Sunday, October 26, 2014

Reflections on Communications

Here is a simple truth: this reflection piece has been very difficult to write. Communications is, in a word, huge and complicated. Our lives are spent in an effort to convey messages to the world around us, messages we intend to send. What we say, do and wear, the way we carry ourselves, the way in which we step out our doors or wear our clothes, the expressions on our faces, all send messages. And, when we've sent those messages, they are interpreted by receivers with their own histories, their own agendas, their own notions and understandings about us. Because of all of these facts, as I attempt to write this I am continually bogged down by the whole thing that is the study of communications. This is definitely a situation in which it is hard to see the forest for the trees.

Popoff (2006) alludes to this same challenge in her piece “The Communication Journal Collection.” She points out that communications scholars do not always agree on the definition of communications, and that some believe that sub-disciplines such as interpersonal, mass, organizational, intercultural, and political communications differ too greatly to be studied jointly as a single discipline (p. 69). She says that “in the absence of a clear definition of communication, librarians must instead be aware of the issues and current controversies involved in defining the discipline” (p. 68).

The role of the librarian, typically, is do identify sources of use to students. It is for the students to interpret the materials and draw their own conclusions. Yet, in the quote above (and, in fact, throughout her journal article) Popoff points out that simply identifying sources is easier said than done, due to communications being a young and still relatively-undefined field. The fact is, students of communications must understand a variety of factors – culture, economics, history, sociology, and so on - to also understand how communications work.

This has been a recurrent theme throughout my reflection pieces: each discipline is dependent, to different extents, upon the others. In the case of communications, we must, in order to convey our message in the way we intend, recognize the person to whom we are presenting that message and factors that may affect the way he or she interprets our message. The more controversial or challenging the message, the more we must know about the individual and his or her background, experiences, and so on.

Information literacy sessions can certainly help in this regard. Natalle and Crowe (2013) report a marked improvement in scores when measuring learning outcomes for information literacy. Simply put, educating students on how to find and use sources leads to increased success in school. Yet students should not limit themselves to communication journals when studying how communication works. For example, a keyword search in Communication Abstracts for “clothing” returned results that can be better understood when supported by resources on economics, history, culture, and sociology...and that is based solely on the first thirty results, with 438 results remaining. With communications being such a young discipline, it would be foolhardy to not seek sources outside the discipline.

Furthermore, I would argue that mining personal experience is a worthwhile endeavor; though it likely cannot be used as a citation, it can certainly further understanding of the discipline. This fact is clear to me every time I speak with my daughter, my boyfriend, his son, my manager, my professors, my mother...the list goes on and on. I relate to each one differently based on our relationship, our personal history, his or her needs, his or her background and temperament...and this list goes on and on, as well. Students should be encouraged to utilize personal experience as a foundation for their studies, and librarians need not shy away from suggesting personal experience as a valuable resource.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Sources for Researchers: Office of War Information Materials

The United States Office of War Information (OWI) was created during World War II for the specific purpose of relaying news and distributing propaganda to the public, both foreign and domestic.  While the National Archives’ online finding aid for OWI materials states its function was to “promote, in the United States and abroad, understanding of the status and progress of the war effort and of war policies, activities, and aims of the U.S. government,” there can be no question: a large portion of the materials distributed by the OWI was propaganda.  These materials included print materials such as posters and magazines, as well as films, radio shows, newsreels, and the Voice of America, which still operates as the official government broadcasting service of the United States.

Many of these materials still exist, both in analog and digital formats.  It is likely that posters produced by the OWI are the most familiar as they contain images that have become cultural icons: Rosie the Riveter, Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms, and others that implore citizens to grow victory gardens, conserve energy, reuse materials, and practice discretion.   The National Archives’ online exhibit, Powers of Persuasion, features eleven such posters, and many more can be found online.  While not productions of the OWI, the audio and video files included in the collection – a song, a speech by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and a Bugs Bunny cartoon – are also of interest and display the use of propaganda to arouse patriotism and support for the war effort.

