Happy Birthday Rosa Parks!!

February is Black History Month, and while we all take time to recognize and reflect upon our nation’s history, present, and future, we can also make Black History Month come alive thanks to the Library of Congress.  Today (February 4) would have been Rosa Parks’ 102nd birthday, and surely not by coincidence, an exhibit of her letters and photographs opens at the Library of Congress.

Selections from the 10,000 item collection will be available for public viewing on the first floor of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building from March 2 – 30, and then will be included in the current exhibition The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle For Freedom, which is open through September 12, 2015 on the second floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building.  Both exhibits are open Monday – Saturday from 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM.

Pictures of some of the items are available here from The Guardian (full article here) and just from these few pictures, the breadth of the collection is astonishing: there are images of poll tax receipts, a Presidential Medal of Honor, a pancake recipe, and even a letter complaining about not being allowed in the library.  Rosa Parks’ act of refusing to give up her seat on the bus is well-known throughout our country – it is rightfully regarded as a seminal moment in not only the civil rights movement, but the whole of U.S. history.  To be able to see her thoughts and words in her own handwriting provides a stark perspective of what led her to strike one of the first blows against Jim Crow.  Looking at and reading these documents allows us to appreciate the immense significance and courage of her actions – not just on that day in December 1955, but in the ensuing decades until her passing in 2005.

If you can’t make it up to D.C. to view the exhibit, fear not – the Library of Congress will be posting some of the collection online later this year.  And you can always check out some of the SMCM Library’s materials about Rosa Parks and the larger U.S. civil rights movement.


A Tangled Web Indeed

Perhaps some of you have been following, or at least heard, the recent news out of Northern Ireland, where Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was recently questioned over the 1972 still-unsolved kidnapping and murder of Jean McConville during the  Troubles – a 30+ year period of conflict in Northern Ireland which lasted from the 1960’s through most of the 1990’s (you can read more about it here).  The current situation involving Gerry Adams is described in this New York Times article, and it is a story that should be of interest to many people, including historians, archivists, political scientists, lawyers, and of course, librarians.

This situation raises intriguing questions about academic freedom.  The tapes were made under a promise of confidentiality – “absolute secrecy” as the NYT put it – but that obviously hasn’t been how things panned out.  The reason why, though, is complex and likely unanswerable.  Did the researchers at Boston College make promises they couldn’t keep?  Or did their lawyers botch it by not properly vetting the agreements between the interviewees and researchers?  Did Boston College betray the trust and agreements; did they not put up enough of a fight against the subpoena?  Or did one of the researchers err by publishing a book based on some of the interviews when so many people involved are still alive?  A case could be made for all of these viewpoints.

As I said, the potential implications for academic freedom are complex and this case has been followed for several years by many in higher education.  Now, three years later, a precedent has been set that academic freedom is not all-encompassing.  It remains to be seen how much of a chilling effect this has on future research endeavors, but you can be sure it will have some thinking twice about participating in projects like this.

Popular vs Scholarly articles

I stumbled across a news article this week that was really fascinating (to me), so I thought I’d share it on the blog…and, I’ll mix in a little bit of information literacy as well.  The article is about an experiment performed to see if professional musicians could tell the difference between modern-day violins (costing about $30,000) and Stradivarius violins (costing about $6 million).

Here’s the news article – I’ve linked to the Guardian’s version of the article, but as you can see it’s an AP article which is available on lots of other news sites as well.  The original research article was published on April 7, 2014 in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

These sorts of news articles – ones that are based off a recently-published research article – come out all the time, and provide great examples of the differences between a popular article and a scholarly article.  The version from the Guardian is easy to read, has pictures, and highlights the main points well.  It also has lots of advertisements and links to other catchy headlines on their website.  It has no citations.  It’s fairly short, too – it won’t take more than a couple of minutes to read the entire article.  Now consider it against the actual research article from PNAS.  As you can see, it’s quite different.  There’s no pictures or advertisements, there’s a list of citations at the end, it’s much longer and not as easy to read, because it contains MUCH more detail.

The reasons for these differences are simple – these two articles are meant for vastly different audiences.  The newspaper article is written by a journalist for a general audience.  That same journalist might be writing about the Ukraine tomorrow; on Thursday they’ll be covering the Malaysian Airlines accident.  They’re not an expert on violins or designing valid research experiments, but they are an expert in producing well-written pieces that tell a story and provide a measure of objectivity.  These types of articles are a great way to relax on a bench outside the Campus Center as you wind down your lunch hour, but they might not be such a good idea to cite in a term paper – and again, that’s really not what they’re designed for.

The librarians here at the SMCM Library will be glad to help locate, differentiate, and cite any type of information sources you may have, or need.  So feel free to stop by the reference desk or make an appointment.  Happy librarying!


A reminder of our (no) fines policy

Hello from the front desk!  Despite the snow days, the semester is now in full swing and the books, DVD’s, Kindles, extension cords, laptop chargers, and more are quickly moving back and forth across the front desk – from us to you and back again.  So I wanted to take a moment to remind everyone of our fine policy.

Our fine policy is simple: with a few exceptions, there are no overdue fines.  And these aren’t wide-ranging exceptions that basically include everything – nothing like “no fines except on days that end in ‘y'”.  When we say “no fines”, we mean it!

Having said that, the exceptions are as follows:

  • items from the media center: if it comes from the third floor of the library where Ken, Linda, Raven, and Andy work, it’s subject to overdue fines.
  • course reserves: if it’s on course reserve at the front desk (three hour, overnight, or three day loan) – it’s subject to overdue fines.  This doesn’t apply to e-reserves, only to physical items you check out at the front desk.
  • recalled items: it doesn’t happen too often, but every once in a while you’ll get a “recall notice” email.  That’s letting you know that someone else wants to use the item.  Read that email closely because it gives you a new due date.  If you turn it in late, you’ll get fined.
  • USMAI/ILLiad items: if you borrow something from another library, either through USMAI or ILLiad, you’ll get fined if it’s late.  The amount varies depending on the library that owns the item.

So if none of the above applies, then you won’t be fined for returning it late.  Now, if you NEVER return it, you will eventually get billed for it.  But if it’s a day or a week late – nothing.

The reason for this policy is simple.  We want you to borrow all the items you need, for research, fun, etc, without worrying about anything except whether you want or need it.  And not to sound “braggy” but we’ve got a lot of stuff!  Almost 200,000 books, mostly academic but many popular titles as well, (and several thousand more ebooks), nearly 3,000 DVD’s, six Kindles pre-loaded with about 40 bestsellers, scores of equipment such as Mac chargers, extension cords, headphones, flash drives, etc.  So if it’ll make your life easier, or better, go for it!  We’re open until 1:00 AM Sunday – Wednesday, midnight on Thursday, and 9:00 PM on Friday and Saturday, so there’s plenty of opportunity for you to stop by.

Happy librarying!


Well, they’re not quite here, but they’re coming up quickly.  As always, the SMCM Library is ready to help you finish out the year on a high note.

For starters, the Reference & Instruction librarians (and myself, from behind the circulation desk) are available to provide research assistance on any and all subjects.  If there isn’t anyone at the reference desk, we have an “open door” policy here – if a door is open, come on in!  Beyond that, you can email any of the librarians to set up an appointment.  Beyond THAT, we often have someone available to chat live, in real-time, at the Research Help page on the library website.  Finally, there is an online knowledge base of frequently asked questions for you to search – or you can ask your own question and get a response within 24 hours.

What’s that you say?  You don’t necessarily need research help, you just want a place where you can kip down and study?  Well, you are in luck!  The SMCM Library has lots of accommodations – tables, individual study carrels and comfy chairs can be found in abundance on the first and second floors of the library.  If you need to use a computer, we have about two dozen of them loaded with Microsoft Office software and other goodies such as SPSS and Adobe Reader.  Room 112 in the Library Annex has another 16 computers, and it is available 24/7 for night owls and early birds.  The circulation desk also has laptops available.  If you want a bit of privacy, we have five group study rooms, three of which can be reserved online for up to three hours at a time (the other two are first-come, first-served).  These rooms all have tables/chairs, ethernet ports, power outlets, and whiteboards.  One study room even has a 55″ flatscreen TV with a computer connection for your laptop!

If it’s gear you need, then the circulation desk has almost certainly got what you’re looking for.  We’ll loan you a laptop, headphones, dry erase markers, ethernet cables, extension cords, laptop chargers (Mac & PC), and lots of other stuff to help you make the most of your time here.  By the way, I should mention that NONE of these items are subject to overdue fines 😀

In addition to all of the above, we’re offering extended hours from Tuesday, April 23 through Tuesday, May 7.  Be sure to thank Carol, Reneé, and the rest of the late-night staff for helping keep us open late!

As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, feel free to let a library staff member know.  If they can’t help you directly, they can put you in touch with someone who can.

Happy librarying!!


OK, I know what you’re thinking…that nobody uses it any more, that it’s inferior, outdated technology, etc etc.  While I will admit there is a little bit of truth buried somewhere in those sentiments, the fact is that microfilm is actually quite a viable storage medium.  It takes up a small amount of space, does not have very stringent storage requirements, and lasts a long time – up to 500 years, if stored properly.  Furthermore, it is easy to digitize should a user wish to do that.  So microfilm actually has a lot going for it.

Here at the SMCM Library we have a robust microfilm collection, if I do say so myself – the newspaper collection on the first floor includes long runs of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Yorker as well as local resources such as Enterprise and St. Mary’s Beacon.  In addition, we also have significant holdings of many journals – these are kept in the periodicals section on the 2nd floor.  All in all we have over 18,000 rolls of microfilm!  Not to mention that microfilm printing has always been free at the SMCM Library…just saying 😀

If you’ve used our microfilm before, then you know we have two microfilm readers on the first floor.  Those two units are quite old, and while they’re a little bit finicky, they largely have served us well for many years.  But we’re always looking to improve the user experience here at the SMCM Library, and starting on Thursday, March 28 we’re going to be having a one week trial of a brand-new, state-of-the-art microfilm reader.  The ScanPro 2000 can scan microfilm into many different file formats – including searchable PDF – and has other features such as allowing users to zoom in and clip specific sections of microfilm, adjust the color/contrast of the image, and more.  Users will be able to print, email, or save the images instantly, at a resolution/quality of their choice.

We’ll be testing the new unit with the idea that it would replace the two units that we have now – we just don’t have the luxury of being able to keep them both.  So if you’re a microfilm user, stop by the library between Thursday, March 28 – Wednesday, April 3 and take the ScanPro 2000 for a spin.  Conrad from the front desk will be glad to show you around the machine if you like.  Then, let us know whether you think it would be a good investment for us.

If you’re not interested in microfilm, then come by to borrow a Kindle (preloaded with over two dozen contemporary hits), a laptop (for three hours or two weeks), one of our almost 3,000 DVD’s, get help with your research from one of the Reference & Instruction Librarians, or study in the beanbag lounge.  We hope to see you soon!  Thanks, and happy librarying.

The Oscars and the DVD Collection at the SMCM Library

Last night I stayed up wayyy past my bedtime to watch the 85th Academy Awards show with Emek Köse (Mathematics), Anna Han (Psychology), Shan Sappleton (Political Science), & Colby Caldwell (Art & Art History).  It got me thinking about the outstanding DVD collection that we have here at the SMCM Library – almost 3,000 strong!

First, some background information.  DVD’s circulate for three days and may be renewed up to three times – so you can keep them for almost two weeks.  Like so many of our other items here, they are NOT subject to daily overdue fines.  The collection is behind the circulation desk so you can’t browse the titles yourself, but we have some options if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for.

  • Binder: we have a binder at the circulation desk that lists our films (DVD & VHS) in alphabetical order.  We’re adding DVD’s to the collection all the time so this list isn’t 100% complete, but it is very accurate – we update the binder once or twice a year.
  • Catalog: our online catalog can be used to search for films in many different ways – title, language, genre, actors/director/producer, etc etc.  I recommend using the advanced search screen as it has many more options.

For example, let us say you want to watch something from the Criterion Collection (we have well over 200).  Set the format to “DVD” and search for the series “criterion collection” – like so:film_screenshot

This will bring up the list of Criterion Collection films that we own.  Say you click on The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, but discover that it is checked out.  However, you still want to watch a documentary although you’re not sure which one.  Scroll down the page a bit and find the “subjects” listing.  This is all the different subjects that the film might fit into.  Click on “documentary films” and the catalog will bring up all the documentary films owned by the SMCM Library.


These are just a few of the tools available to search for films in the SMCM Library catalog.  You can search for actors, directors, or producers; academy award nominees/winners; foreign-language films; and almost any other bibliographic information you can think of.  So if you’re in the mood to relax on the couch and take in a movie, stop by the SMCM Library.  We’ve got thousands to choose from in all genres – documentaries, educational films, dramas, comedies, etc etc.  Whether an Oscar winner or researching the biodiversity of the Florida Everglades, the SMCM Library has what you’re looking for – and we’ll be glad to help you out in the search process as well, either in-person at the reference desk or virtually via the Ask Us feature embedded throughout our website.

Thanks, and happy librarying!