Notable DC figures: Patricia Roberts Harris

Patricia Roberts Harris is known to (relative) newcomers to DC because a school building is named for her. P.R. Harris Education Center is currently used as a location for the University of the District of Columbia Community College but previously was K-8 public school. It was closed in a round large of school closures in 2008.

But to long-time DC residents, Patricia Roberts Harris was a civil rights leader before the movement was widespread; she led a lunch counter sit-in in 1943*, 17 years before the more well known Greensboro sit-ins. Harris was a lawyer and headed two Cabinet agencies under President Jimmy Carter. She was the first African American member of a presidential cabinet.

Image of 33 cent stamp issued in honor of Patricia Roberts Harris

Photo credit Smithsonian Institution.

Harris grew up in small town Illinois, and she told a story of outright prejudice that must have been common at the time but is a punch to the gut to read in 2014: she received the highest grade point average one term in school (NB: I assume she got the highest GPA more than once; this story is about the first time she earned this honor) and to avoid publicizing her name first, the school changed its policy from printing the honor roll in order by GPA to printing it in alphabetical order.**

Where today’s District elections are vexed by “shadow campaigns” (it might be more accurate to say that District voters are vexed by shadow campaigns), in 1982 there was a “Phantom Campaign” when Harris was widely expected to run for mayor but held off on announcing her run.*** [The list of primary candidates on the date of this article, February 18, 1982, reads like a who’s who of DC Notables: Marion Barry, John Ray, Betty Ann Kane, John Wilson, Charlene Drew Jarvis, and Sterling Tucker. Barry and Kane, of course, remain powerful figures in the District, and Drew Jarvis sits on the Workforce Investment Council.] Harris did run in that election, but lost to Barry.

Like Frank Reeves, who could count among his achievements a nomination to the Board of Commissioners but not a seat on the Board, Harris can count among her achievements the deanship of Howard Law School, though it was a short tenure of not quite a month.**** [Content warning: this article is riddled with what today we would call racial microaggressions.]

Harris died young, in 1986. It’s too bad she didn’t have longer to make a difference in DC. I encourage you to learn more about Harris; there are tributes to her all over the web.


*Patricia Roberts Harris. (1985, Mar 25). The Washington Post (1974-Current File) Retrieved from

**PATRICIA ROBERTS HARRIS. (1982, Jun 08). The Washington Post (1974-Current File) Retrieved from

***By JUAN WILLIAMS Washington Post,Staff Writer. (1982, Feb 18). Patricia harris’ phantom campaign. The Washington Post (1974-Current File) Retrieved from

****By Karen, D. W. (1977, Apr 10). Patricia harris: The cerebral angers of a superachiever. The Washington Post (1974-Current File) Retrieved from

Musings on life, librarianship, and LIS education

The semester starts Monday. It’s been eight months–almost nine–since I was last in class and I’m starting to feel the HOLY FISH HOW AM I GOING TO HAVE TIME TO DO EVERYTHING anxiety that I haven’t felt since right before my first semester. The anxiety is not aided by my plans to volunteer 2-3 hours a week at the public library (SO. EXCITED.) and my pipe dream of starting a non-profit in time for an October 15 grant application deadline.

With class comes my snark-tweets about reading assignments. Last night I read the apparently mandatory mention of Second Life, which apparently still exists and has been alluded to in probably every class I’ve taken so far. (Yes, including Law Librarianship.)

Also last night, in less snark-inducing reading, I read the 1876 paper by Samuel Green introducing reference services. 1876 was a very different time yet, while the snark-inducing reading took great pains to note that over the last century reference services have had to adapt to changing technology, Green’s observations about the value of libraries, of librarians, and the services we provide to patrons remain substantially applicable today. Even to people “who occupy mental planes of various altitudes.” (Serious quote. Go read the paper if you haven’t already.)

The syllabus for my other class this fall indicates that it’s recommended to read the Nielsen post on usability heuristics. I’ve only been assigned to read it twice previously, so the third time is definitely going to be useful. (To be fair, it might be a useful review. But three times??) At least neither class has me reading the O’Reilly What is Web 2.0? again, which would also be for the third time.

