Food Agriculture & Environmental Resources (FAER) Division blog

FAER Program Review: Marketing when the library is closed: Lessons from the lockdown

Reviewed by Bobbi Weaver,

Before I begin, I just wanted to note that we had some technical difficulties in recording this program. Kristy Bowen was unable to connect to our Zoom meeting to record the program, so her program was added. It appeared initially on the conference web site for this program. To see the presentations of the other speakers, you needed to click on the link below the main screen titled “Vimeo—Switch to this video.” Hopefully, you were able to view all the speakers.

Kristy Bowen is the Course Reserves Coordinator and Chair of Programming, Exhibits and Promotions for the library at Columbia College in Chicago ( The academic programs at the college are focused on the arts. Kristy noted that before the COVID-19 lockdown, the library used a variety of methods to market the services of the library. These methods have included posters throughout the campus, tables at campus events, promotion in campus print media (e.g. Columbia Chronicle), word of mouth, social media outlets, and promotion by the faculty on the library’s services.

At the time directly before the lockdown in March 2020, the library was presenting various in-person programs including library ‘zine workshops. One entitled Library Zine Night: The Afrofuturist Edition was held in February 2020. The library also conducted various ‘zine workshops for faculty members as well as special ‘zine nights at the library
Once the lockdown took effect, many of these programs had to transition to a virtual format. Many of the virtual exhibits can be found at under the “Virtual Exhibits” tab. These virtual exhibits include programs from the artists in residence, a “Black Lives Matter” exhibit, an exhibit on views from the future, and an exhibit on art and propaganda.

Kristy noted that the library is now in a hybrid stage. The physical library is open with some limitations (see,, but most of the classes and some library services are still conducted online. The library’s 2020 annual report details the transition to online services (see

Some of the challenges Kristy noted was that, although the library made use of social media avenues, there was a lot of competition with other information on these formats. With online exhibits, there was also difficulty in gauging audience attention spans. The library faces difficulty in planning. How long the library and the school would be open remains uncertain due to the changing nature of COVID-19. There were also staffing issues as many of the library staff were still working remotely.

Kristy stated that some new strategies arose out of the pandemic situation. Now, the library determines what exhibits can be done in a virtual space versus a physical space. Also, the library has employed the use of videos for reference and instructional tutorials.

Kristy listed various resources that she has used during the pandemic and afterwards. She noted that most of these resources are free:
Google Classroom
Adobe Spark
Flickr Slideshow

The next speakers (in the Vimeo link) were Elvia Anderson and Erin Birney from the National Center for Farmworker Health. Elvia Anderson is the Associate Manager of Information & Referral Services. Erin Birney is the Outreach Coordinator.

Elvia first addressed the issues of marketing and dissemination of information to farmworkers during the pandemic. She noted that farmworkers include those who work in fields, packing sheds and nurseries. Unfortunately, many farmworkers work under exploitative conditions, live in poor housing, and are paid low wages. Workers are mostly paid by piece, but the average hourly wage has been calculated to be $10.60. Nineteen percent of farmworkers identify as migratory, and 81 percent identify as seasonal. Seventy-five percent of farmworkers are foreign-born with 69 percent born in Mexico, 6 percent born in Central American countries and 1 percent born in other countries. The most common language spoken is Spanish.

Elvia discussed the use of the H-2A Guest Visa for about 10 percent of agricultural workers. This program allows immigrants to temporarily work and reside in the United States to fulfill agricultural needs.

Elvia presented some of the barriers to effectively disseminating health information to farmworkers. She noted that some farmworkers have lower literacy levels, and there may also be language barriers. Many farmworkers are mobile, so they may not be in the same place for follow up healthcare appointments. There are also limits on transportation, income, and health insurance. Some health clinics provide discounts based upon income, but many farmworkers do not readily have the documentation needed to prove income, she added.

The pandemic presented additional challenges, Elvia added. The workers’ conditions did not facilitate social distancing. Transportation was often done in full busses. Workers were unable to quarantine if they were ill. Workers did not know where to get tested or where to go for treatment. Elvia noted that when the vaccines were released, farmworkers were not prioritized even though they were considered essential workers.