"Your victory garden counts more than ever!" image courtesy State Library of Ohio
Less familiar to us here in the United States are the propaganda materials which the OWI distributed in foreign countries.  One such title is Victory magazine, which was produced from 1942 to 1946.   No online search has retrieved much information about this publication, but according to the State Library of Ohio’s former Government Information Consultant, Audrey Hall Kise, this publication was designed to paint the United States in a positive light and was distributed solely in other countries.  Articles in Victory magazine discuss the progress made by the United States in the war, as well as featuring stories on the Smithsonian, the state of California, and progress in the fight against tuberculosis.  A label on every cover specifically stated that they were not for distribution in the United States.  
"Restricted: This publication is not for distribution in the United States or to American civilian or military personnel overseas."
Each issue was printed in multiple languages.  The examples below feature identical images of California's Mission Santa Barbara but is printed in three languages: Portuguese, French and Dutch, and are scanned from physical copies from the State Library of Ohio’s collection.
Mission Santa Barbara in Portuguese...

...and in French...

...and in Dutch.

It goes without saying that students of communications will find much of interest in this collection of materials.  As a communication style, the use of propaganda is layered: words and images are carefully chosen in order to influence a targeted audience toward a specific cause.  Furthermore, many of these images - particularly Rosie the Riveter - have evolved to mean more than they did initially.  In fact, Rosie the Riveter, even without her caption of "we can do it!" has become a symbol of women's power in a variety of forums (see examples, below)  Thus, she remains propaganda but with a new message. 
The original Rosie the Riveter, from the National Archives


Rosie supporting the fight against breast cancer (image from Flickr)

A sticker for Hillary Clinton's 2016 Presidential campaign (image from

 Again, many of these materials are available online and, thus, are easily accessible.  For those that are not available via the internet, however - specifically, Victory magazine - a visit to an institution with holdings of this title is worthwhile.  Fortunately, for those of us whom are unable to speak a foreign language, issues were distributed in English-speaking countries, as well.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Reflections on Sociology

Throughout our course, it has become increasingly clear that topics falling under the social studies umbrella are largely interdisciplinary. For example, to truly understand sociology, one must understand economics, history, politics, and a host of other disciplines. Each is connected to the other in ways that make them challenging to study on their own.  Sociology itself is the study of interconnectedness. It is the study of how people and groups interact. It is reflective of our culture, our time, our history, our current events, our economy, where we live, how we think...all of these. Any silos that are studied in sociology are examined in relation to the whole.

In her post "Sociology, Sidewalks and Walking" on the Everyday Sociology blog, Teresa Irene Gonzales discusses the affect that environment has on the speed at which people walk.  She cites sociologist Georg Simmel and activist/journalist Jane Jacobs when she points out that in high-energy urban environments - she specifically mentions Chicago - she, and others around her, tend to move quickly; people cannot help but feed on the excitement with so much to see, do, and experience, and so they move rapidly from place to place.  Conversely, in smaller towns with a slower pace, people tend to "meander," as Gonzales puts it.  The energy of the world around us affects us, and we then affect that energy.  We are all part of the same whole.

This leads to an interesting question: is what we believe to be true actually true?  Do we move quickly because we feel energetic, or because people around us feel energetic and we feel that we should, too, even when we want to meander?  Do we go with the flow because it's easier and expected?  It's a chicken-and-egg question, really: how do we influence our environment, and how does our environment influence us?

Take, for example, economic indicators.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases data regularly, including employment statistics, information on the consumer price index, data relating to payroll, and so on.  These numbers, by the way, have recovered tremendously since the Great Recession began in 2008, but they lead me to question the way in which statistics influence behaviors.  Do we stop purchasing because we feel that we should, or do economic indicators imply that we should?  The mortgage industry collapse was severe, but was its severity compounded by the panic that followed?  And would the panic have followed if the panic wasn't instigated by statistics?  It's a convoluted way of thinking, sure, but it boils down to this: our environment caused us to behave in a certain way, which then affected our environment, which affected us, snowballing into the Great Recession.

Sociology acknowledges this.  It doesn't provide definitive answers - first A, then B - but uses general rules to explain behaviors: if A, then B, if C is in place.  Again, it is the study of interconnectedness: of people, of cultures, of disciplines.

Caravello, (2007) point this out in their piece Information Literacy: The Partnership of Sociology Faculty and Social Science Librarians, saying that information literacy recognizes “the relationship of sociological topics to other fields and how this affects information seeking and evaluation.” Students of sociology must be open to other disciplines in ways many other students need not be.  Access to a broad variety of sources is crucial for the study of sociology.

