As this blog wraps up its first decade, I thought I would try covering some important topics. Mapping structural racism is one I promised the students in my research class we would work on one day this semester. Also, the Entrepreneurship & Libraries Conference will probably be hosting a half-day workshop on “racial equity [or maybe anti-racism], entrepreneurship, and libraries” this fall, perhaps in partnership with the Urban Libraries Council. The excellent Orolando Duffus from the University of Houston will be one of the ELC co-chairs for that event.

I’m going to write about two aspects of structural racism. Part one (below) suggests strategies to help students discover evidence of structural racism through community data.

Part two will get a little more opinionated with a suggestion that academic librarians work more with community partners to fight structural racism, as opposed to our more common, library-centered focus on interpersonal and intuitional racism. Those opinions will be informed by experiences working with social entrepreneurship and public affairs projects at a minority-serving campus, as well as social justice work through church. Part two might also suggest that white librarians talk more about how their life decisions impact racial equity and white privilege.

Structural racism & community data

I post now and then about coaching students to tell stories, make decisions, and propose solutions using data. But with structural racism, it’s really about illustrating its existence, right? Revealing redlining through home ownership data is one example. Proposing solutions is another (complex) matter. A bit more on that later.

This lesson plan covers demographic and economic indicators, example maps, active learning suggestions, and sources for additional learning (which I used a lot to write this). The sources include a few local mapping projects on structural racism.

There is certainly room for improvement in these suggestions. If other, more knowledgeable librarians provide suggestions, perhaps with their permission I could include those thoughts in part two.

1. Indicator data

Tables with data at national, state, and county levels can be revealing, but mapping local data can be much more impactful. Especially if a student is familiar with a place they are mapping.

The Census Bureau and other organizations publish some demographic and economic variables cross-tabulated with race and sometimes Hispanic origin. (We are limited to Census definitions of these social constructs for this data.) Sometimes you will need to filter the data yourself to consider race. My IRA ownership example illustrates this need.

The Aspen Institute published a 2004 report on Structural Racism and Community Building that helped with this list.

 Data that can indicate structural racism:

  • Poverty rates (ACS)
  • Income (ACS)
  • Educational attainment (Census)
  • Home ownership rates (AHS) (These CPS tables cover multiple demographic variables.)
  • Education funding by student by % of minority enrollment (Education Trust data; NC example – but might need to factor in student racial breakdowns by district on your own)
  • Infant mortality (CDC)
  • Life expectancy at birth (CDC)
  • Accumulated wealth (St. Louis Fed report; its data)
  • Home purchase loan application denial rates by race (Federal Financial Institutions Examinations Council, Home Mortgage Disclosure Act Data (look at the section 8 tables, such as this one for denials of conventional home-purchase loans, but we need to do more work to get % by race.)) [PolicyMap post on this]
  • Prison population by race (BJS and also some nonprofits easily found via Google)
  • Financial data are also telling: home values, rate of owning stocks, etc. The ACS covers home values but not by race. For behavioral finance data like stock ownership, we can use one of the commercial mapping databases via filtering for race. Example below regarding IRAs using Simmons data via SimplyAnalytics.

2. Example maps

You could try mapping the Census data using https://data.census.gov/. Subscription tools like SimplyAnalytics, PolicyMap, and Social Explorer are usually easier to use. Psychographics, like financial data, are available from SimplyAnalytics. See the resource list below for more example maps.

Income in D.C.

The split-view option in Social Explorer can be useful. You can’t see the full data description: on the left is Black per-capita income; the white per-capita income is on the right.

Split-view in Social Explorer: black versus white per capita income
Split-view in Social Explorer: Black versus white per-capita income

Here is similar data from SimplyAnalytics. I set the classification to equal intervals since the ranges would be different for the two populations using quantiles or natural breaks.

SimplyAnalytics: black median household income in D.C.
SimplyAnalytics: Black median household income in D.C.
SimplyAnalytics: white median household income in D.C.
SimplyAnalytics: white median household income in D.C.


Both Greensboro (where I work) and Winston-Salem (where I live) have significant redlining on the eastern side of town, reflected in the housing values. In these PolicyMap visualizations, I tried to include educational attainment too but maybe should have focused on another housing or financial variable.

PolicyMap: redlining evidence in Greensboro, NC
PolicyMap: redlining evidence in Greensboro, NC
PolicyMap: redlining evidence in Winston-Salem, NC
PolicyMap: redlining evidence in Winston-Salem, NC


What about finances? Here are two more maps from SimplyAnalytics. The first map is majority Black tracts in Chicagoland. The next one adds a filter for ownership of IRAs (Roth or not). I looked for IRA ownership of 5% or higher (the Chicago average is 7.97%). [Not surprising to see the concentration in South Side. The cluster of tracts west of the Chicago includes majority-Black small towns in Cook County, including Maywood, which has some interesting history.]

SimplyAnalytics: majority black Census tracks in Chicagoland
SimplyAnalytics: majority Black Census tracks in Chicagoland
SimplyAnalytics: majority black Census tracks in Chicagoland with 5% or more IRA ownership
SimplyAnalytics: majority Black Census tracks in Chicagoland with 5% or more IRA ownership

(I next mapped the majority-white tracts, then applied the 5% IRA filter. A much smaller percentage of tracts got filtered out. You could apply these filters to tables in SimplyAnalytics to better count the percentage of 5%+ IRA ownership in white-majority tracts versus the Black-majority tracts.)

3. Active learning

Again, I haven’t tried these yet. Usually when I post on instruction, I’m telling the story of what happened (good and bad) when I tried something new with a class. Maybe I can do that in part 2, after my research class has gotten into demographic and consumer markets research. However, these suggestions mirror active learning strategies I use frequently regarding local data and experiential class projects.

Discussing data:

  • Ask the students what kind of data (demographic, economic, health, etc.) can illustrate structural racism. Have them make a list of the possibilities. Provide some coaching as needed on concepts and definitions.
  • If the students struggle with this, show them some maps (perhaps from the Minnesota, Philadelphia, or Cape Fear sites linked below, or your own maps of your city). Ask the students what kind of story the map might be telling.

Making maps:

  • Ask the students to pick a city or county and then compare data like “median income, white” to “median income, Blacks or African American”. Do they see significant differences?
  • Ask the students to identify segregated neighborhoods (tracts). Through filtering or multi-layer mapping (depends on the database interface), can they identify disparities caused by structural racism?

Discussion questions:

  • Any surprises in what you saw in the data?
  • Do some places seem to be less or more structurally racist than others? If so, why do you think so?
  • Do we need to think about causality versus coincidence?
  • What do we do with these findings? How do we go from the illustration of structural racism using community data to action to dismantle structural racism? (Maybe a discussion question the professor should lead. Sharing some people stories might be useful if focusing just on the data seems too impersonal.)

4. Resources

How Maps can Help the Fight for Racial Equity
Short article from Data-Smart City Solutions, Ash Center, Harvard Kennedy School.

Racial Equity Takes Center Stage for Business Leaders
Subtitle: “How Business Leaders Can Follow Through on Racial Equity Commitments”. An article from ESRI’s WhereNext magazine.

PolicyMap blog posts (free access):

Racial Equity Index, National Equity Atlas
“A summary score that provides a snapshot of how well a given place is performing on racial equity compared to its peers — comparing cities to cities, regions to regions, and states to states.”

