Category Archives: Student Entry

“Spirit of ’68” Part II: Research in the Administrative Files

By Jake Hearen, Student Research Assistant for the “Spirit of ’68” Exhibit

(Posted c/o Carolyn Bratnober, Public Services Librarian)

I came to Union a bit behind the power curve. My formal involvement within a theological framework is relatively new. I had not heard of James Cone until I visited in the spring; I promise his books are near the top of my reading list. So, I jumped at the opportunity when I heard about Special Collections needing assistance with researching for the upcoming exhibit.

I realized how daunting the project as I became oriented to the particulars of the project. At its focus was the Union Commission and its predecessor organization, The Free University of Union Theological Seminary. These initiatives resulted in response to the tensions between Columbia students and the administration brought about by the Vietnam War and the gentrification brought of Columbia’s expansion affected the Union community.

In its entirety, the project was a single archival box stuffed with materials mostly from the 1968-69 school year but other documents appeared to include several that came from far beyond the walls of Morningside Castle. There were a few student publications from Columbia regarding the student protests. There were even a few standout pieces such as an international gathering of college students and a manifesto from the 1969 National Black Economic Development Conference.

Archival folders in UTS2 Records, Administrative Files, Series 4B, Box 2, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University, New York NY

Archival folders in UTS2 Records, Administrative Files, Series 4B, Box 2, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University, New York NY

But what stood out most came from within the seminary. One letter, drafted by a student who witnessed seminarians severely injured while mediating between police and Columbia students, noted how our unique role as future chaplains and ministers allows us to instill change from within power structures more than any other vocation. Another document from the Union Commission itself highlighted the values of the seminary such as looking at the potential application of computers as technology evolves and the importance of the Burke Library.

This institutional memory clarified the gaps I felt between an earlier Union with activists like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the later of James Cone. Those seminarians stood defiant with their peers before the atrocities beset upon an Eden and said no more. Their spirit of coming together against the destructive will of institutional corruption with compassion in their hearts is something that I pray I embolden over my next few years and the many more to come. -JH

A Chance Encounter with Hans Holbein the Younger — published by Rebecca Potts, Archives Assistant (c/o Carolyn Bratnober)

These images are from a printed collection of woodcarvings designed by the famous Hans Holbein the Younger and carved by Hans Lutzelburger. By chance, I encountered a copy of Dance of Death in the Special Collections of the Burke Library — where I am currently working on Archives-processing projects as a student at Union Theological Seminary — and this unique volume opened my eyes to the world of Holbein’s woodcarvings.

"The Husbandman," woodcut engraving by Hans Holbein the Younger

“The Husbandman,” from Dibdin, Thomas Frognall, 1776-1847, Francis Douce, and Hans Holbein. Holbein’s Dance of Death Exhibited In Elegant Engravings On Wood: With a Dissertation On the Several Representations of That Subject. London: H.G. Bohn, 1858.

"The Child," and engraving by Hans Holbein the Younger

“The Child,” from Dibdin, Thomas Frognall, 1776-1847, Francis Douce, and Hans Holbein. Holbein’s Dance of Death Exhibited In Elegant Engravings On Wood: With a Dissertation On the Several Representations of That Subject. London: H.G. Bohn, 1858.

"The Abbess," an engraving by Hans Holbein the Younger

“The Abbess,” from Dibdin, Thomas Frognall, 1776-1847, Francis Douce, and Hans Holbein. Holbein’s Dance of Death Exhibited In Elegant Engravings On Wood: With a Dissertation On the Several Representations of That Subject. London: H.G. Bohn, 1858.

