Mike Ergo, by Johann Wolf

Alumnus Co-Creates Virtual Exhibit

A librarian, military veterans and their tattoos — three things you don’t associate very often.

But for one SJSU graduate, there is a very clear connection and sense of mission related to the way he has brought together his professional background, the veterans’ need to reconnect to their communities, and the art form of his generation.

Chris Brown, ’10 Library and Information Science, created “War Ink” with U.S. Army veteran Jason Dietch and a professional film crew to expand on Contra Costa County Library’s efforts to help veterans.

Meaningful moments

Chris Brown

Chris Brown

“We realized we were addressing veteran information needs but they have social needs as much as anyone else,” Brown said. “When veterans come home, their community does not know about their achievements and lessons learned, and that their service was one of the most meaningful moments in their lives.

“We noticed that a lot of the veterans had tattoos,” he continued, “so we thought, ‘that’s our medium for telling that story in a very authentic way.’ The veterans are already telling the story on their skins. We’re just putting a frame around it.”

To build this extraordinary virtual exhibit, Brown drew from a career’s-worth of contacts in the library, museum, and media worlds. But there was also a very personal connection. He is the son of a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer.

Respect and compassion

“In ‘War Ink,’ we’ve brought together a diverse group to address the lack of public cohesion experienced by veterans. In an ideal world, we would all recognize each other as rich and complex people, each deserving of respect and compassion,” Brown said.

The project was made possible through a number of grants and in-kind donations from Cal Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Pacific Library Partnership and StoryCorps.  To learn more, we interviewed Brown.


Q. How did this project begin?

A. I served as project director and grant writer, while Jason served as veteran consultant. We developed and curated the site together, and jointly conducted an exhaustive statewide search for veterans interested in participating in the project.

We contacted nearly every veteran center in California, including centers at every California State University and the University of California campus. We also called hundreds of tattoo shops. Over 30 California library systems partnered in this effort, promoting the project locally.

To document the veterans’ stories, to bring the exhibit to life, and to make it accessible to the general public, we built a coalition of diverse partners including the veterans, tattoo parlors, museums, and the entertainment, art and tech communities.

In late July 2014, the Contra Costa County Library brought together 24 veterans from over 15 counties at the Concord Vet Center. Over four days, producers from the StoryCorps Military Voices Initiative recorded the veterans’ stories, while renowned photographer Johann Wolf documented the veterans and their tattoos.

The filmmaker was Rebecca Murga, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran. Favorite Medium designed and developed the online exhibit.

Q. What’s your background?

Before studying for my master’s in library and information science, I was a literature major at UC Santa Cruz.  That background really taught me that stories are incredibly important in terms of reflecting national identity.

Stories touch on issues and concerns that say a lot about who were as a country. So I am definitely story-centric. My library school degree taught me about how to collect stories that people turn to make sense of their world.

With “War Ink,” we have a population of veterans who are trying to make sense of their return home and we have our civilian community trying to make sense of how to support veterans who have an experience we don’t know about.

Q. The format seems unique. How do you describe it?

“War Ink” is a virtual exhibit that combines original video, photography and audio interviews to present the stories of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in their own words. The entry point to these stories is “war ink,” tattoos that express the impact of combat experiences in a culture that typically shuns open discussion of emotion.

The featured veterans (24 at launch, with more projected over time) are men and women from each branch of the military, and all now reside in California.

Q. What surprised you the most about this project?

The veterans themselves. We thought this would be a dynamic way to tell their stories. We thought it would be meaningful for communities who was welcoming home veterans. We thought it would be artistic.

But I don’t think we knew how much it would mean to the veterans to have their communities say, “We are interested in your story, to understand what it is like to go to war, how that changes you, and what it’s like to come home.”

The response we got, that’s what floored me the most. We’ve had infantry men say, “I’m so excited about this project. This experience has re-awoken my inspiration.”

To see someone who is a former infantrymen in the military say that blows my mind because that community is not a community that is openly expressive about their emotions.

A lot of them talk about how they had to put that side of themselves on lock down, and numb themselves to their emotions. Seeing these men and women have that profound moment when they see themselves as valued — that’s powerful.