To aid librarians in this endeavor, the Anthropology and Sociology Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) has created the Assessment Tool for Sociology Collections and Services in Academic Libraries (2010).  It recommends that librarians in charge of collection development for sociology departments "review the journals and monographs held on-site or licensed" and also recommends that they "determin[e] the research, instruction and curricular needs of the sociology program" (p. 2).  It then divides institutions into levels based upon the structure of their sociology programs and then asks questions based on those levels.  Answering the questions guides each institution to develop the best possibly collection to suit their needs and available resources.  It does not make recommendations, but instead leaves the librarian to decide for him/herself exactly what fits the given needs.

An excellent sociology librarian, then, is one that recognizes the field's interdisciplinary nature.  He or she knows that relevant data can be found in a variety of sources.  And he or she recognizes that, for every source, for every idea, there is an additional question to be answered, an additional source to be found...and that sometimes, the answers can be found while walking on the sidewalk.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sources for Researchers: Ohio Civil Rights Commission

In 1959, Ohio Governor Michael V. DiSalle signed the Ohio Civil Rights Act into law, which led to thef formation of Ohio's Fair Employment Practices Commission in 1960. A year later, in 1961, this agency's name was changed to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, a name which it retains today.

According to its About page, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission responsibilities are to

receive, investigate, render formal determinations and conciliate charges of unlawful discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, credit and disability in institutions of higher education. It is the Commission's responsibility to educate constituents and stakeholders about Ohio's Laws Against Discrimination.

As a resource for students of sociology, the Commission's reports are wonderful sources of information. For example, the 2009-2010 report includes statistical information on complaints filed and on results of those cases, education and outreach highlights grouped by month, a page which outlines and explains the Ohio Civil Rights Act, and pictorial content, including essay contest winners. The 1961 report, the Commission's second, features similar content but also includes summaries of select cases. These include reports of employment discrimination against people of color in both a department store and a diner. After an investigation by the Commission, both employers hired their first people of color as salesperson and waitress.

At this point I should mention that the publications all use common language of the day. Therefore, African-Americans are referred to as “Negroes” in the case summaries above and throughout early reports.  This is, of course, not meant as a pejorative. Early reports do not include pictures, and so it is difficult to determine whether the Commission included any people of color, or at what point this changed. The composition of the Commission throughout the years is also an interesting area of exploration for sociologists, as is the changes in language used throughout its publications.

The Commission's annual reports and other publications are largely electronic, as is the trend with all Ohio state government agencies. However, the State Library of Ohio holds print copies of reports from 1960 to 1990 in its collection, along with numerous other Commission publications. The Commission has also made digital copies of its annual reports, both born-digital and digitized, available on its website.

As a side note, state government documents are rich resources of valuable content on a variety of subjects. The activities of our state agencies are incredibly varied, and their reports and publications should not be overlooked. Many libraries throughout Ohio hold state government publications in our collections, and librarians are more than happy to provide access to these documents or to help find relevant content within their pages. My library, the State Library of Ohio, is no different. I hope that readers of my blogs will consider these documents for future assignments!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sources for Researchers: The World Described

Maps tell us a great deal more than just facts about geography.  They give us insights into culture, politics, and anthropology.  When the map is old, we learn about history, as well. 
In the rare book room at the State Library of Ohio there is an atlas - a collection of maps - published in 1736 called The world described, or, A new and correct sett of maps [cartographic material] : shewing the kingdoms and states in all the known parts of the earth, with the principal cities, and most considerable towns in the world Herman Moll, geographer .  It contains thirty-one hand-colored maps which are "correct" for the date of publication, including continental maps as well as maps of nations and their 18th century boundaries.

The atlas includes illustrations of local wildlife, like that of the industrious beavers of Canada, below.  The text says that the beavers are "making Dams to stop [the] course of a Rivulet in order to form a great Lake, about which they build their Habitations."   It goes on to describe the means by which beavers - some of which look remarkably like lions in the illustration below - build their dams "with great order and wonderfull [sic] Dexterity." 


