I checked out a book from the IUB Libraries:  The Lost Art of Finding Our Way by John Edward Huth.  This is part of the review in Amazon:

Long before GPS, Google Earth, and global transit, humans traveled vast distances using only environmental clues and simple instruments. John Huth asks what is lost when modern technology substitutes for our innate capacity to find our way. Encyclopedic in breadth, weaving together astronomy, meteorology, oceanography, and ethnography, The Lost Art of Finding Our Way puts us in the shoes, ships, and sleds of early navigators for whom paying close attention to the environment around them was, quite literally, a matter of life and death.

Even today, careful observation of the sun and moon, tides and ocean currents, weather and atmospheric effects can be all we need to find our way.

Lavishly illustrated with nearly 200 specially prepared drawings, Huth’s compelling account of the cultures of navigation will engross readers in a narrative that is part scientific treatise, part personal travelogue, and part vivid re-creation of navigational history. Seeing through the eyes of past voyagers, we bring our own world into sharper view.

And here’s an example of Huth’s writing  style:

In a way, we can create our own meanings: our own private frameworks to link events. Too often in the modern era, we rely on guardians to interpret events for us, and they’re too happy to step in and tell us what something “means.” But when we do this, we surrender the more primal empiricism that our ancestors surely possessed.

Huth, John Edward. Losing Our Way in the World.  New York Times Sunday Review.  20 July, 2013.  Accessed 18 Feb. 2014.

Very accessible, it seemed, when I picked the book out and took it to the circulation desk.  And the first chapters pulled me right in.  Social Science, Humanities.  I got it.  But TWO renewals later I am completely bogged down.  Plowing my way through SCIENCE, MATH, charts and graphs that make no sense to me.  Where the sun is at noon, if you are in Rio as opposed to Boston, on a given day.  But no, not where the sun IS, where the sun APPEARS TO BE.  And what that means in terms of where you are.  Or why.  I want to understand this stuff!  It’s fascinating.  I keep reading.  But I don’t understand it at all.  It seems important.  What if all the GPSs in the world stopped working and I had to find my way to Rio following the stars or the sun or… I keep reading.  I finish a whole chapter.  Might as well have been written in Sanskrit.  Still can’t navigate like the ancient Polynesians or the Vikings.  I know I’m going to finish the book, I know I’ll have learned SOMETHING.  I’m hoping I get the gist of it.  I’m probably going to make it mean something very different than the author intended.

What does any of the above have to do with Research Now?  Well.  Sometimes I sit in our Tuesday sessions listening and getting ideas, but much of the time I listen and think, “Hmmm.  What?  What does that mean?  That sounds really neat, I wonder if that’s like LCSH subject headings?  Isn’t that like the fields in a record?  The way we used to describe databases?  Can Content Mapping be applied to people?  Is everything a cycle?  Is this librarianship?  This isn’t your mother’s librarianship! Thanks goodness.”

I am pretty good at living in a state of perpetual discombobulation.  I really don’t expect to understand.  But I do expect to figure it out just enough to ask the right questions and to take the next step in the right direction.  And I think we are, at least, headed in the right direction.

What I’ve learned in all my years as a reference librarian is that we need to pay attention, be optimistic, and ask the right, the real, questions and be able to evaluate and pick out the “right” or “real” answer so that we can go off in the direction that will take us where we [think we] want to go.

Then, of course, you have to ask the next question and take off again.  For old-time reference librarians, it is as much about the journey as it is the destination.  It’s the searching that we get off on.  It’s the stuff we learn along the way.  Getting the answer is the secondary reward.  The REAL reward is discovering the next question.  And I feel like that’s what I’m in the midst of right now, finding new meaning and discovering the next question.

But research when?

I firmly believe that librarians should aspire to do more than support the research endeavors of others. Is there any reason why librarians cannot lead research projects, combining a vision of end product with mastery of processes? I have much to learn with respect to the latter; however, our reluctance to address the former as yet in our series I think is striking.

It would be inefficient for an academic researcher not to have a clear intellectual vision of where they are heading with their work; that vision is imposed by the researcher, usually as a result of his or her prior knowledge. How can a researcher judge of the usefulness of a piece of information without an intellectual vision of the anticipated whole? In reading (for example), he or she will pass over content that could be productively integrated into the argument if he/she does not have a clear idea of that argument before reading begins. Artificial it may be; efficient research it is (at least in many fields).

Returning to our project, I find myself wondering when and if a vision of the whole will emerge. I have been given to understand that the urge to find one at this stage in proceedings would contravene good archival principles; but still I struggle to grasp how mastery of processes can ever give meaning to our materials – not all of which should be digitized (surely?).

Now is Now

Finally, four months into our exciting and challenging cross-training project at the IU Libraries the blog entry that was intended to introduce the project and its companion blog is ready.

