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Reader’s Roundup: Monographic Musings & Reference Reviews

by | Sep 30, 2021 | 0 comments

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Column Editor:  Corey Seeman  (Director, Kresge Library Services, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan)    Twitter @cseeman

Against the Grain Vol. 33#4

Column Editor’s Note:  We have a nice mix of books on the library and archival profession as well as reference books.  The books on librarianship really stretch the boundaries of what many consider the core work by looking more closely at archives and data curation in our organizations.  The reference books provide views of the value of a dollar (something very important for those starting their fiscal year on July 1st) and feminism and literature.  These books all represent opportunities for your libraries to provide a bit more coverage for your readers.  

I am very fortunate to have a great crew of reviewers for Against the Grain.  I thank my reviewers for this issue:  Kathleen Baril (Ohio Northern University);  David Gibbs (California State University, Sacramento);  Mary Catherine Moeller (University of Michigan);  Tiffany Norris (Birmingham-Southern College);  Jordan Pedersen (University of Toronto) and Steven W. Sowards (Michigan State University).

If you would like to be a reviewer for Against the Grain, please write me at <[email protected]>.  If you are a publisher and have a book you would like to see reviewed in a future column, please also write me directly.  You can also find out more about the Reader’s Roundup here — https://sites.google.com/view/squirrelman/atg-readers-roundup.

Happy reading and be nutty! — CS

Derks, Scott.  The Value of a Dollar: 1860-2019.  Sixth edition.  Amenia, NY: Grey House Publishing, 2019. 978-1-68217-949-9, 600 pages.  $155.00.

Reviewed by Steven W. Sowards  (Associate Dean for Collections, Michigan State University Libraries, East Lansing MI) 

If a reference work reaches its 6th edition, several things have taken place.  For one, usage has demonstrated ongoing value.  For another, the work has become a familiar and “well known” resource and is potentially taken for granted.  This newest edition reminded me to look at The Value of a Dollar again with fresh eyes.

This book gathers historical price and wage figures for the United States.  The content is “all about practical economy:  what things cost and how much money people have to buy them” (page v).  It is not a resource for global studies.  It is not a commodities report.  Look here for the cost of coffee, hats and radios, not the cost of bulk wheat, soybeans and copper … a gallon of gasoline, not a barrel of crude oil.  Prices are for consumer products: this is not the source for changing costs for farm land, submarines or bridges. 

This is the kind of book that a reference librarian loves: full of facts and figures, but eminently browsable.  It is evocative to know the price of admission for a Jimmy Cagney movie in 1934 (25 cents), or a Macintosh computer in 2004 ($2,500).  The fun of browsing is supported by a variety of facsimile advertisements.  This mix of hard and soft information should find an audience in high schools, colleges, and public libraries.

This book also pinch-hits as a history of advertising, because historical advertisements are a source for many prices found within.  The Value of a Dollar cites ads in newspaper and magazine ads, as well as mail-order catalogs, posters and retail store web sites.  Sources are specifically cited (Sears, Roebuck 1922 or the Chicago Tribune 1983), and samples of consumer advertisements offer texture and flavor to readers. 

The book draws on sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but the presentation is nothing like the Consumer Price Index web site at https://www.bls.gov/cpi/.  A BLS time series such as the “CPI for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U)” presents generalized yearly figures for a “market basket” of “frequently purchased items, such as food and personal care products” but rarely for specific goods (gasoline is something of an exception).  The Value of a Dollar, on the other hand, quotes dozens of dated prices for specific goods:  a pound of coffee (for example) from 1863 to 2012, but without a systematic time series.  

