Saturday, 26 January 2013
In my 21st week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I received more direction on my exhibit, discussed the collection hierarchy, and took responsibility for another history undergraduate intern.
The Audio Assault exhibit continues to be an exercise in unlocking the curator’s imagination. On the positive side of the equation, my narrative is becoming much more intuitive to me. I can clearly express what I want the visitor to experience at each section of the exhibit. When I came to work on Tuesday, I went about measuring the space to determine if the content that I had selected would be sufficient to populate the walls. I haven’t taken a math class in a decade but my calculations left me feeling like I needed more content. I brought my concern to Larry and he told me that I did not need to crowd the walls to get a message across; 3-4 powerful images or quotes would give the desired effect. The better question was if I was satisfied with the quality of my selections, rather than the quantity. For example, I want the beginning of the exhibit to demonstrate how the tension between the races was mounting in the mid to late 60’s and I currently had some portrait images of Medgar Evers and students picketing. A person would have to know that Medgar Evers was assassinated in his driveway and non-violent protesters were met with fire hoses and attack dogs to get the message, the imagery should make the sentiment more obvious to the viewer. It is my task to consult more items in the collection, and see if someone besides me could understand the perspective that I am trying to illustrate. Other topics that we discussed were the manipulation of images to make people step back and take something in or lean in closer to read something smaller. All of these techniques and strategies will have to be employed to give people a dynamic Black Power experience in the hallway of this de-commissioned courthouse.
On Saturday, two of my favorite museum worker bees, Greta and Eric, came in to talk about the Online Archive of California and how materials were organized within the archive. I like working with Greta and Eric because they both have graduate degrees in library science with a concentration in archives and we tend to speak the same language about the status of the collections. As Greta and Eric have been working through our catalog and trying to determine which collections are ready for upload to OAC, they have come across entries that don’t seem to meet the criteria of a traditional candidate for collection level description (finding aids). For example, there is a woman who donated a cookie jar to the museum, I’m not sure what the historical significance was, but it was accessioned by the staff at MCLM at some point. Should this item have its own finding aid? Greta suggested that we have a general “artifacts” collection and describe these random items from random donors at the item level. Eric mentioned that sometimes one item could warrant its own collection because we would not want to bury something significant like a signed first edition copy of Phyllis Wheatley’s “On Things Religious and Moral” in the list of book materials of a finding aid. Greta countered with the power of EAD and the semantic web; anything that we upload on EAD will be fully searchable. If you are looking for that special book, as long as the <unittitle> tag reads the book’s title, and <objecttype> tag reads book, it will pop up regardless of its status as an item in a series or the title of a collection. I took in everything that they were saying and told them that there were many ways to answer the questions; it was just going to take one person to make a decision and get everyone on board with the reasoning. I’ve never had to generate policies in an archival setting and as many examples as I consult, the decision has to be the option that makes the most sense for MCLM. My work is definitely cut out for me.
Throughout the week, Cara and I had been discussing what to do with Kathy, the second history intern from UCLA. The first one, Susan, is helping me with the Audio Assault exhibit. Kathy has been bounced around at the museum for the past two Saturdays, helping us to greet visitors and answer the phones. I knew that she needed something more substantial to make her internship more valuable. On Friday afternoon, it occurred to me to have her process the six linear feet that compose the Antoinette Culpepper architecture collection. I have been intrigued by this collection ever since I started working at MCLM. I found the six boxes while I was going through Mayme’s papers and based on the art deco style block handwriting contrasted with Mayme’s loopy cursive, and the persistent focus on buildings and drawings, I knew that these materials did not belong with Mayme’s papers. To add to the intrigue, MCLM has a “blueprint” collection that is only composed of drawings from a firm with “Culpepper” in the title. There is very limited information in the finding aid about the blueprint collection, so I think that Antoinette’s files will add more of a context for that collection. Kathy has eight more weeks with us, so I am going to supervise her processing of these architecture records. On Saturday, I gave her a crash course archival methodology and told her that we would go through it one step at a time, starting with a survey. Based on her notes, she has a pretty good idea of how to identify the material types, subjects, dates, and proper names that we might use to arrange and describe the collection in the next step.