Our project is an aggressive one, and one which has the potential and the necessity to be fluid, we have learned quickly.  In spite of our best efforts to develop a steady and firm schedule for our next few months, we finally had to let go of the dream of consistency and long-range planning.  Holidays, weather, time, and other learning opportunities on campus have colluded and collided with our agenda.  Working in library public service is characterized in part by interruption and uncertainty, so we will be accustomed to that when our new configuration is unveiled after renovation.

For the specifics of our project, learning goals, outcomes, please see our About page.

Our team comprises librarians and staff from across the libraries: Reference Services, Digital Collections Services, Arts & Humanities, Social Sciences, Area Studies, Teaching & Learning, Library Technologies, and Scholarly Communications, with many other librarians talking with us about what they do and how we can interact. While we understand that our cross-training efforts are designed to help us to become better librarians, researchers, and scholars, our efforts will also position us to work together as an interdepartmental team when we open our new Scholars’ Commons.  With strong support from the Library Administration, we have been given the freedom to develop a series of weekly workshops to position librarians and staff to participate, collaborate, and partner in new and innovative research directions.

Our project started as a smaller cross-training semester in the spring of 2013, in which Digital Collections Services and Reference Services met regularly in order to get to know each other and become familiar with the activities of the members of each department. The initial semester made it clear that we needed a more focused and hands on approach, leading to our current project to create a digital exhibit that chronicles the history of the Indiana University Libraries on the Bloomington campus.

We are lucky to have a range of expertise within the libraries, and the project has benefitted from our colleagues’ willingness to participate in this project and to share their knowledge and skills.  To date, we have learned how to use Twitter (with several of us now actively tweeting); been introduced to Google Drive, Box, and Dropbox as we slowly begin to participate in collaborative note-taking; had a crash course in archival practices; enjoyed an amazingly understandable introduction to copyright; channeled our inner cheerleader while enjoying the quirky history of reference librarianship; discovered the uncertainties that characterize the research lifecycle; and remained interested, curious, and questioning at every turn.

As we move ahead, we will dive into technologies that are new to many of us and learn more about the skills of a reference generalist as well as the range of our subject specialists.  Importantly, we will work together as a team to create an online history of our libraries.

We invite our colleagues to join us through this experience: read our blog, follow our Twitter conversation (@ilurn, #scholarscommons), and explore our wiki that is linked from this page under helpful links (it includes our amazingly fluid schedule and links to our increasingly collaborative notes).

We truly hope that our experience speaks to a larger community outside our campus, and welcome feedback, comments, questions…

Arrangement Now!

At this stage of the Research Now project, we have all become familiar with Lou Malcomb’s collection of IU Libraries materials. Lately, we have been thinking about how to arrange the collection. I dusted off my old 2008 class notebook from Dr. David Gracy’s Introduction to Archival Enterprise to reread the principles that shaped my approach to archival work. Here are the first two (out of ten) Fundamentals of Archival Enterprise as they relate to our project.

archives notes
My notes from Introduction to Archival Enterprise, Fall 2008.

1. Archives are us!

archives (noun):

All of the records and documentation written, received, and gathered by an individual or organization in the conduct of affairs of life, which contain information of enduring value and usefulness, some of which possess added value because of their physical form, systematically maintained, commonly after they have fulfilled the purpose for which they were created.

Here’s a version with our details embedded:

All (well, not all of them, but a substantial amount) of the records and documentation written, received, and gathered by Lou Malcomb in the conduct of affairs at IU libraries, which contain information of enduring value and usefulness because they document the history of our institution, buildings, departments, individuals, and events, some of which possess added value because of their physical form, systematically maintained first by Lou, now by Research Now, commonly after they have fulfilled the purpose for which they were created (i.e. we no longer use these materials for the purposes they were originally meant to be used, but we know we should not throw them away).

2. Archivists think in groups.

Where librarians often work with items (e.g. books, recorded media, datasets), archivists are concerned with bodies of documentation generated, gathered, and used by a creator. The primary archival axiom is respect des fonds, which comes from an 1841 French decree that archival documents should be organized by fonds: the person, body, or organization that created them. Prior to that, French archivists categorized and grouped all documents by subjects they perceived to be research interests. Nowadays, respect des fonds is the reason archives have collections bearing the names of the people or entities that created them. Here are a few examples from IU Libraries:

Below the fonds level, the archival series is an intellectual unit of documentation that reflects a particular function or activity of the creator. What determines the archival series? Ideally, the organizational scheme used by the creator, or original order. In reality, lots of archival material arrives out of order or with no order at all, as stated in the Society of American Archivists’ Glossary: “The principle of respect  for original order does not extend to respect for original chaos.” Archivists then arrange the records as closely as possible to how the creator had them or processes caused them to be. It is preferable to form series based on characteristics of the functions and activities of the creator, but you can settle for organizing by characteristics of the records themselves (i.e. format) if necessary.

