So sorry.

In looking around the interwebs, I did find these articles that might be interesting if you are also experiencing this:

Re-reading some “classic” dystopian fiction

Recently I have re-read some old-school science fiction / dystopian fiction and have been shocked at my own selective memory of the works.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (stories published late 1940s; collected in book form in 1950)

First edition cover of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.

First edition cover of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.

I first read The Martian Chronicles in a high school English class.  The only story I even vaguely remembered from it was one about a human settler running into a Martian from a different era.  Upon re-reading it, I was struck by how ridiculously the 1950s gender stereotypes play out in the years between 1999-2026 (or 2030-2057 if using the 1997 version) on Bradbury’s Mars.  I know it’s not totally fair of me to judge this aspect of a book written in the 40s and 50s (the stories were written first and then subsequently aggregated into the book), but I still feel deeply disappointed in his lack of foresight on that front.  And now, I think I will forever remember that gender roles shortcoming concept over any of the individual stories or the themes he explores in the book.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1931)

First edition cover of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

First edition cover of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

I read Brave New World my freshman year of college – not for a class but just because.  I dimly remember the Gattaca-like themes, but upon re-reading it, I was again struck with the really limited creativity Huxley has around gender equality.  Again, it is what most sticks out in my mind upon re-reading.  In many ways, this book is even worse with its gender assumptions and norms.  But, it’s not as though the gender issues were what Huxley (or Bradbury) were satirizing.  Whether my feelings are justified or not, I just feel deflated and disappointed about that.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)

The cover of the British first edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.

The cover of the British first edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.

To round out my middle of the 20th century dystopian / futuristic / science fiction, I’ve just picked up Nineteen Eighty-Four from one of the greatest public libraries in the world.*  I distinctly remember reading this at Crane’s Beach (the best beach in the world while we’re talking about best in the world categories) before senior year of high school for my English class while my friend read All the President’s Men for hers.  Again, I remember so little: really just big brother & mind control.  But, I gather the main plot centers on a love affair… I am not hopeful that my criticism of Huxley and Bradbury will change for Orwell.  Sigh.

And some new stuff

Recently, I’ve read quite a bit of John Scalzi recently – namely the Old Man’s War series, but a few others here and there – and what really strikes me about Scalzi’s work is how he subtly challenges your gender assumptions as you read.  As a reader, you’ll be introduced to a character – perhaps the captain of a ship or someone in charge – and about a page later you realize this person is a woman and you had just assumed it was a man!  Well, maybe YOU didn’t assume the character was male, but I bet many people do until they learn she’s not.  I did on quite a few of them.  This happens over and over again in his writing.  I love it.  I love it because it reminds you and challenges you about your own assumptions.  And he doesn’t call it out in neon letters (“Hey! I’m challenging your gender assumptions here!”), he just does it.  A lot.  So, for that and for many reasons – I highly recommend Scalzi’s work.

I suppose I do feel a bit guilty praising Scalzi so much; he’s writing now not 60 years ago. If I re-read him in 50 years, I am sure I will be disappointed with his lack of vision in some area or another, but for now, I’ll take it.

While I’m on a post about books, I implore you, I beseech you, I urge you to read… Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  It’s… so good.  I could not put it down – and I think about it fairly regularly.  Read it.  You will not regret it.  Especially if you are a child of the 80s!  But even if not… read it and tell me what you think!

* It is so wonderful to live and work in a town with a fabulous public library.

#Altmetrics & Libraries

Well, a white paper that Emily Puckett Rodgers and I wrote about Altmetrics and Libraries may be re-published in a Polish Open Access journal (the EBIB Bulletin).  Cool!  Ours is Creative Commons licensed (CC BY 3.0), their bulletin uses the same licensing, but they emailed us to ask permission anyways.  We’re granting it, so if any of the good people of Poland have any questions or comments, feel free to drop us a line!

CC BY license

CC BY license


Go Creative Commons!



We have also done a serious clean-up and revision effort of the original paper and plan to submit it for publication soon… stay tuned for more details!


