Monthly Archives: February 2016

#LoveInAction: A reflective essay

That sounds familiar! #LoveInAction_CarolynAs I sifted through the materials in the Burke archives, reading student publications and looking at pictures that were over forty years old, I kept recognizing my classmates in these relics from our predecessors. My project was tracking a series of student-driven movements in the 1960s and 1970s that radically transformed the academic program and governance structure at Union. One of those, the Free University of 1968, began with a late-night call to mobilize seminarians because the police were moving in on protests across the street at Columbia. It was after the end of the semester, and well after midnight, but the students rallied and turned out to support the protestors. That happened my first year at Union, when the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zucotti Park was raided. That night a group of us had settled into the Social Hall with cups of coffee and end-of-semester papers to write. But within fifteen minutes of the first tweets announcing the raid, we were all headed downtown to see how we could help. It happened again in 2014, as the Union community turned out en masse to participate in #BlackLivesMatter protests across New York City.

Back in 1968, after a night of supporting Columbia students in their confrontation with the police Union students came home and looked at their own community. At Columbia, students were protesting major justice issues: links between the university and the institutional apparatus supporting the Vietnam War, as well as the gentrification of Harlem. But Union students recognized that their own institution, too, was complicit in perpetuating injustice. The last week of classes was canceled and replaced by what was called the Free University as the entire campus instead spent the week investigating Union’s problems and making a plan for moving forward. This balance between protesting injustice outside our walls and engaging in serious soul-searching within them is also one I recognize in my classmates. Union in Praxis, activism surrounding the Jackson Mitchell Chair, the Latinx Working Group, #WhoseUnion – all of these belong to the same tradition as the Free University. And like the movements I’ve seen in my time at Union, the Free University was a messy endeavor. Some students were frustrated that activism was interrupting their studies, and considered the Free University a waste of time. There was tension between those whose energies were focused on issues at Union, and those who were pulled toward solidarity with the Columbia protestors.

The Free University ended with the academic year but the issues it raised continued to be addressed, first by a working group called the Union Commission and then by the Union Assembly, a body of faculty, students, and staff that governed the school for five years. Major changes occurred during this time: the switch from an A-F grading scale to our current system, closing the School of Sacred Music, replacing the B.D. with the M.Div. and the Th.D. with a Ph.D., and Union set a goal of recruiting and admitting students and hiring faculty, “so that Black persons will number at least one-third of the total… and so that women (including Black women and those of other minorities) number at least one half the total.” Here, too, I recognize my classmates in the dozens of past students who participated in the necessary, but rarely glamorous, committee work of negotiating and discerning a better path forward for the seminary on first the Union Commission, and then the Union Assembly. Working alongside faculty, administration, alumni/ae, and staff for five years, students contributed to major changes in how Union functions. All of this work – from confrontations with police in the streets to policy changes within Union – is activism. All of it is #LoveInAction.

Carolyn Klaasen, among many things, is a current PhD student at Union Theological Seminary and one of the student curators for the library’s #LoveInAction project. Carolyn’s exhibit is currently on display through to May 16, 2016 on the 1st floor of the Burke Library. Her exhibit is a look into activism in education exploring the archives of the Union Commission and Union Assembly, and the Student Interracial Ministry, both of which were student-driven.  The records of the Union Commission and Union Assembly document the school’s history roughly from 1968 to 1974 and are housed within the Union Theological Records, 1829- held by the Burke.  The Student Interracial Ministry Records, 1960-1968, also held by the Burke, are a testimony to a student-run ministry in which students, congregations and community members from racially diverse backgrounds came together to be part of a radically different and truly immersive hands-on approach to ministry education.

My Own “Final Blog Post” Has Arrived

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. ~Walt Disney

As I look back on the last four years and four months that I’ve spent as the project archivist at the Burke Library, I am so thankful to have had this opportunity. This position is what brought me to New York City. I’ve grown so much professionally and personally thanks to Columbia.

My main priority at the Burke Library was to process, arrange, describe and make available collections. My first grant from the Henry Luce Foundation focused on the Missionary Research Library Archives and the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives. Over the three-year time period, my team of students and I processed 781 linear feet of archives (178 collections). Since the start of my second grant, which began in January 2015, 377 linear feet (45 collections) has been processed. In total, I’ve had a direct impact on scholarship, research and learning because I’ve made 1158 linear feet (223 collections) available for researchers.

Apart from the archives having an impact on research, teaching and learning, the internship program that I created and run has been very successful. I supervised a total of 18 library school interns, not only from NYC schools but also from other locations in the USA, as well as France and Canada. They are now employed by museums, archives, universities, corporate businesses, seminaries and other institutions.  I supervised 17 other students who were matriculated at Columbia or Union Theological Seminary. Thirty-five students in four years – not too shabby.

This very blog that you are reading started because I thought it would be useful to have students write more in-depth about their experiences with collections that were part of the first grant. Now it has grown into the general Burke Library blog and has so many voices and knowledge reflected by the posts. I also started running the Burke Twitter and Facebook pages; both of which have an ever-growing list of followers. All of these things are now in the very capable hands of Burke’s public services librarian, Elizabeth Call. She has taken these social media accounts into new and exciting venues and I’m looking forward to continuing to follow them.

I’ve written reports; participated in Wayfinding studies; served on committees and other advisory committees; curated two digital exhibits; written newsletters; made the Burke more efficient with usage of space; created documentation; written LibGuides; presented in classes for Columbia, Union Theological Seminary and Barnard College; presented at conferences; and on and on. I’ve grown tremendously as a professional over the last four years in New York City. And really, what more could you ask for?

I want to thank my amazing coworkers for being so supportive of me and bringing their own expertise to the table. I want to thank Alysse Jordan, who was interim director of the Burke Library when I first started in August 2011 – I could not have asked for a better “First Mentor” at Columbia (who I am very happy to call a friend now!). To my wonderful students that I’ve supervised over the past 4+ years: I’m proud to have been part of your career and look forward to watching you grow in our field.

Thank you to all and I wish you the very best!