A Library Research Journey (Pandemic Edition)

Screenshot of team members
Association of College and Research Libraries conference poster–screenshot of recorded talk

Even beyond those who believe that librarians sit around and read books all day (which would be delightful but is most definitely not our reality), many are surprised to learn that librarians double as active researchers. This is especially true in settings where librarians are members of the faculty, but even where that isn’t the case, such as at Berkeley, librarians are born investigators and it carries over into wanting to find out about and add to knowledge of our settings.

What does it look like to conduct library research?  Glad you asked! In our case, it started with a conversation and an idea.  Natalia Estrada (now Berkeley’s Political Science and Public Policy Librarian, then the Social Sciences Collection and Reference Assistant and in library school) and I were talking about how much we admired the work of Kaetrena Davis Kendrick.  Kendrick wrote a foundational work in the study of librarian workplace morale, The Low Morale Experience of Academic Librarians: A Phenomenological Study, and it sparked many more studies on this topic.  But, where were the studies of library staff experiences?  We wanted to find out!

We were lucky to recruit two colleagues who added so much to the team: Bonita Dyess, Circulation/Reserves Supervisor at the Earth Sciences/Map Library, and Celia Emmelhainz, Berkeley’s Anthropology & Qualitative Research Librarian.  First we applied for (and eventually got) funding for the research from LAUC (the Librarians Association of the University of California).  This meant we could pay for transcribing our interviews, give the participants gift cards, and buy qualitative data analysis software.  Then we applied for (and got) approval from the IRB (Institutional Review Board), making sure we were complying with processes for research with human subjects.

Here’s where the “pandemic edition” part comes in. All this planning and applying, starting in November 2019, took time; so, at the point we were actually ready to recruit participants, it was April 2020. We were sheltering in place, and not sure how this all would work (although it was probably better than having to go virtual in mid-stream)! Nevertheless, we hurled out information about and invitations to be part of the study to every list-serv, association, and friendly librarian we could think of, nationwide.  We ended up doing 34 interviews with academic library staff from a range of locations and institution types (purposefully excluding the UC system), during a three-week period in May-June 2020.   Due to COVID these were all online, either by phone or Google Meet (sort of like Zoom), and we asked a structured list of questions, with room for branching into other topics, or diving deeply.  Celia trained a wonderful student to transcribe the interviews, and once we had those transcripts and stripped identifying information from them, we were off– coding away (using MAXQDA software), and drawing themes, quotes, recommendations, and other findings from the surprisingly rich information we’d collected.

Next—we had to start getting the information out into the world!  Our eventual goal is to write a paper, or several, for publication.  There are a number of library and information science journals out there that we are considering… but that takes time as well, and we wanted to start presenting our findings sooner.  So, we did an “initial findings” presentation to the UC Berkeley Library Research Working Group, and then stepped into the big time with acceptance to present a poster at the 2021 Association of College and Research Libraries online conference (our poster got almost 600 views), and with a webinar we did for the Pennsylvania Library Association (both the poster and the webinar slides are available through the UC’s eScholarship portal).  All our work to get to this point is hopefully now helping others.

Screenshot of title slide of PA Library Association webinar

And, a word about connecting with our participants.  We were bowled over by their generosity with us and by all they had to say: much that we didn’t expect, and much that they were grateful someone was even asking about.  It ended up that we had captured one of the last opportunities to get a snapshot of pre-COVID library staff life; people were still in limbo, and talked about their regular jobs before any lockdowns, for the most part. At that point most expected to be back in their libraries and all to be normal by the end of the summer 2020.  We know now that that didn’t happen, and we know that library re-openings and staff roles in them have been challenging and sometimes contentious; we wish we’d known to ask for permission to re-interview our participants—even if only to check in with them.  But how could we have known?  We wonder how they are.

So now, we have papers to write, and thinking to do about how to take our questions into new avenues of research—because it’s a never-ending, and completely exciting process, and, we suspect, will be very different (easier? or not?) in the post-COVID landscape.  Do you have ideas for us?  We’d love to hear them!  Or want to hear more about our morale study? Please get in touch with us at librarystaffmorale@berkeley.edu!


