Monday, 25 February 2013

Week 37: Archives Rock Star

In my 25th week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I supervised volunteers at a jazz concert, facilitated a collections advisory board meeting, and gave two presentations about the collection.

On Thursday, we hosted our third jazz duet featuring Karen Briggs and Patrice Rushen. Cara had stayed late for the last two evening programs, and asked me if I could take care of this one. We agreed that I would come in late, anticipating a long night based on the high volume of patron phone calls that we received about this concert. The evening started with a greeting from Patrice’s bodyguards who wanted to make sure that the building was secure, I assured them that it was. I printed the ticket lists and found the drink tickets, petty cash for change and our credit card forms for the registration table. We opened the “bookstore” which features our MCLM merchandise and some books and DVDs that past presenters have left for us to sell. I had Nancy at registration, Paula as a greeter, and Sandra in the bookstore. After 15 minutes, Sandra informed me that she did not like the bookstore assignment, so she went to registration and I covered the bookstore before the concert, and during intermission. We turned the lights off in the hallway and opened the courtroom doors so that late arrivals could get in without interrupting the performance. I watched some of the show, completely spell bound. Karen Briggs has a HistoryMaker interview on the website, and with her locks pulled up in a high ponytail and a violin at her neck, I could see how she dazzled international audiences. Patrice Rushen was a protégé of Herbie Hancock and even though most know her as a vocalist from, “Forget me nots”, she is an extraordinary instrumentalist; she played the piano for us on Thursday. At 11:00, the music was over and our guests had filed out and I thought it would be time to go home; but I still had to chat with volunteers, return all of the materials to their proper place, and help Larry set up the audio equipment for the weekend activities at the museum. By midnight, I was headed home completely understanding of Cara’s request to take a night off.

On Saturday, I left home early to pick up coffee and donuts for the second Collections Advisory Board meeting at 9:00. At our last meeting, I was tasked with putting together a collection summary, and submitting it to the group so that we could discuss collection processing priorities this month. I spent a great deal of time drafting documents that would help me understand and then communicate to them how collection materials flow through the museum. I drafted an appraisal policy, processing workflow, collection summary, and percent processed document to facilitate the discussion. I prefaced the talk with an admission that I am an archivist, who is pre-occupied with logic, processes and order. The group is composed of professors, historians, researchers and a filmmaker; I needed their help to determine the best direction for my energy, based on their respective experience and knowledge of the collection. The group very quickly came to the consensus that the Mayme A. Clayton Collection of African American History and Culture was the only priority in terms of processing. I explained that the collection must be over 500 linear feet and includes series that are still being processed at an item level (magazines and books) and series that have barely been described (manuscript and sculpture). They confirmed; we needed to get a hold of the entire thing before we moved on to Black LGBTQ, Diane Watson, Marilyn White, etc. I knew that I had a strong handle on Mayme’s papers, but I was more than a little floored about accounting for the rest of her materials in a finding aid. However, what came out of my mouth next belied that thought, “I’ll assess the situation, re-direct our volunteers, and have it done before the end of my fellowship”. The meeting went on to discuss funding sources, website, digitization, student internships, publicity and variety of other important topics. When we got to the end and identified action items that we would be responsible for, I explained that I would work very hard to accomplish the goal and communicate any challenges to its attainment in the meetings that we have ahead. The poet and filmmaker, S. Pearl Sharp, kindly told me to focus on making it happen and not even consider failure; so we shall see how this all turns out.

On Saturday and Sunday, I represented MCLM to two different community groups. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) was having a luncheon for their current and future members in our “great room”. The “great room” is the site of our Jacob Lawrence exhibit. During the introduction the coordinators asked me to share more about the museum, and give a little information about Jacob Lawrence. I told the audience about Dr. Clayton, my role on the staff, and encouraged them to volunteer with us. I pointed out the how the Jacob Lawrence prints were grouped by series, Toussaint L’Overture, Migration, Builders, Hiroshima, and Genesis, and explained the context. I returned toward the end of the program to lead a tour of about 20 people through the museum. They seemed very enthusiastic and many planned to submit volunteer paperwork in the weeks ahead, it was a great group of individuals. On Sunday, I joined Lloyd Clayton and one of our volunteers, Herb, to present at the Village Green. The Village Green is an expensive and verdant cluster of condominiums in Baldwin Hills. It was built in 1942 and was declared a historic landmark in 2001. For black history month, one of the coordinators invited us to share some artifacts and stories with the community members. There must have been 80 people in the room as Lloyd shared anecdotes about his mother and I talked about our programs and collections. Afterwards, dinner was served and many people approached us with comments and questions about getting involved. Between, Saturday and Sunday, the most common comment was, “If I had known about your organization I would have been involved a long time ago”. We seem to be getting people on board one program at a time.