Holbien was a 16th century German artist and printmaker who, over the course of his life, did work for Erasmus, Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII, and Thomas Cromwell. After working for More—who resigned over Henry’s desire to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon—Holbein began to work directly for Anne Boleyn, More’s political and theological rival. Holbein was able to weather Anne’s famous downfall and in 1536, the year of her execution, he was officially employed as the King’s Painter. He went on to paint Henry, his third wife Jane Seymour, their child Edward, and many different courtiers. Holbein was also working for Cromwell during this time, creating images for Cromwell’s reformist, anti-clerical agenda. Following Jane’s death, Holbein returned to Germany under commission to paint Anne of Cleaves, the woman Cromwell was promoting as Henry’s next wife. As history has it, Holbein’s picture was highly flattering and Henry, distraught that his wife’s true face did not match Holbein’s picture, divorced Anne and beheaded Cromwell. Is it surprising then that a man who had witnessed and survived some of the most famous intrigues and downfalls in western history, would take as his subject, the fleeting nature of life and the constant, smiling certainty of death?

 

The images in this book depict the Dance of Death, or Dance Macabre, as drawn by Holbein. Dance of Death imagery was popularized long before Holbein, appearing in churches, monasteries, and illuminated manuscripts in the European Middle Ages. Ecclesiastically, Dance of Death imagery—people from all stations and ages confronted and called away by the personification of death as a skeleton—functioned as an allegory urging Christians to repent in the face of certain and, in those days, likely immanent death. Yet, as the essays in this 1858 book by Francis Douce demonstrate, the use of skeletons and stories of dancing death have much longer histories and more complex meanings. Douce tells how, according to Herodotus (a 5th century BCE historian), at Egyptian banquets, a dead body was brought out and presented to all the guests while the hosts proclaimed “Behold this image of what yourselves will be; eat and drink therefore, and be happy” (Douce, 2). Later Romans apparently adopted this tradition at their feasts (Ibid., 3). Thus the face of death can be used to call sinners to the church or diners to revelry. This ambiguity is somewhat captured in the once popular stories Douce recounts in which, though the characters and locations alter in every retelling, some group of people are loudly singing and dancing in direct defiance and mockery of priests, who are trying to conduct a religious service. The priest then asks God to force these dancers to continue their dance without stop for a year. God grants this request and the dancers gradually die, starved and exhausted, dancing themselves to death.

 

Holbein’s woodcarvings seem, to me, located within the space between allegory and ambiguity. Some of the images appear to clearly chastise immoral or corrupt behavior, such as the Judge, who is called by death as he prepares to take a bribe from a from a rich man, or the Advocate, which is similar. Yet others, such as the Husbandman, the Child, and the Abbess, illustrate that death comes for us all, regardless of virtue, age, or hard work. What then is the point of placing an image death before the unjust, as if in punishment, if later images demonstrate the unsettling and incontrovertible fact that death has little to do with justice? Sadly, these woodcarvings, exquisitely crafted and famous though they may be, do no more to answer that question than the mountains of philosophy and theology that came before and since. Therefore, in lieu of an answer to this question, I will leave you with my favorite image from the set: the Nun, kneeling in prayer, yet still able to cast flirtatious glances over her shoulder at the lute player in her room. Though this image was perhaps meant as a warning or a satire against the Catholic Church, I see it as the perfect marriage between the ancient Egyptian and European Middle Ages imageries of death. If life is fleeting and uncertain, why choose between prayer and merriment? Get it, girl.

Meeting “Pit”: Processing the Henry Pitney Van Dusen Papers

N.B.: The Burke Archives had the good fortune of inviting Olivia Rutigliano to be our Intern in Primary Sources for the 2016-2017 year. During this time, she has processed the papers of Henry Pitney Van Dusen, one of Union’s most well-known presidents. Read below to learn about Olivia’s first experience processing a large archival collection, Union’s history, and Van Dusen’s legacy.

In my capacity as Columbia’s Primary Source Intern for the 2016-2017 academic year, I have been working at Burke Library, processing an exhaustive collection of documents once belonging to Henry Pitney Van Dusen (1897-1975), who served as president of Union Theological Seminary from 1945-1963. The wide-ranging collection includes material concerning his teaching and academic responsibilities, his many book and article projects, his ministry and outreach, and his work for various international and domestic ecumenical committees and conferences, as well as his personal correspondence, and other materials or publications relating to his life as a public intellectual.