Wikipedia, Knowledge Equity, and Researching Herstories

Added portion of the Carol Blanche Cotton Wikipedia page

You may have heard that last week the Library hosted its now-annual Wikipedia edit-a-thon, a gathering of editors and fans of this amazing online resource (side note: speaking as a librarian who was taught that since Wikipedia is crowd-sourced it’s unreliable, I can say I’ve come to a much more appreciative stance after learning about its culture of fact-checking and reference, and in fact using the reference lists in articles on many occasions).  Wikipedia is central to our knowledge landscape, and the UC Berkeley Library’s edit-a-thons are held so that we can improve on this landscape in the areas of art + feminism, and race + justice.

This year, because the edit-a-thon was virtual, we organizers were able to present a fascinating two-hour keynote and workshop given by Dr. Alexandria Lockett, of Spelman College in Atlanta.  Dr. Lockett is a long-time Wikipedian (she started editing in 2003) who incorporates Wikipedia in her teaching, and works to question the politics of citation practices, representation, and knowledge equity there (check out her recent book chapter, “Why Do I Have Authority to Edit the Page? The Politics of User Agency and Participation on Wikipedia”).

Her talk, “Research for Knowledge Equity” had important content for everyone attending, whatever their Wikipedia editing level or interest.  Dr. Lockett focused on knowledge production, and how that can “marginalize Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) scholarship and media, LGBTQ persons, African scholarship and media, women scholars regardless of color, disabled scholars, etc.” (she noted that there are Wikipedia campaigns meeting this issue, particularly #CiteBlackWomen and “CiteaSista”).  She then went on to outline methods and resources for doing herstorical research, particularly on the history of Black women.  Bringing the perspectives of inclusive knowledge production and informed research strategies to our editing means that Wikipedia can start to become a force for change from within, moving towards knowledge equity. As Dr. Lockett notes, “This is intellectual labor, not just tacking on facts. It will change your perspectives on knowledge production.”  Want to know more?  Dr. Lockett has made her slides and her list of potential articles to edit available!

After the workshop, the edit-a-thon continued in its classic format, superimposed onto Zoom.  We had an editing instruction session, a breakout room for one-on-one help, and one for open editing for those who wanted a collegial space in which to work.  I, for one, felt fired up by what I’d heard from Dr. Lockett, and decided to see if I could improve an article on Carol Blanche Cotton (Bowie), a Black psychologist whose dissertation focused on cognitive testing of children with disabilities, and whose name was on a list of articles needing edits.  Using my librarian super searching skills (AKA Google Scholar in this case), I found an online reference to her great grandmother, Rebecca Harris, in a 1983 article titled “The Antebellum ‘Talented Thousandth’: Black College Students at Oberlin Before the Civil War”.  Once I did that, I was able to add the section circled in the image above to Dr. Cotton’s Wikipedia page.  It felt so rewarding to connect Dr. Cotton to her ancestor, who believed so strongly in education that she moved her entire family to Oberlin, and along the way I learned more about two women—Dr. Cotton and Rebecca Harris—who I will never forget.  I hope you, reader, will have the chance to get just as excited about learning and editing, in one of the many online editathons happening now, and also at our 2022 edit-a-thon—watch this space!


Library’s Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon: Coming Soon (3/10) to a Screen Near You!

Edit-a-thon logo and date-time

For many of us in the library, last year’s Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon on March 4 was the final program we held in person before the pandemic lockdowns (we actually wondered at the time whether attendance would be down due to the spread of the virus, but we had a great crowd).

Happily for us, the edit-a-thon, which is an event that gathers people together to expand and improve on the amazing information resource Wikipedia, can easily transition to an online format!  The National Network of Libraries of Medicine has been holding national online edit-a-thons for years, and there are many other wonderful offerings, themed and general, to take advantage of online (check out this set of events “Honoring Indigenous Writers” from the University of British Columbia).