Erin Birney next spoke on the NCFH’s response to COVID-19. She noted criteria for identifying the appropriateness of health information materials. The organization has devised a checklist for determining what resources are to be included on its web site. The criteria include looking at the general content to see if it is limited to what workers really need to know. Also, the writing style should be at a level that can be comprehended by people with limited formal education. The organization also looks at the appearance of the information—for example, use of illustrations, white space, and readable fonts. The material must also be culturally and linguistically appropriate. It should be available in various languages and show people of diverse ethnic backgrounds in the graphics used. A multi-lingual page of resources on COVID-19 is available at

Erin next addressed how the resources were disseminated to the audience the NCFH serves. Online dissemination is done through the use of social media channels, the organization’s newsletter, and its web page. NCFH also works with community partners such as health clinics, legal aid organizations, labor unions and its network of 25 outreach groups throughout the country (see,

Elvia then spoke about the NCFH’s Call for Health program. This program is a bilingual help line for health care information. Phone numbers are disseminated on social media. There is a toll-free phone number as well as a phone number that can be used on WhatsApp.

I added a brief presentation on what California Western School of Law (CWSL) Library did in response to the pandemic and the shutdown. We used a variety of online strategies to serve our patrons. There was a virtual reference desk that patrons could use to ask us questions. We also had a system for students to make research appointments via Zoom. Though the physical library was closed, we did provide contactless checkout for materials requested via the online form. We also added a subscription to OverDrive to provide access to more electronic books.

The recording of this program will eventually be available on the SLA Learning Hub at

FAER Program Review: On Demand: Food Taxonomy: Facilitating standards to enhance worldwide research

Reviewed by Bobbi Weaver,

Taxonomist and Data Librarian, Michele Lamorte, was the first speaker during this informative program. She commented that her presentation idea arose out of an email requesting a resource on international cuisine. In developing a food taxonomy system, Michele noted that you first need to determine whether you are going to create a new dataset or link to existing datasets. She commented that creating new datasets is rare and you are more likely to utilize what exists already. Michele stated that you should know what you want and understand the data you are using. She suggested using free resources but first determining if those resources are trustworthy.

Michele then discussed places where one can find data. Again, she cautioned to obtain the data from a trustworthy and verifiable source, when possible. She suggested sources such as government web sites, nonprofit organizations, standards organizations, and cultural institutions. She also noted that it is useful to be able to identify key terms while reading programming language.

Michele next addressed naming conventions. She discussed SKOS [Simple Knowledge Operating System] and said it was used to form the data model, field names and uses for the information. She then noted that RDFs [Resource Description Frameworks] were ways to show relationships or “the thing about the thing.” She included the following graphic in her presentation to show this concept:

Michele ended by noting some resources for linking data. These resources include:


She also suggested consulting with data services centers at academic libraries.

The next speaker was Jonathan Griffin, the Managing Director at IFIS. His topic was the potential for using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in developing taxonomy. Jonathan used the IFIS database, Food Science and Technology Abstracts (FSTA), to demonstrate how AI and ML could be used in indexing. He compared FSTA to Google Scholar, a widely-used search tool that does not use domain-specific taxonomy and, consequently, can result in inadequate search results. He showed a short video titled “Google Scholar vs. FSTA”. The video noted that FSTA indexing is based on a thesaurus or controlled vocabulary. The video used the example of the word “flavor” and “flavour”—the same English word with different spellings. The FSTA thesaurus will allow the searcher to get results for both spellings, synonyms for the word, and similar terms in non-English languages.

Jonathan elaborated on the consequences of using search tools that do not rely on indexing. Without indexing, the research tends to result in less innovation and more waste. Jonathan noted that “innovation is crucial” in research. The EAT-Lancet Commission estimates that the current food system will not have the capacity to feed the world’s population by 2050. Jonathan also cited a recent Lancet study indicating that 12.5 percent of all biomedical research studied was redundant or unnecessary because of previous work.

