Friday in the Stacks: Another Gem in the Collection

My officemate, who supports history among other departments, showed me this sweet resource in our reference stacks the other day:  we have many books in the American Guide Series!  What is the American Guide Series, you ask?  It’s a series of books commissioned and published as part of the New Deal – an effort to support writers (over 6000!) in America during the Depression.

I flipped through a few and they are precious, fabulous, and a great primary resource.  They have some maps and photographs, cover the history of the state and several key cities, and list a number of “tours” of the state via the state and federal highways.  What a lovely set of resources – and we have all the states (with the exception of Hawaii which wasn’t a state at the time), and several cities.  Here are some images from the South Dakota book… hey look!  Mount Rushmore:

Pages on Mount Rushmore in the South Dakota book of the American Guide Series

Pages on Mount Rushmore in the South Dakota book of the American Guide Series

My partner and I went to a wedding at Sylvan Lake a few summers ago – this was the backdrop of the wedding!  Many of the guests stayed at Sylvan Lake Lodge!  Ahh – so fun!

Pages on Sylvan Lake in the South Dakota book of the American Guide Series

Pages on Sylvan Lake in the South Dakota book of the American Guide Series

And on the inside cover, there was a lovely map of SD (on the back there was a pocket with a much larger map you could pull out and really explore):

Inside the front cover of the South Dakota book of the American Guide Series

Inside the front cover of the South Dakota book of the American Guide Series

These books are really interesting to read, too, in the context of another book I’m currently reading –  The Warmth of Other Suns (you all should read this!), the story of a vast migration north and west of black Americans in the interwar period.  This phenomenon drastically reshaped and influenced in a multitude of ways urban and suburban areas in the north and west.  In any case, in the Michigan book in the American Guide Series, one chapter details the general history of different people populating Michigan (with a notable absence of mentions of Native Americans).  This chapter discusses the rich history of European influences over the decades – but also references the “Great Migration” (even though this was only published in 1941!) detailed in the Warmth of Other Suns book.  As Spock would say… fascinating!

Friday in the Stacks: Weeding Project!

Our library plans to renovate at some point in the future.  The consequence of this is that the reference collection needs a bit of weeding to clear space for other more fruitful uses.  Therefore, I’ve decided to spend my weekly stacks hour working through each of my collection domains exploring titles that may be fated for the chopping block.

I started this morning.  I’ll write more about this in future weeks, but I haven’t been able to get a little thought out of my brain:   There simply must be some reality show in here, right?  So… what’s it called, people??


Would any of you watch?

Seriously though, if you’ve ever weeded a collection, please send thoughts and advice!  🙂


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.

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.