So, this year, our edit-a-thon will be virtual.  Please come edit with us on Wednesday, March 10, from 1:00-5:00 PM! (or any portion of that time that works for you) We’ll use Zoom as a way to hold our guest speaker session and workshops on how to edit, and we will even have breakout rooms for the various editing preferences and needs of attendees.  More information and the schedule can be found here; the only thing you need to do is register using this form (in order to get the Zoom link), and show up online on the day!  (It would also be great, if you want to actually edit, to set up your Wikipedia account in advance)

And, about the guest speaker aspect of the event—this year, we are thrilled to offer a two-hour Wikipedia workshop (from 1:00-3:00 PM) created and led by Dr. Alexandria Lockett, from Spelman University in Atlanta, GA.  Dr. Lockett will discuss how both new and experienced editors can meaningfully contribute to underrepresented knowledge of Wikipedia through alternative research practices.

Questions?  Feel free to email us at editathon@lists.berkeley.edu, and we hope to “see” you on March 10!


Love Data? Join Us During Love Data Week 2021, Feb 8-12!

Love Data Week 2021

Since our Love Data Week invitation post last year, the COVID pandemic has created a new world— and amazing new opportunities and challenges related to data.  Just a peek at data.berkeley.edu (the portal for Berkeley’s Computing, Data Science, and Society Division) shows that data-related research during this past pandemic year, even with its intense and difficult challenges, has revealed new insights.  Check out “Pandemic provides real-time experiment for diagnosing, treating misinformation, disinformation”.*  

So, it’s fitting that Love Data Week 2021 at Berkeley, hosted by the UC Berkeley Library in partnership with Berkeley’s Research IT department, is focused on the kinds of issues we are confronted with in a wholly-online research environment.  Join us on Tuesday for a session on ethical considerations in data, most definitely a concern with many of Berkeley’s researchers looking at issues related to COVID; on Wednesday for a talk on cybersecurity (aimed at graduate researchers but all are welcome); on Thursday for another security-related workshop, “Getting Started with LastPass & Veracrypt”; and on Friday for an introduction to Savio, Berkeley’s high performance computing cluster.  Please click on this link for information on these, and registration links!

Questions?  E-mail LDW 2021 at researchdata@berkeley.edu .  And, if we’ve whetted your appetite for data and more data, take a look at the University of California-wide Love Data Week offerings.  If you’ve ever wondered what an API is, or want a quick intro to SQL, or even just want to know what the acronyms stand for, there are these sessions and more!

*  The same page makes it clear that data is for everyone; check out “I Am a Data Scientist”, about a student who came to Berkeley as an English major and discovered how data can “shed light on larger-scale questions”, and “Translating Numbers Into Words: The Art of Writing About Data Science”, featuring three Berkeleyites who are getting the word out about data.

 


Pandemic Pivot: Data Engagement — from Berkeley, not Gothenburg

So many of us have a dream that didn’t take place this year.  Mine was to go to the Volvo Museum in Gothenburg, Sweden.  I’m a big Volvo fan: here’s my 1992 wagon, who the mechanic said wouldn’t make it from Seattle to Berkeley when I moved here.  He was wrong, she flew into Berkeley in style.  She’s a champ.

Red Volvo wagon
My Volvo, Chili, made it to Berkeley

But, I digress! The reason I was due to be in Gothenburg at all was to give a talk at the 2020 IASSIST (International Association for Social Science Information Service and Technology) conference there in May, but of course like so much else the conference was canceled.  I was pretty disappointed, especially since this was my chance to take a presentation I’d given for public librarians in 2017 and re-envision and reinvigorate it for academic librarians in 2020.

I got very lucky though…in mid-March, just as conference cancellation news came through, and the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place was declared, a colleague encouraged me to submit something for consideration to the ICPSR (Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research) Data Fair, already slated to be held online in the fall.

