Author Archives: Carolyn Bratnober

Coloring in the Burke With #ColorOurCollections

Coloring has long been, for me, a way to relax and unwind during stressful periods of my life–which is why I was intrigued to hear about a fun and fascinating global outreach initiative called #ColorOurCollections when Myong Jin, our Collections Specialist, forwarded me an email from the Ex Libris listserv. The New York Academy of Medicine started the initiative in 2016 as a way for libraries, museums, and cultural institutions around the world to take part in a collective week of coloring and exploring each other’s collections.

Original #ColorOurCollections promotion template, from ColorOurCollections.org (2018)

The way it was designed is simple: institutions share images from their books, archives, and other items in the form of black-and-white coloring pages. This year over 180 institutions participated in uploading coloring books, including libraries like Andover-Harvard Theological Library and the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, as well as fascinating international museum sites like the National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum and academic institutions like Universidad de Buenos Aires. Anyone with an internet connection can go to ColorOurCollections.org and download free coloring books from these world-wide repositories, to be filled in with markers, colored pencils, or even paint. Coloring, long a beloved pastime for children, has recently become a trendy crafting hobby for adults, who find shading in the spaces of intricate images to be a relaxing and meditative activity that provides a nice respite during the day. Institutions can host coloring events as a way to engage with the public, and guests have an incentive to visit the museums and libraries to take part in the coloring activities. Participants can then upload photos of their coloring creations on social media platforms with the hashtag #ColorOurCollections. This way the public can “explore, color, and connect with libraries and their collections.”

Myong and I thought it would be fun to join this initiative and have our own day of coloring at the Burke Library. We have had coloring events here in the past (we really like coloring here at the Burke; living in New York can be stressful, and finding ways to unwind is important!) so we already had digital folder of coloring pages ready to go. Plus we uploaded some new ones too. Making a coloring page involves selecting an image from our collections — such as a photo in the archives, a folio of a rare book, and even (in this case) a hand-drawn cartoon that was submitted as part of a student’s thesis in the 1970’s — and scanning it into a digital file. Then, using PhotoShop to make the image black-and-white and adjust the Brightness and Contrast levels, we can turn the scanned image into a graphic with black outlines and white empty space to be filled in by our users.

“How a Coloring Book Page is Made,” Sample from photograph of Brown Tower, at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (c. 2016)

We held our coloring event “Color In the Burke” (pun intended… get it? “Color In”?) on February 8th during the lunch hour, and our staff promoted it on Instagram, Facebook, the Union Theological Seminary Student Digest, and on paper flyers and digital signs throughout the building. We had lots of enthusiastic feedback from the community members who heard about the event, although we had lower attendance than expected on the actual day. Those who attended enjoyed coloring in images from some of the Burke’s rare folios. Our printed coloring books are still available at the Circulation Desk, and anyone who wants to see the Burke’s or any other coloring book can go online to ColorOurCollections.org and download any of the hundreds of books available online. They’re fun to look at — I like engravings and woodcuts myself, and I especially like the anatomical drawings from the medical libraries. We’ll gladly participate in #ColorOurCollections again next year.

Sample page from the Burke Library #ColorOurCollections 2018 Coloring Book

Circulation Team Re-Orientation: New Year, Fresh Start

The Burke Library is of course a world-renowned research library and serves as the steward of rare volumes, sacred objects, and archives of Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University. But the Burke is also home to a thriving circulating collection; thousands of books, bound periodicals, microforms, and audio-visual materials change hands at our front desk every single day. And the people who keep this system running smoothly and pleasantly are our beloved Circulation Team, consisting of students at UTS, Columbia College, and Columbia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. This team of over a dozen current students is the face of the library. They greet visitors who enter the front door and offer support and answer questions about finding the resources they need. We know we can rely on the Circ Team for keeping the Burke Library running smoothly and we appreciate them immensely. That’s why we were excited to offer a team-wide re-orientation session for them at the start of the New Year—with pizza and games related to the technical aspects of circulation. Myself and the Circulation Supervisor, Deanna Roberts, brainstormed, created, and led the session with the goal of strengthening the unity of the Circ Team in providing outstanding and consistent high-quality service and meticulous maintenance of our collections.