Mapping Prejudice, University of Minnesota Libraries
“Historians have long understood the importance of redlining. Yet by using digital mapping software to organize, analyze and display historic data about this practice, this project retold the story in way that made it accessible for a popular audience.

Mapping the Legacy of Structural Racism in Philadelphia
The city examined historical and contemporary redlining via maps in order to better understand homicide rate trends.

Racial Equity Dashboard, Cape Fear [NC] Collective
“In order to change an inequitable system, we must build a new one using data and the lived experience…the Dashboard provides Cape Fear a snapshot of the issues facing it and a spotlight to find solutions to the inequity in the region.” (Local newspaper coverage of the Dashboard) (This area includes Wilmington, site of the infamous 1898 coup and massacre)

Happy New Year, everyone. Good luck with spring 2021.


Spring semester at UNCG begins on Tuesday, January 19. Since 2014, I teach my three-credit “Entrepreneurship & Economic Development Research” each spring. (Search this blog for “530” for back stories.) Nancy Lovas from UNC Chapel Hill and I recently co-posted a couple of dialogues (in August and November) on how the pandemic  was impacting our work as teaching business librarians. This post focuses on how my Coleman Entrepreneurship Fellow class will be different this time. This time, my class goes online.

my class in the Canvas dashboard
my class in the Canvas dashboard

Over the years, on the first day of class, I tell the students that this is a seminar course that meets in a computer classroom. Then I ask the students to discuss what a seminar course means to them. I express my hope that the diverse nature of the students (typically highly-motivated entrepreneurship and marketing majors plus graduate students in economic geography and public affairs) leads to interesting discussions with the students learning from each other as well as from me.

In spring 2020, the class was forced online in mid-March due to the shut-down. I had a really small class that year which might have contributed to a lack of discussion online via WebEx for those last six weeks of school. I don’t think WebEx was the problem. UNCG used Zoom and WebEx throughout calendar year 2020 and the two tools are very similar even if some folks have strong opinions about one or both. (I used to get annoyed by librarians who seemed to elevate a particular instructional technology product to be a key success factor in their instruction. Now that attitude is more amusing than annoying.) Will we have a seminar environment online this semester with a larger class? I’ll report back on that in a few months.

Meanwhile, Summer Krstevska at Wake Forest University is now teaching her entrepreneurship research class asynchronously. Check out her thoughtful post about making that switch.

Like many of you, I’ve been following advice and stories about teaching in the pandemic. The best resource to me has been the “Teaching” newsletter from the Chronicle of Higher Education. The newsletter has been useful as both a librarian liaison as well as a teacher of this three-credit class once a year. Some of the below points (bulleted just to provide some structure) reflect recommendations from the Chronicle and elsewhere. The syllabus is posted at the libguide if you are curious.

Aspects of the class already conducive to online education in a pandemic

  • Structure and order: students really need those things right now. Instead of one big project due at the end of the semester, the students will have small assignments due a week apart. By the 6th week, students have an option to conduct research in their assignments that could be applied to their final class project, doing research for their selected entrepreneurship idea (profit or non-profit).
  • We will still have guest speakers to keep things fresh (and provide additional insights). So far, David Turner from Data Axle and Juan Vasquez from SimplyAnalytics will be joining us to talk about where their data comes from, and how entrepreneurs and governments use their tools to help make data-driven decisions.

Teaching changes for Spring 2021

  • It’s harder to do school in the pandemic and so workloads need to be reduced. I cut the number of required chapters to read from the two books (Phelps’ “Research on Main Street” and Wenzel’s “Entrepreneur’s Guide to Market Research”).  The readings are now spread out more in the calendar.
  • The capstone presentation is now extra-credit. Students would make these via Zoom on the last day of class. (Hmm I could add “prerecorded” as an option although there would still need to be some live Q&A with me and the students, since lots of good ideas and suggestions get shared that way. But students could post comments on a video. Something to think about.)
  • The Zoom sessions will be recorded; videos will be automatically posted in Canvas via Panopto.
  • However, I do expect attendance. New this year will be points awarded for attendance and participation (2 points total per class session). We can’t function as a seminar class asynchronously. At least I don’t think so.
  • Each time I teach this class, I try to do something new – usually a new topic. This year the new topic will be “data literacy”. Given the class focus on numeric data, data literacy is really built into the class. But this year, I want to try spending 75 minutes focusing on data visualization tricks and deceits, how to lie with maps, etc. (Past experiments have included “social networks as research tools” and “trade data”, both of which are now regular topics in class based on positive student feedback. Trade data is now a two-day topic by student suggestion; in the second day, we compare regional trade data trends with corresponding company and industry trends, for example “since NC exports of airplane parts keep growing, who is making those parts, and what is the local impact on employment and revenue?”)
  • Finally, as you all would agree, I will need to be extra flexible and forgiving with deadlines and grading and other aspects. But that isn’t really new. In spring 2019, I had to be flexible with one student who had to take care of a child at home during class time. For another student, I needed to mail back his iPad Mini after the shutdown (I was using it to make audio recordings for him in class.) I had loaned a third student my personal copy of the Wenzel book, which he returned to me after the semester via the library roadside book-drop (the library was closed; Access Services put the book in my office mailbox).

Changes with research resources (especially Census data)

These are more routine changes. Every year, I have to update my notes, lesson plans, and assignments because of changing research tools. Here are some notes from changes so far. I’m sure that some of these are old news for some of you.

  • Census demographic narrative profiles are back. Hooray! One limitation: they don’t have a PDF download option. Users have to do that themselves using the print function on their web browsers.
  • Subject-level selection of ACS data is made easier using this subject browsing page. The Subject Tables page looks less user-friendly, but the search box works well. (I will have students use this tool to measure internet access in North Carolina counties.)
  • As usual, we are many years past the collection of Economic Census 2017 data but the really good stuff (state-level data and the detailed topics specific to each industrial sector) is still largely not available yet. Sigh. My students learn that this delay is why there is a market for IBISWorld and BizMiner. Yet the sector-specific data (such as materials consumed for manufacturing, and sales by product category for retailing) aren’t provided in those databases. I do appreciate how the sector profiles clearly tell us what data are currently available and provides links to the tables in data.census.gov. For Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation, we learn at the bottom that “The economic census produces detailed sector specific content. The data will be released in March 2021.” This information helps with teaching the Economic Census.
  • In general, access to data from data.census.gov is facilitated by the Census web pages that provide direct links into the data platform. The County Business Patterns and Nonemployer Statistics sites are examples. My student will use those datasets too.
  • For reasons still unknown (the cost would not have changed), NC LIVE didn’t renew SimplyAnalytics after 12 years of providing state-wide access. So we updated the Carolina Consortium deal for that product and added a deal for public libraries. UNCG dug up some funds to sign up. We did take advantage of the opportunity to reconsider what datasets we most needed. We continued to include SimmonsLocal (which UNCG had funded separately in the NC LIVE years) but were able to add Nielsen Scarborough, which covers data from local survey questions as well as questions asked in all metros covered. I emailed some faculty that “For example, in Greensboro, the survey asks if respondents have flown out of GSO, RDU, or CLT [the big NC airports] in the last 12 months, or what local places or events have been visited (Grasshoppers, Hornets, UNCG sporting events, Biltmore Mansion, Greensboro Science Center, Lexington BBQ Festival, Wet N Wild,  etc.)” Several profs are very interested and I ended up with some additional instruction sessions signed up for spring 2021. My entrepreneurship students will use this data too.