Reader, I pivoted!  I was able to take the proposal for the Gothenburg lightning talk (about 7 minutes), and expand it into a proposal for an hour-long webinar, online from Berkeley.  It was accepted!  As I started to work on it, I discovered I had perhaps promised I’d talk about approximately three hours’ worth of material, so condensing it was a challenge—perhaps because it is on a subject I feel passionately about—“Data Engagement for the Data-Hesitant Librarian”.  My strong belief is that many of us, and I tend to think especially about librarians, are led to believe that data is some big, mysterious, and daunting mountain we don’t want to climb, when actually we already have much more skill, comfort, and experience working with it than we think.

So, I tried to create a talk that had some fun in it, and some data-related resources that are practically begging to be explored.  Interested in how we can combat misinformation?  Check out callingbull.org, by the authors of the new book Calling Bull: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World.  What about critical data literacy and data justice?  Take a look at this guidebook from the Data Justice Lab, complete with interactive learning tools.  Perhaps a recipe from The Library Assessment Cookbook appeals?  Or maybe you just want to learn more about the Burning Man event, from the Burning Man Census data they collect each year.

Whatever your interest, geek out proudly! You can find the talk here (Is.gd/DataEngage_Talk —check out the other ICPSR Data Fair talks while you’re there) and the slides here (Is.gd/DataEngage_Slides).  I hope you find something to interest and engage you, and I’d love to hear what you think—feel free to drop me a line at glusker@berkeley.edu!

Screenshot of Data Talk YouTube page


An Iconic Gift

This post is by Environmental Design Library librarian David Eifler; if you haven’t seen him, or his wonderful library (one of more than 25 on campus), you can check them out by joining him on this Virtual Tour.

**

While I was in high school, my small businessman dad came home one evening with a book. Although he had a natural curiosity and often read the encyclopedia for pleasure, I’d never seen him as excited about the written word as when he brought home The Last Whole Earth Catalog: Access to Tools – the one with the shadowed view of the “blue marble” on the cover.  Now considered by many a precursor to the World Wide Web, it was a compendium of tools and books to improve the planet.  Decades later, when I arrived to the Environmental Design Library (ENVI), I was pleased to find it and other editions in our collection.  Librarian Elizabeth Byrne proudly told me that its author, Stewart Brand, had written a classic, How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built, while doing the research in our library.

Cover of The Last Whole Earth Catalog book Cover of How Buildings Learn book

So, I was thrilled when Brand contacted me in late November and asked if ENVI would accept approximately 200 books used to write How Buildings Learn.  He’s working on a new book and needed to purge his library of volumes from past projects.  The founder of the WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link) with Dr. Larry Brilliant (now a CNN COVID-19 expert) and CoEvolution Quarterly met me at his Sausalito office on a sunny December morning and gave me 11 boxes of architectural books.  The Library got the books, and I had the great pleasure of meeting a national icon.

Piles of books donated by Steward Brand


“Checking the Boxes” – A panel on race, ethnicity, and the Census

Although we don’t always think of it that way, one federal government program that affects each of us in the United State is the decennial census.  And among the challenges of many kinds that a pandemic has brought us, its effects on gathering good quality census data is high on the list.

Earlier this year, the Library hosted a well-attended (physical) exhibit related to the census, Power and the People: The US Census and Who Counts (which can still be experienced online).  Related to the exhibit, we were on board with our plan to host a panel of campus experts on the contested race and ethnicity questions in the census, and how they’ve shifted over time…. Until March 17, when the Bay Area went into a shelter-in-place order and the program had to be postponed.  But last month, thanks to a persistent team, generous panelists, and the wonders of Zoom, we were thrilled to able to present the panel at last, online!

The program, titled Checking the Boxes: Race(ism), Latinx and the Census, featured three UC Berkeley experts on racial and ethnic categorizations in the census.  Cristina Mora (Associate Professor of Sociology and Chicano/Latino studies), Tina Sacks (Assistant Professor, School of Social Welfare), and Victoria Robinson (Lecturer and American Cultures Program Director, Department of Ethnic Studies) were joined by our moderator, librarian Jesse Silva, for presentations and a lively Q&A.