Michigan Library Association – Academic Libraries Conference 2014 #MLA14AL

Oh hello!  It’s been a little while (a regretfully long while) and I just thought it might be a nice time to post about my experiences working on the Michigan Library Association’s Academic Libraries Conference planning committee.  (I wrote about this a bit right after our initial Leadership Day meeting here).

Interested in Presenting?

Before I get into my reflections on being part of the planning committee, I wanted to let you all know, dear readers, that if you’d like to present a one hour program or a poster you should fill out our call for proposals:  session and/or poster.

  • Program or session proposals are due December 9, 2013 (note this deadline was extended by a week).
  • Poster proposals are due February 14, 2014.

The conference is May 29-30, 2014 in the Kellogg Center at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI.  There will be two AWESOME keynotes:  one by Kathleen Fitzpatrick and one by Lisa Spiro.

You do not have to be a Michigan Library Association member to submit proposals.  If you are accepted and you decide to come to the conference, you’ll pay a non-member rate; OR you can just come for your session for free and not stay for the whole conference.  Furthermore, you do not have to have the title of librarian to submit proposals.  All are welcome to submit!

Just a little note:  we are considering doing a new thing this year!  We may pick a few posters and programs that have been accepted to be part of an “Ignite” session during the pre-conference reception on Wednesday.  If there is not enough interest among targeted presenters, we won’t do it – but if people are interested, we think it could be an interesting way to draw traffic to their posters or sessions throughout the conference.  We’ll see!  Have you gone to any Ignite sessions at library conferences?  If so, what did you think?  We’ve heard some feedback and are aware of some pitfalls, but feel free to comment with some tips or other thoughts!

Reflecting on Conference Planning

Where programming committee members come from.

Programming Subcommittee Membership

I’ve found being a part of this planning committee to be a nice opportunity for connection with librarians across Michigan.  I have the most interaction with folks on my subcommittee, the “programming” subcommittee, which is comprised of people from UM Dearborn, Davenport University, Delta College, and Northern Michigan University.  But there are even more colleges and universities represented across the whole committee (the two other subcommittees focus on marketing and special events for the conference).  So, I have found a lot of value being on this committee in the exposure to people from other places within Michigan.

We “meet” regularly via phone conferences, and for the most part I think we’ve been highly efficient and effective as a committee working in this way.  We have calls with the whole group roughly monthly, and the subcommittees each have phone conferences as needed.  The programming subcommittee’s work is front-loaded: our charge is to organize the call for proposals for posters and talks, to solicit and oversee the jurors who will select posters and talks, and to arrange the final conference schedule (for general programming not for special events).  Once this is arranged, our work will taper off, and I think marketing’s will skyrocket.  I’ve found it nice to contribute to my committee by being the “Google form guru.”  I created the calls for posters and proposals (an improvement over last year’s survey monkey forms).  It’s nice to have a concrete, discrete, and critical set of tasks to accomplish – I really feel like I’m contributing in a valuable way.

In the larger committee as a whole, we’ve been having an interesting discussion over the past few weeks around conference deadlines.  I think it’s fairly common for conferences to extend their deadlines on proposal submissions (for talks mostly).  It seems as though the Michigan Library Association wants to move away from this perception of an automatic deadline extention.  I don’t have a strong opinion either way honestly.  I think on the one hand, if one is in the practice of not extending the deadline, you can more easily handle some aspects of planning and advertising.  But, if extending the deadline gives a conference two chances to reach a target audience of potential submitters, and a greater diversity of submissions flow in because of the extension, then it seems worth the small hassle of extending by a week or so.

We did extend our deadline by a week this time, but I think that was partly due to our talk proposal deadline being the Monday after Thanksgiving… Next year we will plan that deadline more thoughtfully!

So, what do you think?   Do you think state (or other small) library associations are too much in the habit of regularly extending submission deadlines?  Is this an effective strategy or a signal that communication efforts in advance of the deadline are failing?