Content is organized chronologically: years 1860-1899 all together, thereafter by five-year periods ending with 2015-2019.  A handy “composite consumer price index” shows inflationary trends (for example, the buying power of the 1860 dollar corresponds to $30.63 in 2019), followed by five-year summary tables for types of expenditure, and multiple tables and graphs showing longer trends for selected goods such as men’s or women’s suits, toasters, newspaper subscriptions, eggs or automobiles.  Each five-year section includes annual prices for two dozen food items, other selected consumer goods (from liquor to clocks), and a selection of annual salaries.  With diligence, some of these tables could yield time series, but the basket of goods varies over time: typewriters and cuff links in the 1920s, VCRs and garage door openers in the 1990s.  Chapter length is consistent:  33 pages for 1900-1904, 30 pages for 2000-2004. 

There are print and eBook versions of this work, and print-format buyers gain access to the online version.  There are good reasons to work with both versions.  The printed codex lends itself to flipping back and forth between sections, and the reader can mark pages for comparison with nothing more technical than slips of paper.  In the eBook, on the other hand, the reader can use keywords to track down details such as 65 quoted prices for automobiles and 10 prices for Buicks in particular, or more than 200 citations from Sears, Roebuck catalogs.  (Full disclosure: keyword searches relied on the 5th edition eBook covering years to 2014, not the 6th edition.)

Information, illustrations, and examples are drawn from a wide range of sources, including yearly Sears, Roebuck catalogs, digitized historical newspapers, the Historical Statistics of the United States, and federal government time series published by the Federal Reserve and the Department of Commerce.  None of these sources combines price series with specific examples.  Note that a companion volume covers The Value of a Dollar: Colonial Era to the Civil War, 1600-1865.

ATG Reviewer Rating:  I need this in my library.  (I want to be able to get up from my desk and grab this book off the shelf, if it’s not checked out.)

Evans, Robert C.  Critical Insights: Feminism Grey House Publishing, 2020.  9781642656633, 338 pages.  $105.00

Reviewed by Mary Catherine Moeller  (Assistant Librarian, Kresge Library Services, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) 

Feminism brings to the forefront issues of gender, sexuality, race, class, among others.  Feminist theory, when applied to literature, helps us to better understand society’s perception of certain populations over time and begin to unpack what that means for the future.  Critical Insights: Feminism gives readers an introduction to feminist theory and the various ways in which it can be used to better understand literature.

Editor Robert C. Evans is the I.B. Young Professor of English and Philosophy at Auburn University at Montgomery.  His publications focus on topics such as Renaissance literature, literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, short fiction, critical theory and women writers.  Every chapter in Critical Insights: Feminism is an essay written by a different academic author, all centering around the theme of feminism.  Furthermore, each chapter is centered around a different piece of literature and those pieces range from Shakespearean plays to modern day novels.  The authors each take their own approaches to dissecting their chosen works, giving the reader a chance to see a wide range of ways in which feminism can be used to better understand literature.  

The “Critical Contexts” section provides the reader with a base of knowledge about feminist theory and how it can apply to literature.  In one chapter, Frederick Kiefer uses a historical approach to better understand costuming, props and stage direction and its portrayal of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Joyce Ahn, in her chapter, makes the argument that the use of feminist criticism is on the rise and walks readers through its use in understanding literature over time.  In another chapter, Robert Evans explores the subtleties of Thomas Campion’s representation of female voices in his poems through a method called close reading.  Nanette Rasband Hilton, in her chapter, compares and contrasts the rhetoric of Ida B. Wells and Margaret Fuller and the social justice underpinnings of their early works.  This, in my opinion, is the best section of this book.  It is the section upon which everything else builds and introduces readers to diverse approaches to applying a feminist lens to literary theory.

The “Critical Readings” section takes the context from the first section and begins applying it to different readings.  The authors of these chapters focus on the portrayal of women, gender stereotypes, race, class, etc. in various forms of literature over time.  The section begins by looking at poet Emily Dickinson and by the end we’ve made our way forward in history all the way to contemporary author Margaret Atwood.  At the very end there is a resources section with additional works on feminism so that readers can continue to learn more about the topic.

This book serves as a great introduction to the basics of feminist theory and its applications to literature.  It includes a wide variety of perspectives and methodologies for applying a feminist lens but does not get too heavy making it easy for everyone to understand.

