Information Literacy in Defense of Wikipedia

It has been a little over a month now since I started working at the West Tower circulation desk. I cover a couple of the evening shifts and the Saturday morning shift, when things are a bit slower. It is during this time I usually find myself aimlessly clicking around everyone’s favorite website. I am of course talking about our old friend Wikipedia. The things I typically read would only interest myself and other Gilded Age/Progressive Era buffs out there. With increasing frequency, though, I have been finding myself going around Wikipedia in search of things that relate to the books patrons come to either check out or return. It is wonderful to see all the different things that come across our desk throughout the day.

While I was meandering through Wikipedia on a journey led by some patron’s book (on the power struggle between Japan and the United States and how it ultimately culminated in the Pacific Theater of the Second World War), a thought popped into my head: How did this one man’s desire for information literacy affect the world around him? However it may sound, I realized this man’s desire for literacy does not only affect him; others were benefitted by his actions. To step even further back, one could say his pursuit of knowledge benefits the community as a whole. While this man increases his knowledge of one small aspect of late 19th and early 20th century diplomacy, surely he will share this knowledge. Perhaps he will tell someone about the paper he is undoubtedly writing, and this will spark the inquisitive mind of another.

Put simply, if one person enthusiastically strives to achieve ever-greater knowledge, won’t that thirst wear off on at least some of the people he or she comes into contact with while doing so? Knowledge is a powerful thing to say the least, and a well-informed citizenry is what ensures the stability of our community here at IU and around the globe. Librarians should be at the forefront of the struggle for knowledge, the fight against ignorance. So the next time someone returns a book or checks one out while you’re staffing the desk, take a few moments to indulge in your love of Wikipedia. Click around, learn something new, and tell a friend about it. If we all work together to expand the general knowledge of the people around us, that’s at least one constructive thing we’ve accomplished today.

-Brian Plank

Some interesting resources NOT from Wikipedia that are worth checking out:

Information Literacy:
Japanese-American Relations:

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What Dewey Left Us

As my colleague and classmate David mentioned in his post, librarianship is often seen as a feminized form of labor. A Google image search for ‘Librarian’ does indeed bring up largely women, as well as some computers that could be described as antique. And, as Halloween draws nearer, the suggested search for ‘Librarian Costume’ is, at best, offensive.

This feminization of librarianship in fact goes all the way back to the beginnings of the profession.

In 1887, Melvil Dewey opened his School of Library Economy under the auspices of Columbia College. Dewey is perhaps best remembered as the creator of the Dewey Decimal System, which revolutionized library organization and preceded such innovations as the Library of Congress Classification. Dewey also has a place in Librarianship history not only as one of the main instigators for the creation of ALA, but also because many of the first students at his library school were female. The admission of women into the program created a rift between Dewey and the administrators at Columbia College, which led in part to his removal from the College and transfer to the New York State Library (Beck, 1996; Wiegand, 1996).

Early on in the profession, feminine qualities were either excused or lauded for being particularly pertinent to the labor of librarianship. Of course, Dewey was really only admitting college-bred women who were presumably white and from the middle to upper classes (See: Dewey, 1886). It is important to remember that the early history of the profession excluded the marginalized, as did many other professions beginning around the same time. Beyond this, Dewey was a known anti-Semite (Kendall, 2014).

Melvil Dewey, 1891

Melvil Dewey, 1891

Further, Dewey’s actions toward women during his tenure at Columbia College and the New York State Library speak volumes. In her 1996 article in the journal American Libraries, Clare Beck relays the results of her archival study of the correspondence between Dewey and some of his colleagues.

In 1906, murmurs of inappropriate behavior began to surround Dewey. It was revealed that Dewey had reportedly sexually harassed four women on an ALA cruise. Furthermore, significant and troubling correspondence exists between Dewey and a head of a division at New York Public Library, Adelaide Hasse. Dewey repeatedly invited Hasse to visit him in Albany, presumably to discuss professional matters, as Hasse was attempting to publish with the ALA. After her visit, Dewey wrote to her praising her voice and appearance (Beck, 1996).

