End of the road

By Elsa Buehler

Today, I began the last project that I will complete for my internship: a research guide on Malcolm X. I have so enjoyed learning about a diverse group of great thinkers while creating research guides for Gumberg Library’s website. I was very pleased to be able to continue this work, as normal, from the comfort of my home! Today was bittersweet.

I’m sure we all got a lot more than the learning experience we bargained for when applying for our respective internships. As a (hopeful) future school librarian, I have been really grateful to learn how to maneuver online learning platforms. The biggest adjustment was learning Zoom as a student (and later using it to interact with friends and family!), but I’ve even learned new functions on Blackboard and Outlook, platforms I already used.

What’s more is that I’ve learned what kinds of online resources institutions can provide during this time of working from home—resources helping people reconcile having to work and live in the same space. I’ve briefly discussed the Gumberg Library as a specific example of Duquesne University’s efforts to support and enrich online learning. I think that our librarians have done some really great work in this vein. From my point of view, I’ve watched as my supervisor, Ted Bergfelt, has edited research guides to be more helpful to at-home learners, created new guides detailing Gumberg’s online resources, and even created new guides to accompany specific courses. Like him, all guides I’ve made since mid-March make a far greater effort to provide online resources. I’ve also retroactively done this for past guides I have created. I hope they can be helpful to my peers: not only in providing direct access to specific resources, but also in showing how one might approach remote academic research.

As my peers and I wrap up our internship work and our school year, I thank the individuals (professors, librarians, administrative staff, etc) behind our online transition. Although you’re working from home, you’re not taking a load off. In fact, I suspect that many of you are putting in more hours than you would during a typical school year. Thank you for dedicating yourselves to providing an education for us that is as close to normal as humanly possible. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. Thank you and be well.

 

All my best to you,
Elsa

 

Another Quarantine Blogger

By Elsa Buehler

The quarantine has taught me many things about myself.

1.) No matter how many alarms I set for seven a.m., no matter how far I place my phone away from my bed, and no matter how late or early I go to bed, I will not begin my day until nine a.m. on the dot.

2.) Despite moving dramatically less each day (we’re talking as low as 200 steps per day as opposed to my normal 8,000+), I sleep as much as (if not more than) ever.

3.) As a film lover faced with absurd amounts of time, I have yet to watch a single movie on my watch list, instead reverting to movies I’ve seen dozens of times, including Bridget Jones’ Diary, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Ocean’s Eleven, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and so on.

Clearly, I’m a creature of habit, and extremely predictable.

However, in an effort to report good news, as many publications are attempting to do, I can’t help but think of the good that’s come from my quarantine so far. I’ve picked up The Call of the Wild. I’ve started a compost center at my house. I’m joining a Dungeons & Dragons campaign for the first time in my life. I spend more time communicating with my loved ones and family members. I’m learning to expand my cooking skills. I’m getting a heck of a lot of time in with my beautiful dogs. I even went for a run outside! (Admittedly, that was a mistake that I won’t repeat).

I’m choosing to use this time to work on the things I’ve always said that I would “if I had the time,” and I’m learning which of those things I actually was serious about. (Now if I could only work on my school assignments at a reasonable pace and hour…). I would never argue that this should be a time of extreme productivity for everyone, just as I am generally against philosophies that value numbered accomplishments over a person’s quality of life. If anything, this period resembles a time of grieving. If all you want to do is watch TV and rest, I think that’s noble enough, and if all you can do is keep up with remote work and do very little else, I view that as a non-issue! I urge you to take care of yourself. I simply want to embrace flexibility and open-mindedness when I can in my own life.

I hope to figure out some kind of a routine soon, less for productivity reasons and more for my own sanity. I can’t help but think that this situation provides me with a really unique opportunity: a space of time and freedom, the likes of which that I may never have again as a young person. Despite the chaos, I’m pleased with the amount of normalcy the internet has allowed me to retain in completing my internship. My supervisor has been generous with deadlines and helpful with teaching new skills. We’ve had conversations over Zoom that have also helped normalize and contextualize this strange situation. Overall, I’m grateful. I have space in my home conducive to work. I have technology that is compatible with the required programs and software for my internship and online courses, as well as reliable internet. Best of all: I live in a time that allows for any of this to even be possible.