We got the idea for the re-orientation training because it was clear to us that, while the team as a whole have been doing a fantastic job lately, the various members of the team had somewhat different approaches to many of the processes that their responsibilities entail. For example, some Circ Team members place the outgoing mail in a different spot than others, some use different notation formats for the record logs, and some—try as they might—had not been checking the drop boxes and maintaining the shelves in the stacks as regularly as we would hope. The Circ Team has a complex set of responsibilities; in addition to checking books in and out and helping patrons with their library needs, they are responsible for shelving, maintaining the stacks, fixing printers and copier equipment, scanning materials for our Scan & Deliver service,  opening and closing, keeping the library’s appearance neat and orderly, and serving as ambassadors for the library in their academic community. It’s a lot to keep track of. Many of our students come from different academic programs across the campus and have varying degrees of familiarity with the multiple aspects of the front desk. Deanna and I aim for the Circ Team to be consistent in the responsibilities of each team member during their shift, and the training session offered us a chance to get everyone “on the same page.”

We offered two paid sessions during the January Intercession, one on a Monday and one on a Wednesday, at 5:00pm after the library had closed—and (though attendance at either of the sessions was mandatory) we sweetened the deal with complimentary pizza, soda, and cookies. We were glad to have 100% attendance across the two sessions. Prior to that week, Deanna and I sat down twice in person to plan the content and delivery of the sessions, and we created a Google Doc to share our ideas for the agenda. Deanna planned the delivery of the parts that would cover technical services at the Circ desk, and I planned the section covering library face-to-face interactions and public services. We gave each other feedback and collaborated to create a comprehensive 90-minute program plan, including—at Deanna’s suggestion—a 10-minute assessment at the end to gather feedback from the students on our content delivery.

The sessions, as we heard back from several students, were fun and engaging. The flexible scheduling and bonus pizza made it seem less like a chore and more like a party.

Quiz Show slide from PowerPoint presentation with question and answer

Circulation “Quiz Show” slide with hidden answer that pops up with the click of the leader’s mouse. (Burke Library, January 2018)

Add to that the fact that we designed the training to take the form of a series of games.  First, over dinner, we started with a “Game Show” in the form of an animated PowerPoint, with students guessing the answers to multiple-choice and  true-or-false questions such as “Student employees are allowed to handle fines and fees related to late and lost materials” (Answer: False) and “How many times a day should the book drop boxes be checked?” (Answer: At least twice, once mid-morning and once in the early evening).

The answers were animated to pop up on the screen after the questions had been discussed, fostering a lively and engaging time.  Next came two back-to-back challenges related to shelving and LC Call Numbers: one with physical book carts the students were tasked with putting in order, and one with a computer-based quiz that also asked students to put virtual books in order by call number.

Screenshot of Quia.com LC Call Number Order Quiz

Quia.com LC Call Number Order Quiz (Burke Library, January 2018)

We wrapped up the evening with a discussion of public services, asking the students how they would respond to different types of questions from patrons in different scenarios, and to whom they would refer the questions they didn’t feel comfortable answering. We ended the session by soliciting feedback from the students in the form of “Stars, Deltas, and Key Learnings,” a framework Deanna had learned through her vocational training, with opportunities for the students to name things about the session that worked well for them, things that could be improved, and significant take-aways that stood out. We received positive feedback on the quizzes, scheduling flexibility, and scenario-based patron question discussion. We think we can improve on making the sessions more visual, more hands-on, and based in the physical setting of the Circ Desk environment. The Circ Team generally seemed more confident in the support they receive from supervisors as well as their own abilities to keep the library functioning smoothly. All told, it was a positive experience for the participants, and we hope to offer similar training sessions for our wonderful Circ Team in the future.