Portrait of HPVD. UTS1: Henry Pitney Van Dusen Papers, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

In short, it is a huge collection. In fact, before the collection had begun being processed, it took 72 banker’s boxes to hold the entire thing. Throughout the fall and spring semesters, my chief responsibilities principally included sorting through these boxes — organizing and classifying this large volume of materials within various definitive categories, removing them from packaging that might be chemically or physically hazardous to their preservation, locating dates and other identifying information for the contents, and producing a clear and intuitive Finding Aid, to help future researchers navigate the collection with ease.

Now, after nearly all the materials have been organized and sorted into (smaller, sleeker, and clearly delineated) manuscript boxes, we estimate that the collection physically spans around 100 linear feet (archival collections are measured the total width of every box in the collection). The collection contains letters, memos, sermons, lectures, photographs, magazines, pamphlets, programs, index and business cards, and entire book manuscripts, as well as countless drafts of both chapters and individual essays. It also contains several children’s illustrations completed in crayon on construction paper (likely made by Van Dusen’s children), messages from such longtime pals as John Foster Dulles (who filed a legal brief on his behalf, arguing that Van Dusen, who caused an outcry by admitting that he did not believe that Christ was literally born of a virgin, should not have his his minister’s ordination questioned by the Presbyterian General Assembly), and several copies of the 1954 Time, with Van Dusen as the magazine’s cover story.

A letter from Eleanor Roosevelet to HPVD. UTS1: Henry Pitney Van Dusen Papers, Series 8, Box 15, Folder 1. The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York

A PhD student in Columbia’s English and Theatre departments, specializing in Victorian entertainment, I barely had any exposure to Van Dusen’s prolific and distinguished career prior to processing his papers. As I began to read and sort through his documents, I learned about the depth of his various worlds, and the impact of his tremendous influence. Indeed, Van Dusen was a prominent thinker and sought-after academic, whose expertise and engagement was vast — spanning very many contemporary issues. I processed many files of sermons and articles directly addressing contemporary theological and socio-political debates, as well as his own personal ruminations on ethical matters. He was the engineer behind many massive organizations of which I had heard, such as the World Council of Churches. He was also, I learned, an entrenched New Yorker — a descendant of one of New York City’s oldest families, who had been here since it inhabited a few hundred people and was called New Amsterdam. (Personally, I can claim three generations of family in the city — he could claim ten.) The Van Dusen family has, in its family tree, U.S. Presidents Martin Van Buren and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as well as, I just found out, the Brooklyn-based clothing designer Dusen Dusen.

Letter from John Masefield on the birth of John George Van Dusen. UTS1: Henry Pitney Van Dusen Papers, Series 8, Box 2, Folder 1. The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting two members of the Van Dusen family, Hugh, Van Dusen’s second son, and Hans, his grandson. They stopped by Burke to check out the collection, and I was delighted to show them a few items from it: birth announcements, letters of congratulations (including from UK poet laureate John Masefield) and a baby photo of Van Dusen’s oldest son, John George, as well as (a personal favorite of mine) a series of letters exchanged between Van Dusen and Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1954, through which Roosevelt enlisted Van Dusen’s help to work the Membership Drive Committee for the American Association for the United Nations. 

It was wonderful to meet Van Dusen’s family, who were excited to look at the documents and glad to chat about them; spending weeks upon weeks organizing and filing his material legacy, it was both lovely and uncanny to meet the people who had known him the best, during the life that he had documented so well. 

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.

