Friday in the Stacks: Sociology Time

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Gauguin’s Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Prompted by a vendor email, this week I’ve been doing a bit of thinking around what we have in these – I’m not sure what you call them – large reference works packages provided by Credo, Reference Universe and SAGE.  These platforms let you search for reference content across many electronic reference works.  They can be confusing at first (what am I looking at?  Entries for “baseball” in multiple different encyclopedias?  What source is this coming from?).  But when you spend some time browsing their sites, it becomes clearer what you are looking at.

In any case, the vendor had suggested that I purchase a book (the Routledge International Handbook of Globalization Studies) but it turns out we already have this book – though it’s not located in our reference collection.  It’s upstairs in the circulating collection!  Hurray!  So I thought today I’d do a bit of digging in the circulating collection for quasi-reference works – for things like this Handbook.

I perused this morning, in a fascinating TWO hours I am not ashamed to say, four books:

The two handbooks contain selected readings by various authors organized to convey a landscape of the field of sociology as it is now and the field of globalization studies (a topic of growing importance in the last decade or two).  The Routledge globalization handbook contains over thirty entries organized around major theories, major issues, new institutions and cultures, and solutions.  Sociology, it turns out, is very applied!  While there is no overall introduction to the work, the table of contents is enough of a guide to find a chapter of interest.  Chapters seem to be often grounded in real-world stories but many are heavy on the theory.  Skimming a few, I think these could be really useful to students if they knew to find the book and then look through at chapter headings (it’s a print book so they’d have to think to use the book first).  Luckily, the subject headings are quite easy to return to (globalization — social aspects, globalization — economic aspects, etc.)  Now that I know about this source, I will definitely put it on a guide for my sociology courses that touch on globalization – and I’ll remember it for those reference interactions that involve globalization.

The SAGE handbook feels more of a sociology textbook, I think.  This volume covers research methods, societal processes (e.g. the culture of work, the sociology of the family, the institution of money, class, race, ethnicity etc.), and major recent debates in sociology (e.g. how to connect micro and macro levels of analysis, marrying politics with global inequality issues, etc.).  Each entry again is written by a different author – and it covers quite a range of topics.  The subject headings in the catalog are scanty: simply “sociology.”  We have 922 books with that subject heading, and I think a student would be hard-pressed to find this in a catalog search.  Only were she browsing might she happen upon it.  There are certainly useful entries – for example, Chapter 11 by Patricia Hill Collins on the Challenges for the Sociology of Race and Ethnicity asks some interesting and critical questions (such as “Why has a field whose mission remains the study of social relations of race and ethnicity been repeatedly caught off guard by racial and ethnic conflict?”)*  Great read, but hard to find for a student!  Again, glad that’s why I’m doing this I suppose.  Now I can walk a student over to the stacks and find this and other handbook-type sources that may have chapters covering important topics in sociology that also would be valuable to her.

I had to pick up The Promise of Sociology – it’s written by a guy whose last name is Beamish which makes me think of “come to my arms my beamish boy!”  In truth, this is basically Beamish’s ode to introduction to sociology courses everywhere.  It’s a fabulous (and reasonably short) book covering classic, traditional sociology from Marx, Durkheim and Weber, and then contemporary sociology.  It’s written for undergraduates and I love it.  I am tempted to take it out to bolster my own knowledge but I’ll leave it on the shelf for now.  But, if you’re looking for an overview of sociology with a bent towards how the discipline has evolved, this is your volume!

Finally, I found myself engrossed in Exploring the Architecture of Everyday Life.  Just couldn’t put it down.  How prescient.  There is a chapter – this was published in 2002 – on grossly massive racial inequalities in East St. Louis, IL (that’s basically just the other side of St. Louis – which is near Ferguson).  There is an entry by Jill Nelson on her first interview with Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post and the racial tensions underlying it.  Each entry seems to be an excerpt from a book-length work (I could be wrong but I recognized several books that were summed up as chapters here).  I could have spent hours reading the entries and then googling the authors, searching the catalog for their books, etc.  Again, this work is more like a textbook with chapters organized by theme to tie together the major challenges and opportunities of sociology, but it reads so well.  At the end of each chapter there are some discussion prompts.  A few of these chapters could have worked perfectly for my book club back in Ann Arbor (that I so desperately miss right now)!  Ann Arbor Paginators – consider a chapter or two from this for some month coming up!

