Tag Archives: Union Theological Seminary

“Spirit of ’68” Part I: Building an Exhibit…

The year 1968 has been memorialized recently with a slough of exhibits, events, new books, and other testimonials marking the 50th anniversaries of that year’s revolutionary upheavals, movements, and protests — Union Theological Seminary of course has a long history of resistance activism, and librarians at the Burke thought that Union should have its own display of archival materials from that historic year.

Recent memoirs and history monographs on the year 1968. Photograph by Carolyn Bratnober, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (2018)

Recent memoirs and history monographs on the year 1968. Photograph by Carolyn Bratnober, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (2018)

Little did I know, at the start of creating this exhibit, that Union underwent its own revolutionary changes that year, and indeed Union played a pivotal role in Columbia’s infamous 1968 student protests. My research for the 1968 exhibit unearthed some of this history, which I am excited to share via the Burke Blog as part of this series.

I knew about Columbia’s student protests from reading James Kunen’s memoir The Strawberry Statement many years ago. In April of 1968, students at Columbia occupied university buildings in protest of Columbia’s involvement in recruitment and weapons research for the War in Vietnam, and in the gentrification of Harlem in general. Columbia’s administration sought to quell the protests, which lasted several days and drew significant media attention, by calling law enforcement — whereupon, predictably, the police used brutal tactics against the students, throughout several days of violence. When I consulted the archives of Union Theological Seminary’s president’s office files, community photographs, and student publications from that time period, to see what I could find for our 1968 exhibit, I was heartened to see news coverage showing Union students involved in resistance during the Columbia protests, and even doing nonviolent interventions with the police. What surprised me was the fact that Union students and administrators came together on this issue, agreeing to cease all UTS classes for the remainder of the school year; there is a letter from President John C. Bennett included in the exhibit, officially halting classes and forming a series of alternative revolutionary teach-ins called the Free University in which students could assemble and strategize to build revolutionary momentum around the protests. I and my co-curators thought these events should definitely be the focal point of our exhibit on Union in ‘68. We conducted a great deal of research to get a closer look at these resistance efforts, which in fact catalyzed a series of liberatory changes at Union (which will be described in greater detail in subsequent blog posts by my collaborators) and we decided to call this exhibit “Spirit of ‘68: Revolution and Resistance at Union Theological Seminary.”

"Union Students Strike for Columbia" banner, UTS 2 Records, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York

“Union Students Strike for Columbia,” photograph (1968) UTS 2 Archive Records, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York

The whole exhibit was a team effort. Staff from the UTS Development Office, Emily Odom and Kevin Bentley, who possess extensive knowledge of Union alumni, helped with curation. It was their idea to host an event during the 50th Reunion of the UTS Class of 1968 in early October, when many alumni would be coming to town, which was truly a stroke of genius. We organized a nice reception to mark the opening of the exhibit on October 4th, and extended invitations throughout the Union community. Background research was a major part of putting the exhibit together, and the files from this time period in the UTS archives are extensive; thankfully, a Union student, Jake Hearen, offered to pitch in on the reading and research, and he became our indispensable Research Assistant for the project.

"Spirit of '68" exhibit display on level L1 of the Burke Library. Photo by Carolyn Bratnober, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (2018).

“Spirit of ’68” exhibit display on level L1 of the Burke Library. Photo by Carolyn Bratnober, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (2018).

Prior to starting the research for this exhibit, I had thought putting the physical display together was going to be the most challenging part; however, as it happened, members of the Conservation & Preservation Department for the Columbia University Libraries were happy to help construct photograph frames, book cradles, and display mounts for each of the items we selected. (After all, these materials are both unique and extremely fragile, and they deserve utmost care in their handling and display.) The entire team worked hard to create this exhibit, it was a massive undertaking and could definitely not have been done by one person alone.

For the opening reception, we also had the idea to involve the guests in collecting memories and metadata about the items on display– we put up a projector screen and projected a slideshow of images of documents and photographs from the time period, and invited guests to note in a nearby notebook if they recognized individuals by name, and dates and place info for events featured in the slideshow. We also included a table of books about 1968 for guests to browse (some of which are pictured here). It turned out to be quite an event, attended by alumni, faculty, librarians, and students, with sparkling conversation over desserts and champagne, and everyone seemed to enjoy the evening very much. Eventually I hope that research around these events will lead to broader understanding of this time period– I hope to include some of this crowd-sourced metadata in the archival Finding Aid, and to have many of the exhibit’s materials digitized for an online exhibit that will offer researchers the chance to see these items remotely in the years to come, and to continue exploring this revolutionary era in our community’s history.

Students and alumni at the "Spirit of '68" Exhibit Opening Reception (October 4, 2018). Photo by @UnionSeminary on Instagram (2018).

Students and alumni at the “Spirit of ’68” Exhibit Opening Reception (October 4, 2018). Photo by @UnionSeminary on Instagram (2018).

 

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.