Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Collections as Data, Tell us about it! - Forum #2, May 7-8, 2018 hosted in Las Vegas by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

This week, about 30 scholars, archivists, cultural heritage workers and data enthusiasts gathered in the desert to weigh in on the progress of the IMLS funded Collections as Data grant objectives. After a series of presentations, we were guided through small group exercises to examine project personas, frameworks, and functional requirements. Below is the structured summary of the public facing (all presentations were live streamed) portions of the program. I'm looking forward to sharing this work with my colleagues at UNC-Chapel Hill, keeping in touch with the Collections as Data project team and my fellow attendees!

Neon sign from the Yucca Motel (currently closed) placed in the "Neon Barnyard", also known as the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, NV)
Who is "Collections as Data" For:

Dot Porter (UPenn):
Curators: Looking at collections in new ways helps to make value propositions to donors and researchers -- should we be trained in programming, maybe have a support group

Shawn Averkamp (NYPL):
Researchers: The metadata we use gives illusions of completeness (it’s not all there), granularity (folder vs. item), consistency (results change from one search to another), and authority (we’ve decided what’s most important to capture) -- if we don’t look at data frameworks critically, we are doing a disservice to our researchers.

Bergis Jules (UC-Riverside):
Activists: It can be dangerous for activists to have their data collected (social media mining companies, police working with social media companies) most users don’t know the risks, so many complexities could be tempted to bypass ethics, and high level of vulnerability for marginalized people.

What is the coolest thing about your Collections as Data work?

Micki Kaufman (CUNY)
3D Modeling: Mass data scraping exercise, charting 40 subjects mapped across time from the National Security Archive at George Washington

Inna Kouper (Indiana University)
Measuring representation in large repositories: How well does Hathi Trust capture human knowledge (15 million records) over 2000 years. Used library classifications to see languages, topics, countries of origin -- to see gaps and strengths in the collection.

Greg Cram (NYPL)
Exposing collections: U.S. Copyright Office’s virtual card catalog (45 million) cards coming online (blocks of text to be broken apart), allows us to find rights holders. NYPL menu collection going online allows for crowdsourcing transcription and geolocation, everything is downloadable

Laurie Allen (UPenn)
Data Rescue/Endangered Data movement around current presidential administration: also allows us to break open the library and let the light in

How have you implemented Collections as Data?

Meghan Ferriter (LoC)
Resource Sharing: Memory Labs offer tools and training to students and lifelong learners.

Mary Elings (UC-Berkeley)
Strategic Partnerships: in order to solve complex legacy issues - unique problem as early adopters, so many heavy text based digital project from 20-25 years ago

Helen Bailey (MIT)
LibGuide: sharing library APIs, also shared a nuanced examination of their process for maintaining data in highly customized systems and allocating resources in a measured way

Veronica Ikeshoji-Orlati (Vanderbilt)
Data Ecosystem Framework: thinking through the resource suck of managing current project vs. legacy projects, prioritizing content that exhibits intellectual labor, and capable of reuse. Also hosts working groups and seminars to share tools and talk to humanists about building and sharing datasets - strong sense of sustainability and minimalism.

Facial Recognition Scripts (Padilla)
RDF Open World Framework (making collections from different repositories searchable; NYPL, Princeton, others) (Averkamp)
VisColl (xml files that describe individual leaves of a manuscript) (Porter)
Omeka (no faceted searching) (Porter)
Mallet (topic modeling) (Kaufman)
Parallax (stimulate 3D) (Kaufman)
JSON (Ferriter)
Jupyter notebooks (Ferriter)
Glitch (Ferriter)
OpenRefine (used to clean up data) (Ikeshoji-Orlati)
Xquery (Ikeshoji-Orlati)

John Unsworth, Scholar Primatives (Padilla)
Chela Scott Weber, OCLC Research Position Report (Data and Special Collections) (Padilla)
Santa Barbara Statement: Collection as Data, Forum 1 (Padilla)
Algorithms of Oppression: “outcomes and results > intent”, Safiya Noble (Averkamp)
Artists in the Archive podcast: Episode 5 ? (Allen)
Johanna Drucker, Captured (Capta) data from researchers
Ithaka Survey: library trends toward open access, data management, and instruction

Jerome Robbins Collection @ NYPL (digitized and featuring Carmen DeLavalade) (Averkamp)
Digital Walters (LoC subject headings) (Porter)
OPenn (local keywords) (Porter)
BiblioPhilly (discrete keywords) (Porter)
LC for robots (APIs for libraries) (Ferriter)
Lomax Collection Visualization (Ferriter)
Congressional Data Challenge (Ferriter)
“Inside Baseball” program coming this summer (Ferriter)
Free Speech Movement data hackathon (Elings)
ArchExtract (supported arrangement and description of large archival collection) (Elings)
New Netherlands Project (data cleanup) (Elings)
Algorithmic Justice League (Bailey)
Charles Baudelaire (Ikeshoji-Orlati)

Friday, 18 August 2017

Presenting Democratic Histories in Absentia: National Conference of African American Librarians

Dear Colleagues,

I regret that I was unable to join you in Atlanta last weekend for the National Conference of African American Librarians conference. As soon as I found out about the acceptance of our session proposal, my dear friend, Jinwen, informed me of her wedding date...August 11, 2017... in San Diego! As a bridesmaid, a big fan of Southern California, and a hardcore wedding enthusiast - I had to bow out of our presentation, Democratic Histories: Strategies for Engaging African American Communities in the Archival Process.

5 bridesmaids and the flower girl standing near the alter at the #totalifontastic wedding of Jinwen Li and Chris Fong, photo taken by Tracy Lin in San Diego, California
Although there is no substitute for sharing ideas alongside my co-presenters and answering questions in real time - I thought this blog post would be a good way to demonstrate my commitment to this work and keep the conversation going.   

Why this session?
When I saw the conference theme in the call for proposals -- Beyond Library Walls: Innovative Ways to Engage our Community, it was easy to make the connection to my work in the Southern Historical Collection as well as stories from colleagues doing library outreach work across the country. Recently, I attended the 2017 Movers and Shakers reception during the ALA Annual Meeting in Chicago and every award recipient had an element of engaging communities in meaningful ways. I met a school librarian from Massachusetts who found ways to bring parents to the library to engage in student learning outcomes and a youth public librarian in Illinois who designed programs about gardening and sustainability for immigrant communities. When I had a chance to meet my future co-presenters (Shanee, Holly, and Skyla) in a 2015 California Rare Book School course, I could see that they were interested in the same ethos of bringing established archival practices, collections, and institutions to new audiences.  

I called the session Democratic Histories, in the hope that it would invoke at least two concepts in the imaginations of our audience. The first being the total representation of all the people implied in the definition of democracy - we are striving to build archives that are more  representative of the people in our communities regardless of age, sex, gender, class, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, etc. The second is the idea of building citizenship through the participation in a democracy or an archive. Showing people how to use archives, how to contribute to archives, or maintain personal or family collections are forms of validating their experiences and giving them incentives and tools to question the status quo and effect change in their communities. If you are one of those people who hears the word democracy and laughs at the irony because you can’t see past the seemingly insurmountable inequality and corruption in this American democracy then you could probably provide an appropriate dose of cynicism to the discussion which can keep the scale of these outreach strategies in perspective.

The last reason that I was drawn to this topic at this conference is the opportunity to share an important moment of personal and professional reflection. Throughout library school and into the last five years of my career, many facets of archives work have called out to me. I love the way that archivists jump into collections, applying order, giving access, and churning through backlogs. I love to hear how we invent, adapt, and use systems and software programs to do this work more ethically, efficiently and across all formats. At the same time, situating archival materials in new contexts and adding to existing local, national, or international historiographies is fascinating. There is no better way to understand the past than to see people, places, and events through the lens of a stranger from history.

In the past three years at the Southern Historical Collection, I’ve grappled with the slippery notion of bringing material from marginalized African American communities or donors into an institutional archive. It’s easy for us as professionals to understand why this is important -- moral imperative, more complete histories for researchers, fulfilling missions of diversity, intellectual curiosity, etc; but why would communities look to institutions to preserve their stories when they have been doing it for themselves since the beginning of their existence? The examples that follow will try to answer this question -- but to me the question is really about outreach and ultimately requires a conceptual deconstruction and reconstruction of the formal archive. The opportunity to think critically and communicate clearly about what we do, why we do it, and who we do it for -- is a sweet spot for me. Hopefully the live session will include anecdotes from community members, archives professionals, and the general public that will keep your mind from going blank or dropping into “archives-speak” when you are inevitably asked why an investment in this type of outreach is worthwhile.    

What did I hope to share?
While my colleagues are well suited to discuss their engagement efforts with black churches, black college students, and black communities in urban environments - I was poised to discuss my work with black municipalities in rural environments. An extraordinary confluence of UNC professors, humanities scholars, and engaged mayors from these towns brought the Historically Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA) to my attention in 2014. HBTSA was originally composed of five towns, Eatonville, FL, Mound Bayou, MS, Hobson City, AL, Tuskegee, AL, and Grambling, LA -- they have since grown to include more towns in more states.