Thursday, 24 January 2013
Professional Development: December 11, 2012
Virginia Historical Society - Richmond, VA
Dr. Lauranett Lee is the curator of African American History at the Virginia Historical Society. Her research interests include 19th century American history, slavery and genealogy. She spearheaded the Unknown No Longer project. Dr. Lee has her terminal degree in history and taught college courses before joining the Virginia Historical Society. Paige Newman is an assistant archivist at the Virginia Historical Society. Paige volunteered at the Virginia Historical Society before becoming a full time staff member. Both Paige and Dr. Lee agree that Virginia is a great place for archivists because of its rich history. Along with five interns, two volunteers, and Meg, the digitization specialist, the Unknown No Longer came into existence.
Virginia Historical Society
Virginia was the largest slave holding state in the union. The Virginia Historical Society was established in 1831, around the Nat Turner slave revolt. As a result, many of the slave records were not included or destroyed. In spite of that attempt to repress historical information, VHS has an abundance of slave holding records.
Unknown No Longer
Unknown No Longer is a free, online, database that lists the names of 10,000 slaves. Researchers can enter the first name, last name or plantation name of a slave and anything that the Virginia Historical Society has, located within their collections will pop up. Most of the names that have been found so far were located in the personal papers collections at the Virginia Historical Society. They considered open source software for the database platform but they did not feel confident that their data would be secure. This is why they chose Helium as the company that would help them to design the database. Other companies that they consulted with are mentioned in the related resources tab. The Virginia Historical Society is still looking for funding to increase the utility of the database. Since there are over 8.5 million items in the Virginia Historical Society and an estimated 500,000 slaves in Virginia, there is still a great deal of work to be done.
The processing staff reads through correspondence, wills and deeds to discover the names. Dr. Lee spent most of her time weeding through lists; while Paige extracted names from more complex documents. The Library of Virginia has similar records as the Virginia Historical Society but they try not to digitize their materials in order to keep the database autonomous. The team is more interested in cleaning up the data that they have rather than growing without quality. They try to improve entries by researching multiple collections and indicate any uncertain names with brackets. The Virginia Historical Society has tried to incorporate volunteers into their workflow; without much success
Most of the people who use the database are searching for their ancestors. The users communicate with each other and the staff on the message boards and there is usually a spike in usage after a media release.
On account of the generous grant from Dominion Power, the staff of the Unknown No Longer project can take their show on the road. They have great relationships with public libraries, historical societies, and genealogy groups. Their interactions with the community allow descendants of slaves and slave owners to see their history in a different context. The staff has also presented Unknown No Longer in sessions for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives. Dr. Lee’s placement on various boards and commissions also allow for a greater dissemination of the resources of the Virginia Historical Society.
Title: Volunteers in Archives: Free Labor, But Not Without Cost
Author: Kevin B. Leonard
Publication: Journal of Library Administration (52:3-4, 313-320)
There are many articles about volunteers in archives; here is a sampling; ALA, 1971; Carmichael, 1990; White, 1993; Randle, 1994; Frevert, 1997; Potter & Martin, 2006; Stanford & Meyer, 2011. This particular article stresses the importance of staff members understanding institutional goals and communicating them to volunteers. The Mayme A. Clayton Library is run exclusively by volunteers and I am concerned that their talents and time are not being used efficiently. There are quite a few objectives that we have identified and there are intelligent individuals who volunteer with us every week, how come we are not any closer to our objectives? Leonard encourages us to identify short term (interns) and long term (retirees) volunteers and give them tasks that are reflective of their level of commitment to the institution. We can’t take volunteers for granted; we have to hold them to the same standards as salaried employees. As soon as an appropriate task is identified, volunteers must be thoroughly trained and held accountable to their schedules and the quality completion of that task. Besides the obvious benefit of free labor, many volunteers can contribute with new perspectives, community ties, or technical skills. I think that we at MCLM blur the lines of personal and professional relationships with some of our volunteers, which makes it difficult to stick to firm assignments and critiques. Everything is so casual, some volunteers are not willing to do the work that we have available or spend their time socializing instead of working. Leonard also mentions that, for the safety of the collection, staff should set up work schedules and perform background checks. Volunteers should not just be relegated to the menial tasks, with proper training they can work with more complex tasks. Overall the article seems to say, the more that we invest in our volunteer (training) program, the more that they will be willing to do for us, and the collection will better be able to move forward.
All suggestions and comparisons were derived from Mr.Leonard's article.
Sunday, 20 January 2013
In my 20th week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I pulled materials for my Audio Assault exhibit, facilitated a Collections Advisory Board meeting, and discovered letters from Marcus Garvey’s widow, Amy Jacques Garvey, in Mayme’s papers.
The planning for the Audio Assault exhibit continues to illuminate my understanding of historic events and the curating process. My exhibit follows this line of thinking: The situation was looking pretty bad for blacks in America in the 1960’s due to segregation, violence, and racism…Zoom to Watts, California, a microcosm of the nation, with the same problems exploding into the rebellion of 1965…Black power emerges as a salve for the pain of the past and an affirmation for self-determination into the future…Zoom to “Wattstax” a benefit concert held at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1972 featuring the most soulful, popular and progressive artists of the time, commemorating the 7th anniversary of the Watts Rebellion….Other popular artists and record labels begin to record songs and speeches that are more aligned with this notion of Black Power…Spoken word artists start writing and verbalizing their points of view which struck chords with many young Black men and women….Jazz musicians begin to create compositions that respond to the injustices of the day and challenge the status quo of the genre…This exhibit will have shown how creative pursuits, such as music and poetry, can uplift and unify a community through some of the toughest times. I pulled scrapbook pages, photographs, press releases, census tracts, posters, albums, protest buttons, and newspapers out of the MCLM collection to be assessed for inclusion in the exhibit. Larry and I are selecting the items that most strongly demonstrate the messages that I am trying to convey and manipulate them for use in the exhibit. There is still so much to discuss in terms of text panels, item selection, and exhibit installation but the pulse of the idea and the materials makes me feel like we are on to something big.
Saturday morning marked the first of many MCLM Collection Advisory Board meetings. I had been emailing this group since last October and the duplicate book project. Larry had asked me to schedule a meeting so that we could re-engage them with the museum and give them all the updates in person. I had six members RSVP to show up in person and one joined us via Skype. We started with introductions, moved on to staff and building updates, and then began our planning session. One member was unsure if the museum was open for researchers at this point, which led to an action item of updating our website with the pertinent information for researchers. When I discussed our work toward making the collection available through the Online Archives of California, the members were enthusiastic and encouraged us to include unprocessed collections because researchers may still be interested in sifting through materials. The group requested that I provide a full collection summary in time for the next meeting so that they can help us prioritize which collections should go up on OAC. When I think about the entire collection and its state of disarray, my head begins to sway a little. I have looked through the deeds of gifts before to get a handle on how many collections we have here at MCLM before but the way that they are accessioned and described makes it very confusing. Since the board is depending on me for the information, I will do my best to ask questions and figure it out within the next couple of weeks. Overall the meeting was productive. The group was enthusiastic about our strides in providing access to the collection and empathetic to our funding and staffing shortfalls. We will be meeting again on February 23, 2013.
