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Musings of a Reference Librarian…

Is Art the Answer When Scholarly Books and Articles Are Not Enough?

By Jane Suda, Head of Reference & Information Services, Rose Hill

The other day I worked with a student who was researching the school to prison pipeline. The student had already found some very good scholarly books and articles using the library’s OneSearch with the keyword phrase “school to prison pipeline.” She wanted to find material that included the human experience, the voices of those individuals who have suffered through that pipeline. I suggested she add the word interview to her original search. She did, and she found a number of additional sources, but the student was still not satisfied.

“What about this one?” she clicked into the full text of an article. It was an interview with Anna Deavere Smith discussing Notes From The Field: The Pipeline Project, her documentary theater work which investigates the school-to-prison pipeline. “This is great,” she said. The student asked if it would be okay to include the interview or the theatrical piece in her sources for her assignment. I recommended that she ask her professor.

Since the student seemed excited about the Smith piece, I recommended Dominique Morisseau’s play Pipeline, available via our Digital Theatre+ database. I pointed out that video is 1 hour and 27 minutes long, but she didn’t mind.

At that moment I wondered about the benefits of including the artistic exploration of a topic in the research process.

The library has many arts databases that are easily searched by theme or subject, and yet I think that they are often only used by our arts students and faculty. In reality, most of us crave engagement with music, theatre, film, and art that resonates with us in ways that data analysis and scholarly discourse do not.

Here are some recommended topics and plays to explore via Digital Theatre+:

Are you researching the life experiences of refugees?

Consider the play A Man of Good Hope by Jonny Steinberg

Is your topic focused on asylum-seekers?

Consider the play The Container by Clare Bayley

Are you reading Ovid and curious about the feminist perspective?

Consider the monologues in 15 Heroines

Is your class discussing the influence of educator and philosopher Paulo Freire?

Consider the work of Augusto Boal and the Theatre of the Oppressed

In addition, the Digital Theatre+ database has excellent essays which frame the creative works within the scholarly discourse.

A Concise Introduction to Disability Theatre (a scholarly essay with source citations and links to database videos of relevant productions).

About the linked film: Told through dance and dialogue, The Cost of Living is about street performers. Choreographed and directed by Lloyd Newson, the 2004 film explores how we value ourselves and others.

A Concise Introduction to Political Theatre (a scholarly essay with source citations and links to database videos of relevant productions).

About the linked play: It’s True, It’s True, It’s True is a play about a real-life rape trial that took place over seven months in 17th-century Rome. The Italian and Latin court transcripts were translated into modern English to create the text of the play.

My Mother’s Kitchen by Choman Hardi: Poem and Fact Sheet (a scholarly essay with source citations and links to database videos of poetry readings)

About the poet: Choman Hardi is a Kurdish poet. Her family was displaced multiple times before they were granted refugee status. She returned to Kurdistan to document the plight of women survivors of Anfal (

And, if the focus of your research is theatrical performance, then this database is fantastic!

The database is searchable by keyword, organized by Titles, Genres, Themes, People, and Series, and has a robust Table of Contents that can be used to filter results. It provides interviews with world renowned professional artists, and archives of award winning theatrical performances.

Check out this brief introductory video for more information (less than 4 mins).

So is art the answer when scholarly books and articles are not enough? Perhaps…

…if you are faculty, this blog post may inspire you to include the Digital Theatre+  content in your syllabus, or accept the content as a source for a student paper.

…if you are a student, you may be excited to see if your research topic is addressed by the artistic expressions available through Digital Theatre+.

…if you love theatre (as I do), you may just be very thankful that the Digital Theatre+ database is available for you to explore via the Fordham Libraries.

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