To the next few weeks: who knows what they will bring us? I wish you all my best, from the comfort of my couch and the bottom of my heart.

Looking Forward: Navigating Online Research

In my last post, I wrote that I was learning with each session at my internship just how valuable library services, and research guides in particular, are to students like myself. Now, as Duquesne prepares to take the leap into fully online classes, I realize that just two weeks ago I could never have imagined the extent to which these tools might be necessary.

Preventative decisions from Duquesne leadership have secured the transition of all Duquesne classes to full online capability in the interest of slowing further spread of COVID-19. Although the Gumberg Library will remain open with limited hours, students who will be working from home will no longer have the option of relying on print materials at Gumberg Library. Students can browse research guides that Gumberg’s librarians have cultivated and categorized by topic here.

brit modernism guide
The “British Modernism” Research Guide by Victoria Wilson

Other important online research tools include ebooks and other electronic materials available through the online catalog, ILLiad, databases, online journals, and much more.

gumberg research webpage
The Gumberg Library research webpage

Gumberg Library research guides feature popular areas of study and aim to connect students directly to the resources they need to conduct good research. The guides are designed to be used by the novice researcher and are very streamlined to enhance accessibility. I anticipate that during this time of uncertainty and newness within the university sphere, these guides will prove crucially useful to Duquesne’s students in a capacity that they haven’t been before. My internship supervisor, Mr. Ted Bergfelt, who has created guides for specific courses in the past, will also be creating research guides to support the Duquesne Rome campus courses that will be transitioned to online courses following the Rome campus students’ return to America.

Meanwhile, I’ll be continuing remote work on a new research guide, which will feature a myriad of women philosophers. The nature of my work is online, which should translate well into a remote internship. I’ll also remain in contact with Dr. Wright and Mr. Bergfelt as we navigate this new reality.

A Study in Dostoevsky

By Elsa Buehler

During the last few weeks of my internship, I’ve been working on a research guide of my own. Topic: Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevesky.

My preliminary research involved brushing up on his most famous works, themes in his writing, the historical context that framed his life, and the correct spelling of his name. (Dostoyevsky? Dostoevsky? Dostoyevski, Dostoyevskij, Dostoyevskii? Scholars disagree so I still don’t know for sure, but I’ve settled on the Library of Congress’ preference.)

From there I began to search for the necessary materials needed to build a substantial research guide. I used Gale eBooks to find introductory resources that researchers might use to gain a basic biographical knowledge about Dostoevsky. I accumulated reference books that deal with his work or Russian literature in general. I undertook the arduous process of running catalog searches for a host of topics that might be helpful someone studying Dostoevsky, including concepts found in his work, criticisms of specific texts, and related thinkers. I provided links to journals that publish on Russian literature and philology and created a list of the ideal databases that a Dostoevsky student should use. I came up with a couple of related research guides to point to, as well as linking to some interesting web pages and media. Finally, I chose a portrait of Dostoevsky: an apparently famous one by Vasily Perov that I think captures his brooding intellectual style quite well.

Today I finished the guide, and it’s now officially live and available for use through the Gumberg Library website. As I don’t claim to be an expert on the life and works of Fyodor Dostoevsky, I will continue to add resources to the guide as I discover them. Though the work that goes into these guides is tedious, I am developing a strong appreciation for them. These guides and other similar resources are designed to help students make the most of services available to them through the university (services that they are ultimately paying for, regardless of their use or misuse of them. I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn this lesson firsthand and encourage my peers to engage with these kinds of resources being cultivated for our benefit!

Dostoevsky_1872

 

A Liberal Arts Education and Personal Voice

“If I have seen further, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”

-Sir Isaac Newton

 “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”

-T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

Anyone seeking a post-secondary education can tell you of the frustration of being caught in a particularly maddening contradiction of academic culture.

