Monday, July 08, 2019

What's New? A Fun Way to Get the Word Out

In Chester, the editor of a new publication, Chester Neighbors, asked me to contribute a monthly piece on the area's history on behalf of the Library. I'm always happy to write for a local publication, so I agreed. It's a great opportunity to raise awareness of the Library and its Local History collections, and it allows readers to get to know their Local History Librarian (me) a bit through my writing. 

So far, I've written about the Chester Optimist Club Collection, Chester Little League Collection, our 1860 topographic map of NJ, and the Andy Rogers Collection. After the story of the Optimists hit the collective front porches of Chesterites in the Borough and Township, I received a call from a local person whose late husband not only was an active member of the club, but also served as an officer. We set up an appointment, and she donated her son's t-shirts from the famous Turtle Races, her husband's Optimist International lapel pins, and a Turtle Races hat he wore each year. She also lent us some photos that I digitized and returned to her.

She and I talked a bit, and I told her about using t-shirts in my current Chester Little League exhibit. She also had her son's team shirts (6 of them!), which she also donated to the Library on a visit the following week. She specifically said that she wanted the Optimist materials to go into the collection on her husband's behalf, and the baseball textiles to go into that collection. I am happy to honor her requests because of the nature of the two collections.

Both started with analog items, as well as the video interviews (think oral histories, but that's now an outdated term that doesn't apply to non-verbal researchers and/or interviewees). Both have contributions from more than a handful of individuals. I can't call them artificial collections, because they're not. They both contain records of volunteer organizations created by the donating members, as well as their artifacts. I like to think of them as living, active collections because as soon as someone hears about them, they come to visit me with a donation and/or they post to You Know You're From Chester If... on Facebook with a story.

I'm excited to see the feedback when our locals who don't know about the map (likely new or non-library-going-people) read the story and check online to read more about it. I'll have a few legacies when I move on from Chester, and the map is definitely one of them. Another is the Memories of Chester video interview series, with everyone from Tommie Barker to Andy Rogers.

Andy and I spent the better part of a year together, at least once a month, while he sat with me and told me his life story. It is fascinating, with many twists and turns. Frankly, I think there's a book, and possibly, a movie in it. Throughout is the continuing thread of the love story between Andy and his lifelong (her life long -- she died about 10 years before he did) partner, his wife Jan.

During the interviews, Andy became sicker and sicker. He'd been in treatment for a very rare skin cancer that had gotten the better of him, and he died last November. Currently, I have a volunteer who just transcribes interviews for me. She's about 12 sessions into the Andy videos -- there are 15. When he felt like he could, he would sit for 2 hours with me. In the beginning, he spoke about how he was the first member of the Chester Lions Club. In the end, he spoke about Jan's death. I nearly wept aloud, but kept it in due to the recording.

Even when we had completed our time together, I still called once in a while to check on him because even with all his treatments and advanced age, he was still the kind of guy to get up on a ladder to fix something on the roof. Mind you, he fell off and broke his hip, but he got himself into the house to call for help. I'd already known that he was extraordinary, but each week held its surprises.

Writing the little features gives me a chance to shine some light on our collections, sharpen my skills, and take another look at materials I haven't spent much time with in a few years. It also allows me to show our Board and others the value of the Local History department and the Archivist/Local History Librarian professions. I think the next one will be on the Superfund site records. That collection is always an adventure.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Another Year, Another...

Mixed bag.

Again, I begin another year hitting the ground running. Or, rather, coughing. I brought home a whopper of a cold and cough from a well-needed, extended vacation to Utah. This too shall pass.

But, project-wise, I have some leftover Archivists to the Rescue work to plan with the slightly smaller team. I should back up a bit here. Around Thanksgiving, I was alerted by the SAA Council Rep that SAA would no longer support the Archivists to the Rescue project. It was a bit shocking, since the support given previously had been very limited (we raised our own funding by selling the Archivist pins from the Los Angeles Archivists Collective, making more than three times the original seed money provided by SAA for the pin purchase), the work itself fulfilled many of the goals of the strategic plan, the data we collected had not yet been analyzed and shared with SAA, and the number of people supporting the work and giving us positive feedback about it kept growing steadily throughout the year.

I had a few questions, but the big one amounted to "could we take the work elsewhere?" Eventually the questions were answered, and we can. So, I'm looking into doing that.

I've also been asked by the NJ State Library to participate in an effort that will, hopefully, lead to a statewide digitization program, related to NJ's entry into the DPLA's hub system. I'd like to see some focus on context for images and other cultural heritage materials that are digitized and shared online. Sure, it's important to follow standards in terms of size and resolution, and other elements. However, it also must be a priority to have substantial descriptive, as well as technical metadata. We need to put these items not just into historical context, but the context of the collection of which it is a part. There is meaning in the way people and organizations collected and organized their things. That's a soap box I've worn my clog prints into over the years.

It's nice to be asked to be part of this type of project, as the project manager and I are both very big fans of the Culture in Transit program. I've seen a few conference sessions on that program, and they've always been impressive. I'm especially bowled over by their documentation and the fact that they made all of their information available online so folks don't need to reinvent the wheel with their projects. It's always good to learn from successful innovators. 

I try to be as transparent as possible in all of my project work, using online collaboration tools and sharing widely. I also share my department documentation on the Chester Library web site. It took a fair amount of researching what others did to create similar documents, and the least I can do is make them available for other Lone Arrangers and small historical organizations that don't already have the documents needed to run a successful archive.

As I write this, I am reminded of a time when I wrote frequently about online collaboration environments and strategies to improve organizational communication by using them. Now, folks use Google docs and other tools to collaborate all the time. It's pretty intuitive and straightforward. Back then (the bulk of my work in the area was in 2004-2007), there were places like Yahoo Groups, but if you wanted to do some sophisticated stuff like sharing documents and working on the simultaneously, you had to spend a lot of dough and time learning the software.

We have come a long way in terms of tools we can use to work together. But, working well together is an art. Collaborating as a team requires a host of skills that 1. don't come easily to many people, 2. aren't taught in most schools (I'm not talking about leadership programs here), and must be practiced regularly. Creating an environment where everyone's ideas are welcomed and encouraged is a must. We can disagree, but we have to agree to disagree without being disagreeable. We also can table things, and circle back to them at a time may be more productive. Putting things to the side doesn't mean they aren't worth considering. It means that they are acknowledged, but we're just not sure what to do with them now. They might be exactly what we need later, though.

Last year, I participated in a year-long, county leadership program. It's primarily designed to shape folks to run for local office. That isn't why I did it, though. I thought Leadership Somerset would help me learn how to be a better leader in all of my work. And, it did. It also reinforced ideas and practices that I've known and put to work throughout my career path, especially my work with Archivists to the Rescue. It was a herculean effort to manage all of the people, sites, outreach, documents, videos, and everything else involved with that project during the year span it was running on full steam. It amounted to a full-time job, on top of my paid work.

There's still more work to wrap up on that Big Project, and it will get done. But my biggest takeaway is that when folks tell you that a project might be too ambitious, don't be afraid of it. Do your best. Commit to going all in. Most importantly, if your work is based in serving the public in some way, let that inspire and steer the project. As long as I focus on the original purpose of the work (to make "hidden" materials accessible and meaningful to researchers, to ensure that everyone's stories are being told, to make our collective historical record inclusive to all), it will all fall into place (eventually).

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Big Project -- SAA Archivists to the Rescue!

Since We Last Met...

I've been a bit busy. Back in November 2017, I sketched out the skeleton of a plan that I originally called Lone Arrangers to the Rescue! The title later became SAA Archivists to the Rescue Pilot Project, and the project itself became The Big Project (see Geof Huth and Karen Trivette's excellent series of podcasts, An Archivist's Tale, Episode 13, for more on that name: https://www.spreaker.com/user/archiviststale/episode-11-the-big-project-debra-schiff). More on that project in this post.

During the Spring 2018 semester, I also took on a very interesting, part-time contract job at the College of Staten Island, processing the records of the Interstate Environmental Commission (IEC). It's a fairly large collection, which started at approximately 200 record cartons and is now approximately 150 cartons and document cases (smaller containers that folks typically think of as archival boxes). The collection required (and still needs) a significant amount of trimming, which is an enormously satisfying task. Some might think that archivists save everything. That is not the case. There are portions of collections that don't fall into the collecting policy of an organization, so they are deaccessioned (often donated to other organizations that do collect those materials due to geographical location or subject matter). In this case, we did a lot of disposal.

Before you panic, approximately 90% of the information in those materials was duplicated or available elsewhere. Importantly, I worked with the donor on the decision making, checking and re-checking that the scientific results we were removing were not of any use to researchers (she is a scientist and the Executive Director of IEC). In some cases, there were graphs and charts that were unlabled, undated, and could not be connected to any other materials. In others, the information had been examined, summarized, and contextualized by the creators of the materials, elsewhere in the collection. Finally, there were bays of shelves of published materials that were not in the collecting area of the College. In that instance, the donor contacted many other people who might have an interest in the materials, but there were few takers. We often find that if materials can be obtained elsewhere (other state archives, for example), and there is not enough space, they are not kept.

When I wrapped up my contract, the processing portion of the job still had yet to be completed. I left the remaining portion to be processed by a college assistant whom I taught the basics of preservation and processing. I've been asked to return to complete the project next year, which means whatever processing remains, plus the arrangement, and description. I am especially looking forward to describing this important collection that documents the array of water and air testing of the areas feeding the waters in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

The Big Project

This coming week, I'll be talking about it as the incoming Chair of the SAA Lone Arrangers Section (LAS), as well as a very brief presenter at the SAA Reference, Access, and Outreach Section. I put together a talk that can bring everyone up to speed, and have already emailed a version of it to the Lone Arrangers earlier this month. I called it "the great American novel of an email." Here is the version I'm going to present on Wednesday (LAS):

So, what is this project? This is the summary I’ve been using to talk about it:

The SAA Archivists to the Rescue! Project strives to bring local, very-low- and no-cost, basic archival training workshops to non-professional archivists and cultural heritage professionals and volunteers who cannot afford typical professional development courses and/or the transportation costs required to travel outside of their areas for similar workshops. By bringing these hands-on, in-person workshops to individuals with little or no archival background or skills, we will help to preserve and make accessible the collective knowledge and archival record of the participating communities, increase the awareness of the profession and the SAA, and promote a more inclusive profession. An additional benefit to those seeking to recertify as Certified Archivists comes in the form of an opportunity to lead half and full-day workshops in the field.

With the guidance of an Advisory Board outfitted with SAA Fellows and one particularly noteworthy librarian, volunteer members of the SAA Lone Arrangers; Reference, Access and Outreach; and Issues and Advocacy Sections have developed a pilot program comprising a series of workshops covering the essentials of preservation, archival processing, arrangement, description, digital archives, and identifying and caring for photographs. We are partnering with local cultural heritage organizations, public libraries, and the Center for the Conservation of Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) to roll out the pilot to religious archives and small historical organizations in New Jersey.

The desired outcome of the pilot portion of this project is a group of standardized and vetted workshops, handouts, and other supporting materials that can be easily downloadable by Lone Arrangers, other SAA members, and other professional archivists who wish to deliver the same kinds of workshops to their local communities. The intent is to create workshop materials that can be customized to fit local organizational needs. They will be available for download from the SAA Lone Arrangers microsite, and we will work to have other areas on the SAA web site link to the page holding the workshops.

Professional archivists from around the country submitted materials for consideration in our project – we received great presentations from so many people that it was difficult to choose the most useful and practical materials for our workshops. For this, we also had help from Dyani Feige of the CCAHA, on the preservation materials. In the end, we unanimously selected materials from the following individuals:

1. Me (Archival Preservation for Beginners)
2. Steve Duckworth (Archival Processing and Arrangement for Beginners and Archival Description for Beginners)
3. Elizabeth Skene (Archival Digitization for Beginners).

As a bonus, workshop attendees will receive a special Photograph Preservation and Identification for Beginners workshop by the ever-awesome Gary Saretzky.

We also developed a set of measures of success – specifically, Ashley and Michelle developed interview questions for participants and feedback forms for pre- and post- workshops for both participants and workshop presenters. During the workshop breaks and other opportune times, presenters will take short video interviews of our participants to provide yet another way of communicating the value of the workshops, as well as ways we could improve them.

Six months after the workshops, we'll also follow up with our participant cohorts to see how they're doing and using what they know. We use Google tools like Sheets, Docs, Forms, and Drive, as well as Survey Monkey to keep all our work transparent and easily edited and shared by the team. And, I have to say that it has been an overwhelmingly lively and collegial experience working with this fine group of archivists and librarians who have volunteered a great deal of time to this effort.

Because the project is in the pilot stage, we limited the locations of the workshops to N.J. because that's where I live and could line up sites, presenters, and attendees. There are 5 locations (two sites for Trenton, though, due to air conditioning issues at the Trenton Free Public Library, but they'll be fixed by the later workshops at that site). Each city will have all 5 workshops presented. For the pilot, we're not charging participants any fees.

SAA's Nancy Beaumont asked University Projects to co-sponsor the workshops in the form of donated archival supplies for the participants at each site, and Trenton and Plainfield have already received their materials! These items will truly enhance the hands-on experience because the participants each will bring 1 box of materials to work with during the workshop series. The locations selected and their timings are:

1. New Jersey State Library, Trenton, NJ (Aug.-Sept.)
2. Plainfield Public Library, Plainfield, NJ (co-sