Special Collections

Bowden Postcard Collection Online Update: Donations, Maps, and More

Please note that, as of June 1st, the URL of the Bowden Postcard Collection Online is http://digital.lib.MiamiOH.edu/postcards.

It's been about a year since the project first began, so I thought now would be a good time to review the latest updates to the Bowden Postcard Collection Online. As I wrote about in November, this digital collection is being developed from the donation of roughly 480,000 postcards by two friends and Miami alumni: Clyde N. Bowden and Charles Shields. The project began last summer with a pilot that used a handful of cards from each state in Bowden's collection. These cards were digitized, given metadata records, and added to CONTENTdm - our digital content management system.

One of the Oxford, Ohio, postcards being pulled from the cabinet.
One of the Oxford, Ohio, postcards being pulled from the cabinet.

In the year since we began, we have digitized nearly 2,200 postcards, mostly from Ohio. There have been some setbacks along the way, most notably the recognition in December for a need to revise our already existing metadata records. At the same time, however, we have also made great strides forward. Clyde N. Bowden, the donor and namesake, was very excited to hear about the project and has given us a very generous donation to fund the current Ohio-focused work. His was not the only positive feedback we have had, either. Since joining the Commons, our digital collections' Flickr account - of which the postcards represent a substantial portion - has averaged between 10-20,000 views a day, and the number of monthly hits we have received in CONTENTdm for the full collection has likewise increased several times over. One particularly memorable response was from someone who recognized his father in a photograph used for one of the Oxford postcards.

The work of creating card numbers and sorting the cards in the Shields collection was made significantly easier thanks to his labels.
The work of creating card numbers and sorting the cards in the Shields collection was made significantly easier thanks to his labels.

In addition to his financial contribution, Mr. Bowden also donated to us several boxes of books about postcards, books of postcards, and other postcard-related miscellanea. We are also receiving another generous donation from the Columbus Metropolitan Library in the form of roughly 500 postcards from their own collection - many of them being from the mid-20th century Middle East.

So where do we go from here? Thanks to Mr. Bowden's donation, we are able to investigate commercial digitization which will save a significant portion of our students' time and labor, allowing them to focus on creating the metadata records and adding them to the collection online. We also are expanding our operation and bringing on a third student this summer to help with the work. With the digitization outsourced and the extra help, I am anticipating having over 5,000 postcards online by the end of 2014. Once we have completed the roughly 8,000 postcards remaining in the Bowden collection, we will add the Ohio postcards from the Shields collection. My goal for the project is to complete both collections' Ohio cards - about 15,000 in total! - by the end of spring 2016. I have also created a Twitter account - @bowdenpostcards - to track new postcards being added to the collection. Although currently inactive for the summer break, I look forward to seeing the account continue to log the latest additions to the collection, including a fascinating postcard flipbook from early 1900's Portsmouth, Ohio (watch a video of it on the Special Collections blog here).

Finally, as part of the aforementioned metadata revisions, we have narrowed the geographic location of each card - sometimes even to a specific street or building! Using this new information, we are developing a map to visualize the data in the collection. The map will be created using the Leaflet JavaScript Library, as well as some homegrown PHP and MySQL. In order to gather the necessary information from the CONTENTdm database, I wrote a script that queries the API for information about each item. This information is then pushed to a SQL database on one of our library's server - and in turn will be used to populate the map. The script itself is set to run on a weekly basis to continually update the SQL database. By preloading all the responses from the API, we are able to significantly reduce the time required to load the map. I am hoping to deploy the map by the end of June, so keep an eye on the collection!

Proof of concept for postcard map
Proof of concept for postcard map

Happy browsing.

Marcus Ladd
Special Collections Librarian & Postcard Czar

New Digital Collections Portal

As of Friday April 16, 2014, the portal to our digital collections is now http://digital.lib.miamioh.edu/.

Digital collections homepageDigital Collections homepage

On behalf of Special Collections and the Center for Digital Scholarship, I am excited to announce the launch of our new digital collections portal. The new website is the end result of a long migration process of collections divided across instances of DSpace and CONTENTdm version 4.3 into a single, up-to-date instance of CONTENTdm 6.6. In addition to a variety of new features, the new instance is based on a significantly improved platform to allow for better searching and viewing of the items in our digital collections.