Shaun Bennett is the Research Librarian for Business, Education, and Data Literacy at the NC State University Libraries. His previous academic research was dedicated to Medieval Scandinavian literature and conversion narratives, specifically the legal conversion of Iceland. He currently works on curriculum and instructional design for library programs, and on methods of combating disinformation.
ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5467-5068
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shaun-bennett-84030b119/

1. Why Medieval Studies?

Shaun: I grew up with Tolkien’s stories and similar genres, but I think the spark that drove me into Medieval Studies was, oddly, a video game from my childhood. It was called Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, and focused on battles between dozens of Medieval “civilizations” in a real-time strategy format. However, it also came with a decent amount of historical background on each of the factions and major figures, and I pored through that virtual history book until I ran out of material. This drove me to actual history books, and I never stopped!

My original career path in college was programming, but it took just one class to send me running away. When I realized Medieval Studies was a major at Penn State, it seemed perfect. I worked with fantastic professors there, Dr. Ben Hudson and Dr. Steve Walton, to focus on the history of the Medieval Christian church, and even did some hands-on history: we wove our own chainmail armor, and tested it by firing a spear through the armor in the Engineering lab! I remember the Engineering lab assistant was terribly confused about why we were allowed to do such a dangerous thing.

Lindisfarne Priory; built in the 12th century, long after the original Viking attacks. The Holy Island is a breathtakingly beautiful place
Lindisfarne Priory; built in the 12th century, long after the original Viking attacks. The Holy Island is a breathtakingly beautiful place

I ended up pursuing Medieval Studies even after undergraduate, enrolling in the History program at NC State University under the advising of Dr. Julie Mell. There I studied Medieval Scandinavian literature, and eventually focused on the Christianization of Iceland and the literary culture which flourished as a result. My master’s thesis, entitled Christian Writers, Pagan Subjects: The Preservation of Norse Religious Imagery through Legal Culture in Iceland, argued that the Christianization of Iceland was largely a legal process, not one of strong beliefs. This enabled the Scandinavian religious practices to survive through the writing system which Christianity brought to the island. In a strange irony, if Christianity hadn’t arrived in such a manner, it’s unlikely that the stories of the Norse gods (told primarily through the rich oral storytelling traditions of Scandinavia) would have survived to the present date.

Steve: As a kid, I was always interested in airplanes and spaceships. When about to become a first-generation college student, I applied to engineering schools and was accepted into my first choice, the University of Michigan. (I only applied to two places — college hunting was different back in the 80’s.) We had a three-night orientation during the summer. I quickly learned how focused the engineering curriculum was: only 12 or 15 credit hours of electives outside of engineering, if I remember correctly.

Meanwhile, the catalog for the U of M liberal arts college was full of classes on fascinating and mysterious topics like “From Wyrm-Sword to Double Transept: Tracing Strands of Literature and Art in the Middle Ages.” So I switched to the liberal arts college. This turned out to be a sound move: while I still took the pre-engineering (and pre-med) “Introduction to Chemistry” class and did ok in it, I found calculus to be challenging. I don’t think I really had the math skills to make it as an engineer.

Many of the classes that looked really interesting happened to be co-listed under the Medieval and Renaissance Collegium (MARC), an Honors College major. And I liked the interdisciplinary nature of that program. MARC became my major. My undergrad honors thesis concerned the 13th century black St. Maurice of Magdeburg.

2. Do you remain interested in Medieval Studies?

Steve: Sure, I’m still reading books, most recently “Bosch and Bruegel: From Enemy Painting to Everyday Life”. (I would argue Bosch is a transitional figure between Medieval and Early Modern.) Two summers ago, my wife and I traveled to the U.K. for the first time and so I was reading up on history, the cathedrals in York and Durham, and other topics related to our train trips. Since I earned my MARC degree, research and writing on social history, underrepresented populations, and cross-cultural influences have gotten very interesting. (Also, the misleading term “Renaissance” has been largely replaced with “Early Modern”.) But even before I began college, Caroline Walker Bynum was shaking up the field. My favorite book about the history of Medieval Studies is Norman Cantor’s “Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century.” Yes, Tolkien is covered, also C.S. Lewis.

York Minster Chapter House (meeting room) detail
York Minster Chapter House (meeting room for the monks) detail

Shaun: Definitely. Similar to Steve, I still read history when I have the chance, and I still use the runic “futhark” system to keep personal notes. I recently had the opportunity to take a remarkable trip to see many of the places I studied: Lindisfarne priory, site of one of the first Viking raids on England; Þingvellir Plain, home of the Icelandic parliamentary Alþingr; and even the Orkney Islands, where I was able to tour the Neolithic burial site of Maeshowe, which Vikings broke into in the 10th century and etched runic graffiti into the walls! I’ve also been extremely fortunate to have been given opportunities to pursue my interest in History even in my current position as a librarian. I helped develop a digital, life-sized version of the Bayeux Tapestry for D. H. Hill Jr. Library’s Visualization Studio, as well as a digital version of the Maeshowe Tomb for the same location.

3. How did you end up a business librarian?

Shaun: Becoming a librarian honestly wasn’t something I even considered until fairly late in my academic life. When I began my History MA at NC State, I wandered into the Libraries and was fortunate enough to get a job working at the Special Collections Research Center. It was a turning point in my life, and as I learned more about libraries and about librarians, I realized: that’s what I wanted to do. To teach others how to find the things they need, to be a facilitator for remarkable research across the campus. This is an oversimplified version of what “Being a Librarian” means of course, but it was enough to turn me towards the profession.

I moved my way through the Libraries, going from student worker to hourly library technician, and began taking classes online through UNC Greensboro’s excellent program. Once I finished, I was fortunate enough to find a job as a librarian here at NC State, as the Business, Education, and Data Literacy Librarian.

The business side of that job title was initially quite daunting. Sure, I’d taken courses on Medieval business and coinage, but it wasn’t terribly helpful when figuring out how to use WRDS! Fortunately I was able to stand on the shoulders of giants; remarkable colleagues such as Jennifer Garrett and John Vickery at NC State were kind enough to start me off on the right foot when it came to business librarianship. And of course, Celia Ross’ excellent Making Sense of Business Reference was (and is) an invaluable companion.

Sainte Chapelle, Paris
Sainte Chapelle, Paris

Steve: In library school at UNC Chapel Hill, I had no plans to become a business librarian. I did take the “Business Information” class, taught by Diane Strauss who wrote the textbook, The Handbook of Business Information (since updated by BLINC members Rita Moss and David Ernsthausen, and in 2020 by SLA head Hal Kirkwood). I took the class because I knew nothing about business information. The class proved interesting — and challenging.

After a long job hunt, my first professional position ended up at my hometown branch of Davenport College of Business (now Davenport University). That was a wonderful first job, with my boss Sally Fagan enabling me to learn a lot. After 26 months there, I was able to leverage that experience to join the reference librarians at Perkins Library, Duke University as the Digital Services Librarian and business information specialist. Even though Duke has the Ford Library in its school of business, Perkins, as the main library, needed a librarian with some business research skills. I was not a liaison or bibliographer since there is no undergraduate business program at Duke.

