Saturday, 24 August 2013
Bon Temps, Indeed
Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting
Hilton Riverside, New Orleans, Louisiana
August 14-18, 2013
Academy of Certified Archivists
Ever since May, I have had the nagging suspicion that I was not going to be adequately prepared for the ACA examination on August 14th. My preparation regime involved making flashcards with key words, concepts, individuals, and article/book reviews. I also created flashcards with the sample questions from the exam handbook. I worked diligently throughout the summer and amassed about 150 flashcards that accompanied me on road trips, airplanes, and visits to the local coffee shop. Outside of making me an archives groupie, (Randall Jimerson, Harold T. Pinkett, and John A. Fleckner are rock stars to me) I think that I was fairly prepared for the exam. I also have to credit the Minnesota Historical Society for making archivally sound conservation resources available online. Initially, I was irritated that the exam was in a multiple choice format because it did not allow for a nuanced response based on the context of the situation but the more I studied I saw that I was better able to recognize proper procedures even if I could not articulate them verbatim. During the exam, it took me a minute to get adjusted to the complex structure of the questions, but age old test taking strategies like, eliminating wrong answers, answer the easy questions first, and plugging each response into the question to see what makes sense, helped me along. At the end of the exam, I counted 23 questions where I guessed the answer, which gives me a decent shot at a passing score (providing my absolutely “corrects” were not absolutely wrong). At this point in my career, I know that the certification will open up many more opportunities for employment, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that I made the cut this year.
Reflecting on my three years of annual meeting attendance at SAA has shown me how much I have grown. In 2011, I attended the program in Chicago for one day because it was all I could afford and I did not talk to anyone. By San Diego in 2012, I had my clique of HistoryMakers fellows and we soaked up every session in anticipation for what we could use in our host repositories. I walked into New Orleans last week with a packed schedule of sessions to attend and potential questions to ask as a result of my experiences at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum (MCLM). I talked to my peers before sitting for the ACA exam and wound up going to lunch afterwards with two archivists that worked alongside me at the Johnson Publishing Company photo archives in Chicago. I went out for drinks with a former volunteer at MCLM who is currently working at the Computer History Museum in San Jose, CA. The HistoryMakers tour of the Amistad Research Center and reception was a classy affair that allowed me to talk with former IMLS fellows, host repository supervisors, and other distinguished stakeholders in African American archives. I was entertained and impressed by the wide variety of issues that were discussed. I also ran into a former supervisor from Arizona who gave solid career advice in the soul crushing way that only she could pull off. I found myself tapping folks on the shoulder and reminding them who I was and where we met. I’m looking forward to scrapping together my pennies in order to attend next year’s meeting in D.C. so that I may keep this momentum going.
Graduate Student Posters
During the graduate student poster sessions, I had a chance to talk to some interesting students and read over their posters. Stephanie L. Martin from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign titled her poster, “Over a Century of Collaboration: Libraries, Archives and Museums in the United States”. Her analysis of the archival records of the American Library Association allowed her to explore the similarities and differences within the fields as well as benefits and barriers to collaboration among individuals, institutions and professional organizations. Sara Ann Howard from Queens College shared her poster about community access and culinary ephemera. This website, links to the digital exhibit that showcases some of the menus that have been digitized. The entire project is a great example of using ephemera to create an authentic picture of how communities have grown and thrived over time. Dorothy Berry is a student at the University of Indiana at Bloomington and she shared a poster on the Ozarks African American History Museum in Ash Grove, Missouri. Her topic is extremely special because it is based on a collection of materials that her family has collected since the 1800’s, documenting the lives and struggles of Black communities that history often forgets. Berry’s push to bring the museum and its collections into a digital space is remarkable and she has curated an incredible digital exhibit, with Omeka software. Other interesting posters which I saw throughout the conference included Alexandra Chassanoff’s (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) poster on “How Historians Search for, Access, and Use Primary Source Materials”, and Jordan Patty’s (George Mason University Libraries) “Another Look: Reprocessing Photograph Collections”.