It was clear from the beginning these towns did not represent traditional collection donors - they wanted to hear more about how the archives could serve their interests. Their primary one being support for using their impressive histories to promote cultural tourism in the towns. Representatives shared stories about how they could not register as historic landmarks because the necessary proof was last seen in someone’s shed - necessitating the need for a centralized archive. They wanted to have the genealogies of their founders properly documented and preserved. They wanted to honor the folks who had lived and died in their communities by cleaning up local cemeteries and clearly documenting the occupants.

Photo of cemetery, featuring an angel figure, flowers and the headstone Bernice Flowers; born: March 20, 1935, died September 31, 1973 in Grambling, Louisiana (2014), taken by Biff Hollingsworth
Photo of archival materials from the home of former Hobson City, Alabama mayor, Mrs. Willie Maude Snow - brought in to city hall to show the extent of dispersed collections (2014), taken by Chaitra Powell

Photo of an unprocessed archival collection in the Tuskegee History Museum in Tuskegee, Alabama (2014), taken by Chaitra Powell
Photo of an Eatonville baseball or cricket team, n.d. shared by Maye St. Julian in her home in Eatonville, Florida (2014), taken by Bryan Giemza
Photo of Chaitra addressing the audience about the Southern Historical Collection’s commitment to the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA) during the conference in Chapel Hill (2015), taken by Jay Mangum
Lastly, they wanted opportunities to share stories in order to engage and inspire the community’s younger generation in the histories of their towns. In order to gain as much context as possible - we made visits to the towns, established working relationships with town stakeholders, conducted archival content surveys, supervised field scholars, participated in weekly HBTSA conference calls, and helped to orchestrate an HBTSA conference in Chapel Hill in the spring of 2015. All of this preparation culminated in three exciting pilot initiatives in Mound Bayou, Mississippi in the Fall of 2015.

  1. Document Rescue: The Administration Building of the Knights and Daughters of Tabor of organization held important documents in less than ideal environmental conditions. The building had been ravaged by storms and neglect, leaving it water damaged, dirty, and full of pests. The rooms within the building contained publications, insurance forms, photographs, and ceremonial artifacts that told the story of a Southern based, black fraternal organization. The Southern Historical Collection offered to rent a storage unit in nearby Cleveland, MS for three years and temporarily store the materials until an adequate permanent solution could be found. We worked with the community to move the materials into storage in October 2015.
Photo of a van filled with moving boxes during the document rescue event at the Knights and Daughters of Tabor Administration Building in Mound Bayou, Mississippi (2015), taken by Chaitra Powell
  1. Virtual Community Genealogy: In recent years, Mound Bayou has been the site of several field experiences for Duke and UNC graduate and undergraduate students. In the summer of 2015, students worked to compile biographical information on the town’s founders and early residents, up until the middle of the 20th century. They conducted interviews, visited local archives, perused obituaries in home collections in order to build a spreadsheet. In the fall semester, we were able to work with computer science students to turn this spreadsheet into an interactive and searchable website documenting the people, places, and organizations of early Mound Bayou.

Screenshot of the cover page for the Mound Bayou Virtual Community Genealogy (2015), taken by Chaitra Powell
  1. High School Student Outreach: One of our community liaisons, a former librarian, and I connected with the principal of John F. Kennedy High School, and organized an after school event in the library to discuss local history. Six students participated in several activities, one included creating an account for the Virtual Community Genealogy website, and entering biographical content found in primary source material borrowed from community members.        
Photo of Chaitra with the JFK High School students during the after school local history program in Mound Bayou, Mississippi (2015), taken by Ms. Edna Smith

And in conclusion..
After we finished all of these exciting outreach initiatives we took a serious victory lap! I cited these examples in presentations, conversations, interviews, and short videos for our fundraising campaigns and felt pretty good about the ability of an institution to participate in altruistic and meaningful collaboration with a marginalized community. Our team was feeling so good about it that we crafted a successful grant application to the Mellon Foundation to elaborate on this model of developing community partnerships. HBTSA, along with three other pilot communities are the site of development for a wide variety of tools and strategies to nurture the relationship between the community and the archive.

From this short synopsis, it is clear that sustainability, replicability, costs, personnel, scale, parity across communities, institutional priorities, and many other considerations are necessary to develop a toolkit that has the potential to work with other communities and institutions around the world. So, we are currently using Mellon funding to hire a team of archivists, documentarians, and communication specialists that will unpack what we’ve done thus far, develop techniques to do it better, and determine if our work is having the positive impact that we have been shooting for since the beginning - informed communities who feel empowered to challenge the status quo.