Professor Mora started the program off with the information that “ethnic and race categories are political constructs… They are not set-in-stone scientific markers of identity or genetic composition.” She noted that since the census counts are directly related to funding, communities have a vested interest in getting accurate and complete counts, but this can be very difficult for groups and areas that are designated Hard to Count. Professor Sacks continued by emphasizing the ways in which census-driven funding allocations can affect people in poverty and those in social safety net programs.  She also noted the intersections shown by census data between race and place, such as areas with a substantial number of incarcerated people. Finally Professor Robinson added background and context by discussing the site racebox.org, which shows the history of the race questions on the census from 1790 onwards, and which illuminates the changes in the cultural and social conceptions of what race is and how it can be measured.

The program concluded with an animated question and answer period, which included Professor Mora’s elaborating on the differences between racial and ethnic categories, Professor Sacks (who has actually been a census enumerator) discussing the challenges of counting the homeless population, and Professor Robinson revisiting the question of incarceration and the Attica problem: “[Incarcerated people’s] residence is considered to be a prison. That’s not their home, and the relationship then to the power…in the communities that they [aren’t from], that’s the Attica problem.”

Of course, this summary doesn’t do justice to the range and depth of the issues discussed.  If you missed this program, or would like to see it again, check it out on the UC Berkeley Library’s YouTube channel!

Census panel speaker photos
(Clockwise from top left) Jesse Silva, Cristina Mora, Victoria Robinson, Tina Sacks

Come Edit with Us! (at the Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon, 3/4/20)

Graphics for event

Umberto Eco, author of The Name of the Rose, said, “The cultivated person’s first duty is to be always prepared to rewrite the encyclopedia.” But, in the case of Wikipedia, we actually get to write the encyclopedia!  If you are interested in Wikipedia as a phenomenon and what happens behind the scenes, in learning to edit, and/or in improving the quality and diversity of content in this important resource, join us at the upcoming Art + Feminism + Race + Justice Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon.

Why is this so important, anyway?  It’s because Wikimedia’s race and gender trouble is well-documented. While the reasons for the gap are up for debate, the practical effect of this disparity is not: content is skewed by the lack of participation by women and underrepresented groups. This adds up to an alarming absence in an important repository of shared knowledge, which many groups are starting to address.

Art+Feminism is a national campaign improving coverage of cis and transgender women, non-binary folks, feminism and the arts on Wikipedia, and at UC Berkeley we have teamed up with the American Cultures program’s Race+Justice edit-a-thon. Edit-a-thons are a powerful way to address Wikipedia’s gaps in content.  The Library is also joined in sponsorship of the event by 150 Years of Women at Berkeley, and suggested editing needs will include topics related to Berkeley alumnae of note.

So, join us in 405 Moffitt Library on Wednesday, March 4 between 11:00am and 5:00pm for an all-day communal updating of Wikipedia entries. Drop in any time! We will provide tutorials for the beginner Wikipedian, reference materials, and refreshments. Check out the schedule at bit.ly/wiki-berkeley for timing of informative talks, instruction sessions, and more.  Set up your Wikipedia editing account in advance, or we can help you on the day. Bring your laptop, power cord and ideas for entries that need updating or creation! For the editing-averse, we urge you to stop by to show your support. People of all races and gender identities are invited to participate.

See you there!

NOTE: A Cal ID card is required to enter Moffitt, so those without a Cal ID card need to RSVP to attend the event by March 3.

The Library attempts to offer programs in accessible, barrier-free settings. If you think you may require disability-related accommodations, please contact us.


“Teaching, Learning and Creating Change with Data”–a Census-Focused Library and American Cultures Event

Program attendees look at student work

At Berkeley, every undergraduate student must satisfy an American Cultures (AC) requirement. From the American Cultures site: “American Cultures courses are uniquely designed to critically engage in important issues within the United States by helping students develop a deeper understanding of race, culture, and ethnicity in the context of American society.” This long-standing requirement has led to some amazing projects and also some really creative ways of engaging students.  And, even if a class is sponsored by, say, the sociology department, the students may be from a wide range of disciplines.