Faculty Notes: Research, Recognition and Global Impact


Assistant Professor Scott Hamilton will investigate the responses of juvenile rockfish to a marine environment that contains elevated levels of carbon dioxide and reduced levels of oxygen (image courtesy of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories).

Assistant Professor Scott Hamilton, Moss Landing Marine Labs, was awarded a multi-year $330,000 National Science Foundation grant to investigate the responses of juvenile rockfish to a marine environment that contains elevated levels of carbon dioxide and reduced levels of oxygen. How well the rockfish adapt will provide key information for fisheries and fishery managers. This research, incorporating both field and laboratory studies, builds on Hamilton’s previous scientific investigations of temperate marine fishes.

School of Social Work Professor Laurie Drabble received funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to study the rates of alcohol consumption, hazardous drinking patterns and illicit drug use among sexual minority women. One of the aims of the study is to identify individual, community and societal factors that contribute—positively or negatively—to substance use, including such factors as social support and psychological distress. A member of California’s Women’s Health Survey Committee, Drabble also serves as an affiliate associate scientist with the Alcohol Research Group in Berkeley.

Produced and directed by Department of Linguistics and Language Development Professor Rosemary Henze, the documentary “Just a Piece of Cloth” received a Making a Difference Award at the Toronto Community Film Festival in September. The film, featuring Bay Area Muslim women, has also had screenings at UC Berkeley’s Conference on Islamophobia, the Monterey Institute of International Studies and elsewhere.

Department of Sociology Lecturer and Center for Community Learning and Leadership Co-Director Michael Fallon helped organize the 2014 Silicon Valley Neighborhood Development Training Conference. The day-long, annual campus event brings together local neighborhood leaders and veteran community development practitioners to participate in workshops focused on public safety, health and neighborhood improvement. Among this year’s workshop topics: “20 Tips for Growing Healthy Neighborhoods,” “The Future of Transportation in Silicon Valley” and “Supporting and Working with Youth in Our Community.”

School of Information Director Sandra Hirsh co-chaired the fourth annual Library 2.014 Worldwide Virtual Conference, held October 8 and 9. Conducted in multiple languages in multiple time zones over the course of two days, the free online conference provided participants with the opportunity to learn about the issues impacting the information profession from an international perspective. Presentations addressed such timely topics as MOOCs, e-books, mobile services, green libraries and more. Keynote and session recordings are available on the Library 2.0 YouTube channel.

Department of Economics Professor Jeffrey Rogers Hummel was one of a panel of experts asked by WalletHub.com, a web-based personal finance resource, to weigh in on the challenge of creating a skilled and educated workforce. The site, which published a list of the most and least educated cities among the largest cities in the United States in 2014, ranked San Jose seventh in a field of 150. Hummel’s suggestion: “The most important step toward developing a more educated and skillful workforce would be to eliminate all federal involvement entirely.”

set up man 300

Writing as T.T. Monday, Professor Taylor spins a tale about a baseball player/private investigator that “succeeds as both a mystery and a baseball novel,” according to Publishers Weekly.

President Mohammad Qayoumi’s appreciation of Afghanistan’s new president, “Ashraf Ghani and Afghanistan’s future,” was posted on the U.S. Congress blog The Hill, a forum for lawmakers and policy professionals. Dr. Ashraf Ghani, Qayoumi’s roommate at the American University of Beirut more than four decades ago, was inaugurated as Afghanistan’s president this month. “If anyone can keep Afghanistan on a road to coherent self government and democracy, it is Ghani.  From his earliest years he has had total clarity of purpose, great vision, and an incandescent passion to serve Afghanistan,” Qayoumi wrote. 

Department of English Associate Professor and Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies Director Nick Taylor discussed his new thriller, “The Setup Man” (Doubleday), at the Menlo Park Civic Center on Oct. 4. Writing as T.T. Monday, Taylor spins a tale about a baseball player/private investigator that “succeeds as both a mystery and a baseball novel,” according to Publishers Weekly. Taylor is the author of two previous historical novels, “The Disagreement” (Simon & Schuster, 2008) and “Father Junípero’s Confessor” (Heyday, 2013).