Three years later, when I was getting married and moving to a different part of the state, I was lucky to land the business librarian position at UNC Greensboro. My work here began a few weeks after our honeymoon. Now I was an official subject specialist and liaison. A couple of years later, Susan Wolf Neilsen (then at NCSU) and I co-founded BLINC.

4. How does your degree and ongoing interest in Medieval Studies contribute to your work as a business librarian?

Steve: Medieval studies and business librarianship aren’t strange bedfellows! Both feature — and require — interdisciplinary thinking. For example: think about studying or just appreciating a Gothic cathedral. The building isn’t a unified work of art created by an individual, like most post-Medieval art objects. Instead, a cathedral was the creation of thousands of laborers usually over decades of time (sometimes centuries), at the direction of a number of usually anonymous master masons, commissioned by a bishop(s) or archbishop(s), with theological, political, economic (there may have been a newly acquired saint’s relic to drive a tourism industry and help fund the construction), and ritualistic goals, and filled with sculptural and staining glass artistic programs with their own artistic and educational goals (typically stories from the Bible, the local saint, and/or the source of the relics) from many artists and studios, often requiring centuries of work. So a cathedral takes more than art history to explain and fully appreciate. Solving an intellectual question concerning a cathedral often requires flexibility in how you approach the research.

Likewise business librarianship. Business is a suite of disciplines: management, marketing, finance, accounting, information systems, economics, etc. Some of those can be broken down into very different sub-units, such as human resource management and supply chain management. Research for these disciplines (and many of the sub-disciplines) usually requires different strategies and sources. Finance research is nothing like market research. Consumer market research requires different strategies and sources than business-to-business marketing. U.S. consumer marketing features different sources compared to international consumer marketing (also true of U.S. versus international B2B marketing). Some business classes and research projects require a mix of business disciplines and research strategies. Flexibility is also necessary to ask the necessary questions and solve problems as a business librarian.

Shaun: I would agree with Steve that business librarianship takes many of the same qualities required for historical research. For example, researching Scandinavian literature and the historicity of the literary claims requires a willingness to tackle a problem or question from as many angles as possible. When researching something like the Eyrbyggja Saga, written sometime in the 13th or 14th century, there are multiple levels to approach such a text. Who wrote the book, and what do we know about them? Why did they write it? How much of the manuscript survives, and how many versions of the manuscript? Moving into the text itself, we can ask what the “focalizer” is, using narrative theory or narratology; what is the focus of the text, and what does that tell us about the motivations of the writer(s)?

We can even look beyond the text itself, as we can compare the descriptions of towns and villages within the saga to actual geographic locations and settlements. Failing that, we can compare the text to other materials written in roughly the same period: do characters or major events appear in both sagas? Tackling literature from as many angles as possible can help historians better understand the context of that historical object. However, it is extraordinarily rare for a historian to feel 100% confident about any assertion. We can never completely know the past, but instead only paint a picture of what we think the past looked like, and constantly be on the alert for more information which might change that picture.

Þingvellir Plain in Iceland, site of the Rock of Laws and the Icelandic Parliament; the Alþingr. Each year the nobles of Iceland would gather in this place to wrangle over legal disputes and hear one-third of the law recited by the Lögsögumaður (Law-speaker)
Þingvellir Plain in Iceland, site of the Rock of Laws and the Icelandic Parliament; the Alþingr. Each year the nobles of Iceland would gather in this place to wrangle over legal disputes and hear one-third of the law recited by the Lögsögumaður (Law-speaker)

In the same manner, business researchers and librarians often find themselves trying to tackle a particularly difficult problem through as many angles as possible. Looking for market information, while seemingly straightforward, can often lead on an enormous chase through wildly different resources. Even if sources are found readily, they must be interrogated in much the same way as the historical sources: who wrote it, and what is their motivation? How did they draw their conclusions? We can and should compare one report to another, checking for discrepancies and drawing conclusions from the differences between reports or papers.

Perhaps most importantly, that critical thinking piece from historical research is one of the best tools in a business researcher or librarian’s toolkit. Taking a critical view of what we find during the research process encourages us to look beyond the face value, and to always be on the lookout for changing information. On the purely librarian side, constantly being willing to look for more information, to dig a little deeper, and to ask tough questions of what we do find are invaluable skills for critical librarianship.

5. Any advice for aspiring business librarians who don’t have a background in business or social sciences?

Shaun: Few business librarians have a business degree, myself included. My background, if you looked at it from a purely degree standpoint, would be firmly Medieval Studies and Scandinavian literature! However, I think that librarianship does not rest on our subject expertise, but is rather the skills and attitudes we bring to helping our patrons find the resources they need. While subject expertise can become a part of that, in my experience it’s more about being willing to learn, and being willing to explore resources with patrons. When applying for those business librarian positions, I would emphasize critical thinking skills, any educational expertise or experience you might have, your own personal philosophy of librarianship, and a plan to get up to speed on business resources. The subject expertise can come later, and organizations like BLINC and BRASS will be invaluable guides along the way.

Steve: Yes, as Shaun noted, most business librarians don’t have a business degree. Don’t let that stop you. Occasionally I help coach aspiring business librarians (or someone who by surprise is interviewing for a business librarian position, like me and the Davenport job) with their job interviews. What skills, experience, or coursework can you leverage? Can you tell a story of when you had to learn something new and then apply your new knowledge or skills? Can you illustrate how you aren’t afraid of numbers? Can you discuss your awareness of learning resources for business librarianship (BRASS, BLINC, BUSLIB-L, Census tutorials and guidebooks, the Entrepreneurship & Libraries 2020 materials)? Then you’ve got a good shot and you should go for it.

[Pictures from the authors]

This is exam week at UNCG, followed by an extra-long winter break, 55 days I think. Lots of time to prepare for my research class and update screencast videos? Or just to drink lots of hot chocolate and catch up on pleasure reading and napping (hmm flannel sheets). Hey, please don’t tell my boss I wrote that…

ELC 2020 co-chairs Sara Thynne, Morgan Ritchie-Baum, and I think we have wrapped all the post-conference work. Checks have been mailed to the five pitch competition contestants, courtesy of the NCLA Treasurer (who, um, is also my boss). The videos are up at the ELC YouTube channel and the slide decks are available.

Thank you to the speakers, pitch competition contestants, attendees, and our most excellent planning group.

The event seemed to go well. No tech problems! 58 attendees filled out our assessment survey. 74.1% reported they were “very satisfied” while 17.2% were “somewhat satisfied”. All but one of the remaining responders chose “neutral.”

The highest ranked short-talks program was the instruction track, featuring Sara Heimann (University of California, Irvine), Summer Krstevska (Wake Forest University), and Carey Toane and Sarah Shujah (both University of Toronto).

Based on the open-ended comments and other written feedback, the pitch competition was the event that excited the most people. One contestant told us that merely planning their pitch proved very helped to the library’s promotional strategies. Another contestant is writing up their experience for a Public Library Association article. Another is writing a press release to be shared with people and partners in their county. More about the pitch comp below.

The networking events featured a different mix than we see at BRASS discussions. Attendance included many generalist reference librarians at public libraries charged with economic development support and outreach. Slido responses on job titles reflect their presence:

“What is your job title?” [ELC 2020 networking/happy hour]

As did this word cloud:

“What is your biggest need in supporting entrepreneurship?” [ELC 2020 networking/happy hour]

With its mix of public and academic librarians, BLINC has long encouraged attendance at its free quarterly workshops of general reference and outreach libraries at public libraries. When the main workshop theme has been focused on the needs or interests of such libraries (example, supporting job hunting and training; social entrepreneurship; our annual combined workshop with NJLibsGrowBiz), BLINC is successful in attracting generalist public librarians like that. With the ELC, however, being online and free, we attracted such folks from across the U.S. plus a few from Canada.