ATG Reviewer Rating:  I need this in my library.  (I want to be able to get up from my desk and grab this book off the shelf, if it’s not checked out.)

Hunter, Gregory S.  Developing and Maintaining Practical Archives: A How-to-Do-It Manual.  Third Edition.  Chicago: ALA Neal-Schuman, 2020.  9780838912775, 302 pages.  $85.00.

Reviewed by David Gibbs  (Interim Associate Dean, University Library, California State University Sacramento) 

Professor Gregory S. Hunter published the first edition of this book in 1997 in response to what he perceived as a lack in the teaching literature for a “one-volume summary of contemporary American archival theory and practice for classroom use.”  He goes on to admit, “Only when I began writing the book did I realize the difficulty of the task and the reason others avoided it” (xv).  It was a daunting task, not least because of the widely varying types of institutions that engage in recordkeeping and archival work, but also  the very different needs of the audiences they serve.  Dr. Hunter clearly did something right as the  second edition (2003)  received the Society of American Archivists’ Waldo Gifford Leland Award for “writing of superior excellence and usefulness in the field of archival history, theory, or practice.”

As a former editor of American Archivist, the premier American journal of the profession, and professor at the Palmer School of Library and Information Science at Long Island University, Dr. Hunter is well positioned to cover the full breadth of the field, from college and university libraries, to cultural heritage institutions, to corporations.  His formative experience was in corporate archives and records management, a background that shows in the preponderance of examples he draws on from that corner of the profession.  This is not a bad thing (in fact, other overviews of the archival profession might tend to give short shrift to non-academic archives);  it is simply a position that the reader should be aware of.  Hunter does use a running academic example throughout the book, the fictitious North Fork University, to provide “real-world” examples of the various concepts under discussion.

While the title emphasizes the “practical” intent of the book, there is a healthy mix of theory and praxis.  Hunter synthesizes other scholars’ ideas throughout and provides ample footnotes.  The book is organized loosely sequentially, starting with an introduction to archives and manuscripts, followed by chapters on how to survey records;  selection and appraisal;  acquisitions and accessioning; arrangement;  description;  preservation;  security and disaster planning;  and access, reference, outreach, and advocacy.  Chapters that fall somewhat outside the sequence deal with how to start an institutional or community archives;  how to lead and manage;  and the nature of the archival profession.  What’s new in this edition?  For one thing, Hunter has integrated a discussion of audiovisual and digital records into every chapter of the book, rather than attempting to treat them separately.  In addition, he has added coverage of community archives as well as discussions of diversity, inclusion, and social justice.

Dr. Hunter is the kind of pragmatist the profession needs in the post-analog world.  He highlights the tensions between preservation and use (since every time you touch a record, you shorten its life), and perfectionism and practicality.  He notes that only one or two percent of records in a typical organization merit preservation.  He advocates for digitizing records with informational but no intrinsic value and discarding the paper.  The discussion of “More Product, Less Process” is particularly practical.  Warning against the archivist’s tendency to “overprocess” collections, he notes, “An archivist can get to know the forest pretty well without examining each tree” (100).  Similarly, “A good finding aid is intended for the researcher, not for the edification of the archivist.  The focus should be on the use by others, rather than on showcasing the literary abilities of the archivist” (115).  Hear, hear!

Hunter’s style is highly readable, and his wry sense of humor suffuses the text.  Occasionally bits of dated language or references persist.  (There have been at least two generations of medical television shows since M*A*S*H that could have been used to illustrate the concept of triage.)  Throughout the book, interesting and up-to-date sidebars highlight examples of contributions archives have made to our lives.  Parts of the book get rather technical–notably the treatment of digital and audiovisual records, and the chapter on preservation — but they are easily skipped over should one choose to do so (book reviewers excepted, of course). 

This book is a solid choice for anyone seeking an overview of archives and the archival profession.  Hunter has succeeded in covering a complex discipline in a single, readable volume. 

ATG Reviewer Rating:  I need this in my library.  (I want to be able to get up from my desk and grab this book off the shelf, if it’s not checked out.)