Letters between a Prisoner and a Soldier: The Houser-Shinn Correspondence from the Roger L. Shinn Collection

 

“I’ve never had the experience of writing to anyone in the army before. I suppose you’ve never written to anyone in jail before, so I guess we’re even.”  George Houser, July 17, 1941

George Houser and Roger Shinn first met as students at Union Theological Seminary, living across the hall from each other on the fifth floor of the dorms. The two young men, both sons of pastors, bonded in their early years of graduate school, frequently stopping by each other’s rooms for long conversations and playing on the same basketball team. As World War II escalated, they together began to question the role of Christians in matters of war and peace, and co-wrote an editorial in The Union Review about their correspondence with Canon Raven, a British pacifist. They shared admiration for Raven’s expression of his pacifism, and wrote together in the spring of 1940 that “in the ultimate analysis, the Christian must stand for the way of the Cross, and the problem of war is the place for our age to take the stand.”

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Credit: UTS1: Roger L. Shinn Papers, 1920-2010, Series 3D, box 1 folder 1, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Ultimately, however, the two friends took quite different stands. Houser decided that it was his duty as a Christian to reject war and consequently refused, along with seven other students at Union, to register for the draft. He was subsequently arrested and served a year at Danbury Federal Prison instead of completing his degree at Union. Shinn not only registered for the draft, but waived the exemption he could have taken as a theological student. Rather than continue on with his doctoral studies after graduating from Union, he began basic training for the Army. Throughout Houser’s imprisonment and Shinn’s training, the pair maintained a steady correspondence. The conversations that had once taken place in their fifth-floor dorm rooms now occurred in letters as they continued to wrestle with their respective positions. Shinn held onto copies of the letters he typed to Houser, along with Houser’s handwritten responses from prison:

“I’ve been sending out Christmas cards this week. The two-cent stamps which I got at the post office have pictures of big guns on them and the words ‘National Defense.’ It seemed a terrible irony to be putting those stamps on Christmas cards… Reconciliation is so much more wonderful than fighting. I just don’t see how it can be accomplished until some other forces are crushed.”
– Shinn’s letter to Houser, Dec  22, 1940

“In the abstract-that is, in principle-you and I agree pretty much. But the more I think about the world situation, the more I feel that I would have to become a complete defeatist and cynic in order to support one side or the other in the war… The cycle has to be broken somewhere, and I think one of the important points at which to break it is at the point of the method of war.”
– Houser’s reply to Shinn, Dec 26, 1940.

Even as their differing positions took them further and further from each other, Shinn and Houser diligently reminded each other of the shared aspects of their convictions. The tone of their letters remained light even as they disagreed, with friendly banter and frequent apologies for not having the time to write more. As Shinn’s number came up in the draft he wrestled with whether or not he should join the Army or take advantage of his exemption as his mentors, Reinhold Niebuhr and Henry Sloane Coffin, advised. When he decided that, given his support for the war he felt compelled to serve in it, Houser was one of the first people he told. Houser wrote back disagreeing with his friend but supporting his decision to accept the consequences of supporting the war.

“To me it is impossible for a person to accept comfort and luxury for himself while others are suffering and deprived. This is an eternal criticism of the faculty of Union Seminary as far as I am concerned. How Reiny [Reinhold Niebuhr] can do it is more than I can see. The danger of his position is just that of not ceasing to compromise. Of course I expect nothing different from Uncle Henry [Henry Sloane Coffin]. So I think from this angle, your choice is right…”
– George Houser, Feb 20, 1940

Neither friend shied from challenging  the other to change his mind. As Shinn prepared to go to war and Houser realized that he would not be able to return to Union, their letters tell their sadness about how their paths, and those of their community at seminary, had diverged. This sadness and the strength of their differing convictions only made their theological and ethical debates more urgent.

“…It is not like a year ago, when we could brush past our differences by simply saying of the other fellow, ‘he’s sincere,’ or ‘he’s a good fellow.’ When you actually believe thoroughly that the other man, if his policies were carried out, would plunge the world into turmoil and chaos, or remove any possibility of historical justice, then the differences cannot be reconciled breezily. Unity, then, must lie in a faith more profound than the church has usually preached.”
– Roger Shinn, July 4, 1941

A letter from the Danbury, Connecticut prison where Houser was incarcerated, notifying Shinn that he is not authorized to correspond with Houser.

