Library Services, Spring 2013: Connecting with our Past

| May 24, 2013

The celebration of Teachers College’s 125th seems a good occasion to think about the history of services at the TC library, and to ponder how our predecessor librarians thought about their own work, whether they documented it in ways similar to how we do (and whether such records are to be found), and, perhaps most interesting, what they would make of research and information service as it’s delivered now.

Answers to the first two questions, if they exist, may lie in the libraries archives and manuscripts, and if so will eventually become accessible in digital format.  A quick survey of our digital archive PocketKnowledge retrieves some interesting documents, including the agenda for the annual library staff meeting on September 24, 1962, in which activities planned for the 75th anniversary celebration were to be discussed.  It would be really interesting to compare what librarians had in mind 50 years ago to our own efforts to commemorate a significant milestone in College history, but at this point I’ve not found any description of the actual activities (though I have a strong suspicion that such a description does exist).

What I would ultimately love to track down is a description of research and information services as they were conceived and delivered by TC librarians in the past.  While it’s easy enough, based on the nature of information resources available prior to the electronic era and on our own experience (my own, anyway) promoting and assisting in the use of these largely print resources, to grasp the basic dynamics of research and research support, it’s less easy (but ultimately more intriguing) to imagine revisiting the texture, color, and ethos of service transactions in the library of the past.

I think it would be illuminating to find examples of queries that students, faculty, and researchers brought to past reference librarians at Teachers College.  Though it’s possible to capture some sense of this in reviewing the subjects of theses and dissertations from earlier eras, reconstructing the practices and protocols for information delivery is a bit less straightforward.  Possibly the closest approximation available to us, and maybe the best, are images from the library’s wonderful Historical Photographs collection (accessible in PocketKnowledge), and as I’ve done in the past, I’ve provided a few scenes of Russell Hall service interactions to illustrate this report.  (The image presented here is one I used in my report for Spring 2012, but I thought it would be a good thing to include the full caption identifying the library location and the librarians.)

Russell Hall. Library. Curriculum Reading Room (Floor 5). Listening Table, Cabinet Of Records And Loan Desk. Miss Tangora Behind Desk. Mrs Epstein At Catalog Right. MIss Phelps At File Of Discs. (May 1940)

I’d also love to know how predecessor TC librarians would react to examples of queries and concerns we field on a regular basis at the Services Desk, in research consultations, by phone, by email, and sometimes in the halls and on the street.  (I’ve heard many librarians say that people tend to single them out for directions and assistance outside of library settings, and I suspect this was true for TC staff members of the past.)  It’s hard to imagine what they would make of what we routinely deal with, probably just as hard as for us to conceive of service scenarios to come.  Here is an representative sampling of questions, problems, and research topics we’ve dealt with during the Spring semester:

Access Issues

  • Trouble accessing Taylor & Francis e-journals (and discovery of back-door workarounds via Google article title searching)
  • Confusion about Columbia University Libraries holdings, locations, retrieval options
  • Queries about collections once here that have gone elsewhere (Children’s Village archives, Board of Education archives)
  • Suspended access to e-resources due to non-registration for classes for the semester
  • Blackboard problems of various stripes
  • Setting up notifications (alerts) when articles containing certain keywords appear in peer reviewed journals

Research Topics

Russell Hall. School Library Laboratory (Fifth Floor). Miss Gilbert Advising Gentleman At Shelves. Teachers College. (May, 1940)

  • Writings on student-produced films; digital storytelling
  • Feasibility of Malaysia borrowing Singapore’s Teacher Professional Development policies/practices
  • Conflict between research and teaching in higher education in China
  • Effects of stress (from poverty and violence) in the classroom; pedagogical approaches that are successful in helping students who experience high-stress levels achieve both academic success and healthy socio-emotional development
  • Comparison of North Korean refugee students with South Korean stgudents
  • Nomadic tribal resistance to formal education as forced modernization:  indigenous resistance efforts in general; case of Siberian reindeer herders if possible
  • Effect of child migration on education in Bangladesh
  • Curricular implications of energy-related “accidents” such as Chernobyl and Fukushima
  • Globalization, English language instruction, and second (?) language preservation in the United State
  • History of the impact of progressive education on mathematics teacher preparation at Teachers College and the University of Chicago
  • Test score reports from Israeli schools
  • Cognition, metacognition, and art education
  • Haitian intellectuals and nationalism or nation-building

And now for some statistics on Library Services activities and accomplishments:

  • During Spring 2013, Services librarians fielded approximately 950 in-person and telephone reference queries, with significant additional interactions of all kinds by front-line Services Desk staff members.
  • Library Services staff members received and responded to 725 queries of various kinds (as sampled above) submitted via the library’s email Support Request service.

    Russell Hall. Library. Foyer (Second Floor). Student Conferring With Miss Carrie Meares, Library Consultant. Mr. Kronenberger (Center) At Catalog. Teachers College. (May, 1940)

  • Research and information services librarians provided 61 research consultations to individuals or small groups during the Spring.
  • Library Services presented nine course-specific library information sessions, either in the classroom or in library spaces, for a total of 119 students.  The courses were the following:
    • Women and Education in the Middle East
    • Doctoral/Dissertation Seminars:  Music and Music Education
    • Research Perspectives on Critical Social Problems
    • Core Seminar:  Communications, Computing, and Technology in Education
    • Meta-Analysis
    • Research Seminar:  Mathematics Education
    • Field Observations in Art Education
    • Nursing Research Development
  • At the beginning of the semester, five library tours were offered, with a total attendance of 44 students.

To return to the question of the legacy of library service at TC:  I think it would be a worthy research project, especially during the 125th anniversary celebration, to determine what our archives (or others) may hold in the way of newsletters, memorabilia, memoirs/oral history transcripts, and even audio and video records pertaining to research and information assistance as it’s been provided here over time.  It’s my hope that such records exist and can be retrieved.  It seems to me that there’s a lot to be gained from an understanding of traditions of service provision at Teachers College, and that the story of library services constitutes an important element in the overall chronicle of the institution and its accomplishments.