Library’s Successful Research Toolkit starts May 10

Are you a Research Assistant, Teaching Assistant or grad student who would benefit from research training? Sign up for the Research Toolkit workshops, happening virtually May 10-13.

Research assistants, teaching assistants, and graduate students, take note: the library’s Research Toolkit workshops are back!

Running next week, from May 10-13, the Research Toolkit workshops are a great opportunity for students to connect with information experts and with other students, as well as a chance to ask questions and expand their research skills and knowledge. This year’s line-up includes presentations on creating a literature review, finding and using data, and even includes two sessions from staff in the Software & Application Support Centre (SAS) on Microsoft Excel.

Here’s the full Research Toolkit – Spring 2021 Schedule:

Monday, May 10, 2021

11:00 – 12:15 Navigating the Library: Strategies for Successful Research – Heather Sanderson

This workshop will help you research more efficiently and get up to speed in new areas more quickly. It will discuss the research process and the ways faculty stay current in their fields. Topics covered include basic and advanced database skills, document delivery, journal and search alerts and more. This session will set you up for the sessions that follow.

2:00 – 3:15 Internet Expertise for Researchers 101 – Cindy Harrigan

This session will focus on how to find useful, quality information for academic or scholarly research, using Google and Google Scholar. Topics covered will include: Grey literature, search strategies, and tips on how to evaluate search results. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

11:00 – 12:15 Researching the Literature Review – Heather Sanderson

Building on the two previous sessions, this session will focus on the literature review: what they are, where they appear, how they are organized. Then we will cover several key tools and strategies, such as citation searching, that will help you be more comprehensive and systematic in your literature searches.

2:00 – 3:15 File Management and Introduction to Excel – Sarah Cooke and Matthew Salah (SAS)

In this workshop, participants will learn best practices for file naming and folder organization using Microsoft OneDrive. Participants will then be given an introductory tour through Microsoft Excel and learn basic skills like creating tables and using basic functions.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

11:00 – 12:15 Managing your Research with RefWorks – Cindy Harrigan

RefWorks is a citation management tool that enables you to manage bibliographic references as you research and automatically create bibliographies using a wide variety of citation styles. Topics covered in this session will include creating an account, setting up folders, adding references, generating bibliographies, inserting citations into an essay, and sharing your citations with other researchers.

2:00 – 3:15 Excelling with Excel: Beyond the Basics – Sarah Cooke and Matthew Salah (SAS)

In this workshop, participants will learn strategies for working with both qualitative and quantitative data in Excel. Participants will be introduced to advanced functions, data tools, and features that support statistical analysis.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

11:00 – 12:15 Show Me the Numbers: Stats and Data Discovery Tools to Support your Research – Joyce Thomson

This session will focus on key concepts and challenges in finding data and statistics for your research as well as several useful places and strategies to explore, particularly for survey data from Statistics Canada.

2:00 – 3:15 Scholarly Journal Quality and Open Access – Peter Webster

This session will focus on how to identify scholarly journal quality, a key skill for researchers and authors. Topics covered will include the various impact measures in use and strategies to identify the “best” articles in a subject area, as well as the benefits of open access and how to avoid predatory journals.

You can register for the workshops at

Still have questions? Contact Information Literacy Librarian, Heather Sanderson ( or Instructional Development Librarian, Cindy Harrigan ( for more info.

Furthering Digital Accessibility: An Ongoing Journey

This is a guest post by Harriette L. Spiegel, Ph.D, a Fulbright Canada 2020-2021 Scholar and Research Chair, who is here at Saint Mary’s from the University of Tennessee at Martin studying digital accessibility.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Before laws were passed regarding digital accessibility (in the U.S. we have the Americans With Disabilities Act or ADA, Section 508 for information technology, and state laws), students who used online course resources had to put up with the barriers to their learning that were caused by inaccessible computer output. Just as it took a while for the focus to turn to digital accessibility (from the physical accessibility considerations) in the U. S., the recently-passed accessibility legislation in Canada similarly has a timetable that puts the focus on information technology a few years away (the “Access by Design 2030: Achieving an Accessible Nova Scotia” document at

Digital Accessibility is an umbrella for ensuring that all consumers of computer output will not face barriers in seeking information. So, for instance, a computer user who cannot rely on sight to understand the content of an image on a document, but instead listens to a screen reader read out the content of the document, needs to have an alternative means to understanding the image. The creator of the document can easily provide this alternative means by adding “alternative text” (“alt text” for short) to the document. This is done by right-clicking the image or graphic, selecting the “Alt Text” option and filling in the information that explains the content of the image.  There is an option for “mark as decorative,” and this is useful with images that have no content but are purely decorative.  The screen reader ignores this “decorative” image, and no barrier to information is encountered.

