Thursday, October 22, 2015

Art and Community

Dear Reader,

I'm going to share two recent art experiences with you, and ask you to support a third.  Ready?

First of all, I had the sublime pleasure of seeing the exhibition Someday is Now:  the art of Corita Kent at the Pasadena Museum of California Art earlier this month.  You can see some of the images here: and if you are anywhere near Pasadena in the next few weeks, please go.  The show is only up until November 1 and it is so well curated.  Corita strove to answer the questions about peace and violence we continue to struggle with today.  You will find heart and be inspired by her prints.  While I did scoop up many cherishable postcards at the Museum, I did wait to get home and order the big, beautiful, and heavy exhibition catalog since I was in Southern California for a short, carry-on luggage type of trip.  It is so fantastic, I had to also order the 2nd edition of Learning by Heart:  teaching to free the creative spirit.  Please go to your library or independent bookstore, because you are going to want them too.

The exhibition catalog, I ordered mine from my favorite online book provider, Powells, is a book that I know I will return to again and again.  To be dazzled by Corita's colors, her interpretations of culture, her use of typography, and her messages.

The 2nd book, Learning by Heart, again Powells is already opening up my heart and my eyes.  I am so eager to try Corita's assignments on looking, drawing, and experiencing.  And just as Parker Palmer's Courage to Teach has emboldened and supported my development as a practitioner of joyful exploration in education, even the first pages of Corita's text are expanding my capacities as I breathe in her words.

From page 4:  "To create means to relate.  The root meaning of the word art is to fit together and we all do this every day....Each time we fit things together we are creating--whether it is to make a loaf of bread, a child, a day."  

From page 90:  "How can we become bright, hardworking, imaginative people?  By learning how to use our connecting ability to make new relationships and by getting used to working very hard in ways that will develop our imagination."

Just reading that, I'm excited again about working hard.  I feel heartened and a little bit comforted that I need to prepare for struggle.  Let me tell you, where in SillyCon Valley, where everything is supposed to "in one tap" or "one swipe" or 140 characters or less and delivered the next day and where young people think it is a good idea to live in a truck next to your employer....reading Corita's words telling me to slow down, to notice, to note my responses, to learn different ways of looking, and the importance of community...I am emboldened.

Once I get some workflow undercontrol here in Bookcharmer land, I am tempted to host an online bookgroup with this book, first because I want more people to know about it, but also because I think it would be fun to share the experiences of the assignments.  And we can use the handy tools of SillyCon Valley to post our results and get some more art into the world.  More to come on that.

For now,  I must ask you to support art in community in a very specific way.  Here in this Valley, this peninsula, this state this nation, the tyranny of the zip code is profound.  Instead of getting on that pedestal, I'm going to direct your attention to this class project:

This project that will engage students in learning about art and culture is quite close to funding, maybe even by today it will be completed.  If it is, would you please type in your state in the Donors' Choose search box and see what art supplies are needed at a school near you?

Oh, I got out of order:  I still haven't told you about my 2nd recent artistic experience, which happened just this morning, and gives urgency to my request above.  I've been listening to Sonia Manzano reading her memoir, Becoming Maria, on my commute.  Some of you may know I'm an audiobook junkie.  This is why I'm still profoundly aggravated that Amazon.Greed bought Audible, because Audible is my go to dealer for audio books, and I just deeply resent any more money going to a company with a terrible reputation and if you raise your eyebrows at that please go read this:

Ok, back to the memoir.  I admit, I was having a hard time in the early chapters.  Ms. Manzano doesn't pull any punches about her childhood:  family violence, racism in her school, she doesn't sugarcoat her life experiences and just get to the Sesame Street part.  Being part of the original Sesame Street generation, when Cookie Monster could have all the cookies he wanted, I downloaded this title with giddy glee and then had to muster the courage to listen to the painful memories she shares.

I'm glad I did, and glad she has the courage to throw open her life path to listeners and readers, because the chapter when she describes her experience of going to see the movie West Side Story and how she felt herself coming alive to see her community celebrated on film...well, let's just say there was a little bit of ugly crying going on in a certain VW Passat once I found a parking place and could sit and listen to her describing how she felt seeing that movie, carrying home a treasured movie poster, and how the whole experience was a profound awakening.

It was a school teacher that took Sonia to see the movie, along with two other students.  And I have to hear more of the book to know how that awakening lead to Sonia Manzano becoming the beloved Maria, a person I watched as a child, and thought how amazing it would be to get to talk to all those wonderful puppets.  I wondered how Sesame Street choose the letter of the day, you know, at the end, when they say "this episode was brought to you by the letters" and then say the letters.  I'm content to let that mystery be, but I still love the idea of one or two letters picking out the skits, the songs, providing the narrative arc, as letters are completely capable of doing and then some.

