Thursday, 21 March 2013

Week 40: Westside!

In my 28th week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I discussed the museum’s involvement with Project West, applied for the archivist certification exam, and gave several tours.  

Audio Assault Update: We mounted two television screens on the hallway walls this week. We also hung up the “Burn, Baby Burn” map, and seven out of thirty of the albums. I had determined that we needed more plexi frames with the holes drilled in the borders several weeks ago, and we were able to put the order in on Thursday. Upon hanging some of the album frames we saw that the wooden blocks that were holding the items were longer than they should be, essentially needing to be cut in half. The image reproductions, labels, and text panels will be ready on Wednesday, so we should be hanging materials in the upcoming week.    

On Tuesday of this week, I had a meeting with Gregory Everett, the coordinator behind Project West, which is an initiative to tell the history of west coast hip hop. Last spring Larry, Gregory and forty west coast hip hop pioneers met at MCLM to discuss why it is important to collect their stories and which tangible projects could come out of the collaborations. One idea that has gained some traction is a travelling exhibition filled with cultural artifacts from the west coast hip hop scene. Larry encouraged Gregory to use the museum has a headquarters for the collecting of those materials. On Tuesday, Gregory told me more about his ideas and his project, and I showed him some potential spaces for him to meet with donors and work on the exhibition. He also requires space to conduct oral histories. The challenge of choosing a space involves making sure that he will have consistent access, regardless of film shoots, concerts, tours, and not compromise the security of any of our collections. I have also been tasked with going over our deposit agreement paperwork with Gregory so that he can be transparent with his donors about the custodianship of their materials. I will have to consult some archival resources to learn about the best practices for describing a set of turntables and a microphone, donated from a local DJ.    

On Wednesday evening, I finally set down and submitted my application for the Academy of Certified Archivists exam. I had applied for this exam in 2011 and was rejected because I did not have enough experience or a master’s degree with archival concentration. Instead of tossing my goals aside, I moved to Chicago, went to the annual Society of American Archivist conference, and joined Chicago Area Archivists to figure out how to earn what the Academy of Certified Archivists thought I was missing. Fast forward two years, and I am applying for the exam with a bit more confidence. I know that the fellowship will help with future employment opportunities through the work experience and networking, but becoming certified will demonstrate my understanding of the core values and responsibilities of an archivist. If all goes well, I’ll be sitting for the exam in the days before this year’s annual conference in New Orleans. If all goes even better, I will make time to study in the next several months and PASS this year’s exam in New Orleans!

MCLM was full of people wanting tours on Saturday. There are times when I think that there is so much to do to get the collection in order; we should not waste time walking the public through our bare hallways. Days like Saturday make me believe otherwise. When I take visitors to the “Mayme” room and explain how Dr. Clayton wanted black children to know that their people had made positive contributions and she collected material for 45 years, they are impressed. When I share that as Mayme was getting older and the collection was more susceptible to damage in the garage, her son (Avery) began looking for a permanent location for the entire collection, and the day before she died, he told her that he had secured this de-commissioned courthouse in Culver City, BOOM (I drop the microphone), the group erupts with applause! In reality, there is rarely the sound of hands clapping, but people do like to see the story have a happy ending. From there, the tour is really a piece of cake. I show them the volunteer space and how we have processed books, pamphlets, and sheet music. The next stop is the photograph room, where I tell them how Mayme acquired a significant portion of the Sepia magazine photograph archives, and show them a scrapbook of the little known female African American aviator from the 1940’s, Marie Dickerson. Then we go into the magazine room, where they are amazed by the boxes upon boxes of black magazines, that is when I tell them how Mayme had a copy of the first Ebony magazine that John H. Johnson wanted to buy from her, but she refused to sell. I take them to the Jacob Lawrence gallery and spend a few minutes talking about the Hiroshima, Toussaint L’Overture, Migration, Genesis, and Builders series that we are displaying from the Alitash Kebede collection. We walk down the hallway, peek inside the book rooms and I talk about the Steve Buchanan jazz collection. Then we are off to the judge’s chambers and the jail space where I tell them how we use the space to simulate being arrested for non-violent protest, and have school groups sing freedom songs in the jail. We finish in the courtroom where I talk about our monthly movie screenings and other events that are hosted here. This is also where I make the case that the museum does not have any major benefactors and we stay open through grants and donations. Sometimes people donate, other times they ask for volunteer applications, regardless of their next move, they represent a new group of people in the world who know about this incredible woman. My finding aid will just have to wait until next week.      

Week 39: Take a Closer Look!

In my 27th week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I drafted a press release for the Roses and Revolutions Listening Party, welcomed a new volunteer, and conducted an oral history session with C. Jerome Woods and S. Pearl Sharp.

Audio Assault Update: Now that the walls are painted, we brought out all of the materials and determined how we wanted to place them on the wall. Larry and I decided that we needed more images to make the messages from the albums more obvious to patrons. I had searched for these images (police brutality, destruction after Watts riots, and Wattstax artists) in our photograph collection in the past without much luck. I broadened my scope to images from newspapers, pamphlets and books to source the images that we wanted. This time, I found everything that we needed, and they will be scanned, cropped and reproduced for the exhibit.  

Although it pained me to think about other projects while Audio Assault remains unfinished, I am planning the Roses and Revolutions Listening Party for March 30. Roses and Revolutions is an album that was produced by D.S.T. Telecommunication, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. in 1975. Sorority members, Ruby Dee, Nancy Wilson, Leslie Uggams, Roberta Flack, Barbara Ann Teer and others recorded the album to represent a black perspective for America’s bi-centennial celebrations. The record is full of singers and actors reciting poems, performing dialogues and singing songs that represent the black experience in America. The works of Dudley Randall, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, and Countee Cullen, among others are all included. I was introduced to the album by a woman who was touring the museum, and saw me planning for my exhibit, back in January. She loaned the museum a copy of the album for inclusion in the Audio Assault exhibit, and encouraged me to reach out to Dr. Betty Smith Williams, former president of D.S.T. Telecommunications, to learn more about the album. I assumed that everyone would want to know more about the album, so I asked Dr. Williams if she would like to talk about the album with me in front of an audience. She agreed and we are working together on the structure and content of the program. Larry helped me draft a press release that we have sent to media outlets and all of the local Delta Sigma Theta chapters; hopefully we will have a large turnout.
Since Lloyd and I presented at the Village Green for Black History Month, the museum has had an influx of donations and volunteers from this residential community. I gave Carol an orientation/tour on Wednesday this week. Carol is on the schedule for four hours on Thursdays and Fridays. I learned a valuable lesson about volunteers in the archives with Carol this week. When she told me that she liked working with papers and putting things in order, I assumed that putting the LGBTQ publications in chronological order would be a great introductory task for her. I forgot to mention to Carol that there are some sexually explicit pictures and stories in those publications. It did not even occur to me that the imagery and the content would make her uncomfortable. When I went to check on her, she told me that she was taken aback by the materials but she was determined to complete the task. I apologized profusely and offered to re-assign her but she insisted that it was okay. Carol has moved on to other tasks within the museum and sometimes we have a laugh about how I “hazed” her on her first day at the museum. Archival collections are so interesting because our understanding of them is extremely varied depending on who we are in relation to the materials. The Black LGBTQ collection, for example is a pile of papers for me (archivist) to describe, a scrapbook filled with friends for Jerome (donor), something to garner funds from for Larry (executive director), or folders full of lude pictures for Carol (volunteer). In the future, I plan to look outside of my own understanding before I send another volunteer into the archival wilderness.   

The Black LGBTQ project has generated a bit of a buzz around the museum and the collection advisory board, since I have made processing the materials a high priority. One of our board members, S. Pearl, suggested that we record the processing sessions for the museum’s collection. I ran it by Jerome and he was willing, so our session this week included S. Pearl and her recording device. While everyone had the best of intentions, the session was a bit of a bust.  S. Pearl asked for descriptions of everything we touched, Jerome felt at times inhibited and at other times verbose with the microphone, and I was struggling more than usual with staying on task and moving through the materials. In the end, we determined that we needed to identify the purpose of the oral history and stick to a prescribed plan. I believe that the strength of Jerome’s narrative lies in the connections that he can make among various people within the LGBTQ community in Los Angeles, during the 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s. Perhaps we need to pull several items from the collection that will trigger his memories and record the output. I’ll need to work out the details and talk to S. Pearl and Jerome, but I think that it would be a step in the right direction.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Week 38: Providence of Provenance

In my 26th week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I picked a paint color for my exhibit, started gathering data for the Dr. Mayme A. Clayton Collection of African American History and Culture, and discussed a master plan of moving collections around within the building.

Audio Assault is still moving along within the budgetary and staffing constraints of the museum. Out of four shades of red, I chose “blood ink” as the backdrop for the exhibit. I watched for two days as Arturro, the painter, transformed our antiseptic white walls into a warm and inviting exhibit space. 

After last week’s directive from the Collection Advisory Board, I decided to make a chart and start filling it in with top level data about each series in the Dr. Mayme A. Clayton Collection of African American History and Culture. It struck me that none of the archivists before me saw the need for this information. My predecessors went straight to item level inventories for the collection which resulted in disparately formatted spreadsheets for some collections and no information about others. For example, we are very proud of our book collection, and have cataloged close to 10,000 titles but should a researcher come to MCLM looking for a book on agriculture or the fine arts? The answer is, probably not. My analysis reveals that over half of our books fall into two Library of Congress Classification subclasses, History of the Americas (E) and Language and Literature (P). The DACS fields that I am focusing on for the series levels are: scope and content, extent, date, subject headings, and locations. The sixteen series that I identified are photographs, posters, cultural artifacts, sculptures, visual arts, Mayme’s Papers, manuscripts, pamphlets, brochures and ephemera, scrapbooks, serials, rare books, general books, sheet music, CDs/Albums, VHS/DVD, and Film Archives. The last few days have been veritable scavenger hunts in the collection as I open boxes and take notes about the highlights and major descriptors of each series.

Larry and I spent two days this week walking through the museum and talking about strategies for getting a better handle on the collection. In every processing space there are piles of materials that are not labeled or not clearly labeled. Many of the piles are evidence of the work of volunteers who have left, and no one really knows what was supposed to happen to those items. It was difficult to focus on strategy instead of just sitting down and trying to sort out the problem in the moment. As an archivist, my biggest concern about the previous methods of accessioning new materials was the lack of concern for provenance. There is a very specific story related to the accumulation of items by Dr. Mayme A. Clayton who passed away in 2006. Ebony magazines donated from 2010 should not be lumped in with her collection. This is why I took time over the last few weeks to flesh out an appraisal policy and collection summary that would help us determine from the start, how a new accession should be described. There is a still a lot of work to be done in consolidating the spreadsheets and determining the provenance of the collections that we have, but we determined that moving all of Mayme’s materials into the same space would help to sort out some of the confusion. The small courtroom, where I am currently working on Mayme’s papers was the location that we agreed on. My information on extent will be especially helpful as we determine how much shelf space we will have to install to make the entire collection fit. The goal is to move “properly archived” materials into the new space, so there is plenty of work to do while the space is being prepared.