Author Archives: Katrina Spencer

African American Music Appreciation Month 2017

Literatures & Cultures Librarian Katrina Spencer kneels next to a newly installed display featuring African American musics..

I grew up in a very musical household and that identity follows me wherever I go.

Name: Katrina Spencer

Title: Literatures & Cultures Librarian

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Collaborators: Kat Cyr, Arabella Holzapfel, Amy Frazier, Terry Simpkins, Marlena Evans, Heather Stafford, Innocent Mpoki, Joe Antonioli, Sue Driscoll, Dan Frostman, Kim Gurney, Janine McDonald, Todd Sturtevant, Bryan Carson, Joy Pile, Ryan Clement, multiple student workers, Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, and others. Many sincere thanks to all of the energy you all have put into this.

Whatcha got goin’ here in the atrium and on the main level of the Davis Family Library?

Of the 23,000+ CDs we have in our collection, we are highlighting over 300 works by and about African American musical artists from June 1st- 22nd. Former President Barack Obama declared June as African American Music Appreciation Month, an initiative first shaped in 1979. President Obama was able to draw further attention to the commemorative month with his 2016 proclamation and the many artists his administration invited to perform at the White House.

Generally speaking, the content spans the 1940s to the early 2000s, including artists from every decade in between. African American music started much earlier than this, but when it comes to largely accessible sound recordings, the early 20th century was perhaps a good place to start in terms of our holdings.  However, we do plan to include some very early recordings and have a few monographs that address African American music in the late 1800s- early 1900s.

What motivated you to put this together?

There were so many motivations. First, I have lived now in five states– California, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Vermont– and while the demographics, landscapes, weather, and food fare change, the consumption of African American music as an avid pastime does not. Scratch that: it’s global. People love the soulful sounds born deep in the South of our country, among pain, oppression, and affliction, within the church, in the Great Migrations to urban spaces, on stage at Harelm’s Apollo Theater, within both Motown’s and Los Angeles’ major recording studios, and shown on MTV and BET. When you tell the story of African American music, you tell the story of our nation.

Second, I attended the Posse Plus Retreat back in February when I was hired and some of the facilitators did a great job of playing music during our set-ups for activities. There I told American Studies professor (and musician) Dr. Will Nash, “I’ll give you all the money in my wallet if you can tell me who’s singing this song.” He thought for a minute and replied, “Is it Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine?”” I wasn’t expecting a white man, some 20 years my senior, to know an R&B hit from the 1990s– and I was wrong. Thankfully I was only carrying $1.63 in cash! But that conversation made me realize even more profoundly that music transcends race, class, geography, and other markers we tend to think divide us.

Lastly (and transparently), I love to see people of color taking ownership of our library spaces, myself included. Frequently at predominantly white institutions, people of color and oppressed minorities do not see themselves systematically reflected in the curriculum, the history of their colleges, and/or in the body of faculty and staff. My efforts in the library aim to speak to that scarcity of representation. I’m on a mission to reassert esteem, to remind my audiences that we’re in the 21st century, and that “America” is increasingly and beautifully brown.

How’d you decide what to include?

We crowd-sourced. We started up an Excel file and invited various people on the library staff to add to it. The seven of us rather easily came up with hundreds of works that would fit into our theme. Ha! New recommendations were coming in while we were loading the shelves!

Can I just say that I learned so much in the process of preparing this display? I found out about “soundies,” some of the very first “music videos” of the 20th century that preserve early performances by black artists, that the ubiquitous tune,“The Entertainer,” was composed by a black man, Scott Joplin, and, perhaps most importantly for me, if you ask for help on a project, you’ll get it. This display was nothing if not a collaborative effort.

The layout of the display is a bit unconventional. Can you say a few words about that?

Sure! The idea of adorning our tables (and carrels) with display materials had been brewing for awhile, however, the opportunity to test it out only presented itself this month. The whole point of a display is to draw attention to a theme. While it’s easy to walk past shelving containing “themed” items en route to a study space, it’s harder to miss items in a display that occupy one’s study space. I call it a “guerrilla” method. It’s a more aggressive attempt to engage an audience. (And people are noticing.)