Having just launched “Power and the People: The U.S. Census and Who Counts”, the library’s exhibit on the census (just in time for the 2020 count), its curators were looking for exciting ways to bring census data to life, as part of a kick-off event.  We learned about how two American Cultures classes (Sociology 130AC, “Social Inequalities: American Cultures” and Sociology 146AC, “Contemporary Immigration in Global Perspective”) involve students with the census by incorporating census data into projects—and a program was born!

The program held earlier this week, called “Teaching, Learning and Creating Change with Data: The Census and American Cultures”, featured faculty and student presenters outlining and showing their work in the inviting space of the Morrison Library.  After short talks by Victoria Robinson, American Cultures program director, Irene Bloemraad, Sociology department and director of the Berkeley Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative (BIMI), and Joanna Reed, Sociology department, students presented their work, the heart of the event.  Six Sociology 130AC students showed, on laptops, how they used census data to complement their field work looking at neighborhood characteristics for assigned census tracts along the number 18 AC Transit bus route. Five Sociology 146AC students showed, on conference-type posters, how they used census data along with their investigations of immigrant services in two Bay Area cities (Richmond and Santa Rosa), to map availability of services in areas of greatest need and look for service gaps (in fact, some of this work contributed to a BIMI report). [post continues below photos]

Program attendees look at student work   Program attendees look at student work

The  hallmark of the event was the completely engaged atmosphere of conversation and ideas that resulted from the connections between the students and attendees, and between the broader context of how census data shapes and helps us understand the country we live in. This post is full of photos, because they are what really convey how exciting it was to see what the census can offer to our research and our lives, and to make the case of how important it is for each of us to be counted.

P.S.  Don’t miss our second event, a panel featuring renowned experts on race/ethnicity and the census, Cristina Mora, Michael Omi, Taeku Lee, and Tina Sacks, on March 19, 2020, same time (5 pm), same place (the Morrison Library)

Program attendees look at student work  Program attendees look at student work


An Assembly of Janeites

I’m not sure what the collective noun is for Janeites* (the term popularized by Rudyard Kipling in his short story by that name) to denote admirers of the Georgian-era British novelist Jane Austen, but assembly will do as well as anything! The recent Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), held in Williamsburg, VA was indeed an assembly of Janeites, and a fascinating one, attended by this UC Berkeley librarian (incidentally, a JASNA life member from long before the Colin Firth wet shirt scene).

JASNA has upwards of 6,000 members worldwide, and an impressive 850 attended this AGM (which filled up within five minutes of going live online), from every US state but 3 and every continent but Antarctica.  The AGM is an agreeable panoply of lectures (some popular, but mostly academic, including three excellent plenary addresses), special events such as tours and concerts, and a ball and promenade.  To say it’s a cross between a ComicCon-like event and a discipline-specific scholarly gathering doesn’t do it justice—there is some indefinable aspect added by the focus on the Georgian/Regency era and the passion for one ironic, wise, delectable, insightful, and compassionate author.  And the period-appropriate garb doesn’t hurt, especially when its background is Colonial Williamsburg, a veritable time capsule itself.

Two women at Jane Austen conference
Baronda Bradley (left) and Devoney Looser show two ways of expressing their connection to Jane Austen (used with permission)

Herewith some highlights of this year’s AGM, for you readers who are interested in a glimpse of this delightful conclave:

—Let’s begin with some academic cred!  Here are the lists of the conference’s breakout sessions and plenary addresses, complete with presenters’ bios.  Nothing if not majestic scholarship on show!

—Continuing with the academic theme, my favorite part of the entire conference (what can I say?  I’m a librarian!) was the tour and open house of Special Collections at the library of the College of William & Mary.  William & Mary is second only to Harvard University as the oldest higher education institution in the US, was founded in 1693, and is the only one founded by royal charter, from, you guessed it, co-regnants William and Mary.  For more detail on the tour, see this piece which appeared in William & Mary news.  Overall, it was just amazing to see the depth of the holdings, and those related to Jane Austen in particular.  Some of the most notable are thanks to an American Janeite, George Holbert Tucker, whose extensive and meticulously documented collection is now held at William & Mary.  At the same time, there were many other period treasures on display, among them this donation of a lock of Queen Mary’s hair.