Audio Assault Update: Due to a film shoot on February 27 through March 1st, the walls will need to be painted and we are still waiting on the text panels. In the meantime, the buzz is starting…..   

Monday, 18 February 2013

Week 36: RE-Imagine

In my 24th week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I talked with the donors of two significant collections, gave two presentations on the importance of Black archives, and worked on my exhibit into the wee hours of the night.

I know that working with donors can be one of the more trying aspects of being an archivist but in the cases of C. Jerome Woods and Marilyn White, it was a true delight. Mr. Woods is the donor of the Black LGBTQ collection here at MCLM. The collection is on deposit and Mr. Woods is supposed to find some volunteers to help him process the materials, with minimal instruction from me.  Although, I have had the organizational schema designed for months, it was becoming apparent that we would need to go through the first few sessions together. On Tuesday, we sat down and went through three boxes of materials. I tweaked the schema several times as I listened to him explained why he kept various items. We properly labeled the folders and filled two boxes with neatly organized materials. I was happy that I was able to keep him on task as well as incorporate his expansive knowledge on the subject matter. At this point, our biggest challenge is finding containers for the diverse assortment of materials. On Saturday, I had the pleasure of meeting a silver medalist from the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Marilyn White. She participated in the 4x100m relay, and an interesting fact is that she lost her shoe during the race and never stopped running. Another fascinating fact about Mrs. White is that she beat Wilma Rudolph in a foot race in 1963. After her track career, she was an educator for 40 years, a poet, a vocalist, a breast cancer survivor, a motivational speaker, and a genealogist that can trace her lineage back to 1842. Mrs. White had donated her collection of books and genealogical materials to MCLM a few years ago. Since the majority of her collection is books, the processing has been stalled until we finish with Mayme’s books. She talked to me about possibly sending more pieces of her home collection to us in the near future. I need to take a look at the 25 boxes that are currently located in our “newly accessioned” room and see how the new materials can be integrated.  I am supposed to call her next week, but after 4:00 PM because she is busy exercising for the majority of the day.    

I prepared a Power Point presentation on the importance of Black Archives for my speaking opportunities at the California African American Genealogical Society (CAAGS) and New Name Baptist Church this week. For CAAGS, I presented along with Marilyn White on the topic of memory. Mrs. White was recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease which makes it increasingly important for her to document everything that she has done and make sure that there is a plan in place for its preservation. The program coordinator, Dr. Edna Briggs thought it would be nice for the CAAGS members to understand the importance of writing about their discoveries and consider leaving a copy in a repository. Mrs. White’s story served as the example and I spent time talking about the collection development and appraisal policies at MCLM. I felt very comfortable with this topic, because I have always considered my work as an archivist as a form of “memory keeping”. Regardless of if we develop Alzheimer’s disease, certain truths can be hidden from us (intentionally or unintentionally), authentic primary source documents bring us closer to the reality of past events. I used the example of Christopher Dorner’s manifesto show that something in writing has the power to change the story, when the key players are not available to express themselves. I also talked about the repositories that the fellows are placed at, institutions from our professional development calls, and the HistoryMakers as the variety of places that members could consider when searching for a place to keep their stories. A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to speak at the New Name Baptist Church as a part of their black history program. I brought a few artifacts and set them up in the foyer of the church. I also addressed the congregation in the announcements portion of the service to share information on Dr. Clayton, our February programming and discuss two of the artifacts that I had brought along. I showed them a framed advertisement from 1856, “Negros for Sale” and another framed concert bill from the 19th century of the Fisk Jubilee Singers in Manchester, England. Afterwards, several people approached me about taking tours and signing up to volunteer. Overall, it was a pleasant experience, and it falls in line with MCLM serving as a community institution. Our collection is supposed to be as available to published authors as “run of the mill” church goers.     

The Audio Assault exhibit is actually happening, albeit not in the way that I had originally anticipated. In my mind, I thought I would design this glorious analysis of the Black Power Movement, make a few phone calls, and then waltz around the museum on the February 16th , sharing my inspirations with the throngs of visitors to our highly publicized and popular new exhibit. Enter reality; there are budgetary and staffing constraints as well as supervisor oversight that made my imagined experience entirely unrealistic. I believe that what actually happened was a valuable learning experience. I spent the week measuring the materials that I wanted to include and explaining my vision to Susan and Gil who would be ordering the plexi glass for me. We are placing our original documents in acrylic plexi to protect them and safely adhere them to the wall. I was also given a substantial amount of edits and revisions to the text panels and quotes that I had chosen for the exhibit, which required some time to work on. The time constraints and costs for photo reproductions were a little too tight, so we decided to use the materials that we have to matte and frame the photographs. We thought that we could paint the introduction graphic on the wall but the artist needed more time than we had to give this week, so that idea is on pause. As soon as we received the plexi, Larry drilled the holes in the edges so that we could place the album covers, posters, and maps in between pieces of plexi and secure them with screws. As soon as the artifacts were safe in the plexi, I had to use a hot glue gun to secure one half of a cleat to the back of the plexi, in order for it to be joined with its other half that would be attached to the wall. Although, we worked until 2:00 AM on Friday night, we were not able to complete the installation by Saturday morning. The new plan is to unveil the exhibit in components. We will keep the original concepts, and put up the items as they become available, it will give our patrons reasons to keep coming back. I must admit that I was frustrated with the last minute nature of the project, but as I look at in retrospect, we are doing the best we can with the resources that we have. There is no professional curator on staff, yet we are committed to creating four interesting and visually stimulating exhibits for our patrons. It is better that we take our time and do it right rather than rush and put something sloppy on the wall.     

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Week 35: Make It or Break It

In my 23rd week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I helped Cara with her exhibit, assisted with our first week of Black History Month programming, and met an impressive young woman.

There are four exhibits debuting at the museum on Saturday, February 16th and all of them requiring our staff to jump into overdrive in order to be ready on time. Cara is the lead on the “Remembering WSBREC” display in the museum. The concept is to showcase Mayme’s collection as it was when she ran her business out of the garage. We have several images of how the space looked, which we are having reproduced in vinyl to adhere to the wall, and we are pulling the books, pictures and memorabilia from the collection that used to populate the space. Cara was asked to make a text panel and pull some Mayme quotes to accent the exhibit. I took her first draft back to my “Mayme Papers processing room” and helped her fill in the gaps. Although WSBREC (Western States Black Research Center) was the most general organization that Mayme founded, it was not the first. Third World Ethnic Books was established in 1972 as a legitimate mail order ethnically diverse book supplier to libraries and universities. The idea to create a non-profit, research organization came a few years later when she realized that she had too many precious African American materials which she did not want to sell. There were other dates and details that I was able to recommend to Cara. It was nice to see the processed portion of the collection, serving a purpose. For example, anything that we would want to know about Mayme’s scholarship program or celebrity golf tournament can be found with ease, it will be especially useful as we continue to tell Mayme’s story.  

The museum has a full slate of programming scheduled for Black History Month. This week we had a jazz concert and a teacher workshop. The jazz concert was on Thursday night and featured, Eric Reed and Charles McPherson. It was amazing to see a grand piano rolled into our large courtroom, glitter and laser lights adorning the walls, and people spread out in the space to enjoy the music. Our volunteers came through like they always do, to greet people and check them in. I only had to pick up the catering for the musicians and print the ticket list. We have three more jazz duets lined up for the month of February, and I think that the turnout is going to continue to grow. On Saturday morning, we welcomed teachers to the museum for a workshop on using primary source documents to teach about abolitionists in their classrooms. We had two professors; one from University of California at Los Angeles and the other from Georgia State University, as well as Larry gave presentations. Our two UCLA interns from the history department did everything that we asked to keep the sessions moving along nicely. This week involved several late nights at the museum, but it was definitely the calm before the storm, as I have twice as many outreach activities planned for the upcoming week.

