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.


Welcome Back!

Welcome to the start of another amazing academic year at St. Mary’s. You may not realize it, but by this time the librarians and library staff have had enough of the quiet summer days and are so very excited to see you again! If you’re a student, come by the library to say hello in between classes, and while you’re here you can:

  • Check out a laptop if your computer is on the fritz during the first week of classes.
  • See what your professor has placed on Course Reserve for the semester.
  • Print out your syllabi for the semester.
  • Start digging in to your SMP lit review (if you’re at that point)!

For faculty, don’t forget that the library

  • Has an all-campus subscription to both The Chronicle of Higher Education AND The New York Times. For full access to content, you just need to register with your St. Mary’s email address.
  • Is still taking requests for Course Reserves. You can find the online forms for Course Reserves requests on the Portal under the Faculty Tab.
  • Has librarians who can teach research workshops for you this semester. Just ask us.

See you soon.

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!

You Paid #(!*% For That?!?

This morning on the radio I heard a report about the impact of the next round of automatic sequester budget cuts.  Once you eliminate all of those programs that are “untouchable” there isn’t much left.  Everyone is for budget cuts until those cuts come too close to home, which for our elected legislators means impacting seniors, jobs in their districts, etc.  So who gets affected?  Sometimes it’s groups without much political clout.  Or people with jobs in public service (which can spill-over to people with jobs in the private sector).

Who decides where the money comes from?  If you had to cut 10% from your monthly spending today what would you choose?  Your cell phone service?  Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant Video?  Coffee and lunch out? Your electric bill?  You would have your own list of “untouchables.”  You know what you spend so you can decide what is most important and how to prioritize your budget reductions.



Budget reduction is happening on many college and university campuses.  Costs rise every year and budgets don’t always grow at the same rate (sometimes they don’t grow at all).  The only way to pay our bills is to find more money (the dreaded “generate revenue) or to cut costs.  So, like the federal government, or you, we have to prioritize, to decided what is untouchable.

But wait!  You are running the library.  Isn’t most of what you provide free??  It’s on the Internet, isn’t it?!  OK – maybe that was a bit of hyperbole.  But I bet that many students and faculty on my campus (and others) don’t really know how much we spend on the resources you need/want to help you succeed.  There are a few reasons for that:

  • Many information vendors (the companies that license our electronic resources) have a confidentiality clause in their license contracts.  That clause prevents us from discussion cost publicly.  This is a way for vendors to negotiate different prices without being transparent about the criteria used to determine the price.  Many librarians now refuse to sign licenses with this clause.
  • Librarians have been reluctant to talk about cost with our students and faculty.  Our job has always been to provide access to information, to help our community members find and use information, and to be a welcoming and engaging place.  We don’t want to sully that with conversations about money.

But it’s time for some straight talk about money.  There has been a lot of conversation among librarians lately about what we pay for our resources, especially our online resources.  You know, the ones with the 24/7 access to full-text that you love.  Librarians are asking our publishers and vendors questions about why we have to purchase big bundles of journals (more is better, right?) instead of selecting only the journals we want (can you say cable company?).

Did you know that the average book price in 2012 (according to our book vendor, Yankee Book Peddler) was $82.09 for a print book which is up 4.9% from last year, and $112.42 for an ebook.   Did you know that prices for books in social sciences rose about 7%, about 5% for the sciences, and 1% for the humanities?

Did you know that we spent about $273,000 just on electronic resources last year (not including some of our individual ejournal titles)?  Is that a lot or a little?  What are we getting for our $273k?  We get access to the full-text of about 20,000 journals (do we need that many?).  We get access to images and data from reference books online.  We have access to art images, primary source materials, and books.  Does it really cost that much?  It’s hard to know.  Even though we have the ability to negotiate for our costs, licensing an online resource is still a lot like buying a car.  Once we’re done we still don’t really know if we got a good deal or not.



So when it’s budget cutting time we look at how much online and print resources are being used and who needs them.  We consider the impact of stopping access but being able to add it again when/if economic conditions improve.  We propose buying articles on demand rather than paying for subscriptions.  We have options.

