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.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Wisdom from Winston

Dear Reader,

In my last post, I called upon my dear friend Winston Delgado to help me navigate the biblical phrase "Love Thy Neighbor" and dear Winston delivers as only he can.  Before I link to his wonderful response, let me properly introduce him.

WD was one of the very first people I met at freshman orientation at DePaul University in Fall of 1987.  I can still remember the large classroom we sat in waiting for orientation to start.  Me, small town girl just moved into big city, Winston a savvy and suave theatre major!  We introduced ourselves and began chatting.  Among his other talents, Winston has the gift of art.  As we talked, I told him how I marveled at seeing the Chicago skyline and he, practically automatically, began to draw it, skyscraper for skyscraper, getting the building outlines exactly right.  We had a lovely friendship freshman year together, both of us on the newspaper staff, Winston as cartoonist and the Bookcharmer as a photographer, toting my trusty Nikon.  Winston later transferred to another school, and in pre-email and Internet days, losing touch happened pretty often.

It is to this little blog I must give the credit for Winston finding me again!  We were quite happy to reconnect and I continue to be dazzled by his art and his knowledge of the Bible.  Click over here and see what I mean.

Thank you, Winston.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Love Thy Neighbor

Special election day edition of The Bookcharmer.

The Bookcharmer's thought for today is one she draws from religious traditions:  Love Thy Neighbor.  I will ask my dear friend Winston Delgado to expound on this for me, as his knowledge of the Bible is prodigious and impressive.

Friday was Halloween, which in America still means it is a day in the year when adults bring children to neighboring houses and events in delightful costumes to revel in sweets.  At my library, the annual Halloween parade is one of the best days of the year as the children's librarian leads a parade of costumed children through the building and the library staff joyfully admires their costumes and hands out candies (or in the Bookcharmer's case, pencils and plastic dinosaurs which were just as popular as candy thank you very much!)

We ached with delight to see children dressed as mice, bunnies, bumblebees, princesses, doctors, robots, Iron Man, and pumpkins.  We got to praise the creativity and fearsomeness of scary costumes and swoon over the sweet ones.  We loved our neighbors.

Today, if we can, we vote.  I am well aware that this was not always a privilege allowed my historical sisters.  Indeed, my paternal grandmother who lived to be 100 was a passionate voter as she was 16 years old when the 19th amendment was ratified.

There has been much in the press about the profoundly shocking amount of money dumped into campaigns by distant influences.  But I say to them, you cannot buy the experience of my neighbor coming to my door to ask for my vote in his or her election to city council or water board.  I open my door and we shake hands and I ask my neighbor how he or she will vote on issues I care about.  I thank them for running, ask if they would like a glass of water or other refreshment before they carry on and wish them well.  To meet the people running for office when they come to your own doorstep is a fine thing and I don't believe that can be bought, no matter how much money distant influencers throw at flyers, stupid advertisements, and outrageous editorials.  I know my neighbors.  I see them at the farmers' market, in line for coffee, or at the bookstore.  No one can buy from me the connection that comes from seeing people in office, city, state, or nationally, that I personally voted for.

On the back of my mind since my last post is Ferguson.  I am following several on the ground reporters on twitter, including St. Louis Post Dispatch photographer @kodacohen and St. Louis Alderman @Antonio French. If you aren't already following them, I hope you will and continue to signal boost the situation in Ferguson.

Why is your Bookcharmer, a librarian, writing about these issues?  Because libraries are in an even stronger position to be the repository of memory, we have new tools to document history.  These tools are so powerful that the phrase Activist Archivist is being used.  A fine example of this is the Postville Project in Iowa that documents the immigration raid that occurred in spring of  2008 at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville. I hope that in the turmoil and fray of what is happening in Ferguson, that organizers know to set aside extra copies of papers and flyers, posters and press releases, and know that libraries can provide an archive to document your work and preserve it.  Ask the libraries supporting the Postville Project and I would bet they will have good advice on how to do this.

I am far from my Midwestern home, but I still love the people of Saint Louis and Ferguson.  What holds our country together isn't money but neighbors, and even states away I consider you my neighbors.  As a librarian, I know that we can come together to share and get to know one another.  This is expressed beautifully by librarian Scott Brown of the Ferguson library in Missouri who posted:

Thank you @ScottyBonner and thank you everyone who shows that you care by voting.

Your neighbor,  The Bookcharmer

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Meet Me in St. Louis

This is a departure from my usual topics, but the news from my home state is too significant to ignore, and I can't stop thinking about it.  Growing up in Columbia MO was a happy bubble for me, a small town with a large state college and a robust public school system.  Even now, there is a public radio station which is still going strong (KOPN!  Check out their history here and a regional public library system that still has a bookmobile.