List of currently available collectionsList of currently available collections

In total, our digital collections hold roughly 90,000 items, shared between over two dozen collections. These collections include:

The migration project began over a year ago and was spearheaded by John Millard, the Head of the Center for Digital Scholarship, and Elias Tzoc, the Digital Initiatives Librarian. From Special Collections, I have been collaborating with them to migrate and update the information about our collections that have been digitized. The project had several stages, each with their own unique set of challenges, including coordinating import/export tools from different platforms, updating image files to current standards, and preparing for a seamless-as-possible transition to a new platform.

This migration also comes ahead of Miami University’s domain name overhaul - migrating from the muohio.edu domain name (which will be defunct June 1st of this year) to the newer MiamiOH.edu. As a part of this, we are working to ensure that citations to our digital collections elsewhere on the web are ready for the migration and domain name change. One of the biggest current challenges in this is updating the links in our Flickr collections that lead back to the full objects and metadata records in CONTENTdm. Earlier this year, Miami University Libraries’ digital collections officially joined the Flickr Commons. Since then, I have been tracking the changes in views of both our Flickr account and their comparable collections in CONTENTdm. I have been thrilled to note the significant increase of both, but it has become clear to me that when it comes to access, there is no competition - the increase of views of the Bowden Postcard Collection Online in CONTENTdm is outnumbered fifteen times over by the views on Flickr. While the Flickr collection only shows the front of the card and a limited version of the metadata found in the CONTENTdm collection, the number of views is undeniable evidence of the importance of social media platforms for access in the modern world of information.

Page from Thomas B. Marshall's DiaryPage from Thomas B. Marshall's diary

Another exciting part of this migration is the relaunch of our Civil War Diaries online collection. These diaries include three kept by Miami students and three by local Ohio community members who took up arms to fight for the Union. The diarists, all of whom served as members of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry, record their impressions and experiences on a variety of topics, including their interrupted college studies, the daily life of a soldier, military engagements and news from the home front. In the near future we will be also relaunching our digitized Samuel Richey Collection of the Southern Confederacy, as well as digitizing and making available new materials related to the American Civil War.

Studio 14 host Rick LudwinStudio 14 host Rick Ludwin

Finally, I am pleased to announce the completion of our newest digital collection: the Studio 14 Archives. This collection features digitized copies of the variety show produced by Miami students under the oversight of Dr. Bill Utter, from 1968-1970. The two-inch wide quadruplex videotape originals were kept by the show’s producer, Miami alumnus Rick Ludwin, who had them digitized and donated them to Special Collections so that we might be able to make them publicly available online. Special Collections continues to enjoy an ongoing relationship with Mr. Ludwin, who spoke at Special Collections’ first Annual Lecture Series. In addition to being a Miami alumnus, Rick Ludwin was also VP at NBC, where he is remembered for backing a new show called Seinfeld. The Studio 14 episodes in this collection feature a wide range of sketch comedy, musical performances, and famous guests. Happy viewing!

Marcus Ladd
Special Collections Librarian

New Special Collections Exhibit: For the Amusement of Youth

Whenever we can, we like to plan our exhibits to align with university-wide thematic programming.  Last year's Summer Reading Program selection, Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World,  inspired many games and gaming-themed events across campus, including the Libraries' very successful International Games Day celebration last semester.  This year's gaming theme provided a perfect opportunity to highlight a subset of our Edgar W. and Faith King Collection of Juvenile Literature: historical games and books about recreational games.  Putting together an exhibit on any topic is an opportunity for me to delve deeper into the collections, to find "new" treasures, and to think about new ways that the material can be used in their current exhibit context and in the future for research and/or instruction.


In doing research about the history of board and table games in the West to provide context and provide interesting label content for the physical exhibit, I discovered that our collection contains some wonderful examples of how the mass production of games changed over the course of the nineteenth century in England and the United States.  From the simple, but elegant, hand-colored educational board games published by specialized printing shops in England at the end of the eighteenth century to the mass-produced and attractively packaged games produced by giants of the gaming industry, like Milton Bradley, McLoughlin Bros., and Parker Bros., we have some great representative pieces.  It's been great learning about the origins of modern board and card games and the "golden age" of game production.