Despite receiving support and encouragement from professional mentors to establish themselves as free-thinking individuals in the world, students are surrounded by constant reminders of infamous figures who have achieved success and titanic status within their fields. I chose to begin this post with some well-remembered words from Sir Isaac Netwon and T.S. Eliot because their ideas about education and legacy seem to complicate this phenomenon even further. Newton’s quotation (from a letter to a contemporary, Robert Hooke) evokes humility and reverence, while Eliot dismisses the equivalent of Newton’s “giants,” arguing that a new era demands new thought. Next to each other, these ideas seem completely opposite. To forge ahead, as Eliot charges, is our only option if we are to truly learn or achieve anything of value, but to do so without the knowledge and wisdom gleaned from history seems unthinkably narcissistic. A liberal arts education, then, is one way of bridging earnest innovation with past brilliance.

In the past few weeks, my work as the Gumberg Library Intern has allowed me to learn more about certain significant cultural figures who either were born or lived in Pittsburgh. Spending time researching some of the roots of Pittsburgh culture has been enlightening, educational, and enriching!

I helped Mr. Bergfelt prepare the temporary Teenie Harris exhibit on the fourth floor of the library in preparation for the February 6th event. Charlene Foggie-Barnett, Teenie Harris Archive Specialist at the Carnegie Museum of Art, was the guest speaker. She spoke about the life and work of Teenie Harris, as well as her relationship with him as a subject of his photography. Another of my projects this week involved updating the “Pittsburgh Poets” research guide. I added profiles to the guide for three additional poets: Cameron Barnett, Lucie Brock-Broido, and Jason Irwin.

This common theme of Pittsburgh culture was unintentional, yet it caused me to think more deeply about the people and topics that I have been drawn to throughout my undergrad education. In many ways, my courses have laid the groundwork for my career path. Already, I am noticing how great authors, thinkers, and leaders that I have studied are beginning to inform my work with the Gumberg Library. I am excited for all there is left to learn as I continue my work and develop my voice as a creative individual in the professional world.


Eliot, T.S. T.S. Eliot: The Complete Poems and Plays, 1909-1950. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971. Print.

Newton, Isaac, and Robert Hooke. Isaac Newton Letter to Robert Hooke, 1675. Historical Society of Pennsylvania Digital Library. Web. (https://digitallibrary.hsp.org/index.php/Detail/objects/9792)

The Work Behind the Research Guide

Throughout the course of just a few short weeks at my internship, I have learned invaluable lessons about the research that informs not only my work for Gumberg Library, but also my education as a Liberal Arts student.

As the Gumberg Library Intern, my main job is to build research guides to be published on the Gumberg Library website. For the creation of each research guide (which is essentially a web page), there is a general process to be followed. My supervisor, Theodore Bergfelt, humanities librarian, first provides me with a topic of potential interest to students and faculty of the university. So far, I have worked with the great thinkers Benedict de Spinoza and Martin Heidegger, though the research guides I complete will cover more than just philosophy-related topics and people. After selecting a topic, Mr. Bergfelt provides me with a list of introductory articles, reference works, primary sources, selected books, databases, catalog searches, and maybe a couple of media elements (a list that I will eventually be able to generate on my own) to include in the research guide.

It takes me a long time to integrate the factual materials, links, and resources into the research guide, because I must maintain the style that marks all of Gumberg’s other research guides. I take care with the design of the page, paying attention to things like font, color, size, continuity, order, readability, framing, and mobile view, to name just some elements. LibGuides, the platform that Gumberg Library uses, is a digital content management service that allows me to have detailed control over the layout without needing extensive knowledge of coding.