A trip to St. Louis was always a special event, whether it was to pick up a visiting family member flying into the airport, a trip to the Zoo, or shopping at Famous-Barr.  I have "gone up" in The Arch as a giddy school kid and marveled at the riverboats docked at LaClede's Landing, so I have sentimental thoughts about St. Louis, as it was one of my early and positive "big city" experiences.  I could feel a sense of state pride when I began learning about important figures in literary and music history who were also from St. Louis, like Kate Chopin and Josephine Baker and Maya Angelou.

Learning about Missouri also reveals that it has been rife with contention since joining the Union as a state after the territory was acquired by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase.  Its role as a battleground state in the Civil  was touched off by the Missouri Compromise, the amendment authored by Representative James Tallmadge of New York and passed by the House,  February 17, 1819, prohibiting further introduction of slaves into Missouri.  Missouri, and St. Louis in particular, is also the site of the infamous Dred Scott trial, which denied citizenship to Dred Scott and his wife Harriet.  Now, you can see all of the court documents about this decision online, hosted by Washington University: .

Perhaps less well known is the East Saint Louis Riot of 1917, which is described clearly here by historian John Buescher, who links to a primary source by African American journalist Ida Wells Barnett, The East St. Louis Massacre: The Greatest Outrage of the Century. Chicago: The Negro Fellowship Herald Press, 1917 which you can also access online:

The 1904 World's Fair was in St.  Louis, the world's attention to the city drawn by art, architecture and events.  One hundred and ten years later, civil rights activists are using every available means to communicate to the larger world the uncivil and dangerous state of St. Louis.

These witnesses and activists need and deserve our national attention.  Their issues are our issues, as we face as a country how to live peacefully together, and what they are saying is crucially important.

I am following events and dialog on twitter, and I hope you will too.  Follow St Louis Alderman @AntonioFrench or just search the hashtags #Ferguson or #MikeBrown.  Follow the Southern Poverty Law Center at @splcenter or the NAACP's magazine The Crisis @thecrisismag.

This post was inspired by poet and popular cultural writer Saeed Jones, on twitter @theferocity,  who asked people to signal boost the situation in Ferguson since it was being ignored by the national media.  In an era of information overload, I do ask that you take some of your divided attention and put it on our heartland, on Saint Louis, and look and listen as openly and as fully as you can.

The heartsick Midwestern raised Bookcharmer.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

From Vitruvius to Palladio an Exhibit of Architectural Treatises

Greetings, reader!  Won't you come with me to the 5th floor?  I am quite eager to show you some of the Library's treasures.

You may remember a blog post or two ago I was rhapsodizing about the realization that the SJSU Library holds in its Special Collections a copy of Andrea Palladio's Rules and Examples of Perspective Proper for Painters and Architects printed in 1707.  This discovery lead to a more serious inquiry about the other types of books on architecture in Special Collections, and I have been richly rewarded in the search.  Featured on the 5th floor in five cases are architectural treatises ranging in date from 1636 to 1769 and in languages from Latin to Italian to French and English, some of them bilingual editions.

As I worked my way through subject headings and applied my mish mash of knowledge of languages to the titles I discovered, an obvious pattern appeared:  Vitruve, Vitruuio, Vitruvio, Vitrvvio.  Vitruvius! Who was Vitruvius?  Scholars have been asking this for centuries, and for centuries, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio has been influencing architecture.  The question of "Who was Vitruvius" is thoroughly discussed in a variety of publications; I will direct you toward the fine article by Barry Baldwin titled "The Date, Identity, and Career of Vitruvius" which appears in Latomus, T. 49, Fasc. 2 (AVRIL-JUIN 1990), pp. 425-434.  If you are scholastically privileged, you can get the hook-up from JSTOR at:  To give you the upshot, Baldwin gives you a swift yet precise summary of research into Vitruvian timelines that have worked to establish when Roman architect and writer Marcus Pollio Vitruvius was working, pinning the composition of De Architectural Libri Decem (Ten Books On Architecture) between 30 and 10 BCE.

And who was Vitruvius to the Renaissance? The scope of the Vitruvian De Architectura's impact is thoroughly documented in the very interesting article titled "Vitruvian Paradigms" by Georgia Clarke which appears in Papers of the British School at Rome, Vol. 70, (2002), pp. 319-346, again JSTOR at The Renaissance appreciation for antiquity and the development of the printing press coincided nicely for printing copies of the previously hand-copied Vitruvian manuscripts. But the stability of images provided by woodcuts and engravings added another dimension to the architectural treatise--illustrating the proportions of columns in a way that has caused concepts like Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian to be known into this century and this side of North America.

I hope as the semester begins, you'll find a bit of time to visit the 5th floor in King Library to see these texts that have traveled many years and miles.  You can have a virtual visit with the exhibit here:

My appreciative thanks to Danelle Moon, Director of Special Collections, for her encouragement and assistance in creating this exhibit. If you can't visit in person, or if you want to preview the exhibit before you visit, please see the guide I have created as a companion:

Title page of Rusconi's Dell Architecttura, Venetia 1660