Figuring out how to display the board and card games in the physical exhibit cases in an appealing way, while being conscious of preservation concerns, was also a  great takeaway from this exhibit for me and my colleague, our Preservation Librarian Ashley Jones.  Ashley wrote about this in last week's blog and it's an interesting look behind the scenes of the exhibit process.  We're also trying new things to make a visit to our exhibit gallery a more interactive experience, with the addition of an iPad kiosk equipped with a gaming app and coming soon: two playable "recreations" of board games circa 1800.

games flyer

A brief description of the exhibit: Due to advances in manufacturing and printing technologies and an expanding middle class with more leisure time, the mass production of board, table and card games exploded in the 19th century. This exhibit traces the origins of today’s gaming industry, highlighting the products of the golden age of commercial game production in the United Kingdom, the United States, and beyond from the 1790s to the 1920s. Highlights of the exhibit include several hand-colored board games from England circa 1800, early games and puzzles produced by leading American game manufacturers, Milton Bradley, the McLoughlin Brothers, and the Parker Brothers, and an early French version of the popular magnetic fish pond game.

Tiddledy Winks Cover, published 1897
A reception, free and open to the public, will be held on March 12 from 4:00 – 6:00 PM and will include a talk on games and gaming by Sarah Fay Krom, Visiting Assistant Professor in the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies, and a gallery talk by Special Collections Librarian and curator of the exhibit, Kimberly Tully.

Do stop by this semester and see some fascinating games from the past!

Kimberly Tully
Special Collections Librarian



AP Story on the Myaamia Collection!

The Walter Havighurst Special Collections staff is pleased to announce the latest additions to the Myaamia Collection Online, eight original land grants from 1823 and 1843 to the Miami Tribe by Presidents Monroe and Tyler and Lafontaine's 1846 addition to the town of Huntington, Indiana.

Front of 3rd land grant to John Baptiste Richardville in 1843
The land grants were also featured in an Associated Press story on Sunday, December 15th, and the story can be found in news sources across the country! As with the original annuity rolls in the Myaamia Collection Online, each land grant is accompanied by a transcription. We invite you all to explore these fascinating historical documents.

The Gift of the Queen: A Special Collections Provenance Story

Queen Charlotte

Many librarians, archivists, and academics who work with rare books and manuscripts may publicly critcize the portrayal of their professions in films like The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure, but secretly many dream about solving ancient mysteries or uncovering shocking secrets.  Though very few in the profession are lucky enough to discover something so earth-shattering that it can challenge centuries of belief or accepted fact, many of us who work with special collections materials solve little mysteries and uncover fascinating stories from the past on a regular basis. Every rare book on the shelf in a special collections or archives has the potential to lead its reader down a path of discovery, whether it's through the study of its text, its production, or its provenance.  Provenance in the book world is simply the record of a book's previous ownership.  Discovering who owned a book and documenting how it may have traveled over space and time to end up on the shelf of a rare book and special collections library can be one of the most rewarding, entertaining, and even sometimes thrilling aspects of the work we do. Just ask my colleague Masha Stepanova who wrote about an exciting find in our de Saint-Rat Collection last week in her blog post. The following is a brief story of how a shelf reading project in our department led to the re-discovery of another item in our collections with an impressive provenance...

Translations from the German in Prose and Verse, trans. by Ellis Cornelia Knight, 1812

As part of an ongoing shelf reading project, our student workers supervised by my colleague Jim Bricker, are barcoding our book collections and in order to apply a unique barcode to an item, the catalog record must be edited. Meghan Pratschler, one of our undergraduate student workers, discovered that one of the books on her project truck had a call number but not a catalog record, so the book ended up on my desk.  Nothing about this volume seemed noteworthy at first and the title Translations from the German in Prose and Verse, though descriptive, was not very catchy.  It looked to be a typical early nineteenth century volume of religious poetry, but when I went to find a catalog record for the title in OCLC/WorldCat, I noticed right away that only 30 copies were printed.  So it was definitely a limited edition and only 13 other libraries in North America and England reported owning a copy today.  The next thing I noticed was the unusual imprint, "Printed by E. Harding, Frogmore Lodge, Windsor 1812", so I thought perhaps this was an early private press title of some kind based in someone's residence.

Dedication page

The printed dedication page reads: "The gift of the Queen to her beloved daughters Charlotte Aug: Matilda. Augusta Sophia. Elizabeth. Mary. and Sophia. and with Her Majesty's permission dedicated to their Royal Highnesses by the translator Ellis Cornelia Knight." Realizing the connection between the English royal family and Windsor, the location in the imprint, I became even more curious about this slim volume.