Adelaide Hasse

Adelaide Hasse

Beck found this bit of correspondence odd for two reasons. First, flattery towards Hasse in her correspondence typically pertained to her work, as is appropriate among colleagues. Second, the length of time it took for Hasse to respond compared to her response times for other correspondence led Beck to intuit she was avoiding answering the letter until the last possible moment–when Hasse had to leave town for Maine. Ultimately, this was brought to the attention of ALA. Hasse did not appreciate this correspondence being made public knowledge, perhaps because she did not want a scandal to tarnish her image. Dewey, for his part, performed some classic gas-lighting, stating that “[p]ure women will understand my ways” (quoted in Beck, 1996, p. 62).

The reporter Joshua Kendall also uncovered troubling behavior in his research on Dewey for his book America’s Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation (2013). For the American Libraries Magazine (2014), Kendall writes that Dewey was a womanizer and required photos of applicants to his library school, saying that Dewey often remarked, “you cannot polish a pumpkin” (p. 54).

However, Kendall seems somewhat sympathetic to Dewey, describing him as a “Lothario” and his womanizing as a “character flaw” (p. 54). He also describes Dewey’s advances as “surprise squeezes,” (p. 54) an insulting attempt at turning sexual harassment into a joke. (It is also worth mentioning that Kendall’s book about the seven “obsessives” who built America includes only white people, six of whom are men.)

Despite the troubled past of our profession, sexual harassment in the workplace must be taken seriously, as should the marginalization of librarians through feminization of their labor. Further, we must refrain from being cavalier about our most famous problematic founder, even as we appreciate his contributions.

-Carin Graves


Beck, C. (1996). A ‘Private’ Grievance against Dewey. American Libraries, 27(1), 62.

Dewey, M. (1886). Librarianship as a profession for college-bred women: an address delivered before the Association of Collegiate Alumnæ, on March 13, 1886. Boston : Library Bureau.

Kendall, J. C. (2013). America’s Obsessives : The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation. New York: Grand Central Publishing.

Kendall, J. (2014). Melvil Dewey, compulsive innovator: the decimal obsessions of an information organizer. American Libraries, (3-4). 52.

Wiegand, W. (1996). Dewey Declassified: A Revelatory Look at the ‘Irrepressible Reformer’. (cover story). American Libraries, 27(1), 54.

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To Badger or Not to Badger

“I knew I should just turn this question over to a reference librarian. You guys are like badgers.” I received this compliment (?) from a patron when I finally tracked down the article he was looking for after about 30 minutes of searching. At first, I wasn’t sure how to take this, but after thinking for a few minutes, I decided I loved it.

Badgers may not look like much to the casual observer, but when cornered, they can be fierce fighters.

When comparing librarians and badgers, I prefer Roald Dahl’s Badger in Fantastic Mr. Fox over Kenneth Grahame’s Mr. Badger in The Wind in the Willows. While Graham’s badger is a gruff hermit who very reluctantly agrees to help Toad, Dahl’s Badger captures the “good-in-a-pinch” nature of everyone’s favorite Mustelidae. Badger is friendly, loyal, tenacious, and a little bit goofy, character traits befitting a reference librarian.


Being a reference assistant means each shift can bring an onslaught of mind-numbing questions about the location of restrooms and drinking fountains, or my personal favorite: “Do you have books here?” While those questions can sometimes take a toll, it is the in-depth research questions that allow me to take pride in my work. Instead of simply handing off these difficult questions to a subject librarian, I do my best badger impression and fight until I simply cannot find the answer. (Unless the question is about science because…you know…it’s science.)

After spending hours at the reference desk, it can be easy to slip into grumpy librarian mode. While it may seem more interesting to figure out what Disney princess you are than to point a student in the direction of the Digitization Lab, we have to remain open to helping. At the beginning of each semester, new students are learning about using the library. Our hope is that, by helping them with mundane questions early in the semester, we will see them returning in November or April when research papers are due and our expertise is needed.

Over the past three years, I have worked as a reference assistant at two different academic libraries. Despite hundreds of questions that could have been answered by a sign, I have not lost my joy for working with patrons, especially students. Attacking each question eagerly, and working hard to provide the best answer possible, should be the goal of every reference librarian. While this is not easy, neither is defending your neighborhood from three mean farmers. Just ask Badger.