For any other category of physical impairment that impacts one’s access to information, such as a hearing impairment that negates the usefulness of sound in a video or audio file, there are other tips and tricks that the creator of the file can use to provide an alternative means of delivering the information. Thus, the thoughtful creator of videos includes captions or transcripts of the information. The creator of a course or page in a learning management system (LMS) will make sure that the documents that are loaded into the LMS are created with “accessibility in mind” (, as advocates of Digital Accessibility urge. The creator will strive to present all course information clearly and simply, avoiding confusion for users with learning disabilities.

What does Digital Accessibility mean for the faculty or staff member? Most fortunate university members have a resource on their campus that assists in creating digital output. At Saint Mary’s, you have the Studio for Teaching and Learning- if you are not sure how to create that accessible document, all you have to do is ask.

Some basic guidelines for ensuring Digital Accessibility include starting your “accessibility journey” from the beginning. Do not try to retrofit a document – such as a syllabus or committee report; you will likely end up with a bigger mess. Most computer applications provide the buttons and tools to use to produce digitally accessible documents. The main “best practices” include Alt Text, Headings made with Styles, Meaningful Links, Accessible Tables, Accessible PowerPoint, and use of captions or transcripts with media.

The wonderful term at Saint Mary’s University has been so eye-opening for me. It is easy to become so immersed in one’s own interests, that we forget all the other perspectives out there. For instance, comments and questions during my several presentations included other applications besides Word – of course Digital Accessibility is the goal of all computer applications. Most applications have a form of an Accessibility Checker. We do have to put up with version changes and “improvements,” of course – no sooner do I learn how to use a particular tool, than it is “improved,” and I have to learn all over again. It’s okay to ask for help when you need it.

Thank you for all your input during my explorations and presentations, and for your interest in completing the faculty/staff survey. The survey will close on April 15, 2021 (see the Wed., March 17, 2021 email that you received, for the link).

More study space, more research support over the long weekend

Got a date with some final papers this long weekend? We’ve got you covered! The library will be open for regular individual study space bookings from Friday, April 2- Monday, April 5.

Sticking close to home, but still working on assignments? The Research Help Team will be online from 9 am – 7 pm on Friday, April 2 and Monday, April 5, and 1-5 pm on Saturday, April 3, to help you with your library and research-related questions.

Travel to China with Dr. Eric Henry

At a time when many of us are missing international travel, the next Faculty Author Series event might help fill that void.

On March 25 at noon, travel via Zoom to Shenyang, China, with Dr. Eric Henry, Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology. Dr. Henry will discuss his new book, The Future Conditional, and his twelve years of research on the globalization of the English language.

In particular, the book explores why and how English has become so important in China, and what effect this fascination with learning English has had on Shenyang, the largest city in China’s Northeast.

“I taught English in China after my masters as a way to learn Mandarin and make a bit of money,” explains Dr. Henry. “Everyone wanted to talk about English and treated me as an expert. I started to wonder, why is it a national project to teach everyone English? Why is it such an important part of people’s lives, even for people who don’t need it?”

While this phenomenon is often studied from a linguistics lens, Dr. Henry’s approach is from an anthropological perspective. What does learning English mean to Chinese speakers? What does the ability to speak English represent in contemporary China? How has English become a lucrative commodity?

Dr. Henry also notes that there are lots of types of English in China, including words and phrases that are unfamiliar to native English speakers. According to Dr. Henry, this raises questions about how languages evolve within cultures, and which “versions” are considered “right”: “Correctness is really the result of perspective, position, and authority”.

The Future Conditional will be available through the SMU Library later this year, and is currently available for pre-order.

Register for this event.

Furthering Digital Accessibility: 3 Tips for Making your Content More Accessible

This is a guest post by Harriette L. Spiegel, Ph.D, a Fulbright Canada 2020-2021 Scholar and Research Chair, who is here at Saint Mary’s from the University of Tennessee at Martin studying digital accessibility.

Inaccessible computer output = a brick wall.

Brick wall.
Brick wall. Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

Let’s talk about students (or any computer users) who experience inaccessible computer output. It must be frustrating that so many others have no idea what it’s like to encounter these barriers. However, just because someone doesn’t have a visual disability doesn’t mean they can’t empathize. Like running into a brick wall you can’t get through, encountering inaccessible computer output is just as “blocking”. Unfortunately, people are often unaware of Digital Accessibility issues and the implications therein for everyone, especially students.

