Tag Archives: Burke Library

Reading the Stacks: Remnants of Community in the Circulating Collection — by Brandon Harrington

For the past year, I have been reading the stacks at the Burke Library. Not reading every book, but reading the collection: how it is organized, what subjects have more texts, what sections see more traffic.

Photograph of a sign in the stacks that says, "Do Not Remove, Shelf-Reading In Progress." by Brandon Harrington, at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (2018).

Photograph of a sign in the stacks that says, “Do Not Remove, Shelf-Reading In Progress.” by Brandon Harrington, at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (2018).

 

Since December 2016, I have been playing the vibrations between student and Library Circulation Assistant. The library is where I work in a double sense. But over the course of my time at Union, the two roles have collapsed into one another, and I can honestly say that my education at Union would have been very different had I not gained extensive familiarity with Burke’s collection. My knowledge of Burke’s holdings has grown through sharing in the curiosity and creativity of countless patrons. Helping researchers find books has been an education in and of itself, taking me to aisles and titles I would likely never otherwise explore. But apart from assisting patrons, my familiarity has grown most through shelf-reading.

 

Shelf-reading, a crucial part of library maintenance, is one of the responsibilities that comes with being a Circulation assistant. It consists of going through the stacks, book by book, to make sure the collection is shelved correctly. It helps us find books that were mis-shelved and marked “lost,” pull books in need of repair, and return books to other Columbia libraries that wound up in the Burke stacks. With a total of over 700,000 onsite books in 5 levels of stacks spanning 24,580 square feet, it is rather easy for a book to find its way onto some distant shelf, far from where it should be. While shelf-reading is an essential task for ensuring that patrons can locate resources, the task of shelf-reading sounds tedious. But my not-so-secret secret is that I love it.

 

It is one thing to understand that libraries organize knowledge. It is an entirely different thing to tangibly experience the assumptions that go into their organization. Burke has two different collections with distinct classification systems: the Union stacks and the Library of Congress (LC) stacks. The periodical section is shelved alphabetically. None are “neutral.”

 

The Burke is one of the few remaining theological libraries that still circulates books shelved according to the Union classification system, originally designed for the Seminary’s holdings. Julia Pettee developed and implemented the cataloguing system over fifteen years, beginning in 1909. The acting librarian at the time, William Walker Rockwell, recorded in the preface to the published classification: “It is a principle of this classification to look upon Christianity as the central theme reaching out in all directions; and wherever a Christian topic touches a field of interest to make a place for it within that field.”[1] (Check out former librarian Elizabeth Call’s piece on Julia Pettee published on this blog in 2014 here.)

 

Reviewing the breakdown of the Union stacks, I realized how drastically today’s collection has changed in character with the continually-growing LC stacks, just as the population at Union has evolved over the years. The latest incoming class is reportedly the most religiously diverse, including the largest population of unaffiliated students Union has ever welcomed. Looking back on the ideals, assumptions, and goals that went into the organization of the Union stacks, it became clear to me how much the collection is a relic of the Seminary’s past character. So much so that it seems to describe a different Seminary entirely from the one I have come to call my home. Because of its date of production, the Union classification has no designation for Liberation or Feminist or Womanist or Queer Theologies. No space within its categories for the theological voices that have been so formative and foundation for me and for many of my peers. No space for the ways of doing theology that have since emerged largely within Union’s walls.

 

Shelf-reading the collection today, I find that the sections most out of order best reflect the evolving character of the Union community. While I recognize the necessity for our books to be organized, I revel in the disordering that happens. Reading the stacks reveals a latent sense of Burke’s community of readers. The disordering archives a challenge to its organization, a manifestation of the fact that new works are being produced, works that might give cause for reorganizing the collection, works that will push the boundaries. The books on the shelves change constantly, and the bits of information, communicated through the collection itself, speak volumes with a moment of pause and a little attentiveness. I find in the disorder a remnant of the community I will soon leave after graduation.

 

Two weeks ago, we lost Rev. Dr. James H. Cone, the founder of Black Liberation Theology. Since Cone’s passing, the section where his books are housed has thinned quite a bit. I know that folks are returning to his words, continuing to hear his voice through his writings. It reminds me of something I noticed in the library while taking Prof. Cone’s course, Foundations in Christian Theology, the last time Dr. Cone taught this course, the course with the infamous 20-page syllabus.