The pitch comp proved to be the focal point of this engagement. While we did have some submissions from academic libraries, and almost chose one of those for our top five, the public library submissions were really strong and so the top five submissions were all public. But among the biggest fans of the pitch comp, according to survey comments and our ELC planning group wrap-up, were academic libraries. Most of these academics were very interested in the public libraries’ efforts to improve the lives of people in their communities. That’s evidence of the altruistic streak in business librarianship that many folks in library land aren’t aware of. Maybe evidence of our social justice emphasis too.

For academics, there were also practical lessons from observing how these five public libraries pitch their ideas, services, and values to their communities. Academics could apply those lessons when we try to promote ourselves to the (typically) thousands of students in our business schools, faculty members, research centers, campus incubators, etc.

It’s likely the ELC will host another pitch competition in 2021. This time we might first offer a workshop on how to craft effective pitches.

The ELC 2020 did less well attracting special librarians. We did have a few speaker submissions from special librarians. However, with SLA around plus its regional chapters and the Economic Development + Empowerment + Entrepreneurship (EDEE) Caucus, special librarians do have choices for professional development.

Other ideas for the ELC future from the planning group’s wrap-up discussion:

  • “Libraries, Entrepreneurship, & Cannabis”: how we are or can support this fascinating emerging industry.
  • “Entrepreneurship & Racial Equity”: a possible program reflecting the strong interest of entrepreneurship librarians in social justice (as evidenced in our discussion room polling as well as in past ELC planning group discussions). Maybe in partnership with the Urban Libraries Council, which had a representative at the ELC 2020; both entrepreneurship and racial equity are interests of the ULC.
  • Inviting entrepreneurs to discuss the positive impact of library services on their start-ups.

In general, the ELC will continue to create opportunities for a diverse mix of speakers to share their ideas and experiences, hopefully attracting an equally diverse mix of attendees. There might be a physical conference in 2022. We still have vendor money in the bank we hope to spend on big parties with free adult beverages.

Nancy Lovas is the entrepreneurship and business librarian at UNC Chapel Hill. Her best days include a walk outside and a strong cup of tea. Find her on Twitter: @entrebizlib

Steve Cramer is the business and entrepreneurship librarian at UNC Greensboro. On his best fall days, he listens to modern jazz, sips hot chocolate, and takes an evening stroll with his wife.

Way back in August, Nancy Lovas and Steve Cramer cross-posted our exchange Online All the Time? Planning for Research Instruction during COVID-19. We promised to be back with an update. Here we are!

Fall colors from North Carolina

What types of instruction did you end up doing this semester?

Nancy: The easier answer is what type of instruction I didn’t do this semester. I did NOT teach in person. I haven’t even set foot in my library; while I don’t miss the unpredictable HV/AC, I do miss my colleagues. The long answer is: 100% asynchronous instruction (the works: multiple video modules and an assessment quiz), combination of asynchronous and synchronous (online or video module and either class visit for group consultations or an open Zoom room for drop-in help during class time), and straight-up synchronous.

Steve: Ha, yes, same here, about every instructional type except teaching in person — but I have Zoomed into 100% in-person classes too. 

How did it go? What are your lessons learned?

Steve: Teaching a synchronous hybrid (online and in-person) class is certainly an interesting experience. After our August co-post, I blogged about running a workshop for a hybrid class. This was early in the semester and the instructor was new. Based on the students’ collaborative work and a summary from the instructor, however, the session seemed to go well. 

Nancy: Some things worked, and some things didn’t work. I taught more research sessions this semester, and had decidedly more consultations. I just calculated that in the last 5 months, I’ve had more consultation meetings & emails than I did my entire first year at Carolina! Unlike you, Steve, I did not Zoom in to any in-person classes (Carolina abruptly went online/remote again this semester). One thing I discovered that unsurprisingly doesn’t work so well is asynchronous materials and no assessment. Two examples are ahead. First, I created a fully asynchronous session for the online first-year honors seminar in sports economics. The professor gave students class time to watch a series of videos and completed a quiz embedded in the LibGuide. Students were required to complete the quiz for participation points, and both the instructor and I received copies of the student answers. (Analyzing this assessment data is part of an ever-growing post-semester to-do list!). For my usual first-year business writing classes, I similarly created asynchronous sessions, but without the quiz assessment. Though I can look at view stats for the video lectures, I can’t know if or how much content students absorbed, nor how they might have incorporated the research strategies into their assignments. A related lesson-learned is that, though synchronous online sessions take a whole lot of prep & creativity to be interactive, it’s my preferred way of doing things.

Steve: Yes, I prefer synchronous too, Nancy. Also more emotionally rewarding? Regarding working with in-person classes from home — I knew it would be a bit awkward but that format proved more challenging than I expected. I’m embedded in our MBA capstone class, in which the student teams do consulting for local businesses and nonprofits. This semester, one section is synchronous online while the other meets on campus. Both are once-a-week evening classes. For the Thursday night on-campus class, I “visit” class on their big screen. To prevent feedback, we use the overhead microphone with all the students muted in Zoom on their laptops. So I can see their masked faces but don’t get the Zoom yellow-box indication of who is speaking. Sometimes I can’t tell who is responding to me! I need to figure out which team project is being discussed, and then I can find the teammates on screen and see who seems to have some face muscles moving behind their mask. But sometimes I have to ask “Chris, was that you”? Having the on-campus students chat within breakout rooms doesn’t make sense, so I can’t join them in team discussions. Well, you could argue that those complications and limitations are my fault for not visiting this class in person on Thursday nights. Yes, I have felt guilty about that sometimes.

Any ideas how next semester might look?

Nancy: I’m expecting to be working remotely again, but as of November 10th there has been no official decision announced. Since our semester doesn’t start til January 19th, I may volunteer for some on-site work during the extended break. I’m planning to reuse a lot of the instruction materials I created this fall. I expect to continue offering asynchronous materials for the first-year business writing classes, so I want to add an assessment piece. Otherwise, I have several successful examples of synchronous online sessions to point to when coordinating library instruction with faculty. I will make it worth the class time! As well, I want to continue to make my online teaching more inclusive, using many of the strategies & techniques I outlined with my co-presenters at the NC LIVE Inclusive Online Teaching webinar (slides).

Steve: The plan is for the UNCG liaisons to work from home next semester too. One change: I will be teaching my entrepreneurship research class online (synchronous) for the first time. Alas, I will really miss the camaraderie this class usually develops between the students, who tend to be diverse in ages, majors, and motivations for taking the class. In spring 2020 (I only teach this class in spring semesters), my small number of students had time to get to know each other before the pandemic forced us into WebEx sessions. Therefore for spring 2021, community building will be a top goal. The teaching commentaries from the Chronicle of Higher Education and other sources have emphasized the need to humanize online classes and display empathy. In addition to reducing my workload expectations (perhaps by converting some assignments to extra credit, and/or just dropping some assignments), I will need to think about online classroom engagement strategies beyond active learning with research strategies and sources.