Jonathan next discussed the transition to digital information that has occurred during the last 20 years. He noted both the benefits and challenges of this transition. The benefits involve breaking down the boundaries of access to the information, lessening the limits of indexing, and creating the possibility of identifying relevant content, even if it does not meet the terms of a traditional index. On the other hand, the transition to digital information has also presented new challenges, he noted. There is now a lot more content being produced. The number of food science papers published is increasing at 10% a year. Additionally, the content is coming from a larger variety of resources than traditional peer-reviewed literature. Unfortunately, this increase of sources has resulted in the growth of “fake science.” He noted that, in the last year, FSTA editors received applications for inclusion in the database from 16 open access publishers who were “predatory” (i.e. they pretended to manage peer review in return for publishing fees).

Jonathan stated that AI and ML can help to meet these challenges in the digital transition. He noted that FSTA partnered with Molecular Connections, a leading informatics company, to enhance the indexing facilities of the database.

Some definitions were introduced by Jonathan. He distinguished between “broad AI”, which seeks to find a single right answer to any problem posed, and “narrow AI”, which is applied to narrow and well-defined tasks (eg. What time is the next bus home?) He indicated that only the latter “narrow AI” is successfully applied at the current time.

Jonathan defined machine learning as devising algorithms resulting in a machine “learning” a process rather than merely applying rules. He noted that learning is the “capacity to independently improve predictions of relationships between concepts.” Taxonomy management uses machine learning. He introduced the thesaurus management system, MC Lexicon as an example. This system uses various algorithms to comprehend the text and uncover relationships between the concepts. Benefits of machine learning to taxonomy include the ability to manage greater volumes of data, create more in-depth indices, find better quality data and develop more flexible search options such as auto complete and “more like this” features.

Jonathan concluded by noting that AI/ML are a sum of algorithms, subject matter expertise from human input and normalized data. To demonstrate the importance of quality data, Jonathan showed a 2018 Harvard Business Review article on the impact of bad data on machine learning. To normalize data, Jonathan suggested using standardized classification systems and tools to facilitate use. As an example of such tools, Jonathan described IFIS’ key word recommendation service for authors. When authors input information into the FSTA system, it suggests standardized key words for the authors to use to facilitate searches.

The recording of this program will eventually be available on the SLA Learning Hub at

In Memory of Cynthia Eastman

Cynthia Eastman headshot
By Bobbi Weaver

At the end of August, Cynthia Eastman lost her battle with cancer.  I worked with Cynthia on the former Environment & Resource Management Division (DERM) board.  She served as the division’s Chair in 2008-2009, and as the division’s newsletter editor for many years prior to her tenure on the Executive Board.

Cynthia was a champion of environmental conservation. Cynthia, Barbie Keiser and I co-authored the article “Breaking rules, building green bridges”, which was published in the April 2008 edition of SLA’s Information Outlook, prior to our 2008 annual conference in Seattle.

In recent years, Cynthia retired and DERM merged with the Food & Agriculture Division to become the Food, Agriculture and Environmental Resource Division.  Though Cynthia’s involvement in SLA subsided, we stayed in touch via Facebook.  Sadly, that is how many of us learned of her passing.

From the passage her friend wrote on Facebook, Cynthia continued her love for the environment in her retirement, and was a supporter of the “Goat Barn” at the Oakland Zoo.  Cynthia also enjoyed wall climbing as documented in this 2010 SFGate article

Cynthia contributed greatly to SLA and to the profession.  Our condolences are with her family and friends.

Cynthia Eastman presents award to Thomson Reuters in 2008

Cynthia Eastman (l.), then Chair of the Environment & Resource Management Division with then Chair-Elect, Michael Sholinbeck (r.), presenting a sponsorship certificate to Thomson Reuters, Scientific at the SLA 2008 Annual Conference in Seattle.

There are two travel grants, one for a new professional and one for a library/information science student to attend the 2019 SLA annual conference in Cleveland.

Travel Grant for New Professional to attend the 2019 SLA Annual Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, June 14-18, 2019

The FAER Division of SLA will reimburse travel expenses up to $500.00 for a professional with less than 2 years of experience in the field(s) of food, agriculture, nutrition, environmental resources or agricultural information.


  • Applicants must be new to the field of food, nutrition, environmental resources or agricultural information (less than 2 years)
  • Currently working in a special or academic library with a subject focus in at least one of these fields
  • A member of the SLA FAER Division

Deadline for application

March 15, 2019

Application Guidelines

To apply, send a cover letter including name, address, e-mail and phone number, along with job title/description, place of employment, and length of time spent as a librarian working in the field(s) of food, agriculture, nutrition or environmental resources. Include a statement of approximately 200-300 words on why you would like to attend the conference and how you would like to be involved in the FAER Division.