 

I saw Dr. Cone’s impact through the changes in the stacks. Cone repeatedly encouraged: “You have to find your theological vooooooice.” Over the course of the semester, the BT section, the LC classification for “Theology,” swelled and compressed, mirroring the theological turns we traced every Tuesday morning under Dr. Cone’s passionate and meticulous guidance. We were pulling books to find our voices.

 

I graduate in eight days. We have almost completed shelf-reading the LC stacks. They are reset for another round of disordering, and I wonder how the stacks will bear the remnants of its community in the years to come. As I close this chapter of Circ assisting and graduate study, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to read the stacks and to see through them the reflections of the Union Seminary I have known and been a part.

 

                       -Brandon Harrington, UTS Class of ’18

 

[1] Julia Pettee, Classification of the Library of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, ed. Ruth C. Eisenhart (New York: Union Theological Seminary, 1967), iii.

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.

Saying Goodbye to Burke…For Now

My last day really snuck up on me. One can really get lost in boxes and boxes of unprocessed archival material, it seems. But all good things must come to an end, and for me, that took place today. After a great 7 month internship at Burke, I closed the lid on my last archival box.

I can’t express to you how great this internship has been! I’ve learned the entire archival process, from acquisition to finding aid promotion. I’ve seen great material that paints a picture of the world the missionaries encountered. And I’ve worked with the amazing staff at the Burke Library. Brigette, the project archivist, was an outstanding teacher and mentor. From the very beginning she made sure I knew what we were working on and why. She is incredibly knowledgeable about the collection, knowing where everything is and how the entire collection is connected. The rest of the staff is stellar as well. They are insanely smart, friendly, welcoming, and passionate about the work they are doing at the library. If you ever get a chance to work with them on a research project, I suggest you do.

Though my internship time is done with the Burke library, my professional and personal relationship will continue. I look forward to my next step, knowing that Burke is the reason I’m taking it at all.

My First Day as an Intern: So Much to Learn!

Today is my first day as an intern at the Burke Library, working with Brigette on the UTS archives. One of the tasks of getting started is to write a blog post about what I hope the internship will teach me. You can see some entries from my predecessors and fellow interns here, here and here.

So, on to what I hope to learn from working as an intern…

The short answer:

Everything!

I come to this internship having completed most of the requisite number of credits for my Masters in Library Science at Pratt. I’ve studied all kinds of things related to digital libraries and libraries’ use of social media in outreach and research. I’ve learned the basics of metadata and collection development.

However, none of my coursework so far has incorporated more than a cursory study of archives. And I’ve been kicking myself about that since I started talking to Brigette. I had clues that I might be interested in archives: I tend to pore over antique cookbooks and recipe collections, and rummage through bins of vintage photographs at yard sales; and I got positively starry-eyed over maps George Washington had drawn, when I saw them on a school trip to the Library of Congress. And yet, I haven’t taken so much as an introductory archives class. What have I been thinking?

The learning curve of getting started at Burke will include more than just the usual directional and procedure orientation to how things work here. I know I need to develop my understanding of archival theory and procedures from the ground up. I come to this internship with a rudimentary knowledge of how to work with archives: wear gloves for photographs, use pencil to take notes.

I’m sitting at a desk surrounded by shelves of tantalizing gray boxes. As this internship progresses, I look forward to learning my way around the care and documentation of the knowledge contained in these boxes and the rest of the collection, piece by piece. I’ve started reading about archives, so I can begin to fit these mysterious boxes into a larger context of what archiving means.

I’m also looking forward to working on developing ideas and content for the social media at Burke. I’m looking forward to learning more about what works best for archives and libraries on social media and using different platforms to showcase the great resources in the collections here.

What are some of the discoveries you’ve made in the collections here? Tell me about your favorites in the comments!

Saving the Books

When I arrived the morning of May 20th, I was met with a flurry of activity. Over the previous weekend, a small drip had made a big mess in the reference section of the reading room. Since it was so small and over the weekend, we didn’t notice it until it had reached several books. I immediately headed to the conference room to do damage control.