Archivists and Archives of Color Roundtable
I was only able sit in on the first thirty minutes of the roundtable’s meeting but I caught a glimpse of the administrative tasks that the group has been involved with other the last year. Dr. Tywanna Whorley shared how the Diversity Committee was collecting case studies that would diversify the archival record. The mentoring program needs more mentors, and the Mosaic scholarship program is looking for more graduate students. The outgoing president, Stephen Booth (NARA), talked about an increase in the group’s social media followers, the recently award winning Black Metropolis Research Consortium in Chicago and SAA Fellow designation bestowed upon AACR member, Deborra Richardson. The committee also discussed the sessions it endorsed, its advocacy for the Grenada National Library which has been closed since 2011, and its memoriam comments for the passing of Spelman University archivist, Taronda Spencer. Danna C. Bell-Russel the new Program Chair for SAA introduced herself and discussed her ideas about educational outreach through the Library of Congress, Common Core standards, and participating in National History Day. The incoming president discussed his focus on establishing task forces to focus on outreach/advocacy, history, and social media, based on the recent membership survey. Lastly, I heard a brief presentation about the AERI program which introduces students of color to Ph.D. programs in archival science.
Session 101: Digital Preservation and Records Management in the Cloud: Challenges and Opportunities
Due to my breakfast run to Café DuMonde on the Riverwalk, I missed the presentation from the State Archives of North Carolina and half of the talk from Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives. I did catch that Kentucky uses Tesella for cloud computing. The advantages include geographically dispersed copies, automated services, and plenty of access bandwidth and storage. The disadvantages were identified as increased dependencies, legal issues and a dampened public trust. They have tried to mitigate risk at every opportunity; for example in order to combat issues with access restrictions, only open collections are put in the cloud. This state department subscribes to NARA guidelines as much as possible. The Oregon State Archives have used the cloud as a records management solution. They have found that the cloud provides a significant cost savings, is faster, more efficient and frees up the IT staff. As a part of Oregon’s official budget, the state archives leadership has worked to move the definition of a record beyond a tangible piece of paper and re-brand the archive has an institution for government transparency, accessibility, and accountability rather than just a place for historians. I chose to attend this session because MCLM has dabbled in putting collection information on Google Drive. This session was about massive records management strategies for state archives, it was not at all what I expected. I suppose that I should have paid more attention the institutions that the speakers represented.
Forum: Memory and Power: How Diversifying the Archives Can Help Us Welcome the Future
Dr. Abdul Aklalimat from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) began his remarks with the story of “Free” Frank McWhorter (1777-1854), a former slave and the founder of New Philadelphia, Illinois. McWhorter is an example of the self-determination and agency of black people. Dr. Alkalimat relayed the message of the role of the archivist in correcting the historic record by telling the truth about our collective histories. He hoped that we would continue to uncover evidence of the genocide practiced by the original European colonizers, the horrors of slavery, imperialism in South America, and how capitalism destroys the American worker. In contrast to the ways that the histories of marginalized populations have been treated in the past, UIUC is helping the black community in Champaign compile their stories and artifacts in a wiki-format. The university provides staff and training to help residents upload and download information from the site, they currently have 250 people who have contributed 1600 entries. As a social science researcher attempting to address real world problems, Dr. Alkalimat described his methodology with 7D’s: Definition, Data, Digitization, Discovery, Design, Dissemination and Difference. He concluded with the fact that in terms of population, the “minority” is becoming the “majority”, so we have to legitimize their ancestors and welcome every voice in understanding of our history.
Session 203: Lights, Camera, Archives! Working with the Media and Moviemakers
I went to this session to see what my former supervisor Julieanna Richardson had to share about the HistoryMakers project; I had no idea what the other speakers would be talking about in this lightning round. In her short session she mentioned the challenge of protecting the sensitive information shared in an oral history while providing broad access to researchers. Laurie Austin from the JFK Presidential Library and Museum shared how she worked with the crew of Mad Men without much courtesy given on their part. Megan Wood from the Independence Seaport Museum recommended setting up a Google alert to let you know if there are similar stories or exhibits to your topic, so that interviewers have a harder time stumping you with questions. Miriam Meislik from the University of Pittsburgh talked about the benefit of taking time to teach new filmmakers how to access archival film and pull their own clips while helping students with a Nate Smith documentary. Katy Rawdon of Temple University discussed how being interviewed is a learned skill that practice will improve, while representing the Barnes Foundation on film. Pamela Whiteneck from Hershey Community Archives has been on 25 cable broadcasts since 1995 and reminds herself to focus on enthusiastically telling the stories that the documents represent, whenever she is interviewed. Travis Williams of Louisiana State University, a former actor, said we only had to tell media personnel (actors) where to stand and what to do when they see fit to make a film set up out of an archive space. Nicole Joniec from the Library Company of Philadelphia discussed how a surprise visit from Dr. Henry Louis Gates and his production crew was challenging but ultimately beneficial publicity for the library. Susan Pevar from the Lincoln University Archives gave an anecdote about Gil Scott Heron photograph usage in a BBC documentary as a warning to always have image request and usage forms available with addendums for international users. Timothy Wisniewski from John Hopkins Medical Institutions talked about HIPPA restrictions and the surprisingly diverse uses of photographs from the medical archives, from cancer cells as art to set designers looking to make period specific back drops for film and television. I wanted to ask him about Henrietta Lacks but there was not anytime at the end of the session. Nicholas Meriwether from the University of California at Santa Cruz talked about the unavoidable politics and wide ranging response related to the existence of a Grateful Dead archive. Eric Chin, the studio archivist at NBC Universal used the Fast and Furious and Bourne franchises to discuss how the archives function to support continuity within films, as well as preserve the production (pre and post), theme park, and business (corporate) history of Universal. Dan Linke of Princeton University shared some tips for being on camera that he learned while preparing for his talk about the history of the senior thesis for the Princeton Pause’s “Then and Now” campaign. Lastly, Mark Young from the Conrad N. Hilton College at the University of Houston, book-ended the session with the challenges of working with the team of Mad Men as they brought Conrad Hilton into the series. Overall the session featured some interesting projects but it was a terribly unfocused interpretation of “media”, at least five separate and more informative ninety minute sessions could have been designed.
Session 309: Streamlining Processing of Audio-visual Collections for Preservation and Access
Joshua Ranger from Audiovisual Preservation Solutions started off the session with the hard to swallow fact that if we aren’t working towards re-formatting audiovisual content, we might as well throw it away. In order to prioritize the processing of these collections; data entry and documentation has to be standardized. Ranger and his team have designed a spreadsheet that requires every item in the collection to contain (at a minimum) unique identification number, location number, media type, title, and description. The spreadsheet can be manipulated and analyzed to make smart decisions about where to start. Another innovative strategy that he shared was the idea of taking pictures of materials, uploading them, and cataloging them off-site. Siobhan Hagan is the AV Specialist for Special Collections at the University of California at Los Angeles and she approached audio-visual materials with information gleaned from collection finding aids. Unfortunately, the finding aids had sparse information and incorrect identification of media types. To compound the issue, the physical storage of the materials was accelerating their degradation. To buy the collection some time, Hagan decided to train students and staff on how to identify A/V formats and update records in Archivists Toolkit. She used an acronym F. (Film/Flat) V. (Video/Vertical) A. (Audio/Also, Vertical) O. (Other/Oh, also vertical) to help the staff remember how to store materials. She concluded that we have to use a standardized vocabulary, even if we have to make it up. Harrison Behl, a processing archivist from the Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov/index.html) introduced us to the overwhelming notion of re-formatting the millions of items that come through their institution each year. Behl shared that they have recently adopted an archival approaches, for example a collection summary form (read: finding aid) to help managers sift through the materials and make strategic decisions on what to process next. This session was very informative, especially the speaker from UCLA because it alerted me of how specialized the knowledge required for the description and preservation of AV materials is, and how I have so much more to learn.