Portrait of Ellis Cornelia Knight by Angelica Kauffman

Upon further searching, I found out more about the book and its origins.  The translator of the text, Ellis Cornelia Knight (1757-1837) shown above, was an accomplished writer who was a companion to both Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), wife of King George III (see portrait at top of post), and later her daughter, Princess Charlotte Augusta.

Frogmore House, ca. 1819

Frogmore House today

The book was produced at a private press overseen closely by Knight and Harding, a job printer in Windsor, especially for the Queen's daughters. The quality of the printing is not particularly fine, but the volume does include a pleasant engraving of Frogmore Lodge.  Frogmore Lodge, better known as Frogmore House (shown above), was a seventeenth century country estate near Windsor Castle. Queen Charlotte and her daughters used the estate as a country retreat, similar to Charlotte's contemporary Marie Antoinette's Estate at Versailles.  Just the fact that a truly "rare" book commissioned by Queen Charlotte, with a text translated by her companion from the original German, and printed at her country home ended up on the shelf at a university library in Oxford, Ohio made this a fun find. I shared what I had discovered about the volume with Meghan, the student worker who originally "found" the book on the shelf, and the rest of the staff in Special Collections.  And here's where the provenance comes in...

"Ldy. R." stamped in gilt on front cover of Miami's copy

The only truly distinguishing characteristic of Miami's copy was the original mottled calf binding with "Ldy. R." stamped in gilt on the front cover.  Who was the mysterious Lady R?  Everyone in the department was curious.  Since none of Charlotte's daughters, for whom the book was printed as a gift, had names which began with the letter "R" (and they would be styled "Princess" or "H.R.H." most likely anyway), I immediately thought that Lady R. was probably a member of the royal household, such as a Lady of the Bedchamber, commonly referred to as a lady-in-waiting.  A quick search didn't provide any immediate leads and I set the book aside in my office to return to when I had a free moment.  However, Meghan, our student worker, beat me to it! She located an official listing of the Queen's Household which included an entry for Cornelia Jacoba Waldegrave, Lady Radstock, who was one of the Women of the Bedchamber from 1799-1818.  There were no other clear candidates for Lady R. in Queen Charlotte's inner circle and the date, 1812, also lined up.  While we cannot definitively know whether Cornelia is in fact our Lady R., it seems highly likely.

David George van Lennep and Family by Antoine de Favray, circa 1771

So who was Lady Radstock? Cornelia Jacoba van Lennep (1763-1839) was born in Turkey to a wealthy Dutch merchant family.  She married William Waldegrave, first Baron Radstock (1753-1825), a distinguished Admiral in the Royal Navy and a Governor of New Foundland, in 1785. Though the historical record seems to contain very little about Lady Radstock, beyond her family's genealogy, there is a portrait of her family in the collections of the Rijksmuseum, the Dutch national museum, in Amsterdam.  The painting by Antoine de Favray from about 1771 depicts Cornelia, at approximately eight years old, in a blue dress seated on the floor. It's pretty amazing to think that that little girl born faraway and long ago in the Ottoman Empire, who married a Canadian governor and naval hero and became a lady-in-waiting to the Queen of England, once held this book in her hands, a "gift of the Queen."  Unfortunately, there are no other marks of ownership on this presentation copy and it is virtually impossible to trace the book's provenance after it was in the possession of Lady Radstock.  Perhaps we can, instead, indulge ourselves and imagine that this book's journey to the shelves of Miami's Special Collections was just as fascinating as its origins.

In the meantime, we've already had an undergraduate student stop by our reading room to see this recently discovered treasure (she'd heard about it from John Bickers, another of our stellar student workers in Special Collections) and that same student is now exploring other books in our collection  as the basis for a possible capstone project!

Kimberly Tully
Special Collections Librarian

Join Us for an Exciting October in Special Collections!

cradle image crop

With the many and varied resources in Special Collections, it's always a challenge choosing which ones to focus on for exhibits and special events. This October we will be celebrating two fascinating collections and we hope you will join us.

On Homecoming Saturday, October 19, we'll host a reception for our main exhibit this semester, Cradle of Coaches: A Legacy of Excellence. From 4 to 6 p.m. in the Special Collections Exhibit Gallery and Reading Room, and the adjacent room 320, all on the 3rd floor of King Library, we'll celebrate the legacy of our coaching heritage with an extended exhibit, additional media, and refreshments. At 5 p.m., after a welcome from Interim Dean Jerome Conley, Nick Selvaggio, one of the original donors of the Cradle of Coaches Archive, will talk about the origin of the collection. Then Johnathan Cooper, the exhibit curator, will lead guests on a guided tour of the exhibit.