I think it is important for our students and faculty to know how we make decisions about spending our resources and why it may be important to “just say no”.  Sometimes we might cancel or decline to add a resource in order to reduce our spending, and sometimes we might say no because it’s the right thing to do.  The publishers and vendors won’t change their sales strategies without pressure from customers (that means you).  Knowledge is power.  To learn more read the blog posts linked above, or email me (cerabinowitz@smcm.edu).  Let’s have coffee and talk.

Reading this Summer?

Reading on the Beach

Reading on the Beach by Courtney McGough on Flickr

Last weekend I broke down. I bought a Kindle (a Kindle Paperwhite to be exact). Despite my ambivalence towards e-reading, it’s getting harder for me to deny the conveniences of an e-reader. I’m a reader. Although chasing a toddler around the house has but a kink in my reading style, I still try to get in as much eyeball-to-text time as I possibly can. When I go on a trip, I take as much care and effort packing my reading materials as I do packing my clothes. This little 5 x 7 inch device is making upcoming travel so much more convenient and amazingly less stressful. Instead of trying to squeeze in 3-4 different volumes I can just pop that Kindle in my purse and call it a day. It’s fantastic.

Will I stop buying and checking out print books from the library? No way. In fact, as I type, I have two books on my nightstand from the St. Mary’s County Library. The Kindle is just a new addition to my reading lifestyle and a great way to kick off the summer reading season. If you’re interested in getting your summer reading off right, the SMCM Library can help.


We have 6 different Kindles for SMCM students, faculty, and staff to borrow loaded with all kinds of fantastic fiction. Want to find out what all the Game of Thrones fuss is about? Read it on our Kindle Fire. Curious about Gone Girl or Kate Atkinson’s latest, Life after Life? Read one on a Kindle Touch. For more about our Kindles and the books on them, check out our online Kindle Guide.

Popular Reading Collection

If you’re more of a print-on-paper kind of reader. We have you covered. Our popular reading collection has a great selection of fiction and non-fiction bestsellers to help you take a break from heavy academic reading. Take a walk up to the 2nd floor and hang a left. In the reading area you’ll find a beautiful water-front view and our awesome Popular Reading Collection.

St. Mary’s County Public Libraries

I wouldn’t be doing my due-diligence as a librarian if I didn’t do a little cross-promotion. We are fortunate to have an amazing public library system in our county. If you haven’t visited one of the branches in Lexington Park, Leonardtown, or Charlotte Hall, please do it. Their book, movie, and music selection is amazing! A few weekends ago I picked up Tom Perotta’s The Leftovers, a copy of the Alabama Shakes album, and Dinosaur vs. The Potty, a board book for my son. They have fun summer programming for kids too!

Summer Book Club

Since you’re doing all this reading anyway, you might as well win a prize or two for your efforts. The SMCM Library’s Summer Reading Program continues this year and gives all SMCM students, faculty, staff, and alumni a chance to contribute book reviews to the Summer Reading Blog and win prizes.

Happy Reading,


The New York Public Library!

As a librarian, I like to visit local libraries when I travel. As a tourist, I like to take photographs. Recently, I visited the main branch of the New York Public Library, in the Stephen A. Schwarzman building on 5th Avenue at 42nd. The building stands as an example of fine architecture and a symbol of the past, present and future of information, learning, and humanity.



Unarguably, the NYPL has plenty to offer its metropolitan patrons, but it also has something to offer us. The NYPL hosts online resources and image galleries accessible to anyone, anywhere, which are packed with fun multimedia and primary source materials. Take a look.

The Online Exhibitions, which are web sites built to reflect physical exhibits displayed at the NYPL locations, offer a unique collection of images, essays, and even games.

For example:  Thirty Years of Photography at the New York Public Library

The NYPL has digitized over 800,000 images from its collections and made them freely available online in the NYPL Digital Gallery. The images include manuscripts, maps, vintage posters, rare prints and photographs.

Like this one: a collection of menus!
Miss Frank E. Buttolph American Menu Collection, 1851-1930.

Finally, best of all, the Digital Projects, an assortment of images and multimedia, are just fun and fascinating to review.

Here’s an example:  John Cage Unbound: A Living Archive
A searchable online archive of manuscripts and video interpretations of John Cage’s work, with timeline and brief bio. (It’s a collection of primary sources!)

If you use an item from one of the online resources, don’t forget about intellectual property!

More reasons why the NYPL is so great: