Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Week 20: Diversity in Action

During my seventh week at the Mayme Clayton, I trained five volunteers on the processing of Mayme’s papers, participated in an interesting professional development call with Andrea Jackson, and attended a presentation at the ONE archives on campus at the University of Southern California.

My goal for incorporating volunteers into the workflow of processing of Mayme’s papers has been fully realized. Most of the volunteers do not seem too enthusiastic until I show them my workspace in the judge’s chambers and they see Mayme’s grit and determination demonstrated in her writings and correspondence. The unopened boxes are lined up against the east wall, my sorting shelves are adjacent on the north wall and the tables full of labeled folders are on the tables in the middle of the room.  I show them my organizational schema and indicate where each series is located. I explain any quirks about the series. For instance, in the Western States Black Research Consortium series, I have a Research subseries which corresponds to the topic any academic articles that we come across in the collection. For example, there is a folder title, “Research Project: Lynching”, it is full of photocopies and articles about lynching. I imagine that Mayme was gathering information for a researcher and these are the copies that she kept for her collection. I also have research project folders for Africa, Black Religion, Paul Robeson and Frederick Douglass. I give the volunteers a short stack of materials and they file them away using the schema as their guide. I check in periodically and deal with their “unsure” piles. At this rate, I anticipate getting through the remaining 135 boxes well before the end of May 2013.

On Thursday, the fellows had the pleasure of discussing the field of archives with Andrea Jackson of the Atlanta University Center. Ms. Jackson was seated at my table during The HistoryMakers reception at San Diego, but we did not get to talk too much. I did tell her that I loved her hair. At any rate, a 90 minute session with her was very informative for me. She discussed her evolving role from processing archivist to director of archives and how she is always looking for ways to grow. She said that she was blessed in her career, but I also believe that her success has a direct correlation with the leadership that she demonstrated in professional organizations. Our conversation re-ignited my idea to contribute to SAA publications and become more involved in professional organizations. I am also planning to look at the professional development book that she referenced, “Strength Finders, 2.0”. I had seen it for sale at The University of Chicago bookstore when I worked there earlier this year, but I had never heard such sincere praise of the book. Ms. Jackson told us about the TuPac Shakur conference that she helped organize earlier this year, and I admire the way that she has been able to integrate her personal interest into her professional activities. I had a few questions for Ms. Jackson that I was not able to ask during the course of the call, but I did follow up with her via email. I asked her about her experience with Archivist Toolkit, the importance of being a certified archivist, and which elements of a collection she considered when designing her online exhibits. I will share with the group as soon as she responds.  

On Sunday, I was invited by one of our donors to the ONE Archives for their monthly outreach program. ONE is a gay and lesbian archive that is national in scope and contains the world’s largest queer history collection.  The program was a book talk from Michael Kearns, a famous stage and television actor in California. His book, “The Truth is Bad Enough” told about his salacious affairs, his career, his adopted daughter and his life as an HIV positive gay man in Hollywood. The readings and commentary were very engaging and I toured the archive after his presentation. The place reminded me of the MCLM because they are operating in a non-traditional space and focusing on an often marginalized population. I think that their programming calendar and creative ways of de-accessioning books could be incorporated at MCLM. I had a nice time in their archive space and I would definitely be visiting again. This profession is amazing in its breadth and diversity; it really boggles my mind at times.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Week 19: Close to Home

During the sixth week at The HistoryMakers, I had to take a few days off, we hosted 15 volunteers from the Southern Edison Company, and I worked on a database comparison project.
This week at work was marked by my unexpected absence. On Saturday evening, I had to go to Tucson, Arizona to be with my family because my father was in the hospital. The drive was about 8 hours and I had a lot of time to reflect on what is really important in life. I have built my little world, ranked my priorities, and behaved according to my personal constitution. All of this gives me an artificial sense of control, when it just takes a simple phone call, and the entire house of cards falls down. I’m not trying to give up my commitments and study the meaning of life but I do want to remember to retain the double consciousness when I am getting frustrated with e-mail strings, project deadlines, and incompatible communication styles. These things matter but the really smart people remember that other things matter more. I appreciate the understanding and compassion from my colleagues at The HistoryMakers and The Mayme Clayton Library and Museum as I stepped away from my role as a fellow for a few days. I came back to work on Thursday, and I am steadily taking on the back log, one step at a time.

On Thursday, Cara and I went over the list of potential tasks for the Southern California Edison group. We were expecting 40 people and Larry had mandated that we utilize them effectively, assigning them the type of work that moves our collection forward. On the morning of the event, we had 15 people show up and a third of them were children with their parents. Cara set one little girl and her mother to work describing the dolls in one of our collections. I took the other four girls and two adults to help me with the book collection and Mayme’s papers. I had the two elementary school aged girls pull the books that were published before 1945 out of our duplicates. They have a value that can be exploited as we de-accession materials from the collection. The two middle school aged girls sorted Mayme’s rolodex and business cards alphabetically and made folders for the “contacts” subseries in the collection. I had the two adults helping me with filing the materials that I had already sorted from the collection. Everyone did an amazing job and helpede to cross those items off of my “to-do” list. We had discussions about the importance of archives and the future of the MCLM; it felt nice to enable other people to be a part of the maintenance of this re-emerging institution.   