On Friday, a young lawyer, Shannon Humphrey, came into the museum to ask if she could take “author shots” in our facility. When I asked for clarification, she explained that she had written a book needed to take photos for the author’s portion of the book jacket. As soon as she told me what her book was about, I knew that she was in the right place for her pictures. Ms. Humphrey has written a pre-teen/teenage novel about a super smart, teenaged black female superhero. She told me how the book incorporates a lot of science fiction but it also includes messages about self-esteem, bullying, and striving towards ones’ dreams. I never met Mayme Clayton but I think that she would have a wide grin on her face to see how her collection had cross paths with a concept that was so much aligned with her goals. Dr. Clayton once said that she wanted black children to know that black people had done great things, what is greater than being a superhero? To top it off, I gave Shannon a tour of the museum and she was amazed by the scope and scale of the collection. She gave a small donation and plans to come back for more programs in the future. I will talk to Larry about scheduling her photo shoot, but it was really nice to meet her. You can see more about her forthcoming novel on her website:


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Professional Development Call: Mr. Samuel Black

Professional Development Call: January 24, 2013
John Heinz History Center – Pittsburgh, PA

Educational Background
Mr. Samuel Black went to Wilmington College on a football scholarship and studied Art in the late 1970s.  Black was one of thirteen children and he felt that one of his other siblings was more deserving of his parents’ limited resources, so he dropped out. His father convinced him to return to school. Black chose to attend the University of Cincinnati for its architecture program, he chose electives in the African American Studies department. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in African American Studies, and went on to teach math and science in a Cincinnati middle school. Black decided to return to college in order to earn masters from SUNY Albany in 1991. When he returned to Cincinnati, his teaching job was unavailable so he began working in social services. After working on an oral history project with high school students and meeting an archivist at the Western Reserve Historical Society, Black became interested in archives as a profession.

Professional Involvement
Since the early 1990's, Black has moved to the museum side of the house. He has chaired panels on African American Archives for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASAALH).  Black is currently the president of the Association of African American Museums (AAAM). AAAM is extremely vested in nurturing the next generation of museum professionals. He believes that people should get into the field because it is personally enriching, even if there is not a bunch of money to be made.

Western Reserve Historical Society
Black worked at the Western Reserve Historical Society for 10 years. Black sees the value in working at a place long enough to develop institutional memory. His colleagues at Western Reserve still call him today with questions about the collection. He encourages young archivists to take time to get familiar with the collection, beyond just looking at the finding aid. This practice makes you a better asset for the institution and the researchers.

John Heinz History Center
Black moved to Pittsburgh in 2002 to work as the curator of African American collections at the John Heinz History Center. He was recently promoted to become the Director of African American programs. Black has worked at the John Heinz History Center for 12 years. His current role allows him to; curate exhibits, choose the collections to be acquired, engage with the community and seek funding for the institution. The Center currently has two chief archivists, one curator, and a museum director. The Heinz Center uses PastPerfect software to catalog their materials.

African Americans in Archives
Black spent a few moments reflecting on the black archivists, like Karen Jefferson, Donald West, and Darrell Williams, who were involved in the Society of American Archivists in the early 90s. The currently named Archives and Archivists of Color Roundtable was named ATWAR, standing for African and Third World Archives Roundtable. It was this group that initiated the first HBCU Collection Survey, which was quite groundbreaking at the time. This roundtable was continuing the work of DuBois and Schomberg by collecting materials that document the Black Experience. Diversity is quite critical in our profession. 50 years ago, mainstream institutions began collecting black history as a means to scoop up more funding resources, taking money away from black organizations that had been collecting the history all along. The Association of African American Museums works with many of the smaller museums around the country to ensure that they get what they need to keep their doors open. There are 320 Black museums in the United States.

Best Advice
As a researcher who is working on his third book, Black understands the value in the archivist. He also understands that funding is the biggest challenge in most archival organizations. Leaders of these organizations should look to professional networks to find solutions to funding problems. Black remembers paying for conferences out of his own pocket because it was so important to meet people and develop a network. Even organizations that are supported by government resources can suffer with a shift in politics that could translate to a removal of institutional funds. Developing the skills that will allow you to communicate the value of your work to potential funders is something else that we should all work on. Black’s last piece of advice was for us to be professional by seeing things through.

Samuel Black has curated quite a few exhibits over the course of his career. The fellows took this opportunity to ask him about his methodology. When you have an idea for an exhibit, you must think it through very well. You have to figure out which story you are trying to tell. Creating an outline can be helpful. Black’s signature design elements in his exhibits are typically a piece of art and some sort of music. He is also sure to incorporate archival materials, because there is power in seeing various components of the black experience.  