A letter from the warden of the Danbury, Connecticut prison where George Houser was incarcerated, notifying Roger Shinn that he is not authorized to correspond with Houser.

After 1941, the correspondence between the two men appears to stop. No more letters to or from Houser appear in the Shinn collection. Their lives continued to head in different, though related, directions. Houser moved to Chicago to work for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a pacifist anti-war organization, and then turned his attention to civil rights issues within the United States. He helped to found the Congress for Racial Equality in 1942 and participated in the original Freedom Ride before devoting the rest of his career to abolishing apartheid and colonial rule in Africa.

Rev. George Houser with fellow CORE member and civil rights fighter at a sit-in in Ohio. Credit: Congress of Racial Equality, the New York Times.

Rev. George Houser with fellow CORE member and civil rights fighter Bayard Rustin at a sit-in in Ohio. Credit: Congress of Racial Equality, the New York Times.

 

 

Shinn, meanwhile, served in World War II and was held as a prisoner of war. Upon his return, he completed his doctorate at Columbia and enjoyed a long career at Union as a faculty member, dean of instruction and, briefly, acting president. His participation in later political activities at Union is particularly notable in light of his earlier friendship with Houser. When Union students again refused to register for the draft during the Vietnam War, Roger was one of the faculty members who wrote a letter supporting them. He also was among members of the Union community who published a statement regarding apartheid in South Africa in 1967, and worked through the 1980s to divest the Seminary’s endowment of shares in companies profiting from apartheid. Although the former hallmates chose different ways of living into their convictions as Christians, it seems that throughout their lives they continued to “agree pretty much.”

#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.

First Collection Completed

My first archival project here has been completely fascinating.  The Catholic Church in India from 1880-1893? I know absolutely nothing about that! I found myself absorbed with the first few volumes, trying to get a sense of that world.  The pages were browned, the edges were crumbling, some of the spines were a wreck and the smell evoked cherry-wood bookcases surrounding cups of tea and deep leather sofas.  I do not think I have held a book that is 135 years old.  That alone was enthralling.

Many of the pages include multiple clippings without author or publication.  As a librarian and grad student, this bothered me. What was the source? Was it reliable?  Yet the stories they contained were often very interesting and I found myself reading them.  Then there were the larger publications of the church.  These served to inform about the status of the missions and give an impression of the people and places that the missionaries were encountering.  Some of these included illustrations.  The captions on these were always worth reading since they gave insight into relationships and impressions.

This collection, when I got into it, seemed a bit like organized chaos.  I appreciate the Finding Aid that I learned how to create for it so that hopefully people interested in the material will be able to enjoy looking through it as much as I did.  On a final note, as a self-professed lover of languages I enjoyed sorting through not only English but also the French and Portuguese items included!

Light in the Darkness

“Every book is a little light in that darkness”- Scott Landon

My job at the library resembles the craft of archaeology. On any day, I may come home from work with several centuries of dirt on my hands.

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This can be from crosschecking in world cat whether we have Der Kleine Katechismus Dr. Martin Luthers mit Erklarung Fragen und Antworten, or finding a 1921 map of Congo Belge in a box of uncatalogued materials.

Sometimes it’s a bit more like Octavtio_cart2P.I. business where I have to figure out if this anti- catholic tinged flyer suggesting doom for protestant America should JFK be elected president was written by the same group as that pamphlet suggesting the public school system is a “captive” of Popish control.

But sometimes my job is like a gardener, what with all the dirt.  I uncovered the bulletin for Booker T. Washington’s Memorial service, which took place 100 years ago. The effects of time on these documents end up on my hands.