The Mayme Clayton Library and Museum currently uses the Cuadra Star database software. The institution originally contracted the software for free, but when the company came under new management, MCLM was essentially priced out of using the software effectively. We have negotiated a deal that allows us to access our materials on a reduced scale for a limited time or until we figure out something else. Alyss had done research on different databases and made recommendations before she left and I have been asked to follow up on it. I have worked with various databases in my past but I have never been involved in an implementation. My immediate thought with the budget constrictions would be an open source software like Archon or Archivists’ Toolkit, but do we have the technological expertise or system requirements to set it up? In between the processing of Mayme’s papers, the managing of volunteers, I am researching the feasibility of various database software packages.  

Friday, 12 October 2012

Week 18: Volunteer-o-rama

During my fifth week at the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum I had an informative staff meeting, met a brand new volunteer and presented at the monthly volunteer meeting.

On Thursday morning, I sat down with Cara, Larry and Gil to discuss the happenings at the MCLM. I was pleased to hear the first agenda item was ordering business cards for me, setting up my e-mail account and issuing me a key to the building. All of these items go a long way in trusting me with the access to this collection, and I am very excited about it. MCLM is a great place to work because I have autonomy and freedom. If someone calls in and asks about a donation, all of a sudden I am in charge of collections development. If a volunteer is looking for a project, I’ll serve as the volunteer coordinator and get them into a task that best suits their interests. The hats that I wear are endless. Having an email account and business cards will give me the confidence to keep moving forward in this capacity.

Also, at this staff meeting, Larry and I had a serious conversation about archival vocabulary. We disagreed on the meaning of appraisal and de-accession. He could not see appraisal as more than a monetary analysis and he assumed that de-accession meant to dispose of. When I meant appraisal as evaluating the relevance of the materials compared to the collection goals and de-accession as in remove for any number of reasons, not destroy. The exchange taught me a valuable lesson in communication skills. If someone does not understand me, I should ask if we are assigning the same meaning to particular words. Some miscommunications can easily be solved in this manner.

On Friday afternoon, my first volunteer for the Mayme Clayton Papers processing project came in for an orientation. Zinnia is a freshman at the local community college and she is studying history. Similar to me at that stage, she was wondering what she would be able to do with a liberal arts degree after college. Of course I expounded on the joys of archival science, but assured her that she would figure it out soon enough. In the meantime, she had just the right temperament and attitude to help me go through Mayme’s boxes. Zinnia will be spending four hours, every Friday helping me with the collection. I am looking forward to getting to know her better.

On Saturday morning, I came to work prepared to address twenty of our faithful volunteers as well as some members of the MCLM board. I prepared a Power Point presentation with a few slides to keep me on track while I was talking. I talked about how to pronounce my name, where I am from, my academic background, and my interest in archives. I told them about archival methodology and how I would need their help with arrangement and description, also known as making folders. I talked about Mayme’s papers and the organizational schema that I had crafted. It was all very impressive. At the end, I asked for them to sign up…six people did. That is six more than I had before and I will be following up with them next week. I’m very comfortable in my role as a supervisor because I have done exactly what I am asking them to do. In fact, I am continuing to sort and make folders in every spare moment that I can find. I had heard about how phenomenal the MCLM volunteers are and I do not think that I will be disappointed.      

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Week 17: Back to School

During my fourth week at the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum, I completed my first long distance HistoryMakers evaluation, gave a tour of the MCLM, supervised a researcher, and participated in the 3rd Annual HistoryMakers Back to School Program.

This week, we had a researcher who was studying black religion in southern California from 1900 to 1910 for his dissertation. One of his angles was checking for religious topics in the black newspapers from the time. He referenced Charlotta Bass in his proposal because she was the editor of the “The Eagle” at that time. This researcher from Cal State collected a significant amount of information from the editions of “The Eagle” that we had on hand. One of my previous interviews, Walter Gordon, Jr. was a civil rights lawyer who grew up in southern California. Gordon wanted to date Charlotta Bass’ niece back in the 1920s, but while he was pursuing her she decided to pass as white and not associate with him or any of her black relatives. In addition, Mayme Clayton’s papers include an obituary of Charlotta Bass. The opportunity to evaluate interviews with a regional focus has been very beneficial for me as a new resident of Los Angeles County and working with a collection that is rooted in southern California.

Dr. Ebenezer Bush (my 10th interview) is a dentist in Compton, CA. He is a Howard University, and Tuskegee University alum, with roots in Shreveport, Louisiana. Dr. Bush’s trajectory was very impressive to me. His journey from rural poverty to college, the army, and out to California to start his own dental practice was inspiring. On account of his age and his ambition, he was able to cross paths with some of the greatest African American figures of the 20th century, including Dr. Charles Drew and Dr. George Washington Carver. Dr. Bush’s life is a great example of being proactive in the world. He focused on the problems and people that he could make a difference with and was relentless in the pursuit of giving help to others.

I also gave my first tour of the museum this week. The group of three was very friendly and they showed a great amount of enthusiasm as I took them through the processing rooms with newspapers, magazines, sheet music, books, photographs, and scrapbooks. One of our volunteers, Carol, accompanied me throughout the second half of the tour and filled in some of the information that I forgot to say. It turned out that members of the group had spent time in Chicago and Tucson, so we had a nice chat about that. The group gave the museum a cash donation and the older gentleman gave me his card, in order to be put on the mailing list. He was a professor emeritus in mathematics from UCLA. I am very proud of the strength of this collection; people are always impressed by the breadth of materials included.

On Friday morning, I drove to KIPP Scholar Academy on the South side of Los Angeles for the Back to School Program. Two little girls walked me to the room for the presentation, every child had on a uniform, and they were listening to their principal discuss the behavior expectations for the presentation. She told them that they had to track the speaker, sit up straight, and raise their hands before asking a question, and if they did not do any of those things then they would be in her office to face the consequences.  I had prepared exactly what I wanted to say on notecards, but when I arrived everyone was so casual, I decided to speak without them. I was able to spend a few minutes conversing with the HistoryMaker, Mr. Steve McKeever. Mr. McKeever is an entertainment lawyer, turned record producer, from Chicago, Illinois. 

The principal introduced Mr. McKeever before I could tell her that I was supposed to introduce him. However, he went ahead and explained that I was going to say a few words before he began. It worked out really well, because I was linked (in sequence, at least) to the amazing stories that he told. Mr. McKeever discussed his desire to be in the entertainment industry from an early age and how his parents encouraged him to get an education first. He told the students how he knew Barack Obama and Stevie Wonder. The best part was when he shared his iPhone video of Stevie Wonder in a cherry picker 45 feet in the air feeling Dr. King’s face and the inscription on the MLK monument in Washington, D.C. When the presentation was over, I toured the school with Mr. McKeever and the principal, Tiffany Moore. They are doing amazing things at this school, and I was happy to have an inside look at the power of dedicated educators.

Archives Tour: Columbia College's Center for Black Music Research

Columbia College’s Center for Black Music Research Center – Chicago, Illinois
July 27, 2012

Monica O’Connell is the executive director. Suzette works in the Blues Library and she is retiring in September. Janet is an archivist and she coordinated an HBCU survey under an NEH grant. Laura Lee Moses is a musician, composer, archivist and music librarian in the digital library program.

Talib Hakim and Glen Burley are two of the musicians featured in the collection. Music archivists have to find out if a given pieces is written for clarinet or piano, if it is published or not, or if the piece contains performance notes. They have legacy finding aids that were not produced with DACS. They also have an oral history project about Jazz in the United Kingdom. The collection includes materials as diverse as dance materials, Paul Robeson recordings, and pieces that are significant in the United States, United Kingdom, and the Caribbean. Edmund Thornton Jenkins Papers are housed here. Jenkins played jazz influenced orchestral music (Charles-tonia) and he was the first Black man to have played music overseas.

They employ open source software. Duke University uses Data Accessioner, the Center for Black Music Research copies that model with the free download. This library has also toyed with using Word Press as a content management system. The Center for Black Music Research uses an Omeka program on a Linux server for virtual exhibits. The staff employs usability surveys with teachers, students, conference participants, and faculty members. 

Columbia’s Black Music Research Center was started in 1983 by Sam Floyd. Floyd was an idea man. In 1990, they received a grant to start the library. They bought 500 LPs and 1000 books. In 1995, they added an education component, performances, conferences, research in the community and the international research fellowships. In between 1995 and 2005, they have had three series of Rockefeller Fellows. They also give five day travel fellowships and offer a membership program.

The Center for Black Music Research is faced with the challenge of showcasing their collection in the digital environment. They also have to show their relevance in the context of college admissions (enrollment, retention, etc.). They are no longer able to just collect and encourage research because it is important; they have to broaden their outreach and education programming. In the most recent battle for their existence they have been forced to come up with their own funding. This is a challenge faced by most collections that are culturally specific.

Best Practices
Suzette shared her collecting policies. Archivists should know what their communities want, know their potential donors and be patient with the process. She encouraged us to download forms from the SAA website. They have gift agreement and copy request forms. In some cases they have re-designed the forms to make it easier for the donors to understand. Researchers are advised that they must get permission from the owners to use the materials. The staff at the Center for Black Music Research realize that the compositions are the artists’ livelihood, and they need to protect themselves, so they leave copyright in the hands of the researcher.  Most of the approved uses of the materials in the collection are protected under section 107 (fair use) and section 108 (reproductions by libraries and archives) They also keep statistics (a paper trail) of who uses the center, and encourage researchers to check out scrapbooks, or correspondence in addition to the music materials.