Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Week 45: Power to the People

In my 33rd week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I had a serious conversation with Larry about the end of the fellowship, managed volunteer projects, and provided support for the Black Panther Party Alumni Society event at the museum.

When I came to work on Tuesday, Larry and I sat down and discussed what I could completely finish before the end of the fellowship. I thought that I was doing a good job with managing my time and being willing to do whatever was in my power to make sure that I finished everything in time. Our conversation let me know that the items that were the most pressing to me were not necessarily the most pressing for the museum. For example, I thought that I should endeavor to get complete physical control of all of the materials that represent Mayme’s papers, but Larry convinced me that providing access to what has been identified (through spreadsheets) and finishing the front matter of the finding aid would be a better use of time. We also identified five other collections that were in various stages of completion for me to finish by the end of May. I think that the goal is pretty ambitious but processing collections is very intuitive to me, so there is nothing to it but to do it.

Armed with my new directives, I sought volunteers to help me to reach my goals. Although it has been obvious throughout the duration of this fellowship, managing people is one of the most difficult things to do; throw in some well-meaning volunteers that have no experience and this fellow surely has her hands full. Now that Mayme’s Papers have been identified as a series in Mayme’s enormous collection, the accession numbers and collection name information needs to be changed for every folder that we have made so far. The other change is that some folders need to be put in other series with their corresponding titles and numbers. I explained it to two of my favorite volunteers and left them to get the work done. One had entered the information into the database correctly but did not change the information on the folder, after I explained her mistake and gave her the next box to work on I found that with those files she had labeled each folder with the wrong accession number. I am planning to explain the process better in the future, and check in more frequently. I am scheduling time to go back and fix the errors in these boxes which I figured would be more appropriate than making the volunteer go over her work again. Since cloning myself is not an option and there is no way for me to get through all of that data entry by myself, I am determined to get us all flying on the same wavelength.

On Sunday, the museum welcomed the Black Panther Alumni Association and one hundred of their closest friends and allies for a program. The event included a screening of the film, “41st and Central”, a panel discussion from the Panthers that are featured in the film, and a keynote address from Kathleen Cleaver. The event was complete with art and incense vendors, as well as a drum circle. We had plenty of volunteers to run the check in and direct people throughout the museum, so I was pretty much free to enjoy the program. Our artist in residence, Gregory Everett, directed the film and he had loaned me a copy of it a couple of months ago when I was talking with him about the Black Power exhibit at the museum. I slipped in at the end of the panel discussion where the last comment was about how the struggle was very much alive and we should support the soldiers on the front lines. There was a quick break and then Kathleen Cleaver walked to the podium and made her comments. Mrs. Cleaver is a lawyer, a professor and the former wife of Black Panther Party leader, Eldridge Cleaver. I was impressed with how at ease she was speaking in front this crowd. Her notes seemed to be bullet points scrawled out on a legal pad, she paused and looked to them every so often but her words seemed to flow directly from her memory of events in her life. She talked fervently about young people, Algeria, and the FBI. Mrs. Cleaver kept referring to herself and the rest of her peers as senior citizens and they needed young people to continue the fight for black liberation. There were plenty of current members of the Black Panther Party dressed in black and throwing up their fists whenever they heard something that they liked. Other highlights were Larry taking on the role of auctioneer for the signed reproductions of the former minister of culture from the Black Panther Party, artist Emory Douglas, and a brief appearance from the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Overall the event was a huge success for the museum and I am eager to learn more about the international strands of the movement, after Mrs. Cleaver’s comments.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Week 44: Tilling the Soil

In my 32nd week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I attended an LA as Subject meeting at the Huntington Library, worked on Mayme’s Papers, and facilitated a Collections Advisory Board meeting.

On Tuesday morning, I broke from my normal routine; instead of driving west to Culver City, I headed north towards Pasadena for my first LA as Subject meeting. I knew about the LA as Subject group from last October’s Archives Bazaar, but this was the first meeting that I was able to attend. The Huntington Library is nestled on acres of botanical gardens in the ultra-elite residential community in San Marino, California. While I was waiting for the meeting to start, I engaged in a conversation with a young woman who was very familiar with MCLM and I gave her all the updates. The world of archives is a small one. After the committee updates, we were treated to three presentations from member institutions who were utilizing HistoryPin in their home institutions. The archives staff at Pepperdine University is asking community members to bring their pictures in for scanning and upload to their channel. In the Santa Ana Public Library, librarians asking the youth to take pictures of the downtown areas and posting them on HistoryPin to document the evolution of their communities. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority has taken full advantage of the application because their images are perfectly suited to the geotagging elements of HistoryPin. I remember listening to a presentation from Queens College at the SAA conference last year but these three examples gave me a better sense of its potential benefits and drawbacks. Overall the application is best suited to outdoor images with dates and precise locations, and just like any other social media program it takes a consistent presence to keep adding content, create tours and connect to other contributors.