-Ryan Frick

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Concept Mapping for Information/Visual Literacy

Having worked as a reference assistant all summer, I noticed that patrons were often quick to poke their heads over my desk to peer at my computer as I explained how to navigate IUCAT or the library website. When I would explain how to locate books in the towers, I could feel the patrons’ anxiety from the lack of visual guidance. A couple even asked me for maps, reluctant to trust their ability to follow the logic of call numbers. Whether my instructions were verbal or written in text, I couldn’t shake the feeling that visual aids would have facilitated these consultations much more effectively — both for the patrons’ benefit and for my own tendency to “map” my instructions.

Now that I work as a Graduate Supervisor at the Fine Arts Library here on campus, I’ve had the opportunity to witness the effectiveness of visual modes of teaching firsthand. Understanding that studio art and art history students are generally quick to engage with images over text, the Head of the Fine Arts Library, Dr. Keogh, has taken steps to provide training that caters to the patrons’ preferences. One such instance occurred just the other night: To introduce new student instructors to the Artists’ Books Collection, Dr. Keogh had them work in groups to create concept maps.

Colorful art supplies are ideal for collaborative concept mapping

Colorful art supplies are ideal for collaborative concept mapping

Concept maps are remarkably simple to create. They are what they sound like: a map of ideas associated with a topic of choice. They often look like bubbles of words, colorfully scrawled in marker, connected by lines. Bubbles stem from other bubbles, inviting participants to freely associate ideas as they arise. Organization is loose and doodles are encouraged in order to promote creative and personal ways to connect to–and expand upon–ideas. In this particular workshop, the students worked in groups of two to four, handling and examining unique artists’ books. Blurring the boundaries between traditional books and sculpture, many of these works invited the instructors to imagine how their own students could connect to the library’s collections. After working in their individual groups, they were then invited to share their thoughts. Though it first seemed as if participants were spouting off stream-of-consciousness poetry, it soon became clear they were engrossed in the fundamental issues of classification in the field of librarianship. They discussed content, form, materials, context, and comparisons, among many other topics.

In facilitating this workshop, Dr. Keogh introduced a part of our special collections, invited patrons to interact with the materials in an informal manner, fostered communication among new peers (one participant half-jokingly pointed out that the experience created a “family” bonding moment), and gave them a great reason to come back (hopefully with their students). From these immersive workshops to the color-coordinated stacks, the Fine Arts Library has always been sensitive to the usefulness of visual cues. Especially considering the busy schedules of our patrons, the immediacy in communication offered through visual aids should be a continued priority for library reference and instruction services. Though a digital interactive map with a handy legend would be a fantastic addition to Wells in the future, librarians and instructors can utilize projects as simple as concept mapping to promote information literacy.

Click here for more information about concept maps.

Click here for more information about the Fine Arts Library’s Artists’ Books Collection.

-Andrew Wang

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The Old Man and the Reference Desk

When I graduate with my MLS degree in May (hopefully), I will be a 36-year-old man. I am married and have a daughter with two more on the way (yes, twins). I will be starting my career as an official librarian at a point in my personal life where most of my peers will not be until after they’ve been in the profession for a good long while. I find this creates a few interesting experiences as a budding librarian. Firstly, I am way behind on pop culture, especially when it comes to music. When I am asked by patrons if we have a certain artist or band I have never heard of, on more than one occasion, I have responded with, “and who is the author of that book” or “and what is the book title?” To which the response is often a look of shock and a typically polite “this is the author/band.” I have recently tried to stay more current by just checking out the billboard top 100 every now and then.

I also have noticed that coming into this profession later means the people in positions of authority over me are sometimes my juniors. However, given the not-so-distant recession and very slow economic recovery, I think this experience is much more common than most people realize, not just for librarians, but professions everywhere. Many people have had to suddenly shift or completely change careers because there are no longer enough employment opportunities in their original paths.

Working behind the reference desk and training to be a librarian, I often feel two steps behind everyone else in most instances, but then two steps ahead sometimes due to having more life experience, which can have an isolating effect. Despite this, I can honestly say I love my experience working at Wells so far, because of my peers and supervisors and because I enjoy helping students be successful academically.

