Opening Session: Lulu Miller

You typically won’t find me in general opening/closing sessions at conferences…something about the endless awards and the “How Great Are We” presentations in a crowd of 1500 people just doesn’t do it for me. SLA 2017 lured me in, however, with Lulu Miller! One of my favorite NPR programs is Invisabilia, hosted by Lulu, so I had to go!

Miller began with an interesting story about the late Robert W. P. Cutler, retired Stanford professor, who had been doing some research on mining in the library archives when he found a bill from the Henry Morse Detective Agency related to the death of Jane Stanford (whom it was believed had died on natural causes). Much research & work with librarians later, Cutler published The Mysterious Death of Jane Stanford…I won’t reveal what happened (although Miller did), read the book!

Another story involved a small town in Belgium that took in mentally ill strangers so they would have someplace to live and learn to be productive. (Invisabilia story here; JAMA article here.)

She went on to talk about issues facing journalists…including  the desire for a “good” story, herding, and the problems with oversimplifying (“The act of journalism is simplifying”).

Finally, she presented what she felt were tangible ways we as librarians could help “engineer” the research process. Among them were:

  • Do your job worse! Disobeying your research instructions, providing outside-the-box info. Be disobedient for 10 minutes a day! Librarians and disobedience seem to go hand in hand.
  • throw in 1 wildcard for your researchers; add in one thing (database, article, keyword) that might set them off in a new direction.
  • Create more serendipity! Use the Kafka method: Confusion primes the brain and makes you alert to the world.


Resources mentioned:

Cutler, R. W. P. (2003). The Mysterious Death of Jane Stanford. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford General Books.


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