Closer to my own research interests are reprints of executive order 9066 from FDR ordering the Relocation of Japanese Americans along the west coast during World War II. There was also a photo bulletin showing the lives of Japanese Americans in the Internment camps, and another entitled “70,000 American Refugees made in America.” Perhaps most important about the experience for me is the chance to be reminded of what has happened to bring us to where we are. Pieces of history are in these stacks and archives, and every day I find out something I hadn’t known before.

The thing I would most like to share is an interview I found with Dr. Vincent Harding in SGI Quarterly. Among the other quiet gems of Harding’s spirit and words, are his cautious approach to memorializing the phrase civil rights movement, which he thinks can be seen by our generation in terms of “success,” and therefore conclude that the struggle is “finished.” Harding would encourage us to speak instead of “the expansion of democracy,” reminding us of our responsibility to our ongoing task.

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I perform a very small role in the vast process of memory and integration that is ongoing here at the Burke.  While it’s not often pretty, it helps us remember, and understand, and hopefully participate in taking responsibility, together.

 

So exactly why an MLS?

In 2003, around the New Year’s holiday, I spent a little over 30 hours (in the span of two days) teaching myself how to use Microsoft’s now defunct program FrontPage. By New Year’s Day, my eyes burned, my right wrist ached from (self-diagnosed) carpel tunnel syndrome, and most importantly, I completed my first website (a volunteer effort to redesign my employer’s web presence). I guess back then I should have figured I was on to something when the shooting pain in my wrist really did not bother me as much as the difficulties I had in embedding Flash files into HTML (I was determined to include a Flash banner, which provided the visitor with a dazzling text tween that displayed the name of the program I worked for).

The above anecdote is probably the best way I can sum up the curiosity and enthusiasm I exude when learning and working with new technologies, whether at home, at school, or in the workplace. I have earned the moniker “Techie” among family, friends, peers, and co-workers alike. From my supervisor to my eighteen year old stepdaughter, I am sought for technical advice and counsel on a daily basis. Frankly, the technical knowledge I have and continue to garner truly exists as a result of self-exploration and a sincere feeling of joy and fulfillment. I always tell people, “You can’t learn anything unless you try, and maybe fail at, something you know nothing about.”

At this point, you are probably asking yourself, “So exactly why an MLS? Can you get to the point already?” Well at the moment, I am at sort of a fork in the road. While I have come to realize how much I truly enjoy imparting and applying my technological knowledge, I am unable to engage in this sort of instruction on a regular basis.

One additional not-so-simple task that I enjoy undertaking led me to explore the profession of librarianship: research. Every semester, my wife calls upon me to assist her in finding resources – books, journal articles, anything she needs to assist in completing her doctoral studies. I do not share this with anyone, but I enjoy the hunt for hard-to-find sources (whether it be a paperback book or a digital manuscript). Going to old (and sometimes dusty) library shelves to find a book or scouring the internet to find a PDF document is like hunting for treasure (and a guilty pleasure of mine).

In addition to my research interests and technology-skill application in the work place or classroom, I am learning about the librarianship profession this term in one of my classes, Technology and Society. The concept of blended librarianship was introduced, implying “that blending the perspectives, expertise, and skills of instructional design, technology, and traditional librarianship will open new avenues of practice and professional development for academic librarians… Blended librarians are new professionals who are knowledgeable in the traditional roles, but they also develop competence in information technologies and curricular design” (p. 109)*.

Some people often get caught up with the term “Library” and fail to see the opportunities a degree in Library and Information Science can afford. Admittedly, I was one of those people. And for those who really know me and my background, my decision to pursue a Master of Library Science (MLS) degree from Queens College make perfect sense to them – light bulbs go on in their heads.

Librarianship will provide me the opportunity to apply my technological skill set, while also learning how to search, maintain, and provide information resources to those I serve. It will also allow me to impart practical and sound advice on research best practices.

*Cline, H. F. (2014). Information communication technology and social transformation: A social and historical perspective. New York: Routledge.