Queer Books in the Burke Library: a Web Comic

In addition to being a student at Union Theological Seminary and working at the Burke Library, I also draw a weekly web comic called QueerBibleComics.com. It’s part diary, part art project. It’s a way for me to creatively and visually engage with the ideas I encounter as a seminarian. Most of the comics are about Christian theological concepts and biblical passages as they relate to the experiences of LGBT*QIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) persons today. This summer, I’ve been thinking about critical librarianship (sometimes referred to online among librarians with the hashtag #critlib) and the ways in which categories and organization systems affect real life. For example, how does the way the library categorizes different books on sexuality and gender reflect — or even produce — library users’ thoughts, beliefs, and actions affecting queer people? While pondering these #critlib ideas I wrote and drew the following cartoon, illustrating a map of the Burke and taking the reader on a “tour” of the queerest sections in the library. Hope it’s thought- and laugh-provoking! To view the comic in enlarged format, either right-click it and choose “View Image” from the drop down menu, or click the following link to view it on my web comic site: QueerBibleComics.com!

Queer Books in the Burke Library with characters and images

Analyzing Scavenger Hunt Scores to Understand Library Familiarity Among Incoming Students

 

When I was a kid I loved scavenger hunts– the harder, the better! Whenever we took a field trip with school I preferred to explore a museum or new place with a scavenger hunt, rather than have someone show me around on a long tour of things I wouldn’t remember. Scavenger hunts contained mysteries that were fun to solve, making the places and objects I found more interesting when I finally found them.

A year ago the Burke Library decided to flip the script on the standard orientation tours held for incoming Union Theological Seminary students and created a scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt was designed so that students can get introduced to the library by finding features in the books, the building, the computer stations, the online catalog, and the library manual. Each feature is something students need to know how to find, in order to make the most out of the library’s many resources while they are in studying towards their degrees. After doing the scavenger hunt, the idea is, students will know how to find the resources with ease once classes start.

This summer I am assessing student responses from last fall’s inaugural hunt in order to revamp the questions where necessary.  I am passionate about making sure students have easy access to all the resources they need for their studies. As a student, I know it can be frustrating to need a book or article urgently, but not know how to get it. Especially if one is a “new kid in town” and has never used the library before. The best time to learn how to access library materials is BEFORE classes begin, not the day before a reading assignment is due. That’s why it’s important that the scavenger hunt give students a thorough introduction to the library during orientation, so they can be fully prepared to gain access to the materials they need ahead of time.

From looking at the scavenger hunt results, it seems that new students last fall had the most trouble with understanding three particular types of library resources: periodicals, databases, and BorrowDirect/InterLibrary Loan options. This is understandable for many possible reasons: students who did their undergraduate studies many years ago might not have used any kind of online catalog before; students who are new to the Columbia University Libraries may never have heard of BorrowDirect or InterLibrary Loan and not know the difference between them or what they are for, etc. There are many factors that could be affecting so many students’ answers. I am looking forward to conducting further analysis on the results of the scavenger hunt and seeking to make sure my fellow students have access to the kinds of information materials they need for their studies here at Union.

Sexual Politics in the Archives

As an incoming MA student at Union, having previous experience working libraries as well as a Master of Information & Library Science degree under my belt, I’m excited to join the student staff at the Burke Library for this next step in my academic studies in theological librarianship. My  area of research is ethics, specifically around issues related to the role of church institutions and the rights of gender and sexuality minorities, and I was surprised to discover in the archives a letter written by Anthony Comstock—one of the principal villains in the story of America’s war on “obscenity” and author of the highly conservative Comstock Laws, which criminalized the dissemination of information regarding contraceptives, abortion, and erotica—in one of my first-ever projects in the Burke Library.