Good news first: only a few books were beyond saving. The water in its slow creep hadn’t had time to do much damage. Plus most of the books were large, heavy reference books, with hardcovers that actually kept the pages more or less above the flood. Those that had been hit were also easy-to-replace, and the books with wet covers could be rebound. All in all, not a worst-case scenario.

However, there was some work to do. In order to keep the moisture from seeping and staying in the books, thus creating a mold problem and disfiguring the books, we had to dry them out.  To do this, we placed paper towels in between the pages that were damper than others, and set every book standing up facing a fan to dry out the book right down to its spine.

Exactly what it looked like. From http://artfullyarrangeddisarray.blogspot.com

Exactly what it looked like. From http://artfullyarrangeddisarray.blogspot.com

It took 4 of us about 4 hours to collect the books, carefully inspect them, decide which ones needed additional help, set them up, and monitor their improvement. In both my internship and classes we spend a lot of time discussing preservation and techniques used when working to quickly salvage a damaged collection, but it was the first time I had ever put these teachings to practice. I can’t say I enjoyed it – after all these were books on the line, and I would never ever wish them harm – but it was a learning experience. The quick thinking of the Burke library staff, their calm demeanor, and instant evaluation of the situation allowed a lot of books to be saved.

We are currently double-checking the shelves to make sure the leak has been thoroughly sealed and won’t damage any more books. If you see a library staff member, thank them for the work they did to save the reference books you need!

You Say Goodbye, and I Say Hello

This week is the last week of my Spring Internship at the Burke Library. It has been such a great experience! I’ve received hands-on training on the entire archival experience: the initial processing, creating the finding aid, managing it in its digital form, and broadcasting it for all the world to see. In addition, I have seen the ins and outs of running an academic library, including the not-so-glamorous sides, like vermin patrol and how to Macgyver a situation where you must move 80 boxes with only a silver cart, one narrow elevator  that can’t fit you AND boxes, and several mini-stairways (answer: through teamwork and running). The Burke Library has provided me a valuable internship where I was part of the team, given creative freedom, and trained from day 1 on what archiving is and why it matters. Brigette, Liz, Beth, and Matthew have been great coworkers, and I have enjoyed working with them all.

What I've been looking at all semester

What I’ve been looking at all semester

However, it’s not the end! The semester is wrapping up, but I will be staying on during the summer as well, interning for credit from my graduate program at Pratt. I will be doing more archival work, but in a much different capacity. As I referenced in my last blog post, we are wrapping up a 3 year archiving project. My work this summer will be to help finish this project, updating finding aids, more DAM and EAD training, and contributing to evaluation summaries as well. I will also be doing more work with Burke Director Beth Bidlack, learning more about what goes into running a library. Finally, I am attending the American Theological Library Association Annual Conference next month, to see how theological and academic libraries are run across the country, and learn best practices across a wide array of topics.

I’m looking forward to continuing my work at Burke, and know that I will continue to gain valuable skills and connections. Thanks for reading this semester, and I’ll see you in the summer!

Fitting in the Final Pieces of the Puzzle: an Interlinked Collection

This semester is the beginning of the end for a collection that has been meticulously processed, studied, and preserved over the past three years. By the end of 2014, every scrap of paper from the Missionary Research Library Collection – a vast assortment of papers are related in some way to Christian missionary work around the globe since the 1700s – will have a home at the Burke library, and will be available for research purposes. It is very exciting to see a record group through to its end, and to imagine the way these collections that you have spent so much time on will impact academic research in a variety of fields.

As we near the end, the archival process takes a slightly different road. We are taking the final, unprocessed boxes and attempting to find the best home for them, and would hope that their new home would be in a currently processed collection. This means having an extensive understanding of what is already out there, and knowing how best these previously unrecorded materials can be inserted into a pre-existing collection and help bolster the information contained in that collection. Get it? You get it.

So let’s say you have some random letters about education initiatives in China in 1905, written by Dr. Edwin Bliss. These letters are currently not part of a collection, but are related to the materials throughout MRL: 6 (which is Mission Research Library section 6, the China Section). However, they are also related to materials in MRL 12: Ecumenical/World Mission, since Dr. Bliss was instrumental in founding and running the Bureau of Missions during this time. The letters could provide insight into the inner workings of that organization. What do you as the archivist do?

