April 19, 2018

James R. Jacobs & Shinjoung Yeo | Movers & Shakers 2005

A Marriage of Minds


Their personalities and backgrounds are very different, but James R. Jacobs and Shinjoung Yeo are passionate about the same causes: librarianship, open government, and empowerment through information. “Like their union as marriage partners, the combination of their commitment and accomplishments in librarianship is greater than the sum of its parts,” commented Jenna Freedman, coordinator of reference services at Barnard College Library.

Jacobs is an intentional librarian who has worked in libraries since he was 15. Yeo is an accidental librarian, who accompanied him to Illinois and entered the program because “I was paid to do what I love – study, read, and research.”

They balance each other. Yeo is focused, realistic, critical, and an excellent researcher. Her superhero alter ego is Wet Blanket Woman, able to bring any optimist to his or her knees with a single word. Jacobs is a good writer and editor, an optimist, and a tech geek. His superhero guise is The Smiler, “able to bring sunshine to even the gloomiest situations.”

They’re best known for Radical Reference. The idea was to provide accurate, timely information to both protesters and the alternative media at the Republican National Convention. Together they made it into a reality, launching a web site and providing street deployment during the convention. “Radical Reference would never have been born if it had not been midwived, nursed, burped, changed, and disciplined by this happy couple and a few collaborators,” Freedman says.

Since the convention, Radical Reference continues as a web site where librarian volunteers answer information requests from the general public, journalists, and activists. Yeo says they receive several questions per week, ranging from the quick and easy (finding a quote from Emma Goldman) to the in-depth (media regulation in the 1940s) to the obscure (bus schedules in Argentina).

Yeo brings a background in communications to the enterprise: an MA in journalism and a brief stint reporting for Korean-American Television in Los Angeles. They agree that since corporatized media have abrogated their responsibility to inform the public, libraries have an increased responsibility to collect, preserve, and distribute alternative materials ignored by the mainstream press, publishers, and bookstores. Their latest project, Free Government Information, is a web site designed “to call attention” because “public access to information about our government is at risk.”

Yeo came to the United States from Korea. After graduating from college, she looked at the role Korean society expected her to fill and decided she “didn’t want to live that life, or follow the norm set out for me by someone else. So I told my parents I wanted to study English for a year.” Twelve years later, she’s still here.” Jacobs is concerned with librarians’ issues that affect society at large, like fair use, open access to scholarly research, and permanent access to government information – topics he addresses in both his blogs.

These two are alike enough to throw their hearts into the same projects and different enough to spark each other’s ideas. As Jacobs says, “She’s classical and I’m jazz, but we’re in the same key and rhythm.”


James R. Jacobs

Current Position Local, State, and International Government Information Librarian, Social Sciences and Humanities Library, University of California at San Diego

Blogs Diglet (http://gort.ucsd.edu/mtdocs/diglet) Library Autonomous Zone (http://gort.ucsd.edu/mtdocs/laz)

Shinjoung Yeo

Current Position Reference Librarian, Social Sciences and Humanities Library, University of California at San Diego


Degree MSLIS, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2002 founders Radical Reference (http://radicalreference.info)

Fun times On their first date, they listened to a really bad accordion band, then picked up a load of hay and manure for his garden