This week, I was able to give two full days to working on Mayme’s Papers. I looked through every box to be sure that folder names made sense and the headings were written correctly. I divided the content of folders that were filled with too many papers. I introduced new boxes when the current boxes had folders crammed inside of them. I went through the entire contents of the “trash”, “duplicate”, “catalog”, and “office supplies” boxes in the room and put the contents in their respective places. This involved making a few trips to the big dumpster and setting materials aside for Lloyd Clayton to assess. I also brought all of the miscellaneous materials that volunteers had questions about from around the room and from my office to be dealt with, once and for all. I spent the last few hours tagging documents with my little notes on where they belonged within the collection. Some volunteers indicated that they appreciated this effort because they would not have to decide where to put it and it helped them get better acquainted with the existing folder names. I don’t mind doing it because I can move through the piles quickly without getting up to file papers. Although I did not get to open any new boxes because I was resolving all of the “old” issues, the time spent was valuable because it gives me a better sense of how much progress we have truly made.

On Saturday morning, I conducted my third Collection Advisory Board meeting at the museum. Keith and S. Pearl who have attended every meeting, Larry, and a music professor that I was finally able to meet in person, Hansonia, were all in attendance. I always prepare agendas and we always seem to jump around the discussion topics in the meeting. The board approved of my progress with the Dr. Mayme A. Clayton Collection of African American History and Culture and my work toward placing all of the museum’s collections in a specific place with accession numbers. We had a funny tangent about how award plaques can be the worse part of archiving manuscript collections. Hansonia wished that groups would honor someone with a donation to his or her favorite charity instead of giving them a plaque. S. Pearl stated that her friends donate their plaques to local artisans who work with wood materials. The group was not all fun and games. They were not at all satisfied with our plan to use interns to work on our website; they questioned who would supervise the interns and what happens when the interns leave. I understood their concerns and conceded that the issue was not resolved and implored them to help us seek other solutions. In the week before the meeting, Larry and I discussed how to make the board feel empowered to take on projects and report back to us. Anything from finding someone who will help us write our grants to spending a few hours a week running our bookstore are all ways that the board can contribute to our organization. I put all of the action items in minutes that I typed up; time will tell if I have any takers.  


Monday, 8 April 2013

Week 43: Back to Basics

In my 31st  week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I organized Room #13, gave an orientation to our new HistoryCorp intern, and worked on the Antoinette Culpepper finding aid.

After all of the stress and multi-tasking of the Audio Assault Exhibit and the Roses and Revolutions Listening Party, it is now time for me to focus on the deliverables of my fellowship. I have to ask myself what tangible things will I have done by May 31st that leaves the museum in a better position than I found it. I had put together several documents over the last three months that describe how we should accession new materials, label boxes and identify processing priorities but I had not really put these ideas in action yet. My goal for creating these documents was three fold; to make sure that every group of items had a logical place in our collection hierarchy (with respect to provenance), every item could be retrieved quickly, and we would have a greater idea of the extent and scope of our collection.  

Room 13 is the locked room where we house all of our small to medium sized un-processed collections. Up until this week, the collections were placed on shelves haphazardly and their labels corresponded to a database that is currently unavailable to us.  I posted my accession chart on the door and had two volunteers help me label all of the boxes with the appropriate accession numbers and shelve them in accession order. About half way through, I realized that we were not leaving enough space for the collections that were in other parts of the museum and there were more boxes on the ground than on the shelf. The volunteers had left for the day, but I stayed for an additional two hours, moving things around until the spacing made sense and the room was neat. Throughout this process, I questioned whether I was re-inventing the wheel because I did not have the patience to try to understand what had already been done, but I have spent six months trying to see patterns and procedures and have come up with a blank. Based on the encouragement from my executive director, I think the museum was waiting for someone with some initiative and tenacity to apply some order to the well-meaning collecting habits of the museum.  

On Friday, I welcomed Liz, a member of our new crop of HistoryCorp interns from UCLA. Since these two months are my last shot at finishing the Mayme Papers, it qualifies as an acceptable internship project. I am excited to have an extra person give me an additional 8 hours per week on the project. My attention has been shifted to other projects lately, so it was good for me to go over the goals and strategies for tackling Mayme’s papers with Liz. I was able to show her the entire finding aid which includes the posters, serials, books, and other series. I encouraged her to be aware of items that could supplement the biographical/historical note on Dr. Clayton. The plan to get all of Mayme’s materials into the same room is helping me to refine what it is that makes Mayme’s papers a series unto themselves. Liz caught on really quickly, and she could not have come on at a better time in the process.  

