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.

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