On the following Wednesday, October 23, at 4 p.m., Miami alumnus and former NBC vice president Rick Ludwin will give the inaugural Annual Special Collections Lecture. Each year this new lecture series will highlight one of our many special collections.

“STUDIO 14,” Miami University Television and Radio, 1966-1970, will highlight the Rick Ludwin Collection, which includes recordings of Miami radio and television productions made during Ludwin’s student days. The lecture is being presented in honor of Professor Emeritus William Utter, former faculty sponsor. It will be held in King 320 and will be followed by a reception at 5 p.m.

Both events are free and open to the public. Please join us to learn more about the amazing resources available here in the Walter Havighurst Special Collections.

Elizabeth Brice
Assistant Dean for Technical Services and Head, Special Collections & Archives

L-R Rick Ludwin, Richard Hackney, Eric Goodyear.  November 14, 1966.
L-R Rick Ludwin, Richard Hackney, Eric Goodyear. November 14, 1966.

New Online Exhibit: A Gift of History

I am excited to announce the release of our first wholly digital exhibit: A Gift of History!


This exhibit features the original 19th century Miami annuity rolls which were donated by Margaret Sue Strass to the Myaamia Heritage Museum and Archive. Part of the agreement to the donation was that the rolls would be kept at Miami University, here in Special Collections, to be viewed by interested scholars, students, and Myaamia for genealogical research.

There are 35 sheets, each 2.5 x 1.5 feet in size
There are 35 sheets, each 2.5 x 1.5 feet in size

The rolls donated include:

  • Myaamia annuity, 1880
  • Myaamia annuity, 1881
  • Eel River annuity, 1880
  • Eel River annuity, 1881
  • Myaamia census, 1882
  • Myaamia census, 1882, duplicates
  • Eel River census, 1882

To make them more accessible, we digitized the rolls and they became the foundation of our new Myaamia Collection Online - a resource that is already receiving new donations. While we are excited at the prospect of further expanding the collection, we wanted to commemorate the original gift of the annuity rolls that was its beginning.

Each page incorporates the CONTENTdm compound object viewer, allowing you to navigate the roll
Each page incorporates the CONTENTdm compound object viewer, allowing you to navigate the roll

For some time, Elias Tzoc in the Center for Digital Scholarship and I had discussed developing an exhibit in Omeka, but we were limited by Omeka's difficulty in managing compound objects like the annuity rolls, each comprising several sheets of paper. However, in a stroke of genius, Elias was able to import the compound object viewer from the Myaamia Collection Online in CONTENTdm to the Omeka platform, allowing us to move forward with the exhibit you now see. This exhibit demonstrates the power of open source platforms like Omeka, allowing designers to import and adapt tools to their specific needs.

In addition to the rolls themselves, the exhibit also details the importance of the time for the Miamis in Indiana when these rolls were compiled: in 1881, 63 registered Miami were granted citizenship to the state of Indiana and the United States, making them the last large group of Miamis in the state to receive citizenship to the United States. The exhibit also provides information on the process by which we digitized the rolls and created a digital collection around them.

Each roll's page links to the item in the Myaamia Collection Online, including a full metadata record
Each roll's page links to the item in the Myaamia Collection Online, including a full metadata record

This was my first major project here in Special Collections and it has been a fascinating (and, yes, sometimes frustrating) process to bring the collection and this exhibit together, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to have worked with these rolls. I would like to thank Elias, Jody, John, and Lori for their help with the project, and invite you all to explore this fascinating gift of history.

Marcus Ladd
Special Collections Librarian

The John H. James Collection: A Nineteenth Century Life Uncovered

We're happy to announce that the processing of the John H. James Collection, one of our largest manuscript collections, has been completed and finding aids for the collection are now available online.  The finding aids were written by two of our graduate assistants, Adrienne Chudzinski and Stacy Haberstroh, both Miami history graduate students, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their work processing the collection.