As suggested above, many of the maps in the atlas are not entirely correct.  Take, for example, the map of North America (below).  Colonies of England, territories of Spain and France, are represented as accurately as cartologist Herman Moll could make them, of course, but because the regions had not been explored or mapped by Europeans, they are represented based on Moll's best guesses.

One of my duties at the State Library of Ohio is to give tours of our rare book room, something I have done for groups of all ages.  Adult visitors are charmed by the atlas and enjoy the hand-tinting of borders and the illustrations of points of cultural interest.  On the occasion that my visitors are children, however, the lesson is quite different.  I typically bring the atlas to a table and invite the children to find Ohio on the North America map.  Of course, they are unable to do so, although they are often able to approximate its location based on other landmarks.  At this point, I ask them about whether the map is "wrong."  Of course it is!  But, based on what Europeans knew at the time, it was correct in 1732.  I guide them to the realization that there is little that we know to be completely correct; that every "fact" we know can be found to be incorrect with additional pieces of information.
Sadly, the State Library's copy of the atlas is in what can only be described as rough shape. The spine has completely come apart, most of the maps have detached from what remains of the binding, and the paper has broken at fold points. Fortunately, the New York Public Library has digitized the atlas and made it available online. It is entirely worth viewing as a work of art...or you can also just try to find Ohio.


Reflections on Geography

In "No Geography Department?  No Problem" The Map Collection at Cornell University Library and the Humanities," the author, Boris Michev, describes a conversation he had with the parent of an incoming student.  "So, you have more than 350,000 maps, atlases, journals, and books, and no Geography Department?!  Who then uses the collection?"  Michev answered that "people are 'doing geography' all over the Cornell University campus - researching historical and present boundaries, examining linguistic groupings, imagining how a particular place looked 100 years ago..." and so on.

Geography, according to our module, "is...about the world we live in."  The subject is vast plays a role in many of the social science disciplines we've studied thus far.  Geography is animals and habitats, it is weather conditions and natural phenomena, it is boundaries, it is politics, history, anthropology.  It is past and present and future.

The variety of sources we reviewed this week attests to this fact.  We visited the National Geographic website, where topics include animals (including a sweet video of a pet deer named Dillie who has her own bedroom and eats Tootsie Pops), cave art, Ebola, solar flares, and Swaziland’s “playboy king.  According to the website, National Geographic is interested in “geography, archaeology and natural science, and the promotion of environmental and historical conservation.”  This is content that can be studied by students and interested parties of all ages, for both learning and entertainment.  Geography is accessible and accommodating, the website demonstrates.  Geography is for everyone.

CityLab, which we also reviewed this week, covers topics that are similarly diverse, though it does not include content on animals.  The front page even features a story about the same cave art discussed on the National Geographic website.  The style of writing here – which is occasionally snarky and often conversational – indicates that the intended audience is narrower than that of National Geographic.  Writing style speaks to access, and here the site hopes to make information accessible to those who might roll their eyes at National Geographic or other similar sites, all while sharing the same materials.

Online searches for “geography” tend to yield results that are narrow in focus, primarily involving maps and other cartographic materials.  For example, in a Google search for “geography librarian,” the first result led to the Geography and Map Reading Room at the Library of Congress, where the bulk of the collection is maps, globes, and the like.  Prior to this module this is what I thought of when I considered the subject of geography.  But, Michev clearly indicates, even if geography is “just” maps, there is much to be gained from studying them beyond learning about land boundaries. 

In the above-cited article, Michev discusses the ways in which geographic materials have been integrated into other studies on the Cornell campus.  He beings by describing for the reader a project to map The Grapes of Wrath when the incoming freshman class of 2009 read it as a group.  He says that the novel can be read “from multiple perspectives – as literature, as a sociological or political study, or as an economic report on the poverty of the 1930s” (p. 70).  In illustrations, he shares the many ways in which the experiences of the Joad family were illustrated: overlaying a map of wind erosion that resulted from the Dust Bowl, or mapping the family’s itinerary along Route 66, all while emphasizing the extent of the Dust Bowl, the “migrants’ destinations, and the efforts of the federal administration to accommodate them” (p. 72).