There will be updates on our Community Driven Archives work via my personal social media and all of the public faces of Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library Special Collections, as well as UNC Libraries. I welcome your feedback and thank you for taking the time to read this extra long blog post.


Chaitra Powell
African American Collections & Outreach Archivist         
Southern Historical Collection
Wilson Library Special Collections
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries    

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Bright Lights, Big City

Society of North Carolina Archivists (SNCA) Annual Meeting 
Mint Museum Uptown, Charlotte, North Carolina
March 30 – April 1, 2016

Opening Plenary Session: “The Collector, the Community, the Reel, and the Real” (Dr. Seth Kotch)

Session 1A: Kids These Days!: Archival Programming to Engage Youth from K-12
Kathleen Gray from Charles County Public Library talked about the success of her papermaking/bookmaking programs for kids, the Star Wars Reads Day event which included a scavenger hunt with hallowed out books, and the Sher-locked, live action mystery game that brought young people into the special collections. Barrye Brown from the College of Charleston discussed the success of an African American history magazine (The Bugle) for 5th graders which incorporated information and artifacts from the Avery Research Center. The funding for the printing came from a successful RFP submission to the South Carolina Department of Education. The magazine also features hands on history activities like scrapbooking, oral history gathering, and making family trees. The archive solicited the support of educational experts, retired scholars, and history professors to put the publication together, but the bulk of the writing and editing was don’t by archives staff. Virginia Ellison from the South Carolina Historical Society talked about her initiatives to bring elementary school students to the archives for research. For a smaller group, she used a speed dating exercise where the students moved around to examine artifacts and take notes. For a large group preparing for their disparate history day projects, small groups rotated through the research room during the visit – at the end of their project they exhibited their displays in the archives. Carol Waggoner-Angleton from Augusta University took a history detectives approach to her engagement with primary school students. By fixating on one figure in the archives, they traced newspaper articles, family photographs (visual literacy skills), and correspondence to generate a full biographical sketch of a woman in the archives. The speaker referenced, Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks to help the audience understand the various types of information that a scrapbook can yield.

Session 2B: Sharing the Love: Generating an Archival Perspective in Community Groups
Chaitra Powell from the Southern Historical Collection discussed the diverse ways that her department is reaching out to Historically Black Towns and Settlements across the South. She described the unique needs of each town relative to historic preservation and cultural tourism. The work has unfolded via site visits, conferences on campus, summer fellowships, a virtual community genealogy platform, document rescue, and youth engagement. Kelsey Moen and Elizabeth Grab, two graduate students at UNC’s School of Information and Library Science presented on the Artist Archives program. Their outreach focused on getting artist communities to begin to think archivally about their work product and connect with archival institutions. A workshop at the North Carolina Museum of Art and a workbook for the artists to reference are two big deliverables to support this work. Ongoing outreach in the form of an unconference, more workshops, and artist/SILS student pairings will demonstrate the important impact of this work. Colleen Daw and Wick Shreve, former students in Denise Anthony’s Community Archives class, spoke about their experience archiving a personal audio/visual collection in the Washington D.C. metro area. The collector is a former hockey player who founded a hockey league for underprivileged youth. His collection is primarily composed of recordings from over the years that he keeps in his basement. The students talked about the challenges of convincing him that no one planned to profit from his participants and giving him preservation strategies to maintain his collection at home.

Session 3B: The Spirit of Collaboration: Community Engagement Initiatives at UNC Charlotte Special Collections
Dawn Schmitz, the head of special collections at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte started the session off by summarizing each panelists’ contribution and explaining how their work fit into the broader vision of the university, mainly that the “spirit of collaboration is a university hallmark”. Nikki Lynn Thomas talked about the King-Henry Brockington CommunityArchive for LGBTQ materials, as a custodial approach to community archives. Now that UNC-C has a community champion, they are patiently and persistently seeking new materials to add. Thomas quoted from “Latino Arts and Culture: CaseStudies for a Collaborative, Community-Oriented Approach”, written by Tracy B. Grimm and Chon A. Noriega in the American Archivist, (Spring/Summer, Vol. 76, No. 1, pp. 95-11) to explain how they are moving along without much of a model. Tina Wright spoke about the implementation of community led oral history projects in the LGBTQ archive and how the recordings have been able to capture motivations among other hard to pin down emotions. Rita Johnston discussed consultative outreach from UNC-C to smaller institutions in relation to their digitization projects. After reviewing collections and discussing goals, Johnston can advise institutions on appropriate workflows, equipment, or collaboration with the Digital NC. She has advised five institutions at this point, including the libraries at Belmont Abbey College and Livingstone College. Joseph Nicholson from UNC-C discussed his work in bringing the donor of a large motorsport photograph collection into the metadata creation process. The workflow included getting photos scanned and placed into Excel Rows, the Excel sheet with images was shared via Dropbox, the donor added his information, and the library used the OpenRefine tool, wrapped the data in XSLT and created MOD records to post online. The process was riddled with inefficiencies and inaccuracies, resulting in some people being identified and some captions for the photos; not the exhaustive presentation of dates, subject headings, and context that they had hoped for. They have some ideas for improvement and are eager to find more ways to engage donors in the descriptive process for their materials. Lolita Rowe talked about her work with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Heritage Committee and how it has resulted in the acquisition of important African American collections. Her involvement includes serving on their board, participating in their recognition programs, and getting to know the members and potential donors.