Nancy: Steve, sounds like you could check out the slides from our NC LIVE webinar for some ideas! And perhaps engagement strategies could be the topic of our next post…

Entrepreneurship & Libraries Conference 2020 (the ELC) kicks off tomorrow. Before COVID-19, the plan was to start the conference today with a pre-conference in a Durham (NC) Public Library computer classroom (topic: finding local data on markets, industries, customers, and competitors) followed by an all-conference kick-off party with an open bar on the roof of either the brand-new public library or a tall downtown hotel. (We had funding for that.) Oh well.

ELC logo

If you weren’t able to snag a reservation to the online ELC, we will be posting the videos of all the speakers and the pitch competition (but not the networking hours nor the discussion hour).

For the discussion hour on Friday, we will be using breakout rooms in Zoom. The planning group decided that ten people in a room is the maximum number to have a workable discussion. More than that and it can get kind of crazy. (Therefore the networking happy hours might get kind of crazy, we’ll see.)

We also decided that discussion participants should get to choose their own topics. As host, I will be naming each room by topic. As you may know, Zoom now allows users to choose their own breakout room, if the Zoom host enables that option.

But what topics do ELC attendees want to discuss?

The planning group brainstormed a list of 20 possible topics:

  • competencies and professional development
  • COVID 19’s impact on your library services
  • critlib and entrepreneurship
  • entrepreneurial mindsets
  • free research sources (ex. .gov data)
  • getting started as a new librarian
  • global entrepreneurship
  • instruction
  • LBGTQIA+ entrepreneurship
  • minority, indigenous, or immigrant entrepreneurs
  • open education resources (OER)
  • outreach and collaboration with campus ecosystem partners
  • outreach and collaboration with community ecosystem partners
  • programming
  • rural entrepreneurship
  • social entrepreneurship & nonprofits
  • special librarianship
  • subscription databases
  • venture capital/high-growth entrepreneurship (funding opportunities)
  • women or women-identifying entrepreneurs

Next we created a Google form asking people to choose their three favorite topics from the list. We shared the poll with the 300 people who signed up to attend the conference live. 50 people filled out the poll. Not all voted for three topics, so the votes may not add up etc.

So based on that imperfect list, what topics are most popular in entrepreneurship librarianship? Here are the votes:

social entrepreneurship & nonprofits13
minority, indigenous, or immigrant entrepreneurs12
entrepreneurial mindsets11
free research sources (ex. .gov data)11
outreach and collaboration with campus ecosystem partners11
outreach and collaboration with community ecosystem partners10
getting started as a new librarian9
rural entrepreneurship8
COVID 19’s impact on your library services7
competencies and professional development6
subscription databases6
women or women-identifying entrepreneurs6
open education resources (OER)5
LBGTQIA+ entrepreneurship4
venture capital/high-growth entrepreneurship (funding opportunities)4
critlib and entrepreneurship3
global entrepreneurship3
special librarianship2

And here is the quick and dirty Excel visualization:

Graph version of the above table

What do you think? Any surprises to you?

Yes, that was a mishmash of topics, some probably too broad (“programming”), while some more specific topics overlapped.

In December, I summarized a particularly interesting discussion at a ELC planning group meeting. We probably had 15-18 people there – special, public, and academic librarians passionate about supporting entrepreneurship. Notice the similar themes at that discussion when compared to the above rankings. Social equity, practical content, and the experiences of entrepreneurs are examples. That December discussion certainly influenced the 20 choices we offered the attendees, but still, 20 is a lot of choices. (No, sorry, I can’t break down that data by type of librarian, or other segments.)

These rankings might help business librarian groups (including the ELC) consider what kinds of programming to offer in the future. Maybe entrepreneurship librarians could use this list when they think about their next speaking or writing project.

Full circle: in March 2019, the BLINC spring quarterly workshop focused on social entrepreneurship. At the very end of that workshop, Sara Thynne and I announced that the leaders of the former Entrepreneurial Librarians Conference had just offered their remaining resources to BLINC, if we wanted to try something a little different with that idea.

Catching up

Briefly, since “today’s topic” below will be short…

The Entrepreneurship & Libraries 2020 conference ended up with 19 submissions for the “@ the Table” pitch competition. Most were really good! The review committee had a tough time picking the top five. Those top five librarians will get one-on-one consulting with a pitch expert, and then will do a live (Zoom) pitch at the conference with the three non-librarian judges listening carefully.

The BLINC case study article I alluded to last time is now available in the Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship:  “Adding purpose and value to organizational memberships: A case study of Business Librarianship in North Carolina (BLINC)“. Betty Garrison (Elon University), Summer Krstevska (Wake Forest University), and I wrote it. The article concludes with a discussion of how BLINC continues to be active under the pandemic. The reviewers were really interested in that section and asked for it to be expanded.

Finally, the new issue of Against the Grain focuses on liaison staffing trends. One of the articles was co-authored by BLINC member Shaun Bennett of NCSU: “Engaged librarianship at the NC State University Libraries”. 

Today’s topic

Thursday night, I checked in with the on-campus MBA capstone class. I mentioned Zooming into class from home last month in the “catching up” section. This time I asked each of the three teams how their primary and secondary research for their client projects was going. I came away from our thirty-minute discussion with some research to explore for each team Friday morning. The research needs were very different in the topics and types of research called for – one of my favorite things about being a business librarian. I had fun working on the three topics and using a variety of research tools.

Here is summary of the research I pursued Friday morning.

Team 1

Consulting for a major local health care services organization.

Huge difference here in the choropleth between national natural breaks or quantiles versus local natural breaks or quantiles [map just for fun]

Huge difference here in the choropleth between national natural breaks or quantiles versus local natural breaks or quantiles [map just for fun]

The health organization is considering providing mobile services in neighborhoods where bricks ‘n’ mortar health services are hard to find and transportation access is limited. The organization is particularly interested in neighborhoods with high percentages of immigrants and refugees. (Greensboro has been very active with refugee resettlement.)

For benchmarking of mobile health care services, the MBA team wanted a list of cities similar in size to Greensboro that also have a high percentage of immigrants. The students had trouble finding these cities and asked for help.

Did I turn to data.census.gov? Heck no! Haha. I opened SimplyAnalytics, changed the geography to the U.S., and created a ranking report of the top 100 cities by population. (Greensboro is one of those.) Then I added the “Foreign born-naturalized” and “Foreign born-not a citizen” variables by total # and % from the American Community Survey. So five variables total.

Does anyone want to guess the top cities when ranked by highest percentage, “Foreign born-naturalized”? Answers below.

The team has used that data and other SimplyAnalytics data in its industry and marketing analysis, an early step for their consulting capstone project.

Team 2

Consulting for a new nonprofit helping ex-prisoners re-enter free society.

Like many social entrepreneurs, the creator of this new nonprofit has no financial experience. He wonders how other nonprofits are funded and what their main expenses are (and how much they cost).

I told the team about IRS 990 forms and how to find them. We used Candid to search for “re-enter” or “re-entry” as a quick way to find some related nonprofits and their 990’s. We’ll see how useful those benchmarks later this semester.

Team 3

Consulting with a major apparel manufacturer you have probably heard of.

The company wants to better track e-commerce prices of bras. The student team hasn’t had much success with quality, selection, pricing trends, and pricing strategies, particularly sold online.