* These days, I find my thoughts rather consumed with dread, sadness, empathy and hopelessness with what has been happening in our country recently around institutionalized, system-created, system-propagated racism and police brutality. So I’m gravitating towards chapters on the topic.


Lynne Viti and the Supremes!

The Supremes

Laura (right) and I (left) dressed up as Supreme Court Justices

Last Friday I did not spend time with my reference books as I was otherwise occupied impersonating a Supreme Court Justice for Lynne Viti’s first year writing seminar on the Supreme Court.  Lynne invited me and my colleague and officemate, Laura, to her course to hear students argue four cases currently in front of the Supreme Court.  These were:

What fascinating cases!  Already we’ve had one decision come down from on high (the real life court decided):  the court ruled that workers do not need to be compensated with overtime pay for the time they spend in a security clearance line after normal work hours.  The (real) justices were unanimous in their decision on this one.

I must say, when asked to fill out the survey on how I would vote, I think my gut told me the decision should be one way for each of these cases but that the law and precedent do not always lead a justice to that decision.  So, it was really neat to be in such a mock trial situation.

Clearly, I am eagerly awaiting all the other decisions!

Friday in the Stacks: Sources on the U.S. Government

“For forms of government let fools contest / whate’er issue best administered is best.”

Alexander Pope

Today I spent my hour reviewing a few reference works on American government and public policy: A Historical Guide to the U.S. Government, the Encyclopedia of American Government, the Encyclopedia of American Public Policy, and the Encyclopedia of the American Presidency. The Historical Guide to the U.S. Government and the Encyclopedia of American Government were most similar in terms of what they set out to do, so I decided to do a little exercise in comparing the two.

Though published in 1998, I found the Historical Guide reasonably enjoyable and fairly comprehensive. This work seems appropriate in scope and intended audience. Entries tend to be on various agencies, departments and groups of the federal government such as the Food and Drug Administration, the Library of Congress, the Mint, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. These kinds of entries help explain the structure of government. But, there are also some entries of extended essays on topics such as “Accountability in the Federal Government,” “History and Historians in the Federal Government,” and “Regulation and Regulatory Agencies.”

Because I’m interested in libraries, I did a little looking into the Library of Congress entry. Whenever I read anything in the stacks, I always come up with little project ideas… threads I will never unravel and re-sow but threads nonetheless. This time was no different. In the entry on the Library of Congress, I read:

“For a while, the Smithsonian Institution emerged as a rival to the Library of Congress.”

That one little line is likely to hide a fascinating history! It references that tumultuous period in our nation’s history: the 1850s-1860s. Ah, if I had all the time in the world, I’d satisfy that little itch I have to learn all about organizational culture and organizational drama – in this case in the early history of the Smithsonian and reasonably early history of the Library of Congress. In another life perhaps. (Clearly, I simply must start a “to do when retired” list). I digress.

Why would a Wellesley College undergraduate find herself in the stacks reading entries in this book though? The book is written by well credentialed authors, entries are short enough to be unintimidating but long enough to be substantive. If I were at the desk, I might guide a student to this source if she were starting on a paper or project and needed to know more about some entity in the government. I am dubious that she would wander to find this book on her own (as Wikipedia might solve her immediate needs – indeed, it has more about the period I am interested in for the LOC). But that is, perhaps, besides the point. It’s a good source. I like it. And now I know more about it.

I was not so pleased with the Encyclopedia of American Government. This four volume set read to me as if it were written for a high school student. I compared a few similar entries between the two works, and found the Encyclopedia lacking. For example, when I skimmed entries on the G.I. bill in both, I found the Historical Guide’s entry to be clearer, more concise, and ultimately more useful. So, I will likely not point my inquisitive Wellesley student this way anytime soon. Ah well, you win some and lose some, yes?

This week, I picked these resources to look at because I’ve got some decisions to make (thankfully with input from others!) about a few purchases for the political science reference section. One thing I realized this morning was that I need to consider what purchases might be redundant. For example, do we need another guide to the U.S. Presidency? Or does our 1994 Encyclopedia of the American Presidency offer what we need for students right now? (Actually that’s an unfair example because we also do have a Guide to the Presidency that is from 2008 which I didn’t look at this morning).

