Maggie Murphy ’12, an assistant professor in the Research, Outreach, and Instruction Department of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro University Libraries, and First-Year Writing, Visual Art, and Humanities Librarian at UNGC, has been named a 2020 Mover and Shaker in the “Educator” category by the Library Journal.
In its announcement naming her a recipient, Library Journal wrote, “Collaborating with colleagues, including 2016 Library Journal paralibrarian of the year Brown Biggers, Murphy conceived and launched the ‘Uplifting Memes’ series. By shifting her approach to information literacy to focus on concept-driven online tutorials, and by incorporating infographic literacy into the program, Murphy ‘breathed new life into our information literacy program’ says Jenny Dale, UNCG information literacy coordinator and one of several who nominated Murphy.”
Murphy, who is also a lecturer at San José State University iSchool on Visual Resources Curation and Art Librarianship, said, “I hope being named to the Movers and Shakers list will help bring positive attention to the amazing and innovative work all of my colleagues at the UNC Greensboro University Libraries are doing. Any of them could have won this award in my place.”
This year, two SC&I alumnae were named 2020 Movers and Shakers. Awarded along with Murphy is Fobazi Ettarh ’14, who was awarded in the “Change Agents” category. “Fobazi is such an important voice in academic librarianship right now, and it's really an incredible honor to share this distinction with her because I am such a big fan of hers,” Murphy said. (While Ettarh is currently not available for an interview, look for a Q&A with her on the SC&I website in the future.)
While Murphy is honored to be named a recipient of the award, and pleased to acknowledge the recognition, she said she has asked Library Journal to revoke her award as a civil protest. “I have joined over 50 Movers and Shakers in asking Library Journal to voluntarily revoke our awards in protest of the publication's decision to give Seattle Public Library the Library of the Year award despite their decision to allow an anti-trans group to have an event in one of their libraries, which lead to the arrest of two protestors,” Murphy said.
Murphy received her Master of Library and Information Science (now known as the Master of Information degree) in 2012 from SC&I. Describing the courses and faculty members she remembers most clearly for having had a significant and lasting impact on her, Murphy said, “Human Information Behavior with Ross Todd, Digital Libraries with Tefko Saracevic, and Digital Library Technologies with Michael Lesk were all definitely formative experiences in my development as an information professional who is interested, for example, studio artists' research practices and digital image collections.
“However, the class that may have had the biggest influence on me as a librarian was Cataloging & Classification taught by Bruce E. Ford, who served as an adjunct lecturer for SC&I after he retired as an assistant director and head of cataloging for the Newark Public Library. I was not exactly excited to take cataloging, but Bruce's passion for teaching and enthusiasm for cataloging was so delightful that I developed a deep interest in subject description and classification of images, something that I continue to work on to this day. I think Bruce was also an amazing example of the exceptionally knowledgeable practitioners SC&I taps to teach alongside departmental faculty, and I encourage graduate students to take classes with the lecturers who actually work in the fields you want to pursue!”
Read our Q&A with Murphy below, to discover more about her career, her “Uplifting Memes” series, her advice for undergraduates and MI students, and how she has adapted her work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What do you enjoy about them the most about your work at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and the San José State University iSchool? What are some of the challenges you face working with college undergraduates and how do you overcome them?
My favorite thing about my job is working with students and faculty in the School of Art, which includes the art history, studio art, and art education program, and in the College of Visual and Performing Art's interdisciplinary arts administration program. As a visual art librarian, my job is to help students find, evaluate, use, credit, and create information about art as well as images of art--and the information they need to develop their own practice as artists. This can look like many things beyond traditional research papers! For example, I work with art history classes that are editing Wikipedia to broaden and deepen coverage of contemporary African artists on the platform, art entrepreneurship students who want to understand how they can protect their own work within intellectual property law, printmaking classes looking for visual references for a zine project, MFA students who want to research art residencies and fellowships to apply for after graduation, and art faculty who need to understand image permissions guidelines for their book manuscripts.
In particular, I love talking to undergraduate students about fair use in visual art and public domain media. In particular, whenever I talk about large cultural institutions engaging in copyfraud, to use a term coined by Jason Mazzone that describes false copyright claims to public domain works, my students are shocked and outraged that museums would willfully misrepresent their legal rights to works that actually belong to the public—and they should be! Copyright of course plays an important role in protecting artists’ intellectual property and shielding original works from unintended and uncompensated uses, but it should not last forever. That’s why I want students to understand the bounds of copyright so that they can confidently engage in iteration, criticism, parody, and remix in their academic and creative work, while also ethically attributing others' contributions to their art and writing.
At the same time, I am a continuing adjunct lecturer for the MLIS program at San Jose State University's iSchool. I teach an 8-week section of INFO 220: Resources and Information Services in Professions and Disciplines, a special topics course, focused on Visual Resources Curation and Art Librarianship in the fall semester. I developed the course myself and it's the only class on visual resources and art librarianship offered in the current SJSU LIS curriculum. Here is my syllabus from last fall (https://ischoolapps.sjsu.edu/gss/ajax/showSheet.php?id=8712), and here is our public class WordPress Site, which will be updated with new content beginning in August when the class runs again (https://ischoolblogs.sjsu.edu/blogs/artinfo/). If you look at my posts on the blog (https://ischoolblogs.sjsu.edu/blogs/artinfo/author/maggiemurphy/), you can get a sense of some of the content the course covers. There was also an article about it in the SJSU iSchool News blog last year: https://ischool.sjsu.edu/news/three-new-courses-expand-student-learning-and-increase-program-customization.