I met with our department chair and a few other students earlier this week. I had the chance to get my gripes out–course scheduling, of course, and I would prefer a thesis or portfolio requirement to comps, even though those would be more work–and thought I was ready to focus on the positive. Then I started reading for the semester 😉

I’m cat-sitting for a few weeks and am looking forward to all of the purely-for-fun reading I get to do tonight and tomorrow. I’m hoping that the kitteh decides she doesn’t need to be terrified any more and will sit on my lap to read with me!

The kitty, who has been remarkably difficult to photograph:



It runs in the family

Almost everyone in my family is an academic. Grandpa Blau taught at Columbia. Grandma and Grandpa Katz were both medical doctors but also did some university teaching. Aunt Rachel retired from Temple; Uncle Bob from Swarthmore. Aunt Jan is a dean at Old Dominion. Dad is at Hopkins. (The non-university-affiliated adults in my family? My other grandmother was a teacher, my sister is a teacher, my cousin is a teacher. My mom is a librarian.)

But I didn’t realize until a few months ago that my mom had a paper published in an academic journal. I couldn’t look it up when she told me (reminded me?) about it because I didn’t have access to my school library account, but finally remembered to look for it today.

Preamble over, you should now go and refresh your memory on the post I wrote about ranking LIS programs. Go now; I’ll be here when you come back.

Ready? Here’s the citation to my mom’s paper: Katz, J. B. (1978-10-15). Indicators of success: Queens college Department of library science.. Journal of education for librarianship, 19, 130.

A few choice highlights:

WHAT MAKES a successful librarian? This is a question that has concerned library educators for many years. Educating individuals for a career in librarianship has been the topic of debates. Defining success in the field is also difficult.


These are only two of the possible ways success as a librarian can be viewed.


There is a question as to whether or not the “traditional” means of evaluating potential students are the best possible, or even adequate.

Now I have to say that more struck me about this than that the conversation hasn’t changed in 36 years. The writing style, too, caught my attention. In just these few sentences I see some phraseology that isn’t fantastic (“this is a question that has concerned…”, “is also difficult”) but which I would write myself. And have written myself. (So any criticism here should be viewed entirely as one of those things that bugs you about someone else simply because it bugs you about yourself.) The use of quotation marks? Totally me. Keep reading the paper and it’s like I wrote it.

The amazing thing about this is that until I’d read this paper, I had literally never written anything written by my mom other than correspondence. Somewhere in the nature vs nurture debate, writing style fell into the nature side of the fight. How’d that happen?

Mom says I’m a good writer, though, so thanks for the style, Mom!

Notable DC figures

District law requires that full names be used when naming a public space after a person. And we like to name public space after people. So if one pays attention, there is an opportunity to learn about the historical figures that we (or at least I) didn’t learn about in school because they weren’t rich white men.

I’m going to use this space to share information about some of these notable figures.

Today we’ll learn about Frank D. Reeves, after whom the District government building at 14th and U Streets, NW, was named. Frank Reeves, I learned, was the first Black person nominated to serve on the Board of Commissioners for DC* (two governance structures before our current one). He was a professor at Howard Law School, and was also involved in politics on the national level. [Frank daniel reeves. (1973, Apr 14). The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973) Retrieved from]

Frank Reeves also was counsel to Marion Barry during Barry’s heyday in civil rights activism.** [By Alice Bonner Washington Post,Staff Writer. (1973, Apr 10). Rights lawyer frank D. reeves dies. The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973) Retrieved from]

*He didn’t serve, having withdrawn after information came to light that these days would hardly merit notice but in the ’60s was apparently scandal-worthy. [Shipley raps tax affairs of reeves. (1961, Jun 27). The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973) Retrieved from]

**This is not to suggest at all that Barry’s service on the school board and as mayor and Councilmember wasn’t/isn’t civil rights work, only that I’m referring to the period before he held elected office.

Tisha B’Av and Ostriching

Today was Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, which is a day of communal mourning. In a fascinating stroke of coincidence, both the first and second Temples in Jerusalem fell on the ninth of Av. So we fast from sundown to sundown, read the book of Lamentations and other depressing texts, and contemplate the woes that have befallen us.