So, I suggest that EVERYONE become familiar with the ‘ins and outs’ of Digital Accessibility. Ask yourselves a couple of simple questions about your own computing experiences:

  • How do you feel when a given web page won’t load?
  • Do you like trying to decipher tiny print on a too-busy document page or webpage?
  • What about those occasional documents that have margins that are lost, and a portion of the print isn’t even visible?
  • And what about those sometimes-so-intricate graphics that just plain don’t make sense – and there is no accompanying legend or explanation?

ANYONE can experience “disability” at one point or another- have you ever broken your wrist on your “good side,” and tried to use your computer with one hand, especially the wrong hand? The point is to start learning about how we can all produce accessible computer output so that everyone, regardless of their disability, can participate.

I will be “kicking off” the Smithers Centre’s “Accessibility Week” March 22 – 26. Here are just a few tips from the material I will cover that will help you make your content- any content- more accessible:

  1. Make “Alt text” a habit: a computer user with visual disabilities needs documents to be created accessibly. You need to use alternative text (“alt text”) to describe any images or graphics you might include in your document – the screen reader they use won’t recognize an image, but it will be able to read the descriptive alt text. 
  2.  Use your LMS’s accessibility features: an LMS, or Learning Management System (at Saint Mary’s, it is D2L’s Brightspace) will provide a prompt to add alternative text to any image that is added. The LMS also provides tips and tricks to the student user with a disability in using the LMS and computer applications. Every Learning Management Systems has an arm that addresses accessibility—D2L’s is the Accessibility Interest Group and anyone can join it (  Access and Equity in Online Learning ( is an article that talks about D2L’s commitment to accessibility in education.
  3. Use the “Styles” menu (in word-processing applications like Word). By using the Styles when formatting a document’s headings, the creator of that document makes it easy for the student using a screen reader to skim through a given document as a sighted reader does. Otherwise, without accessibly-formatted heading, the user will have to read entirely through a document to see what is next, instead of being able to skim the headings.

Although a lot of accessibility tips apply to visual impairments, many of the tips and tricks of creating accessible computer output work for more than one kind of disability. For instance, using clear headings contributes to an organized lesson page, and helps someone with a learning disability. Being sure that a video has an accompanying transcript and/or closed captioning or subtitles gives everyone an alternative way of accessing the information (I like to listen to a pdf reader read my work literature while I am driving).

In fact, that’s really what it’s all about: when providing information, give the learner different ways of accessing the information. Web Accessibility, the umbrella for all digital accessibility guidelines, has been called the “wheelchair ramp on the Internet” – think of how often you have used those wheelchair ramps for something other than a wheelchair!

International Women’s Day Event: A Faculty Author Talk with Dr. Rohini Bannerjee & editor Christina Myers

Looking for a way to celebrate International Women’s Day tomorrow? We’ve got you covered!

Our next Faculty Author Series event is set for 12 pm on Monday, March 8, where Dr. Rohini Bannerjee and editor Christina Myers will unpack Big: Stories about Life in Plus-Sized Bodies.

Described asa collection of personal and intimate experiences of plus size women, non-binary and trans people in a society obsessed with thinness,” these short stories invite readers to question- “and ultimately reconsider- our collective and individual obsession with women’s bodies.”

“When I saw the call for it, I kept thinking “they’re not going to accept it’”, says Dr. Rohini Bannerjee, whose short story, “Barbara Streisand or Bust!”, appears in the collection. Dr. Bannerjee describes herself as having always been a “secret writer” despite her initial focus on science; her family has always been influenced by art and culture, including listening to ghazals in Urdu, a form of Persian poetry, and her father would write down couplets or shayaris, reflecting on life and philosophy, and share them with her. Dr. Bannerjee “wrote in her head instead”, noting: “I always found solace in writing”.

As for choosing the title for her short story, Dr. Bannerjee, who dreamt of being an opera singer, loved Streisand as a kid, “I remember taking my mother’s hairbrush and singing like Barbara, a mega superstar who herself struggled with imposter syndrome.”

Dr. Bannerjee describes the collection as a “celebration of body shapes” that brings out into the open the very real “struggle between honouring your body as it is in its present state, and loving and improving your body so it serves you in the best way possible.”