Monday, 4 February 2013

Week 34: Up, Up, and Away

In my 22nd week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I visited the Boeing plant in El Segundo, talked with a history professor about the Black Power Movement, helped to develop a new strategy for volunteer workflows, and spent the weekend organizing the files on the MCLM hard drive.

On January 31st, MCLM was invited to the Boeing facility by the black employee affinity group. The corporation has “affinity” groups for every ethnicity as well as ones for women and LGBTQ populations. The groups were established to promote diversity and build camaraderie within the corporation. We, along with the president of the African American Firefighter’s Museum were asked to talk to about 120 Boeing employees about our organizations and share how they could get involved with us. During the presentation Larry discussed the history of MCLM and the artifacts that we brought along and I talked about my work with the Mayme papers and encouraged them all to contact me if they were interested in volunteering. After the presentation and the questions, we were treated to a tour of the Boeing facility. I thought that Boeing only made airplanes but their site in El Segundo is actually the largest manufacturer of satellites in the entire world. We had to put on smocks and caps to enter the spaces where engineers were working on various satellites. Our guide, Albert, explained how the “bus” of a satellite is pretty standard but the “payload” is specialized for the client; it could be designed for communications, military, or GPS, for example. Most of the satellites are designed to launch 22,000 miles up above the earth, and orbit for 15 years. They have to withstand 800 degree variances in temperature, not fall apart from the sound or vibration of the rocket, and be able to stay intact without any gravity. We were shown all of the mechanisms that simulate these conditions, and told how every satellite goes through a significant amount of testing before it is approved for a launch. It was very cool; perhaps in another life I would have embraced my high school calculus class and studied engineering in college.

On February 1st, I had a meeting with Mr. Marty Schiesl, a retired history professor from California State University at Los Angeles. Marty has done research at MCLM before and he has a good rapport with Cara. When she told him that I was working on an exhibit about the Black Power Movement, he asked if I would like to set up a meeting to discuss it. I carved out a couple hours of the day to talk to Marty. He was very enthusiastic about the topic and shared quite a few resources with me. Some of the articles, I had already read, a few were new to me. I showed him the book, Pat Thomas’ ”Listen, Whitey”, which inspired us to focus on the sounds of the movement. Marty gave me a copy of one of the book of essays that he edited, “City of Promise: Race and Historical Change in Los Angeles”. I’m reading the essay that Marty wrote about the incidences of police brutality in Los Angeles in the 1950s, and the local government’s refusal to act on the concerns of the black and Mexican American population in Los Angeles. Marty and I agreed that the topic of Black Power was vast and it was a good idea to zero in on a particular aspect of it. He shared that he was currently working on a book about the NAACP in southern California, and the primary sources that he had consulted so far. Lastly, Marty encouraged me to look into employment opportunities in special collections at California State University at Los Angeles after my fellowship because the current archivist is planning to re-locate to Arizona. In all of the fury and logistics of planning the exhibit, it was nice to have a low key discussion about the complexity of the Black Power Movement and why it is important to explore it.

I recently read an article about the challenges that archives have when they delegate collection processing to volunteers. I think that it takes a very cognizant, organized and focused person at the helm to ensure that the output of volunteers is accounted for and moves the collection along. Unfortunately at the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum, all of the full time staff members are pulled in so many directions, volunteers are often left to their own devices. The tasks that they may have been trained on several years ago, are not necessarily the tasks that we have deemed critical at this point. To address these concerns, our team decided to identify the most critical tasks, one of which is answering the phones, and assign volunteers on a daily basis. We tried it out on Friday and Saturday, and I think that there are a few wrinkles to iron out. For instance, cataloging Mayme’s books is on the list, but Greta could not work on that because she was de-fragging computers to make the computers run faster during the cataloging process. Another example is creating scrapbook indices but Carol is the only volunteer that knows where the file is, and the conventions that have been followed up until this point. I feel that is our responsibility to be knowledgeable about every job that we assign to a volunteer, and be able to explain it to whoever comes in on a given day. In my attempt to get a better gauge on where we are in collections processing, I volunteered to manage the files on our external hard drive. I spent the weekend emptying out folders and dragging and dropping files into appropriate locations. There is a lot of work that remains to be done in the maintenance of the hard drive but at least all of the collection inventories are in the same spot and we can begin to set some metrics and see processing progress in a consistent location.