We also, many of us, contemplate the woes that we have shared responsibility for.

I intended to spend the day thinking about the recent/ongoing/what’s the status of the current ceasefire? in Gaza, but it turns out that I’m a terrible faster and really don’t like thinking about depressing, complex, nuanced issues like what to do when a small group of terrorists takes advantage of children, the UN, and humanitarian aid to store missiles in schools and hospitals. So I slept most of the day while being grateful to live in a place and have a job where I can take the day off, no questions asked.

The fast ended, I ate some melon, drank some water, and brushed my teeth (we have weird fasting rules), and was going to write about a recent controversy about a Palestinian author’s reading at the Evanston Public Library (including a recommendation of my friend David’s book, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, which is about reconciliation and communication) but it turns out that the reading was reinstated.

So I can go back to being an ostrich, but I encourage all of you (it looks from my blog stats like I might have 6 or 8 readers) to remain open-minded and try to see the nuance (and century of history) in this tragic situation.



Information Literacy, then and now

A digression deleted from my post on Hack Library School about information literacy. Go read that post, and come back here where it says to.

Old standards:

  1. Determine the extent of information needed
  2. Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
  3. Evaluate information and its sources critically
  4. Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base
  5. Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
  6. Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally

Then: Information was “limited”–if the library didn’t have a resource, the student–at least the undergraduate student–wasn’t likely to request something through inter-library loan. (Stereotypical student writing paper at the last moment? No time to get something through ILL.) It was easier for a student to reach a point where it was apparent that additional research wasn’t going to yield benefits.** Accessing information from journals was difficult without the assistance of a librarian; from my personal experience, I would guess that students avoided journals when not required by a professor’s guidelines for an assignment. (Wow could I have done a better job on research in college!) There’s always been crap research out there (I assume), but when publication required substantial expense, I’d suggest that there was less crap out there. And I won’t go so far as to say that plagiarism was more difficult (my dad is a professor, and he would come home with tales of the plagiarism committed by his students) but it did require more effort. My conclusion from this: some of the old info lit standards were imposed externally rather than needing to be taught and actively understood by students.

Now: Information is seemingly limitless, so there is a greater need for understanding what and how much is needed for a given project. (Don’t just google “Mark Twain” if you’re writing a paper about Huckleberry Finn, please.) Students can skim abstracts before downloading journal articles rather than the multi-step process involved in finding journal articles in print–but this means there also is a greater chance of being overloaded by minimally relevant articles. With any fool being able to post her writing on the Internet (yes, I’m talking about myself here), there’s a greater need to evaluate information critically, and less involvement of librarians to help with this. And a quick ctrl-c, ctrl-v gets you a plagiarized paper. You don’t even have to re-type! Conclusion: education in the old standards is still needed. VERY needed.

And now about the threshold concepts. They sound good. “Scholarship is a conversation”! I love this. It reminds that our conclusions become jumping off points for future scholars rather than having some sort of finality. For an undergraduate, it may be an explanation for conflicting articles. But I wonder if this concept, along with the framework’s consideration of student-as-information-creator, encourages a student to think that any/all research is valuable regardless of quality.

I’m not sure what the practical difference is between “research as inquiry” and “searching as exploration.” Or what they have to do with information literacy. They seem to me to be more about intellectual curiosity. Plus, how do you teach these concepts? What guidance do these give the budding researcher, other than encouraging following shiny things tangents instead of remaining focused?

Now, “Authority is contextual and constructed” sounds all post-modernish, but may actually be a good way to frame the need to evaluate information. So I’ll give this element an A.

“Format as process.” I haven’t a clue. The expanded description doesn’t help:

Format is the way tangible knowledge is disseminated. The essential characteristic of format is the underlying process of information creation, production, and dissemination, rather than how the content is delivered or experienced.

And finally, “information has value.” Yes, yes it does. But what value does this concept have in establishing or assessing information literacy?

All this leads me to conclude that the old standards–even if not perfect–are more useful for today’s college students.


**This and all subsequent claims are based on personal reflection and experience, rather than research. Ironic much?