Sunday, 19 August 2012

Week 10: Sunny San Di-ahgo!


The 2012-2013 IMLS fellows traveled from Chicago to San Diego to attend the Society of American Archivists national conference. An estimated 1500 archivists converged in San Diego to discuss and learn about the most pertinent issues in our profession. The following is a summary of my experience at the conference.

My first session was Metadata and Digital Object Roundtable. The first presenter was from Case Western University, discussed social networking and content analysis with a case study, an Iowa writer’s workshop. The second presenter was our old friend, Dr. Katherine Wisser from Simmons College. She discussed EAC-CPF, using a social network analysis of 19th century writer’s correspondence. She used the data to create pictorial graphs which demonstrate the many ways that those writers were connected to one another. Cory Harper from New York University discussed using metadata in the study of prospography, an aggregate group narrative or storytelling. Lastly, a presenter from Stanford University described her process for adding metadata quickly and efficiently to born digital photographs. Her choice of affordable software was “Camera Bits” and the schema was IPTC Core which is a popular for professional photographers.

The next session was the Archivists and Archives of Color business meeting. Many of the updates and announcements were foreign to me because I am not on the listserv. I was glad to see that the group of a strong advocate for giving funds to multi-ethnic individuals to pursue archival education. The initiatives that intrigued me the most were contributing to the AAC Newsletter and participating in the Speaker’s Bank. The meeting concluded with a presentation from the Collaborative Archive from the African Diaspora from the staff members of University of Miami Libraries and Special Collections. Their presentation detailed a successful venture into community informatics. The way that they were able to show the collection’s relevance to students, community members and the administration is a welcome departure from an exclusive appeal of archives to serious researchers.

For the evening, we had The HistoryMakers reception Vela restaurant inside the Hilton. All of this year’s and last year’s fellows attended along with some representatives from host repositories, and other individuals interested in the success of Black archivists and Black collections. I spent the majority of the night sitting across from my new supervisor, Mr. Larry Earl, the executive director of the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum. Mr. Earl asked questions about my background and my plans for moving to the west coast. He also shared information about his background and his views on the importance of Black archives. He expressed his need for innovative and creative people in the MCLM and how they were stretching the boundaries of a traditional museum. One example was the plan to put MCLM archive exhibits in a storefront at Baldwin Hills Mall. Cara Adams was also at the dinner but we did not get a chance to talk because she was at the other table. Introductions to IMLS program officer, Kevin Cherry, Dr. Randall Burkett and Dr. Kelvin White were also highlights of the evening.  

In the morning, I attended “106: Connecting to Collections: Improving Collections Care Through Statewide Collaboration”. Laura K. Saegert from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission spoke about the preservation efforts in Texas to save endangered court documents. They provide workshops and a call in service to help smaller counties address their paper concerns with the experts. Since the library school at the University of Texas has an emphasis on preservation, there is a lot of support for the state’s preservation initiatives. Gregor Trinkaus-Randall from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners spoke about disaster preparedness. He explained how every building in every region is at risk for something and we need to be ready when the time comes. His emphasis on building relationships with emergency personnel before the disaster strikes was a new idea for me. Lastly, Julie Page from the California Preservation Program, she mainly described the pocket preparation guide that has been implemented in museums, archives and libraries throughout California. It is a template of a disaster plan that can be folded into the size of a credit card, which can be placed in a pocket or near an ID badge of all staff members. The plan could include maps indicating the location of priority collections, telephone numbers or step by step instructions. I introduced myself to Julie after the discussion and she explained that she was very well acquainted with MCLM. She had recently hosted a disaster preparedness workshop for the staff and left them with a plan.


My next session was 203: To the Community and Beyond: Engaging Users to Interact with Participatory Archives. Carolyn Runyon from The American University in Cairo discussed her role in documenting the Arab Spring phenomenon which took place in Egypt in early 2011. They are collecting photographs, oral histories and content from Al-Jizarah, Facebook and Twitter. They have developed a biographical dictionary of activists and politicians from the area. So far the university has not had to any participants fear retaliation or persecution as result of their involvement, but it has the information backed up on American servers and the plans to shut the program down if that became a problem. Lisa Pozas from the University of Southern California discussed “L.A. as Subject”. This is a program that seeks to identify and digitally display all of the archives in southern California. I recently learned that Avery Clayton was on the board for this organization before he died. The website works to give more exposure to the archives and manifests in the Archives Bazaar, where all the archival institutions set up booths and share their collections with the general public. Noah Lenstra from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign is a PhD student who talked about helping the under-resourced black community in Urbana to the college campus to learn how to use computers and other tools to preserve their own personal archives. Natalie Milbrodt from Queens College spoke about the Queens Memory Project. This is an oral history project that encourages new and old members of the borough to contribute stories, and pictures to the website to document the changes in the community. Lastly, Jamie Seemiller from Denver Public Library gave a presentation on the “Create your own community” initiative through the Western History/Genealogy Department. People are encouraged to contribute their own photos to the website, and give them tags that will connect them to other materials in the digital collection. This library has reached out to high schools primarily to encourage the contribution and they will take the scanning equipment to the homes of people who do not have the technology to upload their older photographs. The entire session was very interesting for me, there is no limit to the ways that communities can enhance or even create amazing archival collections.

We spent the rest of Thursday eating (Fish tacos), walking around the exhibit hall, and eating (SAA reception) some more.