What were some of the challenges in shaping this display?

I wish the students who are normally here during the academic year could see and enjoy the display. Many of them who frequent the Anderson Freeman Center <3 would appreciate the work. However, as we prepare for Reunion, many alumni will likely have an opportunity to encounter it.

We also realize that streaming is perhaps the most popular way for young people to consume music. While we have resources for this (see “Music Online: Listening (North America” within our databases under “M” at go.middlebury.edu/lib), the CD cases and inserts make for great visuals. For those of us wanting to listen to the CDs, know that we have multiple disc drives behind the Circulation Desk to loan out.

This display will last until June 22nd as the whole campus is gearing up for Language Schools and the content includes music in the English language. However, I have made efforts to include artists from the black diaspora like Beny Moré (Cuba) for the Spanish School, Les Nubians (France) for the French School, and Seu Jorge (Brazil) for the Portuguese School.

What do you want people to take away from the display?

I want people taking in the display to think critically about the contributions African Americans have made to this country. Music is merely one of them. Our economic contributions are often hard for people to stomach because they are mired in blood, sweat, and tears. Our scientific contributions experience historical erasures as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Hidden Figures suggest. And our political ones are often met with violence, aggression and unpopularity, as the Civil Rights Movements demonstrate, while ultimately forwarding this nation.

How else can we enjoy this effort?

Like our Facebook page. For three weeks we will be sharing videos and trivia that speak to the African American musical experience and history. The content will be loosely chronological and you can follow the evolution of African American music with us.

Last words?

This display is an act of love. We welcome students, faculty, and staff to approach library workers with display development ideas and to continue making the library spaces your own. Also, while the music CDs typically “live” behind the circulation desk, they are still accessible to you. Come check it all out.

A Zine Called “Dresses”

Find student Andrew Pester’s zine Dresses cataloged in Special Collections & Archives by visiting archivesspace.middlebury.edu and searching the course name “Outlaw Women.” To see the print copy this summer, make an appointment  and drop by the garden level of the Davis Family Library

“The question of acceptance had a different weight for me.” ~Audre Lorde

Name: Andrew Pester

Year: 2017

Major: Dance

Hometown: Lawrence, Kansas

Collaborators: Dr. Catharine Wright’s Outlaw Women Course

Thanks Yous/Acknowledgements: Lexi Adams for helping to carry me through this.

You made a zine. What is that? And what was your motivation?

My zine is a collage of text, images, and color that express my life in a critical manner in relation to Audre Lorde’s biomythography, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. I created this zine in Catharine Wright’s Outlaw Women course, and the idea struck me after a movement-writing exploration with Maree ReMalia. I was writing in my notebook, and my narrative made much more sense in my own handwriting. I wanted the physicality of writing to be present in the work, so I decided to stray away from the traditional essay and into something more visual, the zine.

I write about a difficult interaction with my family, and I have found that I can be more true to the experience with the combination of visuals, text, and color than I can be with text alone. In creating the zine, I have found that the images restore the gentleness of motherhood that for a moment is shattered. The zine has been restorative and empowering.

How do you want users to interact with it?

I want users to absorb the text like they might absorb a photograph. There is no order in which I want the user to read the text, although the user may find a certain linearity. When making the zine, I thought about highlighting the moments that are an expression of my queer identity, those that are timeless and still live inside my body. I like to think of this zine more as a self-portrait than anything else.

Where would you like it to now live and who can help you with that?

I would be honored for my zine to live in Special Collections & Archives. I believe Mikaela Taylor and Joseph Watson can help me.

“Postcard to Mum”

If you visit the Davis Family Library atrium between now and Sunday, May 21st, you will see a very special display on the main floor, and continued in the glass display case on the Upper Level. Here’s what it’s about:

Middlebury student Miguel Castillo renders an artistic tribute to his mother with this interactive display.

