Saturday, 6 September 2014
Society of California Archivists Annual Meeting (2014)
Archives and the Public
Society of California Archivists – 2014 Annual General Meeting
Palm Springs, CA – May 8-10, 2014
Plenary Address: Alan Hess, Form Follows Pleasure: Modern Architecture and the Palm Springs School
Hess’ remarks about Palm Springs architecture reflect the recent interest in how these architects response to the climate, nature, technology, and culture of the Southern California desert. There is a huge preservation effort taking place in Palm Springs, they are leading the nation in this type of work. Palm Springs School is a set of ideas and theories that unite Palm Springs architects. Examples of these ideas include the sun screens over windows, building at the base of a mountain to provide shade, lifting houses up to provide livable shade underneath, and suburban layouts to increase green space. The location near Hollywood and the persistent sunshine helped create a culture of pleasure where resorts were abundantly developed and many homes had swimming pools and other recreational features. The Palm Spring School also included Googie Architecture which captured the energy of the futuristic technology and made it available for everyone in the style of space age restaurants and gas stations. Some famous Palm Springs architects include Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. (Oasis Hotel), Paul R. Williams (Lucy & Desi House and Town & Country Building), Newberg, Wexler, and Fray.
Session 1: The Access Tightrope: Balancing Access with Privacy
This session started with Mallory Furnier from the Autry National Center who discussed her work on the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans collection, followed by her experiences with the David Dortort collection. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were stars of radio and television during the 1940’s and 1950’s and developed quite a fan following. Their archives include letters and photographs from children with terminal illnesses which present access questions related to HIPPA, rights of children, and third party donors. Mallory and her staff evaluated these concerns pragmatically and determined that the collection was a low privacy risk, and that they would continue to track researchers, who use the collection, place a 72 year restriction on any publications, censor names, addresses, and treatment plans. For the materials donated by the family of David Dortort, the creator of Bonanza, the archivist received a warning from the family that some of the materials were sensitive. After reviewing the collection and discovering intimate revelations from fans, Mallory agreed with the donor’s assessment and because the records were as recent as 2002, deemed the collection a high privacy risk. The sensitive materials in the Dortort collection have a 50 year publication restriction which is noted in the catalog record, and the actual materials are flagged so that staff will remember when items are pulled for a researcher.
The third presenter was Michael Oliveira from ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California. His talk focused on balancing the needs for access as described in the Freedom of Information Act, and privacy in terms of third party donors. The presentation was full of anecdotal stories from patrons and donors, with an extended discussion of the accession of various photographic collections; the Miles R.Everitt Collection, full of African American subjects and the William Rhoads Collection which features nudes of hitchhikers from the Pacific Coast Highway. In conclusion, Oliveira encouraged the audience to ask donors about any privacy concerns before accessioning new collections. He also cited information from the Harvard Institutional Review Board forms to help archivists determine if incoming materials are appropriate for our repositories.
Session 4: Technology and Archives: Exchange Forum – Programmer and Archivist Collaboration
This was an interesting session because it brought the perspective of computer programmers to an archives conference. Although most of the information was too technical for my experience at small community archives, I felt that there was a substantial amount of information that would serve me well as my career progressed. The first set of speakers was Kim Klausner and Sven Maier from University of California at San Francisco. Klausner and Mair work with the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library where they provide a resource portal to 14 million documents related to the tobacco industry. They use SLR, Blacklight, Grails, and HTML 5 to build their own software to search and display content from various sites. They faced challenges with communication gaps between the archivists and the team of programmers. The team wound up using a wiki, and Redmine (a project management tool) to improve communication between the two camps.
The second pair of presenters was Cristela Garcia-Spitz and Matt Critchlow from the University of California at San Diego Library. Their presentation focused on the basic strategy that the library team was using to complete multiple digitization projects. They employ a team approach, and plug their steps in Confluence (JIRA environment), a proprietary project management tool. The teams are composed of a collections group, a reformatting group, a metadata policy group, a digital library products group, and steering committees. The project leaders would use several techniques to engage their teams in the work, for example they might define sustainable chunks of work and use “sprints” or two week sessions to work on that chunk exclusively in order to finish the project or host a DigiCamp where every stakeholder is invited to a session to discuss a common issue. The presenters explained that a three step process with assigned role players could be tracked with three columns of post-it notes if the formalized software was not available.
Session 8: What the Hell Is It and What Do I Do With it? Cataloging Challenging Collections
This session started with Natalie Russell from the Huntington Library, discussing the recent publication of the Octavia E. Butler (1933-2006) Papers finding aid. Ms. Butler was an accomplished African American female science fiction writer; she lived in Altadena, California and bequeathed her collection to the Huntington upon her death. Natalie has been working on these materials for the past three years, resulting in a 500 page finding aid, 3 pages of cataloger’s notes, and 250 upright Hollinger boxes as well as countless flat file boxes, index card boxes, specialty sleeves kept in binders. As a result of the researcher demand for access to these materials (40 people on a waiting list) the Huntington processing staff decided to process the collection at the item level. The presentation became exhausting as Natalie shared photograph after photograph of notebooks, business cards, floppy disks, news clippings, binders of correspondence, photographs from a complicated writer’s mind. I think that Natalie’s effort to read all of Octavia’s writings and biographical information helped her to make sound decisions with cross referencing and cataloging the collection items. This is a good example of how Octavia Butler’s impressive career and the seemingly boundless resources of the Huntington Library converged to enable the collection to be processed this way; the sheer cost of archival supplies and the allocation of staff time make this project out of the range of most archives.