On Friday morning, we woke up early to attend the “Write Away Breakfast” at 7:00 AM. The facilitators encouraged all of the attendees to start contributing to SAA publications. We learned about writing books, articles and book reviews. I was impressed to know that even if I just had an idea, the editors would help me expand on it and help me revise it along the way. From there, we went to the SAA bookstore and I found a copy of DACS: Describing Archives, a Content Standard for ten dollars, so I bought it to build on my archives library. We all attended session #309: Rules of Engagement: The Politics and Pleasures of Living Archives. This session was put on by former fellows, Aaisha Haykal, Aisha Johnson, Alyss Zohar, and archivist from Avery Research Center, Georgette Mayo. Each speaker took a different angle but they all spoke to the importance of getting accurate documentation on the transfer of collections and facilitating open and honest communication with living donors.

Next, I attended session #405: Contesting History in Archives. This session was not nearly as dynamic as it could have been. It started with Huma Ahmed Ghosh who discussed the establishment of a women’s studies department at the University of San Diego. Ghosh’s presentation sounded more like a college orientation session complete with scholarship opportunities and study abroad opportunities than anything related to archives. Afterwards, two scholars read their research papers about little known, yet important historic women. Professor Mary Elizabeth Perry talked about how she went to Spain to research a 16th century slave woman. Dr. Karen Mason discussed her work with the Iowa Women’s Archives to bring more materials into their collection. I applaud the work of these women but I had hoped that they would have spent more time talking about how the administration of archives could work to improve access to underrepresented groups, documents which could contest the history.

We spent the rest of Friday eating and exploring the Gas Lamp District. When I got back to the hotel, I met my aunt and uncle in the lobby. The three of us went back to their home and spent the evening catching up with one another.      

On Saturday, my first session was #503: Favorite Collaborative Tools in Preservation, which was presented in the lightning format. The first speaker was Scott Reinke from the University of Miami, he discussed condition surveys. Scott used random sampling and Excel to analyze his data and make smart processing decisions based on his conclusions. Daria D’Arienzo from Williamsburg Public Library gave a sentimental talk about how small libraries and museum should not be shy about eliciting collaboration in their preservation pursuits. Aimee Primeaux from National Archives and Records Administration using software from the Image Permanence Institute to generate data logs. These systems can also secure and back up their data. Alix Bentrud from Lyrasis discussed the push in Pocket Response Plan, primarily being stewarded by the Council of State Archives. Greg Schmidt from Auburn University talked about the use of Google Docs to make the disaster preparedness documents (phone lists, protocols, maps, etc.) widely accessible.  Veronica from Tufts University discussed the resources for disaster preparation in Massachusetts and shared the cultural resources inventory form which can be accessed at heritagepreservation.org. Brittany Turner, who runs her own consulting company, discussed the importance of security in archives. Kara from the University of Virginia presented on audio and data calculators that can help archivists figure out how much server space we will need when working with vendors. Dave Rice from the City University of New York gave a very dense presentation about FFMPEG, an open source program that reverse engineers a variety of file formats. The last speaker introduced me to basecamp.com, project management software that provides a forum to track progress and generate productivity data. Perhaps 50% of this session provided leads on free and relevant ideas for me to follow up on and implement in my host repository.

At 12:30, we headed over to session #606: Documenting Beyond our gates: Exploring new and diverse collecting activities of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Howard University’s archivist, Joellen Elbashir spoke about the topical and biographical strengths of the collections. They are committed to promoting their international and diaspora materials, including records from Haiti, Madagascar, and Ghana. Rebecca Barnard from St. Philips College spoke about the balance of maintaining a historically black college tradition and also being relevant to a 50% Latino student body. She reaches out to alumni, students, staff and the community in attempts to make the archival collection as reflective of the diversity as possible. Lastly, Andrea Jackson from Atlanta University Center talked about the HBCU libraries digitization initiative from 2005. By 2009, there were over 16,000 selected institutional images from the public domain available online. The latest initiative from this group is an oral history project that documents the experiences from the Council of past HBCU presidents.

My last session from the 2012 SAA Conference was #710: Coloring Outside the Lines: Tattoos as Personal Archives. The session began with Terry Baxter reading his essay on the history and legitimacy of tattoos as archival records, with a PowerPoint scrolling through images of very diverse quotes and actual tattoos. Next we were treated to the treat from Verne Harris who works for the Nelson Mandela Foundation in South Africa, as he discussed, “Deconstructing the tattoo”. He argues that tattoos are just like typical archival records in that for whatever reasons, we have deemed something worthy of preservation. His complex language could be reduced to a common plea to think outside of the box when determining what an archival record and what is not. The last speaker was Libby Coyner from Arizona State Archives, and she talked about inclusiveness in archives. This session was very interesting as all the speakers and many people in the audience had tattoos, I could tell that people were straining their ears to hear all of this talk which gives their personal style choices some academic validation.

After this session, we all gathered our bags and headed to the San Diego Airport for our long flight back to Chicago. Overall this conference was an enormous wealth of information for me. When I compare and contrast this experience from the one 12 months ago in Chicago, I am very proud of my progress. In San Diego, I was able to attend sessions which pertained to my work as a fellow which kept me attentive and receptive for every speaker. As I am trying to determine where I want to work in the future, I am willing to ask more questions of more experienced archivists. I ran into people that I met when I was volunteering in Arizona, others from my outings with the Chicago Area Archivists, and The HistoryMakers alums were visible throughout the entire conference. I was very shy and overwhelmed at the conference in 2011, this year I was confident and outgoing. I hope that my fellow fellows will continue to join me at these conferences and my network will continue to grow. It was an amazing experience.

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