Additional Requirements

  • The award recipient will be required to write an article for FAER blog reporting on his/her conference experience in general or serving as a reporter for one FAER event/session.
  • The recipient shall serve at least one year on a FAER Committee.
  • Travel grant will be applied only to the SLA 2019 Annual Conference.

Application Address

Please return the completed application by March 15, 2019 by email to: Anita Ezzo (


The successful applicant will be notified by March 26, 2019.

Travel Grant for Library/Information Science Student to attend the 2019 SLA Annual Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, June 14-18, 2019

The FAER Division will reimburse travel expenses up to $500.00 for a library or information science student interested in pursuing a career in the field(s) of food, nutrition, environmental resources or agricultural information.


  • Applicants must be currently enrolled in an accredited graduate level library or information science program during the current academic year or have graduated within the last six months
  • Be interested in pursuing a career in food, nutrition, environmental resources or agricultural information.
  • A member of the SLA FAER Division

Deadline for Application

March 15, 2019

Application Guidelines

  • Submit a statement of approximately 200-300 words on why you would like to attend the conference and what interests you in the field of food, nutrition, environmental resources and agricultural information. Indicate how you would like to be involved in the FAER Division.
  • This statement must be in English.
  • Include a signed letter of recommendation from either a faculty advisor or immediate supervisor on company letterhead
  • Include a transcript from your library school or other proof of current enrollment or program completion.
  • Include a current resume

Application Requirements

  • The award recipient will be required to write an article for FAER blog reporting on his/her conference experience in general or serving as a reporter for one FAER event/ session.
  • The recipient shall serve at least one year on a FAER Committee.
  • Travel grant will be applied only to the SLA 2019 Annual Conference.

Application Address

Please return the completed application materials by March 15, 2019 by email to: Anita Ezzo (


The successful applicant will be notified by March 26, 2019.

FAER Hosted session, Fewer Workers, Less Food

By James Edward Malin

Perhaps the most rousing session of those presented by the Special Library Association’s Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Resource Management Division (FAER) was Fewer Workers, Less Food: Immigration Policy Changes and Their Effects on Food Supply on Tuesday, June 12, moderated by FAER’s president and Michigan State University’s Food Science, Nutrition, Packaging Librarian, Anita Ezzo.

Featuring Howard Carrier, Social Sciences Liaison Librarian of James Madison University, and the World Agricultural Economic and Environmental Services’ Principal, Patrick O’Brien, the session detailed systemic issues in developed food systems that marginalize workers. As the session’s description states, “the U.S. government wants to limit entry of immigrants, many of whom come to work on farms in the United States. U.S. farmers depend upon these workers to produce food to feed Americans. Similarly, the United Kingdom depends on workers from Eastern Europe, but migration will be limited when Brexit takes effect.”

In particular, both O’Brien and Carrier discussed implicit cultural mores and explicit economic and political policies of national boundaries in the English speaking world. Both speakers described an agro-economic reliance on, but social enmity toward, foreign labor. In the US and UK alike, this animosity has contributed to recent political changes. Whilst O’Brien elucidated the realities of a long-standing conflict of legal and illegal migrant Mexican labor, (which currently holds the American spotlight after the recent border policy enforcement,) Carrier discussed the future probabilities of a similar outcome for Eastern European laborers in a post-Brexit UK.

As commercial entities, members of the agricultural community must maximize their profitability to compete with foreign imports. In the United States, the agricultural sector contributes about $180 billion (1%) of the gross domestic product, and for the United Kingdom, farming is about $18 billion USD (0.6-0.7% GDP). Today both nations rely on foreign labor to keep products affordable, and companies profitable. Willing and able legal and illegal Mexican farm workers cost farmers less than American citizens. In the UK, non-UK European Union laborers help minimize costs by supplying seasonal labor demand.  