One of the more time-consuming aspects of building a research guide involves setting up lists of links that connect students to specific searches within the library’s catalog of print materials. Mr. Bergfelt has developed such shortcuts on many of his research guides, a strategy that works towards his goal of making resources optimally available and accessible to those who are not experts at academic research. By making a list of topics that a student studying Spinoza might need, for example, we are at best linking them directly to sources that they need, and at least giving them a nice shove in the right direction (as well as hinting at how they might proceed). When I create these lists, I do all of the search engine manipulation necessary to get an appropriate set of results. When the student clicks the link, the catalog runs the search and the student simply has to browse the now manageable amount of potential resources.

Though it has been only two weeks, I am already learning the strategies of academic research, the shortcuts and tricks of effective searching, and most importantly, how to successfully navigate complex platforms such as LibGuides and the Gumberg Library catalog.

Concluding Thoughts On My English Department Internship

“I walk around the school hallways and look at the people. I look at the teachers and wonder why they’re here. If they like their jobs. Or us. And I wonder how smart they were when they were fifteen. Not in a mean way. In a curious way. It’s like looking at all the students and wondering who’s had their heart broken that day, and how they are able to cope with having three quizzes and a book report due on top of that. Or wondering who did the heart breaking. And wondering why.”

-Charlie, Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

As my time as the 2018 Duquesne Summer Writing Camp Intern winds down to a close (only officially—I will be doing some work with the actual camp this summer), I’ve nearly finished my marketing and administrative tasks, and all I have left to do now is to stay in contact with the campers until June. I want to reflect a little bit on the importance of creative writing as a voice and outlet for adolescents. I participated in writing contests and competitions in high school, and despite having a greater affinity for analytic writing in my college years, those experiences have been endlessly valuable to my education and writing skills.

My work with :Lexicon, Duquesne’s literary journal, has also been very influential. Reading the submissions of fiction and poetry from Duquesne’s students has taught me a lot about the writing preferences, as well as the life experiences, of the Duquesne student. I’ve also been lucky enough to experiment with a little creative writing my own, for the first time since high school, in my “Critical Issues in Literary Studies” course (ENG 300). Specifically, we looked at works of classic fairy tales, as well as contemporary versions of them that have been reworked in a collection of short stories by Angela Carter called The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories. By comparing these classic tales side by side with some of their most highly praised adaptations, my peers and I really got a sense for why people love fiction so much. The stories we read ranged from horrifying to cheerful to utterly depressing, familiar to completely original, and so on. Some were intimately connected to themes of our world (such as gender roles, courtship and marriage expectations, mental health, etc.), while some remained focused on themes common in traditional fairy tales (chivalry, loyalty, judgement, and cleverness). All of them offered valuable, timeless lessons and themes about human nature.

Cliché as it is to mention, America’s teenagers really are the future of what our society will look like. Their voices are so unique and important, since they are reflective of their experiences from their position in life. I am so excited for the camp and really want it to be an experience for them to learn how to best harness their voice into their passion: creative writing. After all, teenage perspectives from characters like Charlie’s, in the Perks of Being a Wallflower quote that began this blog post, appeal to readers for a reason. Young adult literature is wildly popular, and not just among young adults. The voice of a teenager is controversial, enlightening, hilarious, and best of all, totally honest. I think one of the reasons readers love a teenaged character/narrator in a story is that it brings a distinct level of relatability and realism to a text. Our society can’t get enough of authors like John Green (The Fault in Our Stars), Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Judy Blume (Are you There God? It’s Me, Margaret.), Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda), and on and on and on.

But as great as it is for these adults to take literary inspiration from their adolescent years, there’s nothing quite like a teenage voice written by an actual teenager (I’m thinking The Outsiders: written while author S.E. Hinton was in high school)! As I’ve said before, I’m thrilled to have been a part of the process preparing for the camp, and of course, to be attending the camp in June and getting to know all of the writers…officially counting down the days (53 to be exact). I’ll leave you with another quote that sums up how I’m feeling about the value of the teenage voice:

“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you.” -Mr. Antolini, J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Peer Reviewing Student Writing

Throughout the course of the semester, I’ve been working closely with John to review the files of past years of the camp, in order to make this year a success. I have been in communication with parents, applicants, and educators to market the camp to the local high schools and communities. I’ve processed the applications, read through recommendation letters, and organized the data of potential campers—each student occupies a cell in a spreadsheet and has his or her own file folder in my laptop. I’ve seen and done most all of what there is to be done behind the scenes of the operation. As the days go by and we approach summer, however, I want to reflect on the camp itself and what I should expect.

On the large scale, my role during the week of camp will mostly be as a facilitator and chaperone—an extra set of hands on deck. However, due to the nature of my internship, I am interested in the educational aspect of the camp, and highly anticipate getting to read the students’ writing and eventually publishing a journal of their collective works. Hopefully, I can be available as an editorial resource for the students during the week of the camp, a fresh set of eyes to read their work and offer suggestions. Having had lots of experience with both informally reviewing my friends’ writing as well as formally reviewing the works of student colleagues, I feel confident in offering my help.

I have peer reviewed in many of my courses in college, but I have learned the best peer review skills from “Critical Issues in Literary Studies” (ENG 300). Before the due date of any of the written assignments, my professor held peer reviewing sessions. During these sessions, we were encouraged to prepare as complete of a draft as possible. We were then encouraged to use this time to share our ideas with our classmates, bounce ideas off of one another, make suggestions, and just see if we were heading in the right direction. The reason why these sessions have been more helpful to me than any other peer review sessions is the advice that my professor offered. We were encouraged to highlight positive parts of others’ works before picking out the problems. We learned that it was more helpful to offer specific advice about things to include if we were going to offer our criticism. Most importantly, we developed the ability to effectively critique someone’s work in a respectful way—there was never any pressure to sugar coat anything, but there was also no reason to be excessively critical. After all, at the end of the day, each individual will write what they believe they should write.

I think the skills that I learned in “Critical Issues in Literary Studies,” a few of which I listed above, will prove very useful when reading the campers’ fiction and poetry pieces. I believe I can offer a genuine perspective on their work, being an English major, a writer, and a person who has once (and not very long ago) been through high school. As camp approaches, I can’t wait to meet the campers and become introduced to their interests and writing styles!

 

Using Fiction to Understand Real-Life Contexts

By: Elsa Buehler

As I sat down to reflect on the skills I’ve acquired from the English classroom at Duquesne, I’ve found one glaring similarity. Whether an ENGL course is a 100 or a 400 level, writing intensive or not, a small group or a large lecture, there is one practice that remains constant throughout them all. When studying the texts of a certain course, one can always expect to contribute to a conversation about the contents of that text.

This may seem like a simple observation, so let me be more specific. In the English classroom, I have learned how to understand a text from many angles. I have been taught to analyze style, dialogue, imagery, theme, purpose, and much more. What I’ve found is that English majors tend to be interested in the understanding the characters. We want to know their background, temperament, personality, physicality, motivation, passion, and relationship to the plot.

This endeavor typically becomes a large part of most English courses. Often, we are left without a full description of every aspect of a character. This leads to a hypothetical discussion in which we are encouraged to use to context of the story and the character to posit whatever blank spaces we may be left with. Reading texts in this analytical matter is beneficial, not only because it allows for a deeper understand of the plot, but also because it trains us to decipher the characters. Studying characters in this way helps us better understand the world and people around us—not such an insignificant skill to possess.

I spent my spring break reading student applications to the summer writing camp, as well as teacher recommendations. I take this responsibility very seriously, especially considering that I am tasked with accepting students into the program without even so much as a writing sample from them. First, I read through the brief notes that the applicants write in at the end of their registration forms. Next, I read the recommendation that they submit (usually also fairly brief). From this, I decide if they should be admitted or not.

