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.     

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