I also spent time this week wrapping up the work done by one of last quarter’s UCLA interns. Kathy was able to get the materials in all seven boxes of the Antoinette Culpepper Collection rehoused and labeled according to her own organizational schema. She went above the requirements by writing a short biography of Culpepper with citations to the facts and challenges of being a black female architect in the 70’s and 80’s. I am formatting Kathy’s work into a DACS compatible finding aid, and asked one of our volunteers to enter the container list into an excel document. This finding aid will be one of several items that will expose the wide breadth of material types and content here at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum.  


Sunday, 7 April 2013

Week 41-42: Viva la Revolucion!

In my 29th and 30th weeks at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I interviewed candidates for our internship program, presented at the Roses and Revolutions Listening Party, and visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Several weeks ago, Larry and I drafted job descriptions and announcements for three paid internships at the museum. We were looking for students to tackle social media, public programs, and public relations for us. The response was not as great as we would have liked, but the three that we decided to interview proved to be very enthusiastic and motivated young women. We managed to schedule all three back to back on Saturday. Larry was running late, so I conducted all of Susan’s and half of Laura’s interview by myself. Larry and I both asked questions of our last candidate, Kenna. I have served on selection committees in the past, and all of the questions were prescribed and we would go around the table asking questions and taking copious notes. In this experience, I had researched a few common interview questions to get the session started but the majority of the time was spent asking follow up or probing questions about their responses to my initial questions. I found myself looking beyond a polished resume and trying to imagine how that person would fit into the “work” culture at the museum. Would she have an attitude if we asked her to stuff envelopes or sweep the floor? Could she remain positive about the potential of the museum in spite of negative gossip? How much value did she place on the history and culture of African Americans? It took me four months to get used to how things run at MCLM, and these interns would only have ten weeks to get adjusted and be productive. Larry and I discussed the positive and negative attributes of each candidate and decided that all three would be a good fit here at the museum. I am looking forward to sharing the workload with these bright and capable students.     

For the majority of the past two weeks, I have been focused on Roses and Revolutions Listening Party which was scheduled for March 30th. There was so much that needed to be done. I had to make sure that my videographer was aware of the details and could see how we would be positioned and what the lighting would be like. I was collecting RSVPs from the answering machine and scraps of paper on other people’s desks. I had to make sure that the albums were digitized for easy music cues during the presentation. I also had to scan images from the MCLM collection for the PowerPoint that would be scrolling in the background. The biggest task was making sure that Dr. Williams and I were on the same page about how the presentation would flow. I arranged to meet her at her house on Monday to discuss the program. We spent five hours in her living room listening to the record, and talking about which ideas and themes, the words and music could spark in the audience. It was my idea to play our favorite tracks but Dr. Williams was insistent on presenting the album as a whole. She said that the producers chose the poems and compositions in a specific order to convey a message, and it would be an insult to them to chop it up. I conceded to her point and we also agreed to let the audience share their reaction rather than talk too much about our own interpretations.

On the day of the program, I arrived early but got caught up in other projects which resulted in my scrambling around in the half hour before the presentation. To make matters trickier, Dr. Williams decided that morning that we should spend the audio time on the entire first side of the album, and the last ten minutes of the concluding album. My list of RSVPs included twenty five individuals, and I counted twenty people in the audience, ninety five percent of them were members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. After the introduction from Larry, I explained who I was and how the record was related to my exhibit, then I introduced Dr. Williams. She talked for about ten minutes, and then I played the record. I was so nervous; I cued the wrong playlist at first, my twenty seconds of fumbling felt like an eternity. Luckily with the new format, I could cue the PowerPoint and just listen with everybody else for the thirty minutes that it took for the first side of the record to play. The audience’s response and questions took up the next thirty minutes. Many of the people had not heard the record in twenty years and this program was bringing back many of their memories. One woman commented that as an educator she could see this dynamic recording as a resource for teaching music appreciation, women’s studies, African American history, and poetry.

The questions that were asked kept Dr. Williams on cue to share her experience of being there when the idea for the recording came about. Dr. Williams and I summarized the content of sides two, three and four; and then I cued the last ten minutes of side four. I asked for a few more reactions and then Dr. Williams spent a little time talking about the D.S.T. Telecommunications’ funded film, Countdown at Kusini, and how it was a reaction to the popular Blaxploitation films of the time. 

In conclusion, I shared how much I enjoyed working with Dr. Williams and what wonderful exposure working in archives could create. Larry was on cue to encourage the group to continue supporting the museum, and Dr. Williams said that it was her pleasure to be a part of this program. I turned on some Manu DiBango from the Countdown at Kusini soundtrack as the group filed out. Several people approached us afterwards to compliment us on the program and give ideas about how we can reach out to a larger audience, namely working with the collegiate chapters and contacting the Grammy Foundation for more support and resources. Overall, I think that I did a good job on the execution of the program, and I am glad that other people can see the mass appeal of the program.