However, the cultural perspective on both of these working populations has been stark dissension toward the alien “other”. Both countries contain populations that perceive these foreigners as stealing jobs, pilfering money, and creating dangerous and strange communities. To date, this point of view led to, as O’Brien describes, an extremely arduous process (for workers and farmers alike) to keep Mexican employment above board.  A similar viewpoint contributed to EU separatist movements in the UK. However the danger of these perspectives in the farm sector is not just in rising costs for agricultural businesses, but indeed a shortage in the US’ and UK’s food supply!  Although farming, agriculture, and food products are part of the economic markets, their outputs are necessary for individuals’ comfort and health. Without foreign migrant labor, how will food make it from the field to on our plates?

For some, the inclusion of this session at a library conference may have seemed strange. What does the social and political realm of the US and UK’s agricultural economy have to do with libraries? Well, libraries and librarians can do a lot to help change our food systems for the better!

The International Federation of Library Associations (of which SLA cross-pollinates much with) recently launched an International Advocacy Program that shows how libraries can impact and help each of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals that the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for. For goal number two, for example, “End Hunger, Achieve Food Security and Improved Nutrition, and Promote Sustainable Agriculture,” libraries can help by supporting “agricultural research and data on how to make crops more productive and sustainable” and “public access for farmers to online resources like local market prices, weather reports, and new equipment.” Another relatable example is goal number ten, to “reduce inequality within and among countries,” which libraries can support as “neutral and welcoming spaces that make learning accessible to all, including marginalized groups like migrants, refugees, minorities, indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities” and providing “equitable access to information that supports social, political, and economic inclusion.”

I urge all librarians (not just those specialized in food, agriculture, environmental resource management) to continue to help learn, advocate for, and support greater cultural changes that greatly impacts our food system.

FAER Hosted session: Edible Pharmacopoeia: Culinary Herbs, Spices and Health

By Necia Parker-Gibson 

This detailed and fascinating talk dealt with the medicinal properties of a handful of well-known spices, which are commonly in the cupboard for culinary use. 

To start, Geo Giordano, MSc, RH (AHG), a registered Medical Herbalist, reminded us that medicinal plants were used in lieu of pharmaceutical drugs until 1925 or longer, depending on the disease, the drug and where one lived, both geographically and culturally, and then we entered the descriptions and discussion.

Cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and fennel, among others, (including cacao, the source of chocolate, as a bonus) were pulled out as examples to draw from each to the broader health consequences of their use, including dosages in some cases. Sources were cited to document reported effects in the literature of specific active factors in the spices against chronic illnesses, including some cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory diseases like asthma. Many of the ones noted are anti-inflammatory, among other properties that vary by the spice.

There are also remedies among the spices for less deadly but trying problems, such as hot flashes (fennel seed is recommended) and athlete’s foot (powdered or stick cinnamon in water as a foot soak). In most cases, the amount of the herb or spice necessary for therapeutic effect is considerably larger than what one might typically use in cooking (1 teaspoon of cinnamon per serving of oatmeal a day, vs. a shake of cinnamon over the top, for example), and the source must be fresh (incentive to throw out the jar of cardamom from six years’ ago Christmas cookies). And many are more effective if consumed several times a day, no hardship with cacao/chocolate, as she cheerfully expressed. Ms. Giordano consults with doctors at Johns Hopkins University and at the VA on alternative medicine, so she is a well-respected expert. The registered herbalist program at Johns Hopkins, which she graduated from, is one of just a few in the country.

cinnamon-stickMany of the herbs or spices originate in tropical or semi-tropical areas of Asia and South America (the largest source of cinnamon is Ceylon, for example), which may be affected by climate change; costs and availability may change, or the crops may be planted in new areas if conditions allow. It can be noted that there is commentary to the contrary easily found about the medicinal or health benefits of some of the spices, such as the National Institute of Health’s flyer, Herbs at a Glance: Cinnamon which states that cinnamon is not effective against diabetes: “High-quality clinical evidence (i.e., studies in people) to support the use of cinnamon for any medical condition is generally lacking. An analysis of five clinical trials concluded that cinnamon does not appear to affect factors related to diabetes and heart disease.”. In fact, the description of the session from the program recognizes that “determining their bioactive properties and mechanisms of action within a nutritional context is challenging.” Probably time and research will resolve the questions.

This session was sponsored by ASCESS, on Wednesday, June 13 2018 at the annual SLA conference in Baltimore, MD.