These are the kind of questions that are facing us as we wind down an extraordinary collection. Personally, I find it to be an exciting time, one that allows the archivist to explore the collection thoroughly, whether for the first time (as most of it is in my case), or as a revisit (as it is for project archivist Brigette, who has been here since the beginning). It also highlights how the collection should be seen as a whole entity, instead of many boxes that happened to be housed together. If you haven’t had a chance to see what the MRL collection currently holds, take a look! And check back often as we update, reorganize, and make the collection more accessible and understandable to use.

1st Day – New Intern Posting

Today is my first day at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary as an archival intern. First days are always exciting and nerve racking. What will the new desk I am working at look like? What if my new boss doesn’t like my outfit? What if I trip on that spiral staircase mentioned in the internship posting I responded to? These and many other random, rather frenetic thoughts began racing through my head pretty much as soon as I woke up this morning.

I applied for the position because the posting on the Pratt Institute School of Library and Information Science list serve specifically mentioned Japanese language skills as being a benefit to the internship experience. In my time at Pratt Institute no internship posting has advertised a need for Japanese language – a skill I had the luck and experience to acquire as a young child and pursue throughout my first academic stint in undergraduate and graduate studies. I am eager to pursue a project that melds my current academic pursuit of working within a library or archive with my previous academic field East Asian Studies with a focus on Japanese studies.

My first half day at Burke has consisted of a tour of the facilities past a mind boggling assorted of acronym labeled archival boxes, a fantastic gothic inspired glass floored set of stacks and a small taste of the kind of work I will be engaging in this summer under the guidance of Brigette Kamsler an archivist at the Burke Library.  I have to admit that just like when I applied to the Library and Information Science program at Pratt Institute, my expectations and ideas about what is possible are always far below the water mark of what the actual experience will bring into my life.

Through the completion of a variety of other internship experiences I have discovered my affinity for tackling projects of organization and re-housing of materials. There is quite a lot of material here at Burke! I have been given a brief outline of the initial project I will be working on with a fellow intern which is really exciting – group work- the bane of many graduate students – is something I really enjoy. I understand that once the initial group project is completed I will be delving into working on a collection of materials concerning the American speaking tours and engagements of a Japanese evangelical preacher and social activist Kagawa Toyohiko.

Each experience and internship opportunity I have pursued while studying at Pratt has allowed me great growth both personally and professionally. I am eager to see how my time at Burke affects me and how I am able to affect the ongoing efforts of the archivists at the Burke Library.

Be prepared!

If Hurricane Sandy and Winter Storm Athena have taught us anything, it’s to be prepared. We all knew that both storms were coming, and we were able to prepare to the best of our abilities, but nobody knew what the extent of the damage would be. If that has taught us anything else, it’s that even our best attempts can fall short. There is no excuse not to have a plan!

So how can a cultural institution like Burke, or any of the other Columbia libraries, be and remain prepared for a natural disaster like Sandy? (Based off of Columbia University Libraries’ Disaster Response Manual)

1) Keep an updated emergency contact list on hand, including the names and numbers of your institution’s preservation and conservation department.

2) Be prepared with all the necessary supplies, and replenish when needed. Such supplies might include plastic tarps, buckets, paper towels, and other cleaning supplies.

3) Assign priorities to certain groups of materials, so that they will be attended to first in the event of an emergency.

4) Ensure the safety and security of the area in question. Make sure the exits are clear, that the security systems are working, et cetera.

5) Know the floorplan where the collections are located. Note the location of fire extinguishers, emergency exits, sprinklers, et cetera, and make revisions to said floorplan when necessary.

6) Reduce the potential risks to collections, including both fire and water damage. Make sure, for example, that collections are not located on the floor (in case of flooding), and make sure that appliances such as space heaters are turned off.

7) Document all reports of maintenance problems in your location and be sure to report all leaks and other issues to facilities, whether or not damage has resulted from these problems. Proper attention to these and other issues will help curb future problems.

It is important to note that as your institution evolves, so must your disaster preparedness plan. Collections may move, floorplans may change, and key staff members come and go throughout the years. Keeping your plan up to date and making sure that all staff members are continually updated is integral in to maintaining disaster preparedness in your institution. And while having a plan in place is no guarantee that your institution is safe from disaster, you still have done all that you can do to prepare. The rest, unfortunately, is up to the unpredictable force that is Mother Nature.