Keynote Address: “The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists” (Dr. Bill Ferris)

Session 4A: Highlighting Materials that Document Underrepresented Groups
Beth Bilderbeck from the University of South Carolina, Columbia talked about the responsibility of archivists to develop our own sense of visual literacy with photographs and share it with our users. To her, this means a willingness to explore, critique, and reflect on the photographs in our collections and have those interpretations reflected in our catalogs and finding aids. Her presentation consisted of a wide assortment of Civil War, Segregation, Housing, Education, Photography Studio collection materials for us to consider critically. Andrea L’Hommedieu from the University of South Carolina, Columbia discussed her work with embedding oral histories in classroom instruction, exhibits, and programs in her community. Her presentation included examples of important local figures of African American and Women’s history. Stephen C. Smith from the Spartanburg Public Library discussed the motivation and products of his library’s publishing arm, Kennedy Free Press. The library was influenced by the nearby Hub City Writer’s Project (press) and the incredible research and discoveries that were coming out of patrons in their library. Smith spent the bulk of his time talking about the confluence of a local folk hero, Trotting Sally, a fascinated folklorist, John Thomas Fowler, and a local family who wanted the truth about their ancestor to be known. All of this came together in a publication, as well as a series of well-received events and programs that brought the community together. Of course there are a lot of logistical decisions to be made before an institution gets into the publishing business but Smith says it is worth it for his library and they have several projects coming up designed on the success of this model.  


Article Review: From Smiles to Miles: Delta Air Lines Flight Attendants and Southern Hospitality

Title: From Smiles to Miles: Delta Air Lines Flight Attendants and Southern Hospitality
Author: Drew Whitelegg
Citation: Southern Cultures, Volume 11, Number 4, Winter 2005, pp.7-27

As a recently transplanted southerner, I thought an article about the impact of regional expectations on an airline company would give me some more context for the people and the materials that I am working on.

From its inception Delta Airlines flight attendants were the brand. Although they were trained as, and expected to act as true Southern belles, their real lives represented a departure from the static and subservient existence of the prototype. In the early days, Delta's flight attendants were trained nurses to inspire confidence in the passengers, they also knew about local sports in order to carry on an intelligent conversation with the mostly male clientele. Other requirements from their small Southern town recruits, included being unmarried, not having children, and as nurses became scarce due to World War 2, at least 2 years of college. Delta billed the flight attendants as “Scarlett(s) in the Sky” alluding to Gone with the Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara, they wanted the women to embody her behavior, appearance, and autonomy. 

Rather than choosing standard beauties, the company preferred women who were gracious, well-groomed, and well-mannered, positing that these attributes have translated as beauty in the South. The flight attendants were there to meet consumer’s expectations of Southern hospitality and treat passengers like guests in their homes. This was a strong contrast to Pan-Am, whose flight attendants were pretty and sophisticated and an even stronger contrast to hyper sexualized flight attendants commissioned by Braniff, National, and Southwest in the 1970s. For its role in the conflation of sex and flight attendants, Delta quietly embraced the matchmaking between their single female flight attendants and male bachelor passengers, as well as editions of their magazines that featured Delta beauties pictured in more revealing clothing than their conservative uniforms. 

Delta gave small town Southern white women an opportunity to make a living wage, see the world, and command increasing power in the workplace – for these reasons it was hard to get them to unionize. However as the workforce began to change as a result of new laws (anti-discrimination and integration), corporate mergers (PanAm), increased pressures of globalization, and 9/11; rifts began to arise between the original brand of Delta employees and the newcomers. These factors ultimately led to a loss of identity for Delta Airlines by 2001.The article ends with an admission that all good things must come to an end.

I wonder if the story of Delta could be a precursor to the consistent buzzing I hear about the coming of the New South?