Tucker's careful list of slides
Tucker’s list of slide titles, seen here, is a librarian’s dream
Lock of Queen Mary's hair
In the locket is a lock of Queen Mary’s hair (Both images used with permission)

—Of course, there were also tours of Colonial Williamsburg.  Of special interest was the home of George Wythe (the original structure still stands), with whom Thomas Jefferson lived and studied law for three years.  John Marshall, fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, also lived in Williamsburg and studied with Wythe; in addition, Marshall liked reading Jane Austen!  He wrote of her: “Her flights are not lofty, she does not soar on an eagle’s wings, but she is pleasing, interesting, equable, yet amusing.”

GW's House
George Wythe’s house

Also, being a librarian, I was very interested to see a demonstration of colonial-era typesetting and printing (unfortunately, the bookbinding demonstrations were not happening when I was there):

Typesetting
Colonial-era typesetting

—The promenade and ball are the hallmarks of any AGM.  After dinner, the entire assembly does a promenade, in their finery for the ball, around any location at which they happen to be meeting (when I attended an AGM in Washington DC, the promenade took place on the escalators connecting four levels of the hotel— quite a sight).  This time, we strolled at dusk to the Governor’s Palace, led by four torch bearers (with modern protective gear—those torches were huge!) where an actress told us period-appropriate ghost stories.  Then we gathered for the ball, to dance and drink and carouse.  The music was provided by a small string ensemble, and a caller with the calmest voice imaginable led the lines of dancers in the sometimes-intricate moves.  Luckily everyone was good-humored!

Ann in outfit
Yours truly in a comparatively humble outfit for the ball
Promenade
A ghostly promenade through the streets of Williamsburg

—The attention to dress is something that has always marked an assembly of Janeites (as it marked the interests of many of Jane Austen’s characters, at a time when distinctions in dress spoke more loudly than words).  At the conference, this could be seen in both modern expressions (as in this T-shirt with its reference to Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s admonishment of Elizabeth Bennet in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice), and in scrupulous care with period detail in the many outfits worn by attendees, especially at the ball.  In Colonial Williamsburg, where the park interpreters are dressed in colonial era period-appropriate apparel (mostly from the second half of the 18th century), conference attendees in Georgian/Regency attire (from the late 18th to early 19th centuries) didn’t stand out as much to our modern eyes.  However, they would have stood out in the late 1700s, when wearing rich and patterned clothing identified one as a loyalist to the crown, and was positively unpatriotic (patriots wore homespun).

P&P t-shirt
Lizzie Bennet would love this!
Lady in green dress
A conference attendee in her finery strolls along Duke of Gloucester Street

—On the final afternoon, there was an 18th century cricket demonstration.  The rules were somewhat different then than in modern cricket! (the largely north American audience might not have been as aware of differences).  And in case you are wondering that the photo shows a woman playing, Austen tells us that Catherine Morland, heroine of Northanger Abbey (the novel on which this year’s conference focused) loved cricket as a girl and played it with her brothers!

Cricket demo
Janeite at bat

Intrigued?  If you haven’t read any Jane Austen, or if you tried as a teenager and couldn’t warm to it, maybe have another look… Here is a complete set, free and online, from the wonderful Project Gutenberg.  For introductions to her life and work, try Jane Austen (with an introduction by Harold Bloom), or The Cambridge Introduction to Jane Austen.  And for more reading on Jane Austen devotees, try Among the Janeites or The Making of Jane Austen.  For a video of a spirited debate comparing Jane Austen and Emily Brontë, check out this one from IntelligenceSquared.  And consider joining us at the JASNA 2020 AGM next year in Cleveland!

*The term Janeite is often not used as a compliment; see this decidedly non-neutral Wikipedia overview.  However, for the purposes of this article, the term is used affectionately!