Life in the IU Libraries today is drastically different than in 19th-Century European archives, yet their principles remain. Why? It is important to note that these principles were developed solely for physical materials, since, well, that’s all they had back then. We are incredibly fortunate to be able to digitize any physical format in this collection. By doing so, we can free digital copies from the pesky physical limitation of only being able to be in one place at a time and perform any combination of the following:

  • Provide access to digitized items in the order they appear within the arranged archival material  (as done in Archives Online)
  • Provide access to just the photographic, non-text images (as done in Image Collections Online)
  • Provide access to a curated collection of material in any number of orders and/or arrangements with narrative content (as done in exhibit sites such as the Lilly Library’s War of 1812)

With help from rich descriptive metadata, digitized items can exist in a variety of locations, fulfill a variety of purposes, and take a variety of forms and organizational structures. If, however, one wanted to access the physical collection material, it should be in a logical arrangement, if for no other reason than peer pressure: most, if not all, IU archival repositories do it this way. Once this not-too-laborious task of arrangement is complete, we will be free to digitize, research, and provide access to this rich collection material.

Scholars’ Commons Services

We had an interesting discussion last week (Fed 4) on the Research Lifecycle. We used the interactive research lifecycle developed at University of Central Florida Libraries as a basis for the discussion. Our goal is to create a similar but non-linear model for the research lifecycle at IU. From the discussion, it quickly became apparent that we would need a lifecycle or lifecylces that addresses the research process in a variety of disciplines. As the discussion progressed, we touched on the need for libraries to assist researchers in understanding how to effectively and efficiently manage, track and organize their research. This includes citation management tools such as EndNote ( and Zotero ( and Mendeley as well as organizational tools like Evernote (

While we currently offer workshops on citation management tools, the Scholars Commons could provide additional opportunities to provide consultation to researchers on organizing their research. This process could be similar to the reference interview where you ask the researchers questions about their research to recommend a tool that would meet their needs and to help them determine a process for organizing their research. Librarians can to provide assistance and recommend strategies for organizing research. Based on my on research experiences and teaching citation management workshop, some initial thoughts on research organization:

  • keep your method for organizing your research simple: organize by research interests or classes, research projects – it will be more difficult for you to remember and continue to use an elaborate system
  • be consistent, if you use tags, tag everything
  • take some time to find what works best for you and be flexible, be willing to change as your research changes

logo-mendeley zoteroeng-sidebarart_x7

It’s Digitized…now what?

Subject specialists often run into a recurring problem when helping students with research: finding relevant data. The Lilly Libraries’ digitization of the War of 1812 materials is a perfect example. There is likely at least a dozen PhD/MA students somewhere in the world researching the War of 1812 or some aspect thereof. The problem is that a simple Google search will return millions of results and somewhere, buried in the avalanche of information, there will be a link to the Lilly Library. If you go to the Wikipedia entry for the War of 1812 there is no external link to the War of 1812 (that is until I changed it a few minutes ago).

The problem of finding the right archive for a researcher is best described by the Philosopher George Carlin. Carlin believed that there was a spy at every airport, your job was to find them. The perfect archive exists for almost any researcher, their job, find it. As Moira’s discussion of her research demonstrated, you often have to spend a considerable amount of time just to figure out where to look in the first place. Digitizing unique collections aids researchers that do not have the budget to spend a week (or perhaps month) in Bloomington to examine the documents of the War of 1812.

The issue with finding these unique resources is a recurring problem for libraries, marketing. The very mention of marketing will get eye-rolls/snorts of discontent and any number of other negative feelings from librarians, myself included. The barrier that we must get passed is that libraries have never had to market their services before,  but now we must embrace the idea. Too often we hear, “it is all on the Internet.” Librarians know this is not true, but we cannot blame the user for believing this. If you have to tell someone how cool you are chances are you are not that cool. However, with the case of libraries and digital collections we need to be shouting it from the rooftop/sides of buses/t-shirts and just about anywhere we can get an audience.


Scholars and Their Tools

When I viewed the elaborate research life cycle model we had for today, I was a bit overwhelmed by how many tasks there were.  I think many faculty feel the same way–especially since a lot of these tasks are more of a kind of necessary housekeeping for the main show, which is research and writing.  Scholars don’t want to have to be bothered by housework any more than absolutely necessary; the research and thinking (let’s not forget that) and writing are quite demanding enough.

So here’s a better answer for Emily’s  excellent question about what role can librarians play.  We can assist with the housekeeping, make it as painless and efficient as possible.  We can offer guidance on how to manage files, documents, notes, and on the new tools that come out every day.  Scholars don’t want to have to think about their tools; they want to be able to just use them.  We can help them get to the point where they know the right tool to use and how to use it without having to think too much about it. 


Why Critical Reflections?

We have created this “Critical Reflections” space on our blog to be a forum for participants to talk about what we discuss, explore, learn, or practice in our weekly meetings.  Active participation from our group, writing, reading, and commenting, will help develop an online conversation that will run parallel with, and often intersect, the activities and discussions in our meetings.

We intend for this cross-training program to continue beyond our initial preparation for the opening of this Scholars’ Commons.  These reflections will help guide our future directions.