Kroski, Ellyssa (ed).  Makerspaces in Practice: Successful Models for Implementation.  Chicago: American Library Association, 2021.  978-0-8389-4805-7, 264 pages.  $74.99

Reviewed by Tiffany Norris  (Library Director, Birmingham-Southern College, Birmingham, AL) 

Makerspaces in Practice: Successful Models for Implementation covers a great deal of ground in its 13 chapters.  Authors discuss a wide range of topics including:  the current status of makerspaces;  how to fund  and sustain a makerspace;  challenges libraries are likely to face after they have implemented a space;  and  success stories that give hope that it can be a positive venture.  “We are making great strides inside the library community in sharing the value of the makerspace and maker communities.”  The book includes perspectives from public, K-12, and academic libraries as well as a look into the future to predict what trends could be coming next that would influence makerspaces in libraries.

In the library world, it can be all too easy to chase after what seems to be trending.  From makerspaces to virtual reality rooms to recording studios, sometimes it is difficult to know which trends are worth investing our time and money in and which ones are better suited for another department or area.  Kroski argues that makerspaces are no longer a “shiny new trend,” but rather an opportunity to partner “with library patrons in the production process,” with almost 90 percent of public libraries offering some type of maker programming for their patrons.  “In many cases, makerspaces have revitalized libraries by taking the concept of knowledge to a new level and transforming them from disseminators of information to creators of knowledge.”  The book’s goal, then, is to help those who are trying to get started while still being useful to those who are already running their own makerspaces.

The book achieves its primary goal, providing practical advice on everything from securing funding to addressing accessibility to circulating items.  Possibly the most useful part is perhaps the library-worthy amount of additional resources at the end of each chapter.  On a personal note, I believe I will return to this book time and again as our library considers how to take our current makerspace (currently consisting of a 3D printer) and grow it into a space that benefits our patrons and community.  The benefit with a work like this is that we can do that and still work within our library resources.  “The academic library may have been last to the table, but the strides they have made have been astounding.  When you blend makerspaces with research and education at this level, you can’t help but be exposed to students and faculty whose productions are groundbreaking.” This is hopeful news for the academic librarians among us!

Several chapters pointed out that data collection, assessment, and evaluation are vital steps to support makerspaces on a long-term basis, and these were good reminders that it is always easier to start as you mean to continue.  “The success of your makerspace will depend on your engagement and how you define success, and then on assessing to see if you have met your goals.” The importance of these steps cannot be overstated, but neither can the idea of enjoying the quickly developing technology.  As one of the authors noted, “Take risks, have fun, and enjoy your amazing creative library job.”

ATG Reviewer Rating:  I need this in my library.  (I want to be able to get up from my desk and grab this book off the shelf, if it’s not checked out.)

Schomberg, Jessica and Highby, Wendy.  Beyond Accommodation: Creating an Inclusive Workplace for Disabled Library Workers.  Sacramento: Library Juice Press (https://libraryjuicepress.com) , 2020.  9781634000864,
218 pages.  $35.00 

Reviewed by Jordan Pedersen  (Metadata Librarian, University of Toronto Libraries) 

Because disability and accommodation within the workplace are often delicate topics that require large amounts of trust, compassion, and patience, it is valuable to understand the frameworks in which disability is positioned, as well as the power dynamics at play.  For people with disabilities, this might mean finding community and support to assist when making the choice of whether or not to disclose a disability in the workplace.  Similarly, for non-disabled people, being aware of the barriers that people with disabilities face, inside and outside of the workplace, can ensure that individuals know how to spot barriers and remove them.  Ensuring accessible, healthy workplaces can be a challenge, but resources such as Beyond Accomodation can provide guidance.

Authors Jessica Schomberg and Wendy Highby are both, at time of writing, academic librarians who have held a variety of professional roles, both within, and beyond, librarianship.  They both identify as being people with disabilities, who bring personal and artistic presence to writing about their experiences.  They are both activists who appear to take a holistic approach to all that they do, reconciling the fact that we are human beings first, and that our other labels, such as professionals, come later, even though popular discourse would have us believe otherwise.

