Saturday, 2 April 2016

Bright Lights, Big City

Society of North Carolina Archivists (SNCA) Annual Meeting 
Mint Museum Uptown, Charlotte, North Carolina
March 30 – April 1, 2016

Opening Plenary Session: “The Collector, the Community, the Reel, and the Real” (Dr. Seth Kotch)

Session 1A: Kids These Days!: Archival Programming to Engage Youth from K-12
Kathleen Gray from Charles County Public Library talked about the success of her papermaking/bookmaking programs for kids, the Star Wars Reads Day event which included a scavenger hunt with hallowed out books, and the Sher-locked, live action mystery game that brought young people into the special collections. Barrye Brown from the College of Charleston discussed the success of an African American history magazine (The Bugle) for 5th graders which incorporated information and artifacts from the Avery Research Center. The funding for the printing came from a successful RFP submission to the South Carolina Department of Education. The magazine also features hands on history activities like scrapbooking, oral history gathering, and making family trees. The archive solicited the support of educational experts, retired scholars, and history professors to put the publication together, but the bulk of the writing and editing was don’t by archives staff. Virginia Ellison from the South Carolina Historical Society talked about her initiatives to bring elementary school students to the archives for research. For a smaller group, she used a speed dating exercise where the students moved around to examine artifacts and take notes. For a large group preparing for their disparate history day projects, small groups rotated through the research room during the visit – at the end of their project they exhibited their displays in the archives. Carol Waggoner-Angleton from Augusta University took a history detectives approach to her engagement with primary school students. By fixating on one figure in the archives, they traced newspaper articles, family photographs (visual literacy skills), and correspondence to generate a full biographical sketch of a woman in the archives. The speaker referenced, Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks to help the audience understand the various types of information that a scrapbook can yield.

Session 2B: Sharing the Love: Generating an Archival Perspective in Community Groups
Chaitra Powell from the Southern Historical Collection discussed the diverse ways that her department is reaching out to Historically Black Towns and Settlements across the South. She described the unique needs of each town relative to historic preservation and cultural tourism. The work has unfolded via site visits, conferences on campus, summer fellowships, a virtual community genealogy platform, document rescue, and youth engagement. Kelsey Moen and Elizabeth Grab, two graduate students at UNC’s School of Information and Library Science presented on the Artist Archives program. Their outreach focused on getting artist communities to begin to think archivally about their work product and connect with archival institutions. A workshop at the North Carolina Museum of Art and a workbook for the artists to reference are two big deliverables to support this work. Ongoing outreach in the form of an unconference, more workshops, and artist/SILS student pairings will demonstrate the important impact of this work. Colleen Daw and Wick Shreve, former students in Denise Anthony’s Community Archives class, spoke about their experience archiving a personal audio/visual collection in the Washington D.C. metro area. The collector is a former hockey player who founded a hockey league for underprivileged youth. His collection is primarily composed of recordings from over the years that he keeps in his basement. The students talked about the challenges of convincing him that no one planned to profit from his participants and giving him preservation strategies to maintain his collection at home.

Session 3B: The Spirit of Collaboration: Community Engagement Initiatives at UNC Charlotte Special Collections
Dawn Schmitz, the head of special collections at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte started the session off by summarizing each panelists’ contribution and explaining how their work fit into the broader vision of the university, mainly that the “spirit of collaboration is a university hallmark”. Nikki Lynn Thomas talked about the King-Henry Brockington CommunityArchive for LGBTQ materials, as a custodial approach to community archives. Now that UNC-C has a community champion, they are patiently and persistently seeking new materials to add. Thomas quoted from “Latino Arts and Culture: CaseStudies for a Collaborative, Community-Oriented Approach”, written by Tracy B. Grimm and Chon A. Noriega in the American Archivist, (Spring/Summer, Vol. 76, No. 1, pp. 95-11) to explain how they are moving along without much of a model. Tina Wright spoke about the implementation of community led oral history projects in the LGBTQ archive and how the recordings have been able to capture motivations among other hard to pin down emotions. Rita Johnston discussed consultative outreach from UNC-C to smaller institutions in relation to their digitization projects. After reviewing collections and discussing goals, Johnston can advise institutions on appropriate workflows, equipment, or collaboration with the Digital NC. She has advised five institutions at this point, including the libraries at Belmont Abbey College and Livingstone College. Joseph Nicholson from UNC-C discussed his work in bringing the donor of a large motorsport photograph collection into the metadata creation process. The workflow included getting photos scanned and placed into Excel Rows, the Excel sheet with images was shared via Dropbox, the donor added his information, and the library used the OpenRefine tool, wrapped the data in XSLT and created MOD records to post online. The process was riddled with inefficiencies and inaccuracies, resulting in some people being identified and some captions for the photos; not the exhaustive presentation of dates, subject headings, and context that they had hoped for. They have some ideas for improvement and are eager to find more ways to engage donors in the descriptive process for their materials. Lolita Rowe talked about her work with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Heritage Committee and how it has resulted in the acquisition of important African American collections. Her involvement includes serving on their board, participating in their recognition programs, and getting to know the members and potential donors.

Keynote Address: “The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists” (Dr. Bill Ferris)

Session 4A: Highlighting Materials that Document Underrepresented Groups
Beth Bilderbeck from the University of South Carolina, Columbia talked about the responsibility of archivists to develop our own sense of visual literacy with photographs and share it with our users. To her, this means a willingness to explore, critique, and reflect on the photographs in our collections and have those interpretations reflected in our catalogs and finding aids. Her presentation consisted of a wide assortment of Civil War, Segregation, Housing, Education, Photography Studio collection materials for us to consider critically. Andrea L’Hommedieu from the University of South Carolina, Columbia discussed her work with embedding oral histories in classroom instruction, exhibits, and programs in her community. Her presentation included examples of important local figures of African American and Women’s history. Stephen C. Smith from the Spartanburg Public Library discussed the motivation and products of his library’s publishing arm, Kennedy Free Press. The library was influenced by the nearby Hub City Writer’s Project (press) and the incredible research and discoveries that were coming out of patrons in their library. Smith spent the bulk of his time talking about the confluence of a local folk hero, Trotting Sally, a fascinated folklorist, John Thomas Fowler, and a local family who wanted the truth about their ancestor to be known. All of this came together in a publication, as well as a series of well-received events and programs that brought the community together. Of course there are a lot of logistical decisions to be made before an institution gets into the publishing business but Smith says it is worth it for his library and they have several projects coming up designed on the success of this model.  


Article Review: From Smiles to Miles: Delta Air Lines Flight Attendants and Southern Hospitality

Title: From Smiles to Miles: Delta Air Lines Flight Attendants and Southern Hospitality
Author: Drew Whitelegg
Citation: Southern Cultures, Volume 11, Number 4, Winter 2005, pp.7-27

As a recently transplanted southerner, I thought an article about the impact of regional expectations on an airline company would give me some more context for the people and the materials that I am working on.

From its inception Delta Airlines flight attendants were the brand. Although they were trained as, and expected to act as true Southern belles, their real lives represented a departure from the static and subservient existence of the prototype. In the early days, Delta's flight attendants were trained nurses to inspire confidence in the passengers, they also knew about local sports in order to carry on an intelligent conversation with the mostly male clientele. Other requirements from their small Southern town recruits, included being unmarried, not having children, and as nurses became scarce due to World War 2, at least 2 years of college. Delta billed the flight attendants as “Scarlett(s) in the Sky” alluding to Gone with the Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara, they wanted the women to embody her behavior, appearance, and autonomy. 

Rather than choosing standard beauties, the company preferred women who were gracious, well-groomed, and well-mannered, positing that these attributes have translated as beauty in the South. The flight attendants were there to meet consumer’s expectations of Southern hospitality and treat passengers like guests in their homes. This was a strong contrast to Pan-Am, whose flight attendants were pretty and sophisticated and an even stronger contrast to hyper sexualized flight attendants commissioned by Braniff, National, and Southwest in the 1970s. For its role in the conflation of sex and flight attendants, Delta quietly embraced the matchmaking between their single female flight attendants and male bachelor passengers, as well as editions of their magazines that featured Delta beauties pictured in more revealing clothing than their conservative uniforms. 

Delta gave small town Southern white women an opportunity to make a living wage, see the world, and command increasing power in the workplace – for these reasons it was hard to get them to unionize. However as the workforce began to change as a result of new laws (anti-discrimination and integration), corporate mergers (PanAm), increased pressures of globalization, and 9/11; rifts began to arise between the original brand of Delta employees and the newcomers. These factors ultimately led to a loss of identity for Delta Airlines by 2001.The article ends with an admission that all good things must come to an end.

I wonder if the story of Delta could be a precursor to the consistent buzzing I hear about the coming of the New South?

Friday, 26 February 2016

Article Review: Radical Archives and the New Cycles of Contention

Title: Radical Archives and the New Cycles of Contention
Author: Kimberly Springer
Publication: Viewpoint Magazine (online), Issue 5: Social Reproduction, October 31, 2015.

This article has a very clear focus on the importance of the preservation of digital archives for activist groups, but I think that there is much content to be applied to historically marginalized groups, in this context, survival itself is a form of activism. I appreciate the way that Springer consistently writes in a way that de-mystifies the archives; these are meeting minutes, poster designs, manifesto drafts, not just boxes on a shelf. The safe custody of these items comes down to the issue of trust; do we trust Facebook and Instagram to keep our materials safe forever? Is the University of X any more trustworthy than these social media platforms? What are the chances that valuable content will become too expensive to access, be trashed, or misplaced in an anonymous archive?  Until groups have a reason to believe otherwise, it would be in their best interest to learn how to maintain their own materials.

She also makes note of the value of self determination when it comes the official documentation of an organization, especially when archivists are on the fence of  whether they will be active agents or passive collectors in their work; activist papers can easily be lost in the shuffle. I would recommend reading the article to learn more about how Springer's scholarly interest in black feminism led her to FBI files as the documents of record, barring a few individuals who kept sparse archives under the bed or in the attic. The writer wants this to be a cautionary tale for budding social movements and digital platforms, don't rely exclusively on outside entities to keep your records safe. She concludes with some very tangible tips on preserving various file formats, as well as using migration and repetition to protect against damage or theft.

For the big question of why all of this matters, Springer sprinkles gems throughout the paper and ends with a chart that I will attempt to paraphrase:

- Archives help us to shape and document our reality
- We do it to provide points of reference for ourselves (to remember), the next generation (to not have    to re-invent the wheel), and the historians (to get closer to the truth)
- Holding the evidence of certain historic events is a form of power
- Ensure transparency
- Generate discussion
- Enable direct action
- Define our own movements
- Provides content for classrooms, workshops, and ongoing mobilization
- Past movements can be a source of inspiration  

You would think that an article like this would be shunned by an archival curator of a major manuscript collection, but I beg to differ. People need to be informed and empowered about the strength and value of their experience. Records do not have to live in a large institution to be important, but they do need their creators to understand that they are important for any meaningful action to protect them can be initiated.