But back to Sonia Manzano's story:  without the experience of seeing her reality reflected and celebrated in art, would we have had Maria on Sesame Street?

Let's throw down for the arts.  Here in California, there will have to be a legislative overhaul to get the anchor of Prop 13 off the pipeline to education funding, as well as other measures to break the tyranny of the zip code.  But what if your donation today to a classroom leads to an awakening for one child?

This blog entry brought to you by the letter C in honor of Corita Kent and M for Sesame Street's Maria.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

An Uncustomary Wish granted


As this blog has grown farther afield from its original themes, so has your Bookcharmer expanded her realms.  Really!  I have the privilege this year of serving as the Interim Director of Special Collections at my institution and am wasting no time in guzzling up all the archival goodness I possibly can in the coming months.  There is a lot to learn:  how archives are organized, maintained, processing plans, digital records...and preservation issues to which I'll return to in a moment.

The other realm I'm expanding in is artmaking.  I met an artist at a show this summer that, upon hearing my waffle-y answer about being an art librarian, not really an artist, just a dabbler, he interrupted my waffling and said, "if you make art, you are an artist."  I took that advice seriously and while I haven't gone so far as practicing my signature I have gotten more serious about taking time to make art.  This has led me to the joyful world of Uncustomary Art, the life and lively times of a Baltimore artist who uses a variety of interactive art platforms, including mail art and Instagram.  In participating in her #UncustomaryAugust challenge on Instagram, I found myself somewhat stymied by today's challenge:  Wish.

Today, I had a wish granted that I had not yet even been able to articulate in my mind.  Today my library had a visit from a representative with a tremendous emerging resource, Reveal Digital which you can read all about at  Simply put, this company is using crowdfunding to raise funds to digitize underground newspapers and little magazines and offer content to subscribers.  What is even more exciting is that once costs are covered, then content will ultimately be open access.

I can't begin to tell you the joyful dance my brain started doing when I started taking in all these details.  First, digitizing important primary sources before they start disintegrating, as a lot of these independent publications were issued on inexpensive newsprint or perhaps even mimeographed office paper.  Second, crowdfunding it so that people interested in this topic can support it and make it affordable.  Three:  Open Access.  After more than a decade of dwindling collections budgets and spiraling database subscriptions, the fact that a vendor is coming at the issue of access with a totally new model is So. Great.  Now that's a "disruption" that is truly innovative and game-changing.

So, my wish of people knowing the history of civil rights in the United States is going to be much more possible knowing that a team of writers, researchers, and publishers have been working like crazy to get this project off the ground and it is well on its way to becoming a digital presence.

Please support this project by sharing it with librarians, researchers, and colleagues.

Bookcharmingly yours,

The Bookcharmer

Friday, June 26, 2015

Pride and Pain, Loss and Love

A Bookcharmer live update from San Francisco.

The Bookcharmer finds herself in one of her most cherished locations, San Francisco, for the glorious occassion of the American Library Association Annual Conference.  The City is overrun with librarians--public, academic, reference, managers, technologists, and our professional services vendors--companies large and small that proffer databases, books, furnishings, and best of all, the authors we will swoon over and applaud enthusiastically.  It would be a great time to be in SF no matter the week-end, but this is also Pride week-end, and today SCOTUS has announced:

"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family," Kennedy wrote. "In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were."

The City was already preparing for Pride week-end celebrations, flags flying, parade routes being set up, special issues of city guides on newsstands.  But the joy, relief, and elation of today's announcement is truly transcendent--the entire city is smiling, social media is lighting up with rainbows and images of happy couples.  It is an incredible time to be here.

I have not forgotten though, that tears are being shed for what occurred on the other side of the country, shed every day since the horrible shooting at Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, shed today when State Senator and Pastor Clemente Pinckney was eulogized by President Barack Obama.

The President sang Amazing Grace

We all have been lost, may we all be found.  We have been blind, but now let us see.

Buoyed by today's SCOTUS decision and the legacy of of all those who worked so hard and gave so much for it to happen, let us all continue to speak up for real freedom:  freedom to love, freedom to worship, the freedom to be in community and in peace.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Information is Power

Greetings Reader!

Librarians are fond of our platitudes.  Knowledge is power, information is power.  We stand up for literacy and we're not going to give anyone your circulation records without a warrant, and even then we'd probably still fight it.

I felt pretty in step with the whole Information Literacy thing I've been talking about lo these 20 plus now years.  Know you need information!  Know where to find information!  Evaluate the information!  Use the information!  Oh, and cite everything exactly depending on which style manual you are using.  Librarians have spent a bit too much time talking just to each other about what "information literacy" means and what it looks like.

So I was schooled by 7 amazing researchers on a Wednesday evening at a program hosted at Stanford by the African and African American Studies department and the Institute for Diversity in the Arts.  I heard a panel curated by author/activist dream hampton of the following:

Patrisse Cullors
Mike de la Rocha
Dante Berry
Yusef Bunchy Shakur
Monifa Bandele
Malachi Garza

Each speaker gave a brief presentation on a specific project/action he or she has worked on and also shared their action items with the audience, which I will add in below.  What struck a chord with me as I listened was how clearly each person defined the information he or she needed to solve the problem being addressed.

For example, when Monifa Bandele and dream hampton were conducting CopWatch patrols in New York City, it was because they needed to know and have evidence of racially biased Stop and Frisk activities.  Malachi Garza's charts illustrated the change over time of the type of youth being incarcerated in order to understand how to improve services to youth instead of just locking them up. Mike de la Rocha spoke passionately about the need to educate people with felonies that have now been reclassified to misdemeanors about how to clear their records.  The silos of data gathering each of these activists confronted just to get accurate statistics on publicly funded law enforcement issues belies the myth that Big Data is going to solve all of our problems.  Is there a possibility of "Big Data" to examine trends and parse situations when some records aren't even being kept?

I am finally getting more comfortable with, or maybe used to, the humbling experience of being exposed to copious amounts of history/data I didn't know about.  More accepting of the bright flood of information coming into my horizons as layers of blinders fall away.  It has been humbling, but also very helpful in trying to make sense of things I didn't understand, as I've come to see that what I thought was the whole story, the big pictures, had great big gaps.

On to more things I didn't know.  I knew about the Black Panthers, but I didn't know about the Young Lords.  I didn't know that currently 2.3 million people in the U.S. are incarcerated, which is an increase of 700% over the past 40 years, which means that 1-4 adults has a criminal record.

I did not know about the book by Yusef Bunchy Shakur about his experience of meeting his father in prison or about Shakur's work as a neighborhood organizer in Detroit.

It is a very interesting time to have grown up in the friendly 1970s of the Midwest in a small college town, where I went to a magnet school as a child, to being an adult in Silicon Valley,  which is actually a jurisdictionally fragmented imaginary location spread across a variety of municipalities and shares codes and regulations with a county, a state, and in fact a nation.

It is easy to point fingers at mass media and bemoan the loss of actual journalism (see "long form journalism" as it is called now) but you know what?  Just like these amazing organizers, if you need to know why something is the way it is, you go find out.  Our world isn't as connected as it could or should be, but the amazing speed with which a hashtag search for #schoolsnotprisons returns a plethora of results demonstrates the role social media can play in tearing away myths.

I have long preached to students suffering through my "instruction" that "you are the interactive part."  The computer will only be able to retrieve what you ask it to retrieve.  Think of all the keywords, think about how is involved in the issue...and so on.

I saw real examples of information literacy, fluency, mastery that Wednesday night, all the more humbling in that these organizers are putting their entire lives into the ideals I cherish:  education, literacy, freedom, arts, and a non-violent society that offers help and healing.

There was also discussion between the audience and the panelists about handing burn-out, negative energy, working against large systems.  I was very happy to hear this addressed and methods of self-care discussed, because burnout is a big hazard in helping professions as well as in activism.  I was particularly struck by Patrisse Cullors' observation that in addition to self care, social movements need to "strengthen the container"--that we all do better when we are in a healthy environment, i.e. "collective care."  Other observations as I hastily wrote in my notes:

From Monifa Bandele:  Pace yourself
From Mike de la Rocha:  Make art
From Yousef Bunchy Shakur:  "You are no good to no one if you aren't good to yourself."
Dante Berry:  Be in Community but rest and disconnect when you need to.

I also heard from the group the message "Don't encourage burn-out."  This is a message I intend to take back to my library community, because I have seen in myself and others when exhaustion turns our passions into resentments frustrations and unhappy behavior.

I think the comments about going in to your work feel strong and energetic resonated with me because the clock is ticking on my academic rumspringa, this wonderful semester I've had to mentally rove about taking classes, going to lectures, yes sleeping in too, and reading what ever I wanted to read in the order I wanted to read it.  How can I hold onto my "working brain" when I return to the tornado of e-mails, meetings, and interactions?  Routines, rituals, enough sleep...and space when ideas are chasing themselves in my head to somehow put them into thoughts.