Beyond my experience as an “elder” in my field, I could also be considered an outsider in what some people consider is a feminized profession. So far, I would say that I disagree with this, at least as far as academic libraries are concerned. I would argue the view of librarianship being a female profession is mostly associated with public and k-12 libraries, however, this is based solely on my experience to this point at one academic library, and not on any empirical evidence. A recent newspaper article shows that administrative positions in academic libraries are held mostly by women; however, this seems to be a more recent development, mostly within the last 20 years or so. My personal experience in the Wells library here at IU is there seems to be a healthy dose of both genders. In fact, the article also said many women in the profession still deal with issues such as not receiving equal pay. While the field may be mostly women, it seems it still favors men in some respects.

The last part of my experience working reference, being white, is a topic that needs more time and more thought to comment on, but is definitely very important.

Overall, I have not had many negative experiences working reference at Herman B Wells Library. My age and being a man in a supposedly “feminized” profession have not caused any kind of hardships that I see as needing to be addressed. This may be forthcoming or, hopefully, will not happen. I would almost say that librarianship has more women who are still often playing under rules made for and by men. This, I would say, needs to change, but some of my female colleagues are probably better able to address whether this is indeed accurate. Although, as an interesting final note, when I did a search on google images and simply typed in “librarian,” the result (and I always have my filters on) made me realize that we might have much further to go in this regard than I thought.

-David K. Kloster

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The Busy, Yet Critical, Librarian

I should preface this by establishing I’m an extremely busy person. Besides working roughly 17 hours/week on the reference desk, I’m also: a research consultant at Wells library; a center supervisor with IU’s Residential Programs and Services Libraries (supervising two different centers on campus); and an early-morning stocker at a retail location. Add all that to the normal duties and responsibilities of a master’s student and house-maker in training (I spend what little free time I have cleaning my apartment and cooking make-ahead meals for myself and my partner), and you’ve got yourself one over-worked, under-rested graduate student.

So I think it should be completely understandable when I say any emails I receive regarding events on campus, no matter if it’s the most fascinating and pertinent lecture DILS has ever offered, promptly end up in the digital waste-bin – to later be transported to that great trash-heap in the interwebs (or whatever sort of afterlife exists for those emails who truly believe).

But I digress. Suffice it to say, I know I don’t have time for these events; a quick consultation with my calendar invariably reveals at least one (if not several) conflicts with any given lecture, get-together, or concert. So it was with an email I received last week, informing me of a #critlib gathering put on by the Progressive Librarians Guild.

For those of you who (much like me circa three weeks ago) are unaware, #critlib is a movement among librarians seeking to discuss and address critical perspectives on librarianship, and to bring matters of social justice to the forefront in our field. Here is a link to #critlib’s website, which provides more information about the movement itself as well as topic schedules, recommended readings, etc. Twitter discussions, using the hashtag “#critlib,” currently occur every other Tuesday at 9 pm Eastern. Discussion topics range from library security (coming up September 22nd) to serving migrant populations.

While I was disappointed to miss the PLG-hosted #critlib gathering, especially as they utilized the Scholars’ Commons IQ Wall (pictured below), I was still able to participate (or at least follow along). And so can you, wherever you may be! Just log on to Twitter around 9 pm Eastern (6 pm Pacific / 7 pm Mountain / 8 pm Central), search for the #critlib thread using Twitter’s search bar, and watch (maybe even participate) as the discussion unfolds.

IQ-Wall in the Scholars' Commons

IQ-Wall in the Scholars’ Commons

I know what some of you are thinking: “That sounds great, but I don’t have time,” or “I love the idea, but I don’t think I have anything to contribute to that discussion.” Both as a graduate student who is extremely busy and as a middle-class white woman who has had little first-hand experience with discrimination, I can relate to those feelings.

But you’re wrong, and so am I. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, you’re not too busy to discuss these issues – even if it’s not via the official Twitter feed. While you’re sitting at the reference desk chatting with another librarian – chat about your experiences serving minority populations. When you’re at a dinner party and someone asks what you do for a living, talk about the ways in which you’re working from within the system to create change. As librarians, it is our duty and responsibility to serve each and every one of our patrons as fairly and equitably as possible. And that means acknowledging the ways in which our various systems make such service difficult.

It also means acknowledging we each have something to contribute to the discussion.