Rand Boyd from Chapman University discussed his challenges with the Huell Howser California Gold Archive. The collection includes 5,000 digi-beta tapes, 1,800 books, 50 boxes of program research files, and 7 boxes of personal papers, the furniture from Mr. Howser’s home and office, as well as a memorabilia collection. The archivist ran into challenges on account of the multiple formats of the collection materials and because of the complicated celebrity status of Huell Howser. The program tapes were in antiquated formats and not properly labeled which forced the archival team to watch each tape in order to match raw footage with air footage and shelf the tapes accordingly. While Huell Howser was alive, he presided over the archive with his signature micro-management style, but when he died unexpectedly in 2013; Rand wanted to respect Howser’s personal preference toward privacy in regard to his personal life. When AAA agreed to fund a permanent exhibit dedicated to Huell Howser, Rand’s work with Howser’s personal papers allowed them to include photographs and a rare glimpse into the early career of Huell Howser.
Charlotte Thai from Stanford University gave an interesting presentation about her work with the Stephen M. Cabrinety collection. Due to grants from the National Software Reference Library (NSRL) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Charlotte is archiving pieces of hardware and software (many of them unopened) to document the history of micro-computing. The processing workflow is complicated as Charlotte performs item level cataloging for the Stanford Digital Library, and ships the items to NIST in Maryland for them to be imaged, scanned, and included in the national database; then NIST sends the items back to Palo Alto. On account of the project’s reliance on the federal government and traveling by truck across the country, phenomena like a dysfunctional government leading to shutdowns and extreme weather patterns like last winter’s polar vortex have serious implications for the Cabirnety project. Charlotte coordinates the logistics of this process and has to deal with any unexpected cataloging challenges. For example, she has come across software packages that have mold underneath the shrink wrap (ultimately de-accessioned that item); breath mints in the collection which were removed; and over 5000 file name extensions to account for in the catalog record. Another unique problem for this collection is the absence of information about the copyright owner of these video games and software programs from the 1970’s and 1980’s; many of the owners are living but they are difficult to track down.
Session 11: LA as Subject Considered
Jim Beardsley from the Archival Center of the Archdioceseof Los Angeles started the session off by providing a summary of the mission and history of LA as Subject (LAAS). LAAS has between 280 and 300 members and serves as a portal, directory, and resource on the history and culture of Los Angeles. The group started in the 1990’s with major support from Robert Marshall of California State University at Northridge. The group has grown tremendously with the success of the annual Archives Bazaar, and meetings every two months to discuss archives among the members. The next speaker, Claude Zachary, the University archivist at University of Southern California (USC), shared that after five years of being hosted by the Getty, LAAS moved over to USC, where it currently resides. The LAAS website provides an online directory (database) of member institutions, links to their websites and allows for keyword and subject searches. LAAS also provides professional development opportunities for local archivists and opportunities to network with one another.
Ellen Jarosz, an archivist from California StateUniversity at Northridge (CSUN) was the next speaker and she spoke exclusively about the brand new residency program for recent MLIS graduates. The program is anchored by the Autry Center, USC, and CSUN and draws on their rich alliances with members of LAAS. Each year three recent graduates will be assigned to an anchor institution, and rotate through various smaller archive organizations to develop and execute various projects. The residencies last for one year, and the $440,000 grant from IMLS ensures that the program will be funded for at least two cohorts. The residents will be given tasks and assessed based on SAA professional standards with the goal of achieving permanent employment from one of the associated institutions. The residency program was designed based on the study of programs such as Circle of Learning, Mosaic programs, Catalyst Project, the Library of Congress Digital Stewardship and the HistoryMakers Fellowship Program.
Lastly, Ken Bicknell from the Los Angeles CountyMetropolitan Transportation Authority Library and Archive, a member of the LAAS board discussed the diverse users and contributors to LAAS as well as upcoming projects and initiatives that the group was throwing its weight behind. In recent meetings, “TalkShop” sessions have included sustainable social media, digital asset management, and HistoryPin. LAAS is also interested in Wikipedia edit-a-thons, and in the process of planning for this year’s Archives Bazaar on October 25, 2014. Bicknell also praised USC Digital Library for assisting smaller members with content publication, Occidental College for starting the Northeast Los Angeles History Project, and Nathan Masters for using LAAS content for his weekly contributions to Los Angeles Magazine. In conclusion, Bicknell said in reference to LAAS, “a rising tide lifts all boats”.
Arabian Nights in the American Desert: The Cultivation of Middle Eastern Fantasies in California’s Coachella Valley
The lunch time speaker at SCA was, Sarah McCormackSeekatz, a Ph.D. candidate from the University of California at Riverside talked about the historic, kitschy, and problematic nature of the Arabian-zation of the Coachella Valley. Sarah was so clever as she passed out little packages of varied dates and had the audience taste them throughout her talk to emphasize different points. The Coachella Valley was full of native people until the late 1800’s when the railroad arrived. Based on the climate, the United States Department of Agriculture sent people abroad to find new varieties of fruits and vegetables. In other words there was a planned introduction of dates to the desert. On account of their success and the nation’s new obsession with all things from the Middle East, local towns were given exotic names like Mecca, and they developed local attractions with Middle Eastern themes. Films like Lawrence of Arabia, Thief of Baghdad, Queen of Sheba, and The Sheik also contributed to the craze. The “orientalization” of high school mascots, movie theaters, date festivals, architecture, camel races, and parades was full of fallacies and highly problematic for people who came from the region. Sarah’s use of archival images brought validity to otherwise absurd stories about behavior that those communities thought was acceptable. Overall the talk was enlightening, engaging, and informative.