John Hough James

John Hough James (1800-1881) was a native of Urbana, Ohio and a graduate of Cincinnati College.  Referred to as the "Buckeye Titan" by his biographers, William E. and Ophia D. Smith, James was a lawyer, banker, railroad builder, scientific farmer, stockbreeder, legislator, politician, editor, lecturer and writer.  A friend of both Henry Clay and William Henry Harrison, James advised Whig leaders in the General Assembly of Ohio and in the United States Congress in his work as a lawyer and politician.  James was a pioneer in the development of western banking and transportation. He was treasurer and president of the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad, helping to build one of the earliest railroads in the country. He also pursued farming and stockbreeding. James founded Urbana University, the first Swedenborgian college in the world, giving the land for the campus and serving as a lifelong trustee for the institution.

Abigail Bailey James

John H. James married Abigail Bailey, the daughter of Revolutionary War printer Frances Bailey, in 1825 and the couple had four children.  Abigail and her children feature prominently in the collection and the family's letters to each other detail everyday domestic life for a close-knit, upper middle class family in nineteenth century Ohio.

A page from an early James diary

Efforts until recently were largely focused on cataloging James's personal library, a rich collection of 17th-19th century European and American imprints. His personal papers, including diaries kept over sixty years of his life, extensive family correspondence, and business documents were available for research, but, until now, lacked comprehensive finding aids for interested scholars to use remotely before visiting the collection.  The collection opens up many avenues for historical inquiry on a variety of topics in the study of nineteenth century American life and culture, including political, economic, gender, social, and religious history.


In many ways, our newly available finding aids build on James's own meticulous organization of his diaries, correspondence, and business records.  He bound and labeled family correspondence and business correspondence annually and, it is safe to say, that he kept the originals or copies of almost every letter or document that crossed his desk, both at home and in his office.  When a house fire threatened his entire collection of personal records a year before his death, James dutifully described the incident in his diary entry dated May 12, 1880: “This diary business seems to be well nigh run out. Yesterday as I sat at my bedroom desk writing, I heard the crack of fire in my closet where I have kept all my diaries and my files of letters. A glass lamp was burning there on the top of my drawers and heating a little can of water hung above it. A fire happened, the lamp burst and spread its infernal fluid and the fierce flame ascended and spread. Nobody to blame. A loud call for my granddaughter Nelly, and for water, brought help.... My letter books burned in volumes (by the only hand I would trust). From 1814-1871 several were scorched and one or two more than scorched- and all my diaries from 1821- 1878 injured in the burning ... The worst of all, the first volume of letters from my son while in the army, written out by me from the letters when he first entered, so burned that I may not be able to replace it.”

Though much of the collection still bears the scars from that fateful fire, thousands of letters and documents, along with most of the diaries James kept between 1821 and 1881, are safe now here in Special Collections and I'd like to think that James himself would be very pleased with our stewardship of his collections.

James's signature

Kimberly Tully
Special Collections Librarian

Show Me The Awesome: New Kid on the Blog


Show Me The Awesome: 30 Days of Self-Promotion is an initiative by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, and Kelly Jensen to encourage librarian bloggers to think and talk about self-promotion. You can follow the series with the tag #30awesome on Twitter, Tumblr, Vine, and Instagram

As part of “Show Me The Awesome”, I want to step away from our usual fare and talk instead about the challenges of establishing a voice for yourself and your library in new settings. Being the newest member of our library staff, self-promotion for me is as much showing my worth to my peers as to our patrons. My challenge is to promote myself in a way that convinces my new coworkers to make room for me and my work. In parallel to establishing my voice here, I am also working to find a voice for our library in online communities. Much like being a new hire to the department, joining a social media community requires a degree of self-promotion to show that you are able to contribute to the conversation. One of the key elements to a successful social media presence for an institution is a feeling of personability; social media should not be treated as a bullhorn for attention, but rather as an opportunity to build connections. Consequently, it is important for the library to feel like an individual when engaging other users, and I cannot help but see an association between finding my voice among my new peers and finding the library’s voice online.

As with any new setting – physical or digital – the first (and often hardest!) step to making your voice heard is joining the conversation. It can be intimidating to enter a workplace community and show you can make valuable contributions, but some of the best advice I’ve been given about starting a new job was ‘remember that they hired you because you have something they’re missing’; the first hurdle to promoting your abilities is passed. However, when it comes to social media, there is no careful hiring process for quality control; for better or for worse, the Internet gives everyone a chance to make their voice heard. So how can a library promote itself and promise valuable contributions to online conversations?