-Kaitlin Bonifant

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A Note from the Editor

Hello, all, and welcome back to the exciting world of reference services at Indiana University’s Wells Library. We’re all so glad to be back in the swing of things, assisting our patrons in locating and understanding the resources and services they require. In so many ways, this year looks a lot like the last: The same sweet old lady still occasionally calls, asking about tennis matches and soap operas; students continue to ask for directions to charging stations that don’t exist; and, yet again, we’ve spent roughly 50% of our first few weeks guiding new library users to classrooms, bathrooms, and dining halls.

Some things have changed, however. We hope you’ll find that, in only the very best of ways, this blog is one of those things. While we will still occasionally highlight the many services our library – and the libraries across IU’s campus – offer, we would like to refocus the overall purpose of this blog to become something much more representative of what it means to serve on the reference desk, here at IU as well as at libraries in general. So, while you might read one post about innovators within the fields of libraries and informatics, the very next week’s post might highlight some of the challenges we as reference librarians face on a day to day basis. Some of the themes we would ideally like to explore this year include, but most certainly are not limited to: librarianship as a form of labor (as a tie-in to IU’s 2015 Themester); ethical and moral dilemmas within librarianship; the changing nature of libraries; and, librarians and information specialists you should know, from the historical to the present day.

Our goal this year – and hopefully in the years to come – is to explore the exciting, complicated, messy world of reference librarianship. Most importantly, we hope that you as readers will learn and grow from reading this blog, as we surely will from writing it. And we hope you’ll enjoy yourselves along the way.

-Kaitlin Bonifant

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It may be summer, but we’re still here!

So it’s summer break so everything is closed, right? WRONG! We’re here to help even when you’re taking a break from heavy research. First thing’s first, how do you check library hours? All library operating hours can be found here.

Want to see hours for a library other that Wells? That’s easy too! Simply click on the red drop down menu and select the library you’re looking for. Capture

If you’re planning on having a relaxing summer vacation, Media & Reserves Services can help you out with movies and music. You can even stream videos online!

We know that a lot of students will be off enjoying their vacation, homework-free. If that’s not you and you’re going to need library resources, we’re here for you! Our reference department will be staffing the desk in the Scholar’s Commons during normal library hours. If you can’t come see us, we can still help you out via email, phone or chat.

Summer is also the perfect time to explore IU and Bloomington! Here’s a helpful calendar listing events happening around town. From the farmers’ market to special exhibits at the Mathers Museum, Bloomington is sure to provide something for everyone.

Whether you’re taking classes or taking a break, we hope you enjoy your summer!

-Sarah Trew

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Picture Books for Everyone!

The end of the year is almost upon us. After Little 500, we have “dead week,” finals week, and the great departure. For many, it will be a summer before we return; for seniors, these are the last few weeks in Bloomington. But as these weeks fly by, the work is not at all lessened. To the contrary, there are projects to be finished, papers to be written, and exams to be studied. The walls of Wells are packed to capacity nearly every night.

All of this work means that stress levels are high. This is understandable. One way to alleviate these stress levels is to get lost in a good book. Being able to turn off your mind and enjoy yourself for even a few hours is a great way to relieve some stress after hours of studying. At the same time, however, no one wants to get heavily involved in a story when there are other things that need to be done. This is also understandable. Therefore, a good stress reliever is a contained story deep enough to escape into, but not too deep that it is demanding. Perhaps the perfect solution is a graphic novel!

Graphic novels are far from “stories for kids.” Although there are many pictures, the stories can be incredibly exciting for all audiences, including mature adults. Some of the best graphic novels can be read in a single sitting and have the pace of an stimulating TV series. I’ve found myself wanting to read the next volume in a series much like I’m anticipating the next episode of a TV show. I’m currently midway through a series called Fables, and I can’t wait to get the next issue. Since most graphic novels are actually collections of several thirty-page comic books, there can be individual stories as well as arcs spreading over the collection. And you don’t have to look very far in Bloomington to find some!

We have graphic novels in both the Research and Core Collections of Wells Library. As with traditional books, some of the more emotional stories can be found in non-fiction graphic novels. Maus and Persepolis are both impactful memoirs tell biographical stories of important times in history. These are both examples of emotional, but beautiful tales.