Schomberg and Highby present a persuasive account of strength in vulnerability, the value of interdependence, and the necessity to dispel stigma, stereotypes, and bias.  The authors are able to highlight the connections between disability frameworks, political theories such as neoliberalism and Marxism, and various justice movements such as environmental, racial justice, and disability rights.  They are inclusive of a variety of disabilities, and are thoughtful and gentle when writing, evidenced in their explicit trauma-aware approach.

To highlight some of their theoretical analysis, one can look to Chapter 3, titled The Library as Organization.  Schomberg and Highby thoughtfully examine the power dynamics of workplaces, and what it means to be disabled in a capitalist world where the interchangeability and replaceability of individuals is foundational.  Their analysis draws on critical disability theory, personal experiences, interviews, and theatrical improvisation techniques to lead the reader to concrete suggestions for implementing change and improving workplace culture.

Overall, this book shines in its comprehensiveness, and in the authors’ willingness to include personal stories as a way of building a sense of community with the reader.  A personal highlight for me though was the final two chapters, where Schomberg and Highby take turns recounting what a day in their life looks like, and what living well looks like for them. 

While at times the content becomes a bit repetitive, it is a valuable read if you are looking to expand your knowledge of theories of disability, the accommodation process, and employment resources for people with disabilities surrounding fair treatment especially in the United States.  

ATG Reviewer Rating:  I need this available somewhere in my shared network.  (I probably do not need this book, but it would be nice to get it within three to five days via my network catalog.)

Stuart, David.  Practical Data Science for Information Professionals.  London: Facet Publishing, 2020.  9781783303441, 183 pages.  $77.99.

Reviewed by Kathleen Baril  (Director, Heterick Memorial Library, Ohio Northern University) 

In current practice, librarians find themselves immersed in data throughout the profession, whether we are collecting usage data for electronic resources, measuring the use of our physical spaces or gathering data to demonstrate the value of the library to our larger institution.  There is no denying it, libraries are now awash in data.  But what should we do with this data:  what is the best way to gather it, what should we gather and what are the best methods for gathering it?  David Stuart’s book, Practical Data Science for Information Professionals, provides an introduction to all information professionals interested in learning more.

David Stuart is an independent information professional and honorary research fellow at the University of Wolverhampton, United Kingdom.  Stuart regularly publishes on information science, metrics and semantic web technologies.  His previous books include Practical Ontologies for Information Professionals, Web Metrics for Library and Information Professionals and Facilitating Access to the Web of Data. 

Practical Data Science for Information Professionals walks the reader through the basics of data science and includes chapters that define data science and that examine methods and tools for data analysis.  The book is at its best when it is explaining basic principles of data science;  for example, in chapter three, the author explains the data science process from beginning to end.  Stuart outlines the steps in the data science process which include:  framing the problem, collecting the data, transforming and cleaning the data, analyzing the data and then communicating the data through visualizations.  Each step is carefully explained with helpful charts and graphs as well as references throughout for further exploration.  This chapter also remains relatively free of references to more technical aspects of data science that presuppose a knowledge of either statistics or computer programming.  Chapters five, six and seven detail the specific ways to collect data including clustering and social network analysis, predictions and forecasts and text analysis and mining.  

While this book is useful, it can make for challenging reading if you are not versed in statistics or coding.  Many of the examples in the book reference statistical formulas and models and a background in these areas seem fundamental to really understanding data science.  In addition, if you are looking for a book that provides suggestions for specific data to collect in the library profession, this is not the book for that purpose.  Although the author uses some illustrative library examples in the text, the book is not concerned with providing examples of data to collect rather it is focused on the ways to collect.  

ATG Reviewer Rating:  I need this available somewhere in my shared network.  (I probably do not need this book, but it would be nice to get it within three to five days via my network catalog.)  

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