Yes, this is hard. At least it is using free sources and UNCG subscriptions. I looked at the data in Euromonitor Passport other statistical databases, and also looked deep at the trade literature in the aggregators, including WWD articles. The data I could find doesn’t get that specific. The best I could find was the 2018 Mintel report on men and women’s underwear, which did include some data specifically on bras.

And then I had to explain to my wife why our Google ads now advertise women’s underwear…


Top three cities: Hialeah, FL; Miami, FL; Fremont, CA

Last year, Betty Garrison of Elon University and I conducted a survey on attitudes of business librarians toward professional associations. The results were just published in the Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship:

What librarians say they want from their professional associations: A survey of business librarians

(We have some free access tokens if you are interested but don’t subscribe. Email me.)

Local creek bridge in September

Local old urban creek bridge in September

I am not a frequent author of peer-reviewed research, so I very much appreciated Betty’s invitation to collaborate with her. Betty took the lead in analyzing the survey data and creating the tables. The idea for this survey came from a NCLA 2017 presentation Betty and Mary Scanlon of Wake Forest University made on the future of subject specialists in both public and academic libraries. Based on declining engagement of librarians in professional organizations (see the footnote on page one of our article for evidence), Betty and Mary expressed concern about the interest of subject librarians to contribute to those groups. Mary is now retired and so Betty asked me if I was interested in developing the survey with her.

Since that NCLA presentation, BLINC has turned around its membership and workshop attendance (a long case study on BLINC will be published in JBFL next month) while additional local and regional business librarian groups have formed, such as CABAL. Meanwhile, there are new conferences for business librarians popping up like SOUCABL and the ELC 2020.

What do we lose with this supposed shift in energy and engagement from national organizations toward smaller, more regional organizations? Well, one response: Jennifer Boettcher from Georgetown argues effectively that national organizations are vital for influencing publishers and vendors. Certainly true. (However, regional groups aligned with regional consortia like NC LIVE, the Carolina Consortium, ASERL, OhioLINK, GALILEO, public university systems like the University of California, etc. can also be effective in working with vendors.)

National organizations also provide a home for professionals who don’t have access to local or regional groups due to their locations or whatever the reason. And some tenure guidelines give more weight to service in national and international organizations. Yet creating or leading a local organization can be as weighty or even more significant to tenure committees than serving on a BRASS or ACRL committee with 11 or 14 or 49 other people. Some of the quotes from our survey affirm the value of the national organizations, but there were more quotes expressing a strong preference for the smaller, regional groups.

The cost of joining national organizations and attending their national conferences was mentioned a lot. I also hear those complaints in person from many UNCG colleagues and BLINC, CABAL, and SOUCABL friends too. Some library leaders argue that paying for memberships and big conferences is a routine and expected cost of being a professional. In contrast, some point out the lower pay of librarians compared to other professions. Professional travel budgets at many libraries have been reduced or eliminated. And many librarians are prioritizing paying off their big student loans.

While Betty was writing up the survey data results, I drafted the discussion, which provided recommendations to organizations based on the data and comments. The main points should not be too surprising:

  1. Useful, timely, relevant communication from the association to its members;
  2. Involving and embracing the members, so that they feel valued and that they have a voice in the running of the organization;
  3. Relevant programming based on the current needs of the members, instead of programming and committee charges based on librarian needs of decades past;
  4. Membership fees and conferences as affordable as possible (free is best).

I hope readers don’t read that list and think “duh,” but as Betty reminded me, the discussion needed to be based on the data, not our own opinions about what makes a good professional organization. The BLINC case study covers similar ground through the realized experiences and strategies of that 17-year-old organization.

And regarding “duh”: I don’t see those four main points expressed in the work of all the library organizations I’m active in. Some do pretty well. Others have significant opportunities to improve their value. Examine your own organizations and see what you think about them. If you have concerns or suggestions, share them with its leaders. After all, it’s your organization too. At least it is until you stop renewing your membership…

Catching up

Morgan Ritchie-Baum opened up registrations to the ELC 2020 last Thursday afternoon. We began promoting sign-ups, and about 22 hours later, all 250 seats were claimed. Now the pressure is on to finish the planning and make sure this is a worthy event, yikes. (There are still 90 “videos only” slots left.)

Sunset summer thunderstorm cloud

Sunset summer thunderstorm cloud

A bit more on library instruction in the pandemic: on Thursday, I led two research workshops, both for traditional, on-campus classes except that I was here at home connecting with the classes via Zoom. Both sessions went fine it seemed, but I really missed the visual and audio feedback that comes naturally in a physical classroom. In the first workshop, I had to rely on the professor for all my student feedback since only he was in Zoom, broadcasting me on the classroom’s big screen.

The second class was with the evening executive MBA capstone class, in which I’m embedded. After a short Slido warm-up, I had the teams use a Google Doc to add their research findings. Since I had access to the team rosters via Canvas, I created breakout rooms for two of the three teams to use for their research teamwork time. The third team moved to an empty classroom during that time.

When I asked the teams to report back (all now back in the official classroom), the class utilized the overhead microphone with all the student machines muted (preventing feedback). But using the class microphone made it hard to figure out who was speaking. There was no yellow box around the speaker’s video. I had to look at each of the teammates for evidence of jaw muscles moving behind their facemasks. That was awkward and a bit frustrating for me. Hard to say “Thank you, Alecia” or “Interesting, could you expand on that idea, Nathaniel?” when you aren’t sure who talked. Of course, what was it like for the masked, safe-distanced students in the classroom that Thursday night? And this after a full day of work before class. Maybe I shouldn’t be complaining.

Today’s topic

I wrote three external reviews for business librarian tenure candidates since summer, and have written six total in the last four years. As many of you know, writing an external review requires reviewing the candidate’s submission portfolio (narrative summary, CV, publications, slide decks, letters of support) and then writing a 2-3 page evaluation based on that library’s criteria for promotion and tenure. After writing my most recent review a few weeks ago, I wondered what insights might coalesce from all that reading and writing…


I’m not all that. It’s a humbling experience reading about the amazing accomplishments of these librarians.


You’ll not all that too. (Haha.)


The official, written expectations for promotion and tenure do indeed vary widely library to library. Most libraries are vague about quantity and quality specifications for scholarship. This vagueness usually results in guesswork and angst in untenured librarians regarding their scholarship output. Compared to my library, most libraries seem to require (or expect) more scholarship to achieve tenure. Yes, some librarians really like to research and write, and so end up publishing frequently. I do wonder how much time some librarians are spending (or think they have to spend) researching and writing at night and on weekends.


Publishing in open access journals seems to be looked upon favorably by the review committees, but so does publishing in prestigious journals, which continue to be journals from commercial publishers it seems.


Many business librarians are publishing on topics outside of business librarianship: library leadership, general collection development, data literacy, digital badges, etc. Given the multi-functional nature of subject liaisoning, this diversity of topics is to be expected and encouraged. Business librarians shouldn’t be shy about publishing outside of JBFL and Ticker.


Serving on BRASS, ACRL, and SLA committees still meets many of the expectations of professional service. Yet many business librarians are creating organizations to meet new or unmet or regional professional needs. I love reading about those entrepreneurial accomplishments and hope the review committees do too.


The candidates work very hard to measure their “librarianship” accomplishments with performance metrics, usage data, and assessment data. The librarians are showing off some impressive data analytics skills. The performance numbers are not always high — if you have struggled to get involved with classes and consultations in your business school, you are not alone — but usually increase over the six years or so of the review period. Some of the candidates had to build library connections within the business school and entrepreneurship programs from scratch. I always enjoy reading about those librarians’ outreach efforts and accomplishments, and how the candidates document and measure these efforts.


Many of the candidates are faced with making hard decisions about collections, particularly business databases. Some business librarians have inherited a set of subscriptions that have not been evaluated or compared to the needs of the curriculum for many years. For example, some libraries have been providing duplicative financial and public company databases while providing little for their fast-growing data analytics or entrepreneurship programs. Candidates often write about their complex efforts to evaluate the collection, examine usage data, map the curriculum, get feedback from faculty, and then explain proposed changes to the faculty. And then here’s budget cutting decisions that had to be made too, ugh.

This is a follow-up to a discussion Nancy Lovas and I posted at the beginning of the month.

Classes began last week at UNC Greensboro. Our COVID-19 counts remain low, so UNCG has not ended on-campus classes yet, unlike UNC-CH, NSCU, and ECU largely have. UNC Charlotte is opening with all online classes but might allow physical classrooms later this fall. Those are the four UNC campuses larger that UNCG.

Two of my embedded classes are meeting synchronously online and so I’ve interacted with those students already. One section of our MBA capstone course is meeting in-person on Thursday nights, so I won’t see them until I Zoom in for a research workshop next month; in normal times, I would make frequent visits to that classroom.

Tomorrow I drop in on two on-campus classes for short research discussions. Yesterday I had my first hybrid class in which I was among the online participants. That was a new experience for me. I’ve only taught hybrids from within distance education classrooms on campus. In this post, I’ll focus on this new experience, covering the nature of the class, my lesson plan, and what actually happened.

The class

the lecture hall

The students in the physical room, with me on the big screen

Consumer, Apparel, and Retail Studies (CARS) 231: Introduction to Apparel and Related Industries: From Concept to Consumer. This is a large intro course with mostly 1st and 2nd year students. This semester, there are 59 students split between concurrent on-campus and online sections. Each class period, they swap locations (section A is in the physical classroom on Tuesdays, section B on Thursdays.) So far, some of the online students have been watching the Panopto videos in Canvas on their own time, but all the online students were asked to log into Zoom for my workshop. 44 students attended yesterday. The others will have to watch my Zoom video. The instructor is a PhD student I know well; she is teaching for the first time (yikes, what a way to begin teaching).

Student teams are required to find and share two articles with the class each week based on that week’s textbook chapter. One article must be from a trade journal, the other from an academic. That was my suggestion a few months ago when the instructor checked in with me regarding wanting her students to learn how to find articles. Article searching was my focus for the workshop yesterday. I don’t do workshops on keyword formation and article searching very often, but that was my focus last spring for this class too.

By the end of the semester, the student teams will create a career profile that includes some secondary research, and also turn in a fairly complicated (in my opinion) fashion brand case study. I encouraged the students to reach out to me for help on those projects as needed, and the library guide covers those topics.

My lesson plan

In the past for this class, I focused on hands-on active learning with students working in small teams. I tried the same thing yesterday using a similar worksheet, but online this time.

Slido question 1: what year of student are you?

Slido question 1: what year of student are you?

The learning goals focus on turning topics into keyword searching, finding articles from a library database, and trade versus academic journal articles.

After introductions and housekeeping, we will use Slido for three icebreakers (see the screen captures).

Next, section two on the worksheet, I facilitate a group discussion of turning a topic into keywords, using assigned topics corresponding to their textbook chapters. Students contribute ideas verbally, via Zoom chat, and by adding to the worksheet. We color-code synonyms. We do one topic together and then I ask the students to pair up (in class or via Zoom breakout rooms with randomized pairs) and do another topic, reporting back on their suggested searches.

Section three: exploring Business Source Complete and finding one good trade article and one good academic article. We share notes and I ask the students to explain those listed aspects of BSC, such as where to find citations.

Section four: after asking students to define the two types of articles in question today, I use Zoom chat to give them a series of persistent URLs for BSC articles, asking “which kind is this one?” A few might be hard to determine.

Slido 3: what is your favorite designer or fashion retailer?

Slido 2: what is your favorite designer or fashion retailer?

I end class with a brief sales pitch on the value of a small number of company, industry, and market databases for their fashion brand analysis due in November. This will be my first use of our new WGSN database in a class. The learning goal here is just “the library pays for other fashion and retailing industry research tools that might be useful to you later.”

I use the student responses and the worksheet as my assessment. I’ll check in with the instructor later regarding if students are sharing relevant articles each week.

What actually happened

The online students were in Zoom right away. The camera in the classroom focused on the current speaker, which was usually the instructor. So I couldn’t see the students in the classroom at first.

I had to remind the instructor to ask the physical classroom students to log into Zoom. Most of them logged in quickly. Then I could see a few more heads. I never asked the students to turn on their video in Zoom, but I felt a need to be able to see the classroom students. Maybe more of an emotional need than a practical one? I became aware of the lack of visible body language and head nodding when I was facilitating the discussion.

Slido question 1: what is your energy level?

Slido question 3: what is your energy level?

Polling worked well. Almost all the students used it. You’ve seen the anonymous results already.

The students readily took to mass-editing the Google Document. For their second attempt to turn a topic into a keyword search, I gave them a much harder phrase from their list of assigned topics (“Missions, objectives, and competitive strategies of fashion businesses”) and asked them to work in groups.

This led to the biggest challenge of the workshop: I couldn’t distinguish the classroom students from the remote students. I had planned on the in-class students to pair up (6 feet apart) and the online students to use breakout rooms. Failed to think that through! After a very brief discussion with the instructor, I decided just to have random groups of 3 from all the of the students.

I made a silly error: thinking, “ok, three students per breakout room,” I set the number to “3” and launched the rooms. Oops! Crap. Not three breakout rooms, three students per room! I had to quickly call everyone back and then use the breakout options properly to get the 12 rooms or so needed. That was embarrassing. Need to slow down sometimes.

This time, after three minutes, I closed the breakout rooms and asked the students to post their ideas in the Google Doc. I now regret using that second topic– it was too hard – but some teams came up with good searches nonetheless.

Another mistake: I forgot to make the instructor a co-host early on, which would have kept her from ending up in a breakout room with two students.

A small number of students elected to answer and discuss verbally. Most used chat. Some typed out responses in the Google Doc and then deleted their responses after I verbally recognized and responded to what they had written. That was unexpected but worked well.

We discussed sections three and four using Zoom chat and some verbal responses. I ended the class with review questions. As with any class, if you can get at least a handful of students to often contribute responses and answers, the class will have the energy it needs to flow and other students will eventually jump in too. That happened in this class.

I did not have time to do the sales pitch on industry and market databases, but that quick show ‘n tell epilogue was totally disposable. No guilt about that. The students have links and my videos on that subject in the library guide.

Instructor feedback:

“I think it went great!  You were able to overcome the digital divide to have students participating and engaging in real time with what some might consider a dull topic. You make me hopeful that distance learning can truly happen! The only thing we (the in-person class) struggled with was the break out rooms. I don’t think students, and myself for that matter, knew how to use those. But overall, very impressive workshop!”

Tomorrow’s workshops will be simpler: all the students will be in the physical classroom. My main concern is, will I be able to hear them through the classroom microphone and through their masks.