In any case, I think these are the kinds of questions I’ll be mulling over across each of my six departments over the weeks, months, and years… but for now, I think I’m beginning to develop some sense of the current scope of our collection as well as what updates and additions would be welcome.

Friday in the Stacks: The Annual Register

The Annual Register

The Annual Register

Well, in this edition of Friday in the Stacks I’d like to tell you about a dusty (and in our case, literally dusty) old set of books called “The Annual Register.” Now, do not judge this book series by its physical cover (drab browns and oranges complete with much dust); this is a truly amazing source.

Published annually since 1758, each book covers major events, themes, relationships, situations, etc. happening all over the world in that year. Each (well, within the last 50 years at least) seem to be structured the same way. It starts with a section on countries – starting with the UK & Commonwealth countries, then by region, e.g. North America, Asia, etc.

But each book does not simply cover what was happening in each country, but also in the arts and literature, science and technology, religion, economics and sociology, and law. There are also maps! And primary source documents. Woah.

And the icing on the cake? It’s eminently readable! I lost track of time (not the first time) comparing the 1964, 2001, and 2013 registers. The 1964 volume was fascinating (space race! leadership upheaval in the U.S.S.R.! Jawaharlal Nehru dies!). Did you know J.B.S. Haldane died in 1964? Well there’s an obituaries section where you could learn such a thing.

By 2001 (but probably before), it looks like each volume will start with excerpts from past Annual Registers from as old as can be (225, 250, etc.) years ago and then onward in 25 year increments. So for example, in the 2013 volume (which in this case seems to be about 2012), it quotes from the Annual Register of 200 years ago:

1812. The desertion of Moscow by Napoleon (who quitted it the day after the defeat of Murat) was equally a subject of surprise and speculation at Paris, the public papers of which exhausted their ingenuity in finding excuses and motives for this event. One of them thus concludes its reasonings: ‘To say that the emperor has left Moscow is only to say, that this father of the soldiers marches wherever great operations demand his presence. His presence commands victory; it will still watch over the safety of the victorious army.’ We shall see in the sequel how well this expectation was verified.

Whew! Amazing, no?

Then the 150 years ago bit:

1862. America. The hopelessness of the attempt to bring back the Union by force of arms was clear to all who were capable of forming a dispassionate judgment; but pride, obstinacy and lust of empire still impelled the North to continue the desolating strife. We fear that torrents of blood will yet be shed before the termination of the Civil War, of which the civilized world is ashamed and sick.

Hmm… so anyways, as an historical piece, it’s quite rich. That quote from 1862 is worth a little look, right?

Alright. How will my students use this? Let’s say a first year is writing a paper about the role of women in the Ghanaian liberation / independence movement. Well, maybe she has no real understanding of Ghana (or, ahem, the Gold Coast) and its history. I don’t mind saying that Wikipedia is certainly a great start to get some overview context. But, picking up the 10 books spanning say 1955-1966 and reading the portions on this region (plus skimming a bit of the overall world context in the preface of each volume) may give her a broader understanding of what was happening here in the context of what was going on in the world right at that moment.

And who knows? Maybe she’ll flip to the section on the Arts & Literature and look at the trends in opera or ballet and get inspired about that for some other course!

I’m not kidding: the arts (at least since 1964 which was the oldest volume I pulled this morning) seem to be continually structured as covering opera, ballet, the theater, art, music, the cinema, television & broadcasting, and architecture followed by literature. While 2001 has these categories more or less, the 2013 book (again – about 2012) has opera, classical music, rock & pop music, ballet & dance, theater: London & New York, cinema, television & radio, visual arts, architecture, literature.

What categories get called out fascinates me. Why is there a classical music section in this 2013 volume? You’ll just have to pick it up and find out what they say!

Also, I love that the “rock & pop” music section of 2013 starts off with the fact that “Gangnam Style” was the first YouTube video to hit a billion views. I don’t know why I find it amusing that “Gangnam Style” is in this reference work filled with weighty matters. Then again, major pop phenomena may be weighty in their own way.

Okay. That’s it for this edition of Friday in the Stacks. See you next time!

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?