On the lower level of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in a back corner, 300 binders and boxes are stored that once belonged to the Pacific Library Partnership’s System Reference Center. The dusty books have been stored for more than a decade and while they are available to the public, few people know they exist.
With an inaugural Emeritus and Retired Faculty Association (ERFA) Faculty Research and Creative Activity Award, three university librarians are working on digitizing the documents and making them more readily available for research.
Emily Chan, Christina Mune and Kathryn Blackmer Reyes said the ERFA award of $2,500 allowed them to hire an intern to begin scanning the documents that date from 1974 to 2002. Chan said the reference center existed to help public reference librarians in researching questions posed to them by patrons “before so much information was online.”
Questions covered topics ranging from kombucha to hobo signs to biographical information about community members. Chan said much of the information was sought by professionals, including people who were writing books.
“We are dealing with a lot of technological and philosophical questions,” Chan said, of decisions about what documents to keep, in which file type to save them and how to meet accessibility guidelines when posting the archive in ScholarWorks.
The university librarians plan to seek out additional funding to continue the digitizing process and they hope to write an article on the decisions they faced in creating the archive. But Chan also sees multiple research opportunities for faculty and students to pursue in the future, from the change in language over the decades as well as the evolution of tools used to find answers for library users.
Joan Merdinger, a retired professor from the School of Social Work and past president of ERFA, said the association decided to start an award with its dues last year.
“We’ve been ourselves members of the faculty,” Merdinger said, noting that they understand the challenges in keeping a research, scholarship and creative activity agenda going in mid-career.
2015-16 ERFA President Jo Bell Whitlatch said the group has often donated to the university, but two years ago they discussed a new approach to supporting education at SJSU.
“Being able to remain engaged in your field and do research is very important to faculty development,” said Whitlatch, who was a university librarian and part-time lecturer in the School of Information (formerly the School of Library and Information Sciences). “It helps you keep up in the field and stimulates your teaching when you remain engaged in your field.”
Patricia Albers, a professor in Art and Art History, said the $2,500 award from ERFA helped her to gain momentum in researching a biography on André Kertész, a 20th century photographer. The book is due to her publisher in December 2016.
“He was a principal figure,” Albers said. “He mentored and set a path for a lot of photographers.”
Albers had already visited Kertész’ birthplace in Budapest and the city where he first won acclaim, Paris. The proposal allowed her to spend five weeks in New York, where the photographer spent most of his career.
“I did learn so much about who he was and what he meant in the context of photography as it was changing,” she said. “It brought the whole New York part into focus and now I have some command over that.”