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.  

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