Like the newcomer to the staff, the first step is knowing what your library has to offer that’s been lacking. By their nature, special collections libraries like mine have many things that are rare, unique, or even uncataloged – but by that same nature these are not materials that can leave the library. Developing a social media presence where awareness of these materials can be shared and gain popularity is a great opportunity to promote the library.

However, there is also a temptation to focus too much on showing off what you or your library has to offer. An early mistake I made in promoting the library with social media was relying on one-directional communication. Tumblr, a platform the university libraries had not previously engaged, was my first solo social media effort. Tumblarians – as the librarians, library students, and sundry bibliophiles on Tumblr call themselves – are a diverse group who welcomed me and the special collections blog warmly on my initial appearance. With some assistance from the excellent and helpful ex-tabulis, we got on a few lists of library blogs, and soon had a few dozen followers. But it wasn’t long until that number slipped. My mistake? I was talking too much and listening too little. I was researching what people were talking about and contributing from our collection, but that isn’t a conversation. As important as it is to show your own talents, part of promoting yourself is also showing that you are someone that can build connections and relationships.

At many libraries, the in-person interview process will involve lunches, coffee breaks, or other similar gatherings. While it might be a nice change after hours of presentations and questions, these ‘social interviews’ are every bit as important as the demonstration of your professional qualities. Libraries are collaborative environments and those social events demonstrate how you would fit in to the workplace community – do you seem to be someone they could write papers with, travel to conferences with, see every weekday for the next ten years? Similarly, social media users’ evaluation of your library and blog will not be based solely on your ability to formally present information, but their ability to feel some sort of connection to your institution.

Like the coffee break during the interview process, breaks from serious posting are important in developing your library’s presence online. To date, my single most successful Tumblr post (judging by the number of times it was liked and reblogged) was a photo of a bit of manuscript waste in a 17th century book – nothing overly rare or unique, but a joking exchange with another librarian (again ex-tabulis) about turning it into a historical mystery movie script saw it reblogged by around thirty other users. Hardly viral, but encouraging nonetheless.

What got the image of our book spread was not the value in it alone, but that little connection that was built in the brief back-and-forth conversation. Formal language does little in the way of effectively building social relationships, but relaxed, friendly language goes hand in hand with the lateral connections that social media relies on. Self-promotion is not only a matter of showing what you can do, but showing that you can fit into the community you’re joining.

Besides, even academic libraries need to be a place of fun sometimes.

See y’all online.

Marcus Ladd
Special Collections Librarian

Head’s Up: Traveling with Victorians


Late last year a new book by Dr. John H. “Jack” White, Jr. (MU ’58) was published by the Indiana University Press.  Wet Britches and Muddy Boots: A History of Travel in Victorian America is noteworthy for many reasons, as the laudatory reviews now appearing make clear.

The book spans the millennia of human travel but focuses primarily on travel in the nineteenth century, when transportation was revolutionized by industrialization. It especially focuses on the experience of travel. What was it like to ride a stagecoach from one town to the next? Or travel by steamboat? What were roads like? Accommodations?  Food?  And how long did it take to travel distances we scarcely give a thought to today?

Jack has written the work as popular history; it is indeed highly readable and illustrated with a wide range of helpful and fascinating images. But it is also based on meticulous research. Jack, after all, retired as Senior Historian after a long curatorial career at the Smithsonian Institution in the Division of Transportation, Museum of History and Technology. His authority is well-established by a number of distinguished publications.


We in Special Collections are especially delighted with the book because Jack is a loyal friend and supporter and because he did much of his research right here. Our collections are rich in primary resources for the nineteenth century, and transportation is a particularly strong area. We know how much time and effort Jack invested in research and writing. So we take special pride in his achievement.

Jack’s achievement is also an achievement for the former Head of Special Collections, Janet Stuckey, who supported, assisted, and (according to Jack) occasionally pushed him to the finish line. Jack is generously donating the profits from the book to the Miami University Libraries Janet Stuckey Fund, which supports acquisitions for Special Collections.

So it’s a win-win. And win. That last “win” is yours when you read the book.

Elizabeth Brice
Assistant Dean for Technical Services and
Head, Special Collections & Archives


Miami University Libraries | 151 South Campus Avenue | Oxford, Ohio 45056 | 513.529.4141 | Miami University | myMiami | Staff Area