This project was for the papers of James Morris Whiton (1833-1919), a Congregational minister who preached and taught in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Whiton wrote back and forth with Anthony Comstock, and this correspondence has remained buried in his papers for about a hundred years—it was unlisted in the handwritten contents list accompanying Whiton’s papers. Its significance emerged gradually as I refoldered and rehoused these documents.

series 5, box 1, folder 3

James Whiton

You may be wondering why we have the James Morris Whiton Papers. He is not an alumnus, and he never taught or worked at the Seminary. One possibility is that Whiton served as Chairman of the New York State Conference of Religion for several years around the turn of the century, alongside William Adams Brown, Presbyterian minister, systematic theologian, ecumenist and UTS professor. As colleagues, Whiton and Brown may have shared and influenced one another’s ideas. Perhaps someone felt that the Whiton Papers would be a good addition to collections that reflected the history of this intellectual circle.

Whiton held this prestigious position of Chairman when he was an older man; however, for most of his life, Whiton seems to have been thwarted in many of his attempts to achieve prosperity in his career. Although his diaries reflect a deep-seated sense of ambition, he resigned or was forced to resign from multiple positions as minister to various congregations and dean of various preparatory schools and seminaries. Whiton often complained of shortage of income; the reason for these unpleasant career shifts is not explicitly mentioned in his writings.

Anthony Comstock

Anthony Comstock

Whiton kept detailed personal diaries and maintained a comprehensive collection of his correspondence (including the Comstock letter) which spells out his unfortunate career trajectory. In 1872, when Whiton was the pastor of the North Church in Lynn, Massachusetts, he apparently wrote to Comstock to ask his assistance in his principal aim: eliminating the practice of passing-around of erotic books and other materials within the community of Lynn via the mail. (The Comstock Laws targeted the dissemination of information regarding contraceptives, abortion, and erotic materials by prohibiting these items being sent via U.S. Post.) Comstock replied to Whiton offering his assistance by any means necessary.

By this time Whiton had a reputation for his devotion to squeaky-clean moral standards in every community he led. However, some apparently found his tenacity overbearing; in Lynn, he recalls in his memoirs, he was viewed as being overly strict when he served as a member of the school board, advocating for stringent disciplinary measures to be taken against pupils. (He would later be ousted from his post as schoolmaster of Williston Seminary in 1878 in response to an outcry by parents that he was too strict in his scrutiny of pupils’ dormitories, imposing surprise inspections of the boys’ footlockers in search of contraband, leading to so many suspensions that the parents found his rule intolerable.) In Lynn, Whiton recalls, a local woman in his congregation once even spat on him in the street. It would be four years of tense relations with the community in Lynn before Whiton was forced to leave his post.

Was Whiton ousted because members of his community found his conservative attitude over-the-top? Did he feel alienated as the strict schoolmaster, and as minister in the town where he sought the assistance of Anthony Comstock—an unpopular figure even in his own time—in cleaning up the post office and ridding his citizens’ mail of lewd materials through search-and-seizure, to the point of being forced to resign from his position as minister? These documents paint a picture of a strict moral leader, hardworking and dedicated, whose efforts nevertheless led to alienating himself from his religious communities to the point of rejection. Further understanding of Whiton’s archives and research into his life and work may likely yield new insights into this complicated character.

But what a find for a new student staff member, incoming Seminary student, and early-career librarian in her first month at the Burke! The Comstock Laws have always held a particular fascination for me. Comstock clashed with Margaret Sanger and civil liberties groups because of his radical position on sending “lewd” materials through the post, including information about contraception and family planning. It would be interesting to read more of Whiton’s and Comstock’s correspondence to get further insight into Whiton’s theological position on these issues, and the theological position of the Lynn community who rejected the pastor partly for his too-strict enforcement of his conservative ethics. (Perhaps a Union student could conduct an investigation of the role of the pastor in terms of theological engagement and civic action vis-à-vis the U.S. Postal Service in the 19th century?) I’m more excited than ever to continue my studies here at Union and dig deeper into the Burke Library’s special collections in my academic endeavors.