While not related to geography, the article “Creating an online tutorial to support information literacy and academic skills development”(Thornes, 2012) addresses utilizing technology to provide access to learning tools, in this case using the web to “provide a resource students could use to improve and develop their information literacy and academic skills” (p. 82).  As with the activities above, it calls to mind the now-inexorable link between technology and access to information, as well as being reflective of the creativity needed to facilitate that access.  The activities at Cornell and those of the School of Geography at the University of Leeds, Thornes' institution, have more in common than that they originate from geology departments.  They both focus on reaching out to information users in ways that are meaningful, meeting users on their terms, and providing materials of interest in ways that resonate.  Regardless of our institution, our mission, or the materials we hold, this is what we as librarians strive for.  This is what we have in common.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Reflections on Psychology

As a field of research, psychology is extremely diverse. Unlike the other social science subjects we've studied thus far, psychology involves medical conditions and, as such, sources include medical terminology that may be difficult for researchers at some levels to understand. Finally, psychology is an evolving field; conditions, and the symptoms they encompass, change as we learn more about the human brain, its functions, and its responses to the environment. Librarians must understand this and be prepared with suitable sources.

Embedding librarians as described by Bennet and Simning (2010) is one response to the difficulty that students at all levels may have with psychology assignments and courses. The librarian, likely a subject specialist, may be present in the classroom, or may be involved in preparation of coursework, or may monitor online discussions. This is a useful tactic for any course. Yet, as an undergraduate student in a social science major (history), I frequently found that history was fairly straightforward; there was no governing body revising history periodically or renaming events, as is the case with psychology. An embedded librarian can help with this.

Smith and O'Hagan (2014) discuss an online library instruction course offered through University of Alabama at Birmingham's Lister Hill Library (LHL) of the Health Sciences. This course guides participants, who run the gamut from student to medical professional, through the use of the library and its services. This is not unusual – library instruction is often offered online – but LHL designed the course to be synchronous, with users actively participating in the class. This is an interesting means of conducting library instruction, and could be particularly useful for students entering into the psychology field and unsure of how to find materials. After all, for many students, college is their first exposure to psychology. They have learned how to study history, anthropology (often through their history coursework), geology, and so on. Psychology is often brand new.

Perez (2005) points out that the field of psychology is vast and, as such, lists recommended sources for research. One such source, Encyclopedia of Psychology, includes a page entitled Pseudoscience and Quackery. As I reviewed the topics listed – such as astrology and phrenology – I was struck by their being called “quackery,” not necessarily because I believe them to be scientific or accurate tools for understanding human behavior, but because they have been accepted as plausible...and, in the case of astrology, continue to be so in certain populations. Consider what was stated above regarding the nature of psychology: it is dynamic, conditions are named and renamed, symptoms revised, and so on. For example, what we previously called attention deficit disorder (ADD) was renamed in 1994 and is now called attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This is a small difference, to be sure, but is representative of the field. Will it change again? Possibly, as could other diagnoses. They may never be thought of as quackery, or perhaps the whole field will be considered so.

Perhaps knowing that research in psychology is challenging, the American Psychological Association provides guidelines on its website, including tools and tutorials for searching its databases . These are useful, certainly, but also serve as a reminder that, plainly-put, one may need an understanding of the field before additional research will be successful. For this reason, the magazine Psychology Today and its accompanying website (both of which I evaluated as sources for researchers) are excellent starter sources. Designed to be accessible to all, Psychology Today uses terminology a layperson can understand. For more advanced students it is likely not suitable, but it would seem that, like sites such as Wikipedia, it is good as a starter source, one at which one might check his or her understanding of a topic before diving into more challenging sources.

More than most other subjects in the social sciences, psychology requires a great deal from its librarian subject specialists. They must be prepared to help beginners and experts alike, and must stay abreast of not only new sources of information but, frequently, to changes in the field. Sources such as the ones listed above will help tremendously as they strive to serve their population.

Bennett, E. and Simning, J.  2010.  Embedded librarians and reference traffic: a quantitative analysis.  Journal of Library Administration.  DOI: 10.1080/01930826.2010.491437.

Perez, A.  2005.  Psyched about psychology internet resources.  DOI: 10.1300/J111v43n03_14

Smith, S. and O'Hagan, Emma.  2014.  Taking library instruction into the online environment: one health sciences library's experience.  Journal of the Medical Library Association. DOI: