A Fellow’s Tale on Navigating Library Resources During a Pandemic and Beyond

by Zhané Garlington, of the she series, Cal Class of 2021 

Growing up as a low-income student of color, the library is where I went after school and during school breaks to explore new worlds and receive help with homework. As a 2020-2021 Library Fellow I was fortunate to not only aid in creating a space where students like me could continue to receive library support, but also was extremely fortunate to gain a sense of community in times where in person activities were limited and/or prohibited. In our digital meeting spaces, Nicole Brown, Kiyoko Shiosaki,  Gisèle Tanasse, and Kristina Bush emphasized innovative thinking and encouraged cooperative activities. The experience was like no other and I am extremely grateful for being able to partake in this fellowship as my undergraduate degree comes to an end.

As a Library fellow in the Making Research Accessible Team alongside Katherine Chen, Joseph Rodriguez, and Tara Madhav, my mentor Gisèle and I centered our project around the early stages of research. Early in the semester, we surveyed some student-ran social media pages such as the transfer student page and the student parent page on Facebook in order to gain insight on student research processes. From our findings, it was understood especially at the undergraduate level, that the biggest research obstacle most students faced was getting their research started. This is the inspiration behind our ‘keyword script’. The big ideal behind the script is to have an instructional video share research tips with students. A narrator would suggest that before a student begins to look up their research subject, they should brainstorm some keywords to search. Students would then be instructed to think about their research question and condense it down to the phrase:

“I am researching (blank) in order to find out (what/how/why blank.)

There would be a few prompts on screen with timed intervals for students to complete said prompts before moving on to the next one with the intentions being that the core concepts students thought of through the prompts would be search terms to find books, articles, etc. in our library databases. In an ideal world where I am more tech savvy, I would have loved to create an algorithm that created keywords off of keywords that students put into the library databases which could potentially help students find sources they may have not have got to through their own self guided keyword processes.

This keyword  project came from Gisèle and my own passion for keyword brainstorming, and overall how activities like it can lead individuals not only to find their own research passions, but also to find their general passions. Self-paced learning opportunities for undergrads, where self-actualization might be a takeaway was something I wanted to root my fellows project in, and by highlighting existing resources to support undergrads I believe that is exactly what we did. Despite the current circumstances of the world the 2020-2021 cohort lived through, we were still able to accomplish so much! So for anyone looking through these blog posts considering applying to the next cohort of Library Fellows,  I am thankful that I got to end my time at Berkeley as a fellow and would highly recommend the fellowship to anyone who also wants to add a truly enriching experience to their own undergraduate path.


Charles Gaines: The Criticality and Aesthetics of the System

As a continuation of our work for the Getty Research Institute’s African American Art History Initiative, Dr. Bridget Cooks and I conducted a series of oral history interviews with the conceptual artist Charles Gaines. This interview was the first of several exploring the lives and work of Los Angeles-based artists, and celebrates Gaines’s extraordinary artistic contributions. 

Charles Gaines
Charles Gaines, 2018, photograph by Fredrik Nilsen.

Charles Gaines is an artist specializing in conceptual art, as well as a professor of art at California Institute of the Arts. Gaines was born in South Carolina in 1944, but grew up in Newark, New Jersey. He attended Arts High School in Newark, graduated from Jersey City State College in 1966, and earned an MFA from the School of Art and Design at the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1967. Beginning in 1967, he taught at several colleges, including Mississippi Valley State College, Fresno State University, and California Institute of the Arts. Gaines has written several academic texts, including “Theater of Refusal: Black Art and Mainstream Criticism” in 1993 and “Reconsidering Metaphor/Metonymy: Art and the Suppression of Thought” in 2009. His influential artwork includes Manifesto Series, Numbers and Trees, and Sound Text; and he exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and 2015. Gaines is the recipient of several awards, including Guggenheim Fellowship in 2013 and REDCAT Award in 2018. Find this interview and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. You can search by name, key word, and several other criteria.

Hearing about Charles Gaines’s upbringing was especially helpful in framing his approaches to art. For example, he spoke about his mother’s influence on his life–particularly her musical inclinations. Though Gaines concentrated his early artistic studies on the visual arts, he also had a passion for music, eventually becoming a professional drummer. This connection to musicality and music theory features prominently in his conceptual works like Snake River and Manifestos. Indeed, in his Manifestos Series, Gaines turned the text of political manifestos into musical compositions based on a system he devised. He recalled, “Unconsciously, I began thinking about music as a kind of mathematics and this connection with text and language; I began to see the connection to language and systems.”

Charles Gaines, Manifestos, 2013. Single channel video (color, sound), two graphite drawings on paper, monitor, pedestal, two
speakers, hanging speaker shelves. Photograph by Frederik Nilsen.

Further, Gaines shared about his exploration of conceptual work in the 1970s, and his consequential transition from an abstract painter to a conceptual artist:

Well as I said, those big abstraction paintings turned into these process-oriented works, and so that work demonstrated an interest in a systematic approach. It was a part of my research. I was looking for an alternate way of making work that was not based upon the creative imagination, was not based upon subjective expression.

This transition period also coincided with an eighteen-month sabbatical from teaching at Fresno State University from 1974 to 1975, when Gaines, his wife, and infant son moved to New York to explore his professional art practice. He recalled of the conceptual artists he met there:

But I did at that time, during that time in New York, become much more familiar with conceptualists, with what the conceptualists were doing. At that time, it provided a context for me. It was just before I started working with numbers but I was working with systems already, and so I felt that it’s true that, of anybody, my work, the language of my work fits best with those conceptualists. 

Another major theme in Gaines’s interviews was his many years teaching art at colleges across the country, including the challenges of teaching at what he deemed conservative institutions. Despite these challenges, Gaines always looked for ways to mentor his students by not only helping them improve the quality of their work, but also by sharing his own insights into how to navigate the art world. He explained:

The thing I would always give my students advice about is that you can’t control career. That’s something that you shouldn’t even be thinking about. You should only think about the work, and you should also think about exhibiting the work, which I think is different from a career. You need to show people the work, so you make the work and try to get people to see it. In that process, something might happen, you can’t make it happen. In almost every story about how careers get kicked off, it’s because you happen to be at a right place at the right time, and somebody who matters notices something, and then things sort of roll into place…Ultimately, it’s the work that’s going to get you the exposure.

In addition to his own works and teaching career, Gaines has also made many important contributions to the art world through his theoretical writing and curation of exhibitions. In 1993, he co-curated Theater of Refusal: Black Art and Mainstream Criticism with Catherine Lord at the University of California, Irvine in 1993. This show, and Gaines’s catalog piece, explored racism in the art world by displaying Black artists’ work alongside reviews from (largely white) art critics, and questioned how and why they misread this work. Of this important exhibition, Gaines explained:

Well, I chose artists who were actively producing in the art world, and known to people. In a couple of cases, I showed a couple of people who were at an early part of their career, like Renée Green, for example, just started her career. But there were other people like Lorna Simpson and Fred Wilson, Adrian Piper, were completely well-known. The fact that they’re well-known artists was important to me because it allowed me to underscore this point that I was making: that is that there’s not much writing on the work of artists, even if they’re well known. The writing that there is [is] marginalized around the idea of race. The writers who wrote about [them] often thought they were writing positively about the work. They didn’t think that the way they approached the work was, in fact, marginalizing.

To learn more about Charles Gaines’s life and work, check out his oral history interview! Find this interview and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. You can search by name, key word, and several other criteria.


Summer reading: Disgraced

Book cover for DisgracedDisgraced
Ayad Akhtar

Art, race, and politics come together in this 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner. Two couples push through the niceties over dinner, and before the evening is over, they come to grips with “truths” that are usually left unspoken. As difficult as it is to face deeply ingrained biases, this play challenges audiences to lift their gaze to see society as it really is.

College Writing Programs

This book is part of the 2021 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!

Pride 2021: Our Picks for LGBTQ+ Literature

June is Pride month, a time for celebrating the struggles and achievements of the LGBTQ+ community. Browse through the Library’s collection on OverDrive of LGBTQ+ literature as one of many ways to celebrate the inspiring journeys of the queer community.

Try these new and classic novels:

These memoirs and works of non-fiction are inspiring and insightful:

If you’re interested in LGBTQ+ poetry, drama, and essays, don’t miss these:

Publisher du Jour – Al Manar Éditions

Al Manar Éditions
Illustration by Rachid Koraïchi  for Le Livre de la frontière (2006)

Al Manar Éditions is an independent publishing house dedicated to the art and literatures of the Mediterranean with a notable focus on the Arab world. Established in 1996 within the Galerie Al Manar in Casablanca, directed by Alain and Christine Gorius from 1994 to 2003, the editorial house is now based in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, and has published nearly 400 titles to date. Whether in translation or in original language, the majority of their books are in French. Well-known writers in their catalog from the global south include Vénus Khoury-Ghata, Adonis, Abdelkebir Khatibi, Mohammed Bennis, Abdellatif Laâbi, Mostafa Nissabouri, and Salah Stétié. From Europe and among others, there is Sylvie Germain, Jean-Pierre Millecam, Nicole de Pontcharra, as well as Kabila, a French painter of Andalusian Roma origin. Others include Syrian poets Aïcha Arnaout and Maram Al-Masri, Lebanese writers Etel Adnan, Georgia Makhlouf, Leïla Sebbar and Albert Bensoussan, who, by virtue of their family origins and their background, belong to both shores of the Mediterranean, like Anne Rothschild, an Ashkenazi poet and engraver who is often met in Tahar Bekri Ramallah—a Tunisian poet, or Özdemir Ince a—Turkish poet and man of letters as well as the Catalan translator and literary critic Jaume Pont.

Al Manar serves as a reputable vehicle of dissemination for the staggering diversity of thought and creative talent in the Mediterranean region. The UC Berkeley Library is proud to hold more than 40 of its imprints with several of the more precious artists’ books shelved in The Bancroft Library. The publishing house regularly exhibits at the Codex Book Fair and Symposium held biannually in Richmond and Berkeley.

Our Favorite OverDrive Audiobooks

Summer is here, and there’s no better time than now to dive into a good book. Ranging from novels to memoirs and narrated by celebrities and budding voice actors alike, listening your way through OverDrive’s audiobook collection is sure to be a great way to spend your summer!

These new novels are a perfect way to kick off your audiobook journey.

These audiobooks read by familiar voices may inspire you:

Dive into these memoirs read by the authors themselves.

Want a book that we don’t have in the library? Request it here.

The Last Flower: A Parable in Pictures

book cover
Thurber, J. (1939). The last flower: a parable in pictures. New York: Harper & brothers. Source: HathiTrust.

Originally published in November 1939, two months after World War II officially began, James Thurber’s The Last Flower: A Parable in Pictures is a graphic novel ahead of its day. Inspired in particular by the Spanish Civil War and the Nazi and Soviet invasion of Poland, it chronicles the eternal cycles of war, peace, love, and the resilience of one little flower and remains as relevant today as it was then. The text has been translated into dozens of languages worldwide, among them a French translation by Albert Camus and published by Gallimard in 1952. A native of Columbus, Ohio, Thurber was not only a cartoonist but also an author, humorist, journalist, playwright, and celebrated wit who joined the staff of the New Yorker in 1927 where he remained for most of his career.

Reissued by the University of Iowa Press in 2007, the first edition and later edition are temporarily available online to the UC community through the HathiTrust Emergency Temporary Access service until the UC libraries fully reopen this fall. You can learn more about The Last Flower at the Columbus Public Library’s Art Unbound II exhibition installed in its Carnegie Gallery.

 Thurber, J. (1939). The last flower: a parable in pictures. New York: Harper & brothers. Source: HathiTrust.

4th Annual Nahuatl Conference at UCLA (Friday, June 4, 2021)

Usually, we do not post about what is happening at the other University of California campuses. However, this announcement piqued my interest as it deals with the Nahuatl language and history. One advantage the pandemic has offered us is to virtually attend the conferences instead of traveling at long distances from the comfort of one’s place. One of my faculty mentors was Dr. Kevin Terraciano at UCLA, and his works on the indigenous languages- especially Nahuatl are known all over the country. Please register here.


Grounding Passion with Empathy and Compassion: Reflections on the Undergraduate Library Fellowship

by Keziah Aurin ’22Photo of Undergraduate Library Fellow Keziah Aurin

I remember my interview for the Undergraduate Library Fellowship very vividly. Kristina and Nicole, the kindest people on Earth and the program coordinators asked me about my experience in design and how I would like to use it in the fellowship. I said something along the lines of, “I have no idea but I want to use design to solve problems in my community.” To my surprise, I am now wrapping up my fellowship with this blog post!

Coming into the fellowship, I thought we would dive right into determining issues or things to improve on in the Library and finding solutions addressing them. I could not be any more wrong. Throughout these past eight-ish months, we placed a lot of focus on learning and truly grasping what it means to center humans in our designs and to make solutions accessible, effective, and long-lasting. It became more about us growing than us producing.

During the fall semester, the mentors took the time to help us understand and engage with human-centered design. We participated in workshops, open discussions, and activities to immerse ourselves in what it is like to 1) face problems, big and small, fictional and realistic, and; 2) develop methodical solutions out of them. In addition, our mentors also helped us ground ourselves and our thinking in radical self-love and radical community care. Through our discussion on Emergent Strategy and activity on Rapid Prototyping, we had the opportunity to not only define, but also actualize empathetic and selfless problem-solving.

Translating that to our spring semester project, I, along with my amazing partner, Natalie, put together a survey aiming to address disparities within the library and its relationship with marginalized undergraduate students. We hoped to gain a better understanding of why student organizations tend to offer their own services similar to the library such as research support, book banks, and even study spaces. More importantly, we wanted to highlight these existing resources, through the library, using a Notion database to make it user-friendly and easy to access for our target audience.

As I sit in front of my computer and write this reflection, I can’t help but think that perhaps we don’t need crazy ideas to address problems around us. Instead, it’s far more crucial that we slow down to think, listen, reflect, understand, and try to take advantage of the people, skills, and resources already in front of us. This fellowship and every single person that I got to work with (Jen, Annalise, and Natalie- you all have my heart!) have transformed my design thinking and problem-solving processes drastically. To put it bluntly, I am no longer a let’s-get-right-down-to-business type gal. Instead, I am now a let’s-sit-down-and-reflect type of leader.

I think that’s what we need more of: spaces and people that encourage us to learn and explore, shifting away from productivity and towards the journey. After a heavy year full of turbulence, turmoil, and uncertainty, I found a (virtual) safe haven every other Monday afternoon where I was allowed to think critically, ask loudly, and solve empathetically. Sometimes all we need is a space fast-paced enough that we don’t let the world pass by us but slow enough that it still allows us to reflect and still be human.