Now that I think about it, I’ve approached this task like I approach analyzing a piece of literature. Firstly, since our goal is to admit people who have an interest in bettering their writing, I only ask for a short note of things the students may want to make us aware of. This is also why we don’t ask for a writing sample: there is no need to already be good at writing before the camp, there just needs to be an interest. So, since these notes are short, they typically highlight what students feel necessary to share. For this reason, I pay special attention to these notes from the students. Some have specifically highlighted that they are unexperienced writers (or the opposite), or that the subject of their writings tends to take a specific form or theme. From what a student chooses to share, I can discern with a moderate degree of confidence whether or not they are suited for the camp.

However, it’s not a foolproof way to identify who is truly passionate about the camp from who is not, for example. Also, if a potential camper turns out to be disruptive or problematic, it’s not likely that anything they make note of in their application would allude to this fact. This is where teacher recommendations come in handy. If a teacher has nothing but glowing comments and positive examples to share about an applicant, then it is a safe bet to invite them to the camp. Ideally, if the teacher truly does not think a student is a good fit for the camp, one would hope that the teacher wouldn’t agree to write a recommendation at all. If they do, though, teachers can have a way of using euphemistic or generous language to imply potential problems they may anticipate (i.e. “Sally is young for her grade level, and has an easier time relating to younger friends and siblings” may actually be a signal that the teacher believes Sally is not mature enough for the week-long camp experience).

John and I have also discussed the fact that not saying something can actually say quite a lot—if a teacher were to write a very general letter or seem to be omitting typical recommendation letter sentiments, this may also be a warning sign.

From now on, as I continue to review applications, I consider ENGL 300W, “Critical Issues in Literary Study.” Perhaps our discussions on how to understand epistolary novels (entirely comprised of correspondence between characters) will prove more useful than I initially imagined.

Marketing for a Summer Writing Camp

“If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts,” wrote Kurt Vonnegut in A Man Without a Country, “You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

For many teenagers, writing is an outlet used to express a newfound frustration with the miserable reality of high school. One is young enough to still be confined, but old enough for certain adult responsibilities (driving, working, etc.). Teenagers’ naivety impedes their decision-making skills, but they’re smart enough to be self-aware. They’re at just the right age to realize that the world isn’t fair, and they don’t like it one bit. Of course, there are few things adolescents love more than rebellion and counterculture. So, in the typical teenager fashion, they decide to fight the [insert construct/system/group /stereotype/-archy here] through their writing—something that is entirely in their control.

This writing is sourced from what is important to such teenagers, resulting in a product completely unique to other forms of writing. This is just one of the reasons I am so thrilled to be working to make the Duquesne University Summer Writing Camp come together. I can’t wait until June when I’ll get to meet the campers and see what they have to say through their writing. Until then, however, there is much to do.

Over the past few weeks, my main objective has been mass marketing the program to local high schools. It’s still quite early in the application process, but my goal is spread the word about the camp to relevant educators, who can then reach out to potentially interested students.

After completing my listserv of librarians and English teachers, I sent out the email that I had prepared earlier, which invited teachers to print flyers about the program and to help encourage certain students to apply. The mass email has already prompted a few questions and requests for paper flyers, as well as (I hope) a couple of new applicants.

In addition to emailing local school districts, I also compiled a listserv of the campers that attended last year and are still of an eligible age to return this summer. To them, I wrote what I intended to be a more personal email, with the intention of coming off as least robotic as possible. To achieve this, I used language that implied openness and approachability (e.g. “we look forward to receiving your application and hope you will not hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns”). I also specifically avoided the passive voice (e.g. “we will extend the Early Bird special until March 15th,” rather than, “the Early bird special was extended until March 15th”). I learned nuanced little writing tips like these in my ENGL 300W course: “Critical Issues in Literary Study.”

As for the content of my letter, I simply expressed the university’s pleasure in having them attend last summer, and invited them to reapply, if interested. I also provided application specifics and other information about this year’s camp.

My next step will be to review applications, including teacher recommendations as this weekend will mark the official end of the “Early Bird Special,” a deadline which offers the advantage of a reduced registration fee. As I check the writing camp email each morning, it makes me happy to see new applicants trickling into the inbox. I greatly anticipate reading their letters of recommendation and setting them up to attend the camp this summer!