As you know, many comics go on to become movies. One of the most famous fictional non-superhero graphic novels is Watchmen, the subject of the 2009 film of the same name. It has been lauded as one of the greatest collections in comic book history. If you are looking for a series, try The Sandman. Authored by Neil Gaiman (American Gods, Coraline), this multi-volume series is a narrative about Morpheus, the god of dreams. It is truly engaging and, personally, I think it would make a great film.

If you are a superhero fan, the library has examples from both DC AND Marvel. Whichever side of the fence you fall on, you can find some classic stories of your favorite superheroes. I recommend Batman: Year One or Marvels as two good entry points into superhero comics. Read into essential lists to dig into more of the characters you enjoy, and check out the Eisner Awards for some of the best in comics.

If you have just an hour or two to kill, consider picking up a graphic novel. They are quick, interesting, and most of all, fun. Wells is not the only place on campus to find them, though; the residence halls at Eigenmann, Collins, Teter, Willkie, Campus View, and Foster all have some on hand. Pick a couple up today, and you’ll find that they’re not just for children. And my guess is that you will find that they are quite addicting!

–Joseph Wooley

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Discovering Indiana’s “Drowned Towns”

At one point in time, the Salt Creek Valley, located in Monroe County, was a rich bottomland that was home to hundreds of farming families. This folk community was close-knit and self-reliant, and its residents prided themselves on hard work, family values, and cultural heritage. In the early 1960s the Louisville branch of the Army Corps of Engineers began work on the Monroe County Reservoir, which effectively forced farmers off land that had been in their families for generations. When the reservoir was built more than 300 homes—along with 3 schools, 10 churches, 8 cemeteries and the last 3 covered bridges in the county—were either relocated or washed away, only to become “drowned towns.” These displaced families were left to struggle with how to regain a level of normalcy and comfort after the tragic loss of their homes and livelihoods.

A home in Elkinsville, Indiana after the start of the reservoir construction.

A home in Elkinsville, Indiana after the start of the reservoir construction.

In 1986 Alice Morrison (formerly Mordoh), a doctoral student at the Indiana University Folklore Institute, published her dissertation entitled “Portrait of a Lost Community: A Folklife Study of the Salt Creek Valley of South Central Indiana and the Effects of Community Displacement Following Formation of the Monroe Reservoir.” While long, the title is a wonderful summation of the research Morrison conducted over the span of two years. The dissertation is currently accessible through ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.

For her dissertation, Morrison collected the oral histories of past residents of Salt Creek while also exploring other fields such as local history, cultural geography, political influence, and the industrialization of agriculture. Through this endeavor Morrison was able to create a narrative that reflects the complex physical, social, and emotional components of a “drowned town.” Several years ago Morrison deeded the contents of her research to the Monroe County History Center. The materials include a copy of Morrison’s 400-page dissertation, 8 audiocassettes, aerial and topographic maps, black and white photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, personalized files, and perhaps the most helpful element: handwritten transcriptions of every recorded interview.

Supplemental materials including a title page from a family history, a handwritten card, and a newspaper article.

Supplemental materials including a title page from a family history,
a handwritten card, and a newspaper article.

While the History Center is currently in the process of digitizing all the materials to place in an interactive online exhibit, why not take a peek at what resources the libraries have to offer relating to oral histories, “drowned towns,” and folklore?


Down in New Orleans: Reflections from a Drowned City
Location: Wells Library – Research Coll. – Stacks
Call Number: HV636 2005 .L8 S68 2007

Elkinsville, Indiana: The Town That Was
Location: Lilly Library – Stacks
Call Number: F532.B76 E435

Oral History: From Tape to Type
Location: Wells Library – Research Coll. – Stacks
Call Number: D16.14 .D38

Overlook: Exploring the Internal Fringes of America with the Center for Land Use Interpretation
Location: Blmgtn – Fine Arts Library
Call Number: E161.3 .O84 2006


Elkinsville: Washed Away by Progress
Location: Blmgtn – Auxiliary Library Facility
Call Number: F534.E458 E457 2003

[Note: This documentary can also be viewed online at:]

The Call of Story: An American Renaissance
Location: Wells Library – Media Services – DVDs
Call Number: LB1042 .C27 2005

-Delainey Bowers

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