So I leave you now with the thoughts, actions, and resources of these speakers that unveiled to me in one evening how to truly question and engage:


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Whole Story, metadata and linking, and New Stories

Or, what I've learned from #28daysarenotenough.

In February and through March, I've continued my Internet gallop in search of one new thing each day about African American History.  It has been exciting and sobering.  Exciting with the pleasure of learning about a person new to me each day, sobering in realizing what a blank slate my mind was before the discovery.  After this experiment, which I must conclude at the end of March for this year because my Too Read list is staggeringly long and I want to try to do some deep reading and thinking about what I have found so far, I also have a new perspective on the need for metadata and deep linking across sites.

Let's talk about language for a moment.  In searching web sites, I would get different results if I searched "african american woman" vs. "black female."  Why is this important?  Well, think about how sources are tagged and described.  If there isn't a line of code or a linked descriptor/controlled vocabulary to bring like information together, the researcher has to _know_ and search in all possible ways.  If didn't know how to be flexible in my searching, I might not have found out about Jane Bolin, or activist Mary Church Terrell

The above is a fairly obvious example.  But what about more subtle or politically charged language? A tremendous resource for researching history is the Documenting The American South project from UNC-Chapel Hill.  This repository of texts provides the opportunity for unprecedented access to primary source material.  And not just access, organized access through browsing and searching. This repository provides a representative example of the tensions that come to bear on organizing information.  And though I have often found subject headings to be a very useful way of navigating a lot of content, I am finally able to fully grasp Sanford Berman's arguments about the Prejudices and Antipathies of applying LCSH's to people.  If you aren't well schooled in Berman's arguments, get yourself over to immediately.  Here's the example from DocSouth that has raised my awareness:

If you do a keyword search on "escape" in this repository, 18,000 results are generated.  If you search "fugitive" 5,560 results are retrieved.  However, there isn't a subject heading for Escaped Slaves.  The LCSH is Fugitive Slaves.  Think about the implications of the word "fugitive".  For an example of how the word was employed in the 19th Century, choose one of the entries under the subject heading to read.  You could begin with:

Life and Adventures of James Williams, a Fugitive Slave,
with a Full Description of the Underground Railroad printed in San Francisco in 1873.  The html copy is online at:

A scanned copy is available at:

After you read it, or even read just the table of contents and the summary, would you really think that "fugitive" is the best subject heading?  This is an incredible narrative on many levels:  Williams' story and how he tells it, the information he provides about other former slaves and their successful escapes, including his own work on the Underground Railroad.  His move to California, his jobs and his relationships.

This is the work that digital humanities can accomplish:  bringing forward and making accessible texts that complete the story, that will provide seekers with the broader narrative of American history beyond what gets into watered down textbooks and a few hours per week in "social studies."  I found the Williams narrative because I was looking for it, it has been digitized, and I was willing to look at formal subject headings that I now question.

I'm going to keep pursuing my #28daysarenotenough quest until the end of March.  I have been happily surrounding to the "search and click and mull" process to choose a person each morning in a ritual of reading and coffee drinking.  But I am willing to hand it off to you dear reader:  who are the people we should know?  Where can we read their works, see their art, hear their music? I challenge you to expand your to read list and share it with me.  I also ask:  How as librarians and archivists, publishers and teachers, are we building links to repositories that will result in researchers finding the information that they seek?

So, what's on my to read list as a result of this experiment?  Well, right now my neurons are being restructured and my heart broken and stitched together by T. Geronimo Johnson's Welcome to Braggsville.  It is making me want to go re-read Caucasia by Danzy Senna.  I have just finished March Book 2 by John Lewis, which activated that "what's the WHOLE story" question I have held in my mind ever since #Ferguson blew into my West Coast consciousness back in August.

Also on my list:  Professor Annette Gordon-Reed's Hemingses of Monticello, and James McGrath Morris' new book on journalist Ethel Lois Payne, Eye on the Struggle.

And what I'm most anxious to turn my complete attention to and I hope a savvy publisher will pick up on as well, the ongoing blog of 93 year old and National Park Ranger Betty Reid Soskin, go look:

I have learned from my #28daysarenotenough experience that I do have huge gaps in my knowledge about so many decades and regions and citizens of my country, but if I look and listen and ask and seek, those stories are available and more are coming forth each day.

I am most excited about the increase of new stories and the opportunity to participate in supporting their broader distribution.    If you want new stories, support them with your money and if you don't have money to spare support them with your time through signal boosting.  Here are two stories I can't wait to see on the big screen:

Ella Jenkins, First Lady of Children's Music:

Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl:


Wednesday, February 18, 2015



The Bookcharmer is on sabbatical from her library this semester and the liberated schedule has given me the opportunity to do some additional galloping around the internet.  One of the big questions on librarian and researcher minds lately is how  to keep up with/keep track of all the new resources popping up online as libraries and museums digitize and upload collections.  One answer of course is cataloging and metadata, creating the robust framework of descriptions so that search engines can easily index these items.  Another answer is bibliography--creating guides, printed or online, that collate related resources for researchers.

Another answer is, when you have the time, to gallop across the Internet to see what you can find.  Back In The Day, reference collections often had a New Titles shelf so recently acquired titles were in a visible spot that encouraged browsing.  This is how the Bookcharmer learned about rich resources like The Encyclopedia of Bioethics, Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century Photography, and Literature of Travel and Exploration: An Encyclopedia.  I could go on, but let me simply link you here to over a decades worth of award winning Reference titles from our friends at ALA's RUSA:

But of course, reference sources take time to compile and distribute.  What about what is happening right now?  I decided to seek out resources new to me available via libraries, archives, museums, and also individual researchers/writers.

I set myself the challenge of finding a new online resource every day during the month of February about African American history, inspired by author/artist Joel Christian Gill who generated the #28daysarenotenough statement about African-American history month.  You can find him online at and on twitter at @jcg007.  He has generously been retweeting my entries that I tag with #28daysarenotenough and of course you can also follow along with me @Bookcharmer.

Today's find was the update on the ongoing construction of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, you can even see a live construction camera! The building is scheduled to open in 2016.  While it is long overdue, it is happening.

The entry I am still thinking about is from a few days ago, about blues singer Memphis Minnie.  Let me break down my path to finding out about her:

1.  Sunday morning Bookcharmer reads her print Sunday New York Times and SF Chronicle.  Finds interesting article in SF Chron about Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir.  I find a website for the group and on their blog find an entry about blues guitarist Lizzie Douglas, known as Memphis Minnie.

2.  Still mulling a few days later, I start thinking about where I could find recordings of Memphis Minnie.  Fortunately, my brain kicked out the answer quickly:  Smithsonian Folkways recordings, of course!  And happily....

How's that for Internet magic?  A few days ago I didn't know the name Memphis Minnie, and suddenly I'm hearing a clip of her singing.

And immediately, the Internet desire to level up strikes:  oh, the Internet has made us greedy.  Where is the whole song, why isn't it FREE?

Well, it isn't free because  it is cost knowledge for someone to curate this album Blues Roots/Chicago - The 1930's and its fourteen songs and liner notes and bandwidth for Smithsonian Folkways to host it.  And for less than 20 dollars, I can order a cd.  (CD, what it isn't linking me right to iTunes?)

Wait, maybe my library has this album?

I have happy and sad information of you.

Happy:  5 record collection of Memphis Minnie was recorded in 1935!

Sad:  not open access.  But if your library subscribes to the American Music collection in the Alexander Street Press suite of databases, you can listen to songs like:

Memphis Minnie Vol. 1 (1935)

Dirty Mother For You (02:51)

Sylvester And His Mule Blues (03:07)

When You're Asleep (02:54)

You Can't Give It Away (03:07)

Let Me Ride (03:02)

When The Saints Go Marching Home (03:09)

Jockey Man Blues (03:07)

Weary Woman's Blues (03:00)

Reachin' Pete (03:21)

Down In New Orleans (03:00)

You Wrecked My Happy Home (02:43)

I'm Waiting On You (02:28)

Keep On Goin' (02:31)

Ball And Chain Blues (03:33)

He's In The Ring (take A) (03:12)

He's In The Ring (take B) (02:54)

Joe Louis Strut (02:54)

When The Sun Goes Down -Part 2 (03:40)

Hustlin' Woman Blues (02:56)

Selling My Pork Chops (02:57)

Doctor, Doctor Blues (03:19

This is a good example of why the paywall is problematic--if you don't know there's more than what google or other free search engines index, you may not know that your library is going to have more resources.  And even with access to this rich streaming resource, it is streaming, I can't download the songs, so I have to be using some kind of device with Internet access.

In honor of Minnie, I'm buying that cd from Folkways!

Stay curious my friends.  Always ask for more.  Don't think because you can't find something online, there isn't a willing and curious librarian to look for things with you.