“International women’s day is all about choice: exercising our right to choose how to be the best versions of ourselves. “

Big is available through the SMU Library, or at

Furthering Digital Accessibility: Exploring Pathways to Reaching Full Awareness

We are honoured to feature a guest post by Harriette L. Spiegel, Ph.D, a Fulbright Canada 2020-2021 Scholar and Research Chair, who is here at Saint Mary’s from the University of Tennessee at Martin studying digital accessibility.

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Why does it matter if my computing output is accessible?

The answer is, of course, “because it does.”

What I am about to talk about is a screen reader, an assistive technology device that assists users who have visual disabilities. The device reads out the content of the given article or document. Suppose you are reading an article – but your vision is impaired, so you are relying on the screen reader to read the content of the article. All of sudden, the screen reader gives you an empty phrase, “graphic, graphic” – this means that there is a graphic in the article. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could see – or hear – what that graphic is all about? So it matters that the person putting out that article on a computer did not know to add “alt text” – or “alternate text” – a simple description of that graphic. If that graphic was important to the content of the article, then the “reader,” or in this case, the listener, has encountered a barrier to the content of the article. Is that fair? Not to mention, is that inconvenient??

But there is more:

How do you feel, when you are in the middle of a project that relies on a good connection to the Web and your connection slows down, or worse yet, goes out completely? Well, imagine what such interruption to progress is like when it is not just temporary but always? So making sure that computer output is accessible to all users is like assuring a smooth, reliable connection to the Web.

And even more:

How often do you scan quickly through a document that you need to read, glancing through headings to see what it is all about, telling yourself that you will get back to reading the entire document? Those headings are really convenient, aren’t they! Well, again, a screen reader can be programmed so the user can skip through the heading as a sighted reader does – if, that is, those headings have been formatted accessibly as the document was created. If they are not, the user hears “there are no headings…; no headings….” The only other choice for the hapless user is to have to listen all the way through the document instead of being able to skip through.  

There are numerous similar situations that can present “barriers” to the user, and I will talk about these situations as I explore Digital Accessibility. This is my topic for my activities related to the Fulbright Canada Scholar award that I am in Halifax to complete as Research Chair at St. Mary’s University. Fortunately, the word is getting out: more and more computer applications provide timely tools for providing accessibility. In an online Learning Management System (LMS) like Canvas or Blackboard, for instance, anytime a user adds an image, the prompt for alt text appears. Many word processors are programmed to provide prompts for creating accessible content. Your campus instructional technology office is committed to helping faculty produce accessible online materials.

The bottom line is – that’s OKAY if you don’t know! We weren’t born knowing these things. But you need to know, and this knowledge is readily available.

Not only is it the right thing to do, but there is legislation out there that mandates that we make accessibility be a priority- particularly in information technology, including online learning and teaching. It doesn’t have to be difficult, but if planned from the beginning of a project, computer output, including your course materials, can be perfectly accessible.

Five significant items from the Lynn Jones collection

Did you know that the Saint Mary’s University Archives is home to the Lynn Jones African-Canadian & Diaspora Heritage Collection? The Lynn Jones Collection documents the lives of Lynn, her family, and over 50 years of African, African Diasporic and African-Nova Scotian heritage and history.

We’re honoured to start our new blog by highlighting five items from the Lynn Jones Collection that speak to the history, lived experience, and activism of African Nova Scotians, at home and abroad.

  1. Campaign Poster for Nelson Mandela (1994). Lynn Jones travelled to South Africa as a Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) election observer for the South African election which saw Nelson Mandela elected President as the country’s first black head of state, and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. 
  1. Cover of First Edition of GRASP Periodical (1970). GRASP was a publication of the Black United Front. Also known as The Black United Front of Nova Scotia or simply BUF, it was founded in 1965 by Burnley “Rocky” Jones among others. 
  1. Article on History of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children (Charles Saunders, Daily News, 1996). In the 2010s the home came under fire when many former residents came forward with allegations of abuse they experienced during their time at the home, which ended in a class action lawsuit, and an apology from the Premier of Nova Scotia. 
  1. Flyer “Save the North End CEC” (1996). When the federal government announced they were closing the Canadian Employment Centre in the North End of Halifax, a group of activists including Lynn Jones fought against the decision, which they felt would have a negative affect on the local community. This included a media campaign, protests, and occupation of the offices. 
  1. Soldier’s Service Book for Victor Herbard Jones, uncle of Lynn Jones (1940). These books contained details of wage payments from the army, as well as training, vaccination and other related records. 

For more information on the collection, visit