Although I am not able to spend hours in the back processing Mayme’s papers, some volunteers are continuing to work on the project. One of our new volunteers Paula caught on to the system very quickly and spent Saturday working through a box of materials. It was to my surprise when I was giving a tour and she interrupts to show me a folder full of correspondence. The letters are to Professor Ted Vincent from Amy Jacques Garvey. Over the summer I had read, Negro in a Hat, a biography of Marcus Garvey, written by Colin Grant and I remember Mrs. Garvey very well. She was a formidable force in the United Negro Improvement Association. While Mr. Garvey was on the road with speaking engagements, getting arrested, or being forbade from re-entering the United States, she was making decisions and giving speeches at the UNIA headquarters in Harlem, NY. Mrs. Garvey was also the mother of Garvey’s two sons. Although their courtship and marriage was not always harmonious, she was a big part of Garvey’s rise to prominence. I recently read that Ted Vincent was a white “black nationalist” who earned his MA from UC Berkeley and taught a black history course at Merritt College in Oakland, CA. Black Panther founder, Huey P. Newton was in his class in 1964. According to these letters, when Mr. Vincent was writing “Black Power and the Garvey Movement (1970)” he asked Mrs. Garvey for her stories and opinions. Mrs. Garvey seemed to comply and also gave him tips on his writing conventions. There are probably 20-30 letters in the folder dated 1969 until 1973. The scope of Mayme’s collecting patterns will never cease to amaze me.
Sunday, 13 January 2013
In my 19th week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I worked with Richard Pryor photographs, continued planning for the exhibit, and re-focused my work at the museum.
Our work with the Richard Pryor documentary has given me some hands on exposure to what it means to be an archive. I find myself asking how valuable is our place as a conduit between the creators and the consumers of information. On a philosophical level, I would love for everyone in the world of museums, libraries and archives to earn competitive wages and provide information to the masses for free. Of course this is not the case, my colleagues struggle to find gainful employment in our field and access to information often goes to the highest bidder. Our dealings with the documentary are two fold so far. There are images in our photograph collection that we own the rights to, and we are negotiating a licensing agreement with the producers. Then there are images and articles from Jet and Ebony magazine that they want to source from us. In addition to their licensing fees, how much would Johnson Publishing Company charge to have one of their employees find every Richard Pryor article or image from 1970 until 1982, and scan it at 1200 dpi? Does this count as research? What is the fee schedule for this type of service? MCLM makes many of these decisions on a case by case basis and it is not up to the archivist, necessarily. I see monetary value in the human resource that located the magazines and made the large file scans, as well as the simple existence of a local source that has what they are looking for. I don’t think many people work in archives for the money, but these are critical items to get a hold over as an independent research institution without an endowment or a consistent funding source.
My dalliance in the world of exhibit planning continues. Over the break I had put together some section ideas for the “Listen, Whitey” exhibit based on the space, the book and my work with Lloyd’s record collection. I even gave the new exhibit a name, “Audio Assault”. When Larry and I sat down to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the initial proposal, he encouraged me to give the idea of black power more of a context, draft a narrative that would walk people through the installation, and identify the main learning outcomes. I spent a great deal of time this week considering his feedback and working on this narrative. Larry also shared with me the planning documents from the museum’s last major exhibition, “Get on Board” detailing the eleven young Freedom Riders who rode a bus from Los Angeles to Houston in attempts to de-segregate the interstate traveling facilities. Two things about these documents encouraged me. One was that the exhibit focused on those young people, many who were still alive and engaged with the museum for the exhibit. This part of the Civil Rights story could best be told in Los Angeles and was very relevant to the community here. The second is that those documents were very similar to the ones that I have been working on for “Audio Assault”. The narrative “Get on Board” piece was ten pages with the Freedom Riders providing the climax of the story, and the design document identified content sections and the visual/audio elements of each one. The rare records and the action in Watts are the parts of the Black Power Movement story that can best be told by MCLM. I have already mapped out visual/audio elements of the exhibit; I just need to format the descriptions to match the industry conventions. I plan to spend the upcoming week digging through the collection to find more pieces to include in the exhibit.
|Posters, photographs, and newspapers from the MCLM collection|
The completion date for “Audio Assault” is February 7th, which is right around the corner. To this end, I have to be very focused on moving forward with the exhibit, at the expense of all of my other projects. I believe that the MLIS graduate students who are interning at MCLM can move forward with the Online Archives of California (OAC) project. I identified Greta as a point person who can communicate with OAC, Cuadra Star database, and the staff (Cara, Larry and me) about MCLM becoming a contributor and submitting some finding aids. I really regret not being able to commit 100% to this initiative, but Greta is a problem solver and has the technical background to be successful. I put together a binder of everything that I have done so far, mainly composed of sample finding aids for similar collections from other OAC contributors, information about collections that I think would be good candidates for upload, paperwork for becoming a contributor, my Google analytics information, and a log sheet for her to keep records about what she will be able to accomplish. I also relinquished any control over volunteer tasks, including the processing of Mayme’s papers. Lastly, I have let Mr. Woods know that the processing of the LGBTQ collection will not start until the second week of February, at the earliest. I know that I will still be answering questions and be pulled in many directions at the museum, but I hope that my demonstrated “clearing of the plate” will make it easier for me to stay dedicated to the task at hand.
Monday, 7 January 2013
Happy New Year!
In my first week back at the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum, I did some preliminary investigation of the Online Archive of California, worked on my Richard Love evaluation, and re-engaged with the volunteers.
Even before I arrived in Los Angeles, my predecessor, Alyss, told me that the museum would benefit from becoming a part of the online digital archive of California. I am very comfortable with this idea because my first foray into archives involved a similar project in Arizona. With the advent of EAD, it only takes a little bit of training for institutions to transform their finding aids into a format that can easily be integrated into a centralized website. These websites are ideal for researchers and provide an extraordinary amount of exposure for small archives. My biggest challenge in becoming a contributor to California’s OAC is producing finding aids that are reflective of the work that has been done and conforms to current archival standards. Most collections have been processed at the item level in the form of inventories. While these make great container lists, more work needs to be done with archival arrangement, scope and content, as well as biographical/historical notes. I don’t necessarily have the time to do the research and contact the donors to obtain the relevant information for every collection. However, I have identified three collections that just need a little bit of tweaking to be ready for submission; The Barryte, Broussard and Dismukes Doll Collection, The CAAGS Collection and The Rex and Roberta Ragan Collection. Hopefully we can breeze through the paperwork and get these materials online within the next few weeks and if I am really lucky, I’ll finish the Mayme Papers and submit the finding aid before the end of the fellowship.
I have been working on my Richard Love HistoryMaker interview for the past couple of weeks. Richard Love is the founder of The Long Beach Times newspaper. He is originally from Hahira, Georgia and spent time in Florida and Colorado before settling in California. Mr. Love is an interesting character, his views on economic development and the racial problems in America are a little intense for my taste, but I respect his contribution to the black community in Long Beach. One example of a controversial opinion that Mr. Love has is that cigarette and alcohol companies should not be the advertisers (sponsors) of important black programs or events. He cites Budweiser as an inappropriate sponsor for the concert to raise money for the United Negro College Fund. As I am processing Mayme’s papers, I can see that the Miller Brewing Company was a sponsor of her independent filmmaker’s grant program for twenty years. The prospect of earning $3,000, $2,000, or $1,000 dollars as a black filmmaker brought information requests flooding through the doors and gave Dr. Clayton a chance to help young people in their creative pursuits. As noble as her cause was, it would not have been lifted off the ground without the support of a beer company and I’m glad that she didn't refuse in an attempt to maintain an impractical moral high ground.
As soon as we opened the doors on Thursday, January 3, we were responding to phone messages and welcoming our volunteers back to the museum. Michael has made incredible progress on the duplicate book project. I imagine that I will have to break the news on how he needs to break down the 75 boxes that he has emptied over the last month. For now, we’ll keep the shelving and data entry momentum going. As of today we have 25 boxes full of true duplicates. Lena has finished her inventory of the Rex and Roberta Ragan collection and I gave her a template for a finding aid. Adell kept cataloging books and Sandra spent Saturday following up with our new members, thanking them for their donations and asking which size t-shirt they want. Irene and Christal helped us to put return the materials from the previous exhibits into their respective homes. I also spoke to Keith about his work at California State University at Northridge which includes a significant amount of photographs from African American photographers. I offered to share his contact information with the Richard Pryor documentary folks because they have some images of the comedian. Keith was also intrigued by the potential “Listen, Whitey” exhibit and offered to help devise some listening stations. Once again, the volunteers are a consistent source of inspiration for why we do what we do is so important.