What advice do you share with undergraduate students to help them become interested in and use art and visual media as sources of information along with textural sources? How to you advise them to succeed in general, and in terms of the added stress now while they are pursuing an education during the pandemic.
Widespread use of image-based social media platforms along with the proliferation of emerging visual modes, such as memes, animated gifs, micro videos, and augmented reality image filters (as on Instagram and Snapchat) have positioned students in all academic disciplines as remixers, creators, and sharers of visual media, with a potential reach far beyond their personal networks. Whether or not these students see themselves as artists, the processes behind their resulting works have clear parallels to the creative expression, personal reflection, and social commentary developing artists engage in.
I advise students to find new creative outlets and communities during quarantine, as a way of alleviating stress and making social connections, whether that is downloading a coloring book app on their phones or posting their original photography to Reddit or engaging in political discourse with memes on Twitter.
At the same time, don't forget to think critically about how we engage with visual media in our everyday lives, just like we should do with textual information. Does the flashy infographic a family member shared on Facebook accurately represent the data it is purporting to visualize? Does the "funny" meme you are about to retweet perpetuate harmful stereotypes or tropes about a group of people? Would taking a moment to find and tag the original artist of the comic you want to repost on Instagram better help others find their work? Images are powerful, and as Stan Lee wrote about Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15, with great power comes great responsibility.
Please explain the “Uplifting Memes” Series you created. What inspired you to create it, how does it work, and what are some of the ways it has increased information literacy? Will you adapt the program so it can continue if students aren’t back on campus in the fall due to the pandemic?
Since becoming an art and humanities instruction librarian in a university library, versus a visual resources curator in an art department, I have been brainstorming ways to explore visual literacy with students outside the context of course-based research assignments in specific disciplines. When the application cycle for the Innovation and Program Enrichment Grant (IPEG), an annual internal funding opportunity in the University Libraries at UNC Greensboro, opened up last spring, I had an idea for a co-curricular visual literacy project using memes as a theme. I pitched the idea to my colleagues, Jenny Dale and Brown Biggers, and I put together a proposal for a program that would feature guest speakers, interactive workshops, and a juried art show with prizes, all of which weave together different aspects of visual literacy and memes. We chose the name Uplifting Memes because it essentially has a double meaning. “Uplifting” or “wholesome” memes are a meme genre intended to convey empathy, kindness, and reassurance—like library services do for stressed-out students! On the other hand, the program is intended to uplift or raise the level of discourse around memes, a form of information that students should feel empowered to both consume and create, on campus. Our website "about" page explains this as well: go.uncg.edu/umemes.
The curriculum I developed featured six workshops taught by Jenny, Brown, and I on topics as wide as copyright and fair use, protest graphics and propaganda, rhetorical strategies for digital communication, and artificial intelligence and fine art. All of the workshops feature memes as a common framework to ground the topics in a medium and vocabulary that students understand and relate to. We also invited four guest speakers from Tumblr, the Weatherspoon Art Museum, the School of Library and Information Science at UNC Chapel Hill, and Duke University’s Digital Art History and Computational Media Program, to connect the concepts from our workshops to fandom and social media, art history and museum curation, and the makerspace movement. The program has been a hit on campus, leading to pop-up events like meme-making stations using photos from UNCG’s archives for Homecoming Weekend and public domain images for Halloween in the library. I was even interviewed by a writer from University Communications for a campus news feature on the “OK Boomer” meme. It’s pretty neat to be the person called on for expert commentary when memes are in the news on a campus of over 20,000 people!
We decided to totally postpone our spring programming, which was slated to begin in mid-March, rather than try to offer it virtually because we wanted to focus on helping students and faculty finish the semester during the unexpected transition to remote learning. However, we are planning to adapt our guest speaker events and workshops in a virtual format for students in the fall. We work with faculty to promote the guest talks and workshops with related class content in courses like first-year writing, communication studies, information science, computer science, and art, so it will be awesome to be able to offer co-curricular programming to our students in the fall as a tie-in to their online learning if we are unable to return physically to campus together. We may also have some new ideas for activities and events for students, including social media accounts featuring student-made memes. I also recently gave a presentation about one of our Uplifting Memes workshop for an ACRL Instruction Section Teaching Methods virtual event on innovative approaches to visual literacy instruction; the recording for that is available here: https://youtu.be/ywk73kCrGY8.
Has the pandemic changed your job in other ways?
Since I took online courses a decade ago at SC&I and teach online for SJSU, I have a good foundation in online teaching and learning that has allowed me to quickly adapt to our current circumstances. Once my university transitioned to remote instruction and our physical library buildings closed to the public, I focused on developing digital content for remote instruction in online courses, holding virtual consultations in Zoom with senior capstone students in art history, and providing chat reference services along with my other colleagues in order to keep supporting the needs of our students and faculty. However, remote reference and instruction as an art librarian has been interesting! Scholarly monographs and anthologies on art history topics as well as museum exhibition catalogs are rarely offered by publishers as e-books due to the significant cost of image licensing and permissions and hesitance around invoking fair use for copyrighted art images.
Additionally, a number of other physical resources in art library collections, including artist’s books, artist’s files and ephemera, print and photograph collections, and samples in materials libraries, may have no digital equivalent—either because they have not been digitized or because the digital surrogate can't fully capture the materiality of an original work meant to be handled by the viewer. On the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) listserv, art librarians began to discuss options for remote access to art research materials in mid-March, including creating inventories of open-access digital image collections, online publications, and digitized art books that we can share with our students and faculty. It's wonderful to have a network of other art librarians to brainstorm with through ARLIS/NA, and although the organization's annual conference (scheduled for late April in St. Louis) had to be cancelled, we have been able to hold our committee meetings virtually.