Session 410: Rare Books in the Archives
Micah Erwin from the University of Texas at Austin’s Ransom Center discussed how he used a crowd sourcing (Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter) model to identify the text fragments (http://www.flickr.com/people/ransom_center_fragments/) that were used in the bindings of 16th century books. The experiment was a complete success with close to forty percent of the fragments being correctly identified by rare book enthusiasts outside of the department. Although Flickr presented some challenges with zoom and description capabilities, it provided enough functionality for the staff to use the submissions to modify bibliographic records thus improving knowledge and access to their collections. Christine Parker from Queens College discussed her institution’s solution to the problem of patrons not accessing any of the thousands of rare books in the library’s collection, even though the titles were entered in the library’s online public access catalog. They decided to identify a Don Quixote sub-collection among the rare books, scan some pages, link to related information, and make a digital exhibit powered by Omeka. The site (http://archives.qc.cuny.edu/books/collections/show/2) also has browsing capabilities, searchable homepages, tag cloud, interactive title page, visual catalog, interactive timeline, and links to other print history exhibits. Outside of Omeka, the site also uses a Spicy Nodes interface and Visualize (open source) software from the University of Virginia. Heather Oswald from Kennesaw State University demonstrated how they used the library module of Past Perfect to link rare books to related resources. For example Lyn Ward’s predominantly illustrated book, Wild Pilgrimage, record is linked to graphic novels and children’s books. Identifying these tangential relationships is a popular assignment for students at the college. Lois Hamil from Northern Kentucky University talked about a recently received grant to digitize a rare White Water Shaker Hymnal book. They used Finale software to record/transcribe the music and digitized every page to preserve the book and provide access. David Richards, the head of special collections at Southwest Missouri State University described how he went about planning a Rare Books and Wine fundraiser in the library. Richards provided comic relief in his commentary about inviting community members with money, using the processing space as a preparation station for the chefs and servers, and re-decorating the reading room for the wine and food. He also illuminated some basic party planning tips like picking a date that doesn’t conflict with other major social events, finding donors for door prizes, selecting a theme and collecting RSVPs. Richards communicated the importance of signature event in building rapport with a donor community and the monetary gains are very likely in the long-term. I was interested in this session because of the large volume of rare books at MCLM, and I liked learning about the creative ways that these individuals have made their rare books come alive and be relevant to the general community as well as scholars.
Session 509: Multi-group Conversation: Updating Our Community Outreach Activities
This session was not at all what I expected; the format made it very susceptible to extreme successes or failures. The panelists gave brief descriptions of their outreach experience with Labor, African American, Women, and LGBT archives respectively and then opened the floor for questions. The best advice that I gleaned came from Alexandra Krensky (History Associates Incorporated) when she outlined her best practices for engaging traditionally marginalized folks in the archives. She said that we should endeavor to hold their programs in the archives spaces, attend their functions, teach them about archives (ethics, legality, preservation, etc.), and identify a liaison from the donor community. Her comments aligned with many of the efforts that we have made at MCLM and the next challenge that we seem to be faced with, lack of resources to accommodate these engaged donors. I asked the panel this question, and received some solid advice from Conor Casey (Labor Archives of Washington State), train them on how to do some of the initial inventory and address basic preservation concerns while our institution works to secure the necessary resources. I think that more pre-planned questions, and relevant responses from the panel would have inspired the audience. It did not appear like the panelists were grappling with anything, seems that they should have had some “issues” instead of relying exclusively on the audience to present them.
Session 610: Digitization Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary, Cross-Profession Discussion
Gina Costello from Louisiana State University talked about her role in the digitization process in the library. Her equipment consists of three flatbed scanners, two planetary scanners, an archive writer (converts digital to microfilm), and a digital camera studio. Costello and her team collaborate with other departments (French, Student Media, etc.) to get work done. Departments provide the funding, while her team provides equipment and staff, assists with copyright, provides long term access, and produce high resolution images and files. One of her biggest challenges is helping the donors understand which digitization project can and cannot be done based on copyright laws, technological limitations and library standards. Andrew Stauffer an English professor and director of NINES (http://www.nines.org/) at the University of Virginia brought up a sticky detail that we should consider as groups like Google Books and Hathi Trust move forward with the large scale digitization of 19th century books. The issue is the significant annotations, inscriptions, and marginalia that accompany so many of these texts, forming a shadow archive in so many institutions. Stauffer identified thousands of examples of poems, drawings and messages in the circulating collection at his institution, and hopes that these aspects are considered before we assume that a digital surrogate will satisfy all of our historical, literary and general analytical needs. Vicki Mayer, the director of the MediaNOLA (http://medianola.org/) project at Tulane University has helped to create a digital community archive that documents New Orleans life and culture from the 1800s until today. Many of the contributions to the website are service learning projects from university students. MediaNOLA uses creative commons licensing, a flexible tagging system to identify content, and posts audio clips and images. Jessica Linker had a similar presentation to Andrew Stauffer and Micah Erwin about shadow archives, but hers referred to female scientists leaving leaves and intricate drawings in science books during the 19th century. As interesting as these topics were, I was very glad that an audience member commented on the universality of “shadow archives”, most communities re-purpose book pages to suit their needs. In many African American families, a Bible is much more than a book, it is a record of deaths, births, and marriages. I would like to believe that however wealthy book donors to the University of Virginia and female scientists reconcile digitization and marginalia, other populations can model for the preservation of their unique resources.
Session 704: Working on Your Perfect Pitch: Elevator Speeches from the FieldI thought this session would be a great asset for my on-going job search, but it turned out to be so much more. It seems that from seeking funds, to explaining your job to a kid, to recruiting donors, pitching never stops. The session’s ten speakers had distinctive voices and diverse anecdotes that communicated their best practices for a successful pitch; I’ll just mention some of my favorites. Carolyn Hines from the University of Tennessee described “archives mad libs”, where you identify nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives that demonstrate the value of an archival project. For example, MCLM (N) authentically (ADV) tells (V) the unbelievable (ADJ) story of Los Angeles’ Wattstax concert in 1972. Stacie Williams from The University of Kentucky tells a six year old that archivists use old stuff to tell stories. She drives the point home by asking the little girl to gather some of her things (a coloring book, stuffed animal, etc.) in a box and asks what kind of girl someone might think she is based on the contents of that box. Jill Severn from the University of Georgia used the preservation of archival records from Freedom University (http://www.freedomuniversitygeorgia.com/index.html) to illustrate how making sure that you tell your own story can motivate people to preserve their records. Very bluntly, Hank said, “you’ll be seen as a bunch of middle class white women who tried to help some poor Mexican kids”. The founders know that Freedom University is so much more than that so they were motivated to keep track of their archives. Helen Wong Smith from the University of Hawaii at Hilo communicated how effective you can be when you are knowledgeable about your collection, its uses and the community it serves. Her remarks are exactly what made me seek experience and employment in African American archives, if I was not passionate about the content, it would be hard to demonstrate my utility to anyone else. Dorothy Waugh had a hilarious observation when a friend dropped her phone in the toilet and essentially lost thousands of important photographs to illustrate the world of difference that digital files can make. This would be impossible in the world of traditional photography. This story is a great lead in to discussing an archivist’s work in preservation, storage and description of digital files. Overall the session was informative and it was nice to see how a community of archivists navigates through a society, institution or family that does not fully comprehend the value of what we do.