Name: Miguel A. Castillo

Year: Junior/third-year

Major: Dance/Theatre

Hometown: Caracas, Venezuela

Collaborators: Aida Rodríguez [Tata], Andrew Pester, my family

Thanks Yous/Acknowledgements: Joseph Watson, Danielle Rougeau, Kim Gurney, Joseph Watson, Katrina Spencer, Deborah Leedy, Katrina Moore, Angela Valenzuela, Gabriel Ferreras, Emina Mahmuljin, Cathy Collins, Hedya Klein, Milo Stanley, Eliza Renner, Nando Sandoval, Ximena Mejia,  Wonnacott Commons, International Student Organization, and everyone else that said yes to this.

So what is this that you’ve set up on the main and upper levels of the Davis Family Library?

Part of the display on the upper level of Davis Family Library

It’s a three-part art installation that explores nostalgia, loss, and memory. This past year has been hard for me. On March 30th, 2016, my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. On June 12th, 2016, she passed away under a bright blue sky. Dealing with her physical absence has been a journey, a messy one. I compare this process to dropping a stone in the ocean water. A stone that falls in water makes ripples; at first they are small, intense and constant. With time, they become more spaced out but larger. They are all the result of the same stone. This art installation has been an opportunity to collect my feelings about what is going on– a space to bring out what cries and laughs inside. My grandmother, my mom’s mom, came to live with me for a month, so I thought that having an artistic project to collaborate on would give us the opportunity to deal with something that is hard for us both, and this is what we came up with.

How are library patrons supposed to interact with it?

I hope people come to see it and check out all the parts. There is a typewriter, some postcards, envelopes and stamps. My hope is that people use them to write with an open heart to whomever comes to their minds. Maybe they’ll write one and send it to a random address. Mother’s Day is coming up soon. I hope that people can reflect on the ephemerality of life. Live fully not because one will die but because one is alive. Life is a fleeting moment and, as my mother said, “No hay tiempo para pendejadas” (“There’s no time for bullsh*t”.)

What do you hope the community will gain from the display?

I hope people stop for a second, breathe, and keep going feeling even more human.

The Library Responds to the Charles A. Murray Visit

The Middlebury Libraries are sensitive to the discord on campus surrounding Charles A. Murray’s recent visit. Given our core role of providing access to as wide a range of information as possible, as well as teaching the skills necessary to interpret and assess that information, we thought it might be useful to outline some of the ways we have responded to the controversy.

  • We have purchased additional copies of core titles by Charles A. Murray in order to meet the heightened interest from the community.  The library also holds multiple copies of works that respond to and/or dispute Murray’s conclusions, such as William Wilson’s The Truly Disadvantaged, and Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man;
  • In response to the Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious Life’s email message recommending specific books about conflict resolution, we purchased titles we were lacking and highlighted these works with a display in the library atrium.  This display remained in place for over three weeks and was also highlighted in The Campus;
  • Special Collections has been identifying, collecting, and preserving a variety of Web-based content relating to the controversy and protests. This material includes blogs and social media feeds created by student political action groups, as well as local news articles covering the events. We hope that these Web archiving efforts — in addition to our growing collection of donated images and video — will enable future researchers and generations of Middlebury students to understand the Murray visit and the March protests in a fuller context, and ensure that student voices continue to be heard more clearly than they might be if relying solely on secondary, mainstream sources;
  • Special Collections also received a donation of digital photographs, videos, articles and responses to the Murray protest from August Hutchinson ‘16.5.  These materials, which the donor has called “The Middlebury Moment,” are now held in our digital repository along with other student-created materials documenting the event.

We continue to seek ways to provide thorough information about Murray’s work, the various responses to it in the literature, and the recent protests relating to his visit to Middlebury.  If there are additional titles that might speak to any these themes, we encourage you to submit them at go/requests/ (or go.middlebury.edu/requests/ if off-campus).  Finally, please feel free to email us with other ideas for the Libraries to consider as we continue to respond as a community to these challenging issues.