After all of the stress of planning for the Roses and Revolutions Listening Party, I took myself out to the Los Angeles County Art Museum (LACMA). I had heard so many good things about what they were doing in there with all of the money that they raised. While I enjoyed looking at the modern art and their special rooms dedicated to Pacific Islanders, the Stanley Kubrick exhibit was by far the most fascinating to me. In my estimation, the curators had used sophisticated technology and sleek installations to make the Kubrick archive, which is held at The University of the Arts London, come alive. Kubrick’s notebooks and production notes were all on display in addition to his films, associated props and costumes, and photographs. Not only did they highlight the iconic films that Kubrick is famous for such as, A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, 2001: Space Odyssey, and The Shining; the exhibit featured his plans to make films about Napoleon and the Holocaust. The exhibit at LACMA brought to my mind some ideas that Larry and I had discussed earlier this year about Mayme’s papers being the basis of a traveling exhibit. Mayme’s story connects so many pieces of American History; it would not take much imagination to string together a compelling narrative. I could not imagine taking on the logistics of that project at this point but it was nice to see that something similar could be done so successfully.  

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Professional Development Call: Mr. Howard Dodson

Professional Development Call: March 24, 2013
Moorland-Spingarn Research Center – Washington, D.C.

Mr. Dodson worked at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture for twenty seven years; he is currently employed as the Director of Howard University’s Library and the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. Mr. Dodson is quick to say that he is not an archivist or a manuscript librarian but he values the incredible impact of their work.

After graduating from college, Mr. Dodson joined the Peace Corp and worked in Ecuador. By the time that he got back to the United States in 1968 to work on Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign, Dr. King had been assassinated. When he thought about working on the presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy, Kennedy was assassinated. These traumatic events brought a depression over Dodson, and he needed time to re-focus and determine what he was meant to do in this life. He decided to ship all of his books about African American history and culture to Puerto Rico; he followed shortly after and spent a year in the mountains reading those books. Dodson eventually ran out of money and came back to the United States to enroll in a Ph.D. program at the University of California at Berkeley. He received a scholarship and determined that the program would provide structure to his readings. Dodson convinced his department that he should go to the American South to study Black people, and he began doing work for the Institute of the Black World in Atlanta, Georgia.  After he finished his Ph.D. he worked in Atlanta for seven years.

Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture
In 1984, Dodson was offered and accepted the position at the Schomberg. He used $10,000 renovate the old building and create new spaces in the library for the viewing of photographs and art as well as listening stations for the recorded sound materials. It was Dodson’s idea to break the collection into divisions that corresponded with preservation and service concerns; for instance, prints and photographs are housed together, rare books and manuscripts are housed together and so forth. Dodson’s divisions also ensured that the Schomberg collections were organized in a way that the general public and scholars could easily understand.

Collection Initiatives
Much of Dodson’s success at the Schomberg can be attributed to his ability to break from the past and re-define collection priorities. His shift from documenting Black achievement in the United States to looking at Black achievement in the African Diaspora including Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela has put the Schomberg at the forefront of new trends in the field and made the collection stronger. Dodson also made it a priority to increase educational and cultural programming at the Schomberg. One example of Dodson using the subject strengths of the collection to support itself is a five year grant that was acquired to document the black religious experience. Another one of his strategies for success is to identify a theme like Black Power, Religion or the Americas, which encompass multiple collections and use the materials for research and exhibitions. They plan to build a collection around the research and the findings on black religion.

Fundraising Efforts
In his twenty seven years at the Schomberg took the collection from five million items to ten million items. He made a goal of finding money to organize, catalog, and make all of these collections accessible to the public. Dodson initiated two capital campaigns in his tenure at the Schomberg; the first resulted in 15.7 million dollars, the second in 26.2 million dollars. Although the capital campaigns built the endowment of the library, the staff still has to fundraise as well as use city and state funding for programs, and collection processing. Dodson shared that raising that amount of money was extremely hard work; he is proud that it will used to support scholars in residence programs and processing the collections with the most pressing concerns.

Moorland-Spingarn Research Center
Mr. Dodson arrived at Howard University at one of the most critical moments for the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. In summary, the leaders of the institution have retired and the budgets have been cut. In 1985, the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center was in the top 25% of top tier research libraries with a staff of fifty people; in 2010 they are at the bottom of that list, with a staff of less than ten people. Dodson plans to spearhead the effort to return this institution to its former glory. His priorities include a reduction of the processing backlog, hiring archivists and manuscript librarians, getting the card catalog online, hiring subject specialists to help with acquisitions, developing an institutional repository and aligning the collection strengths with faculty research. Dodson wants to turn the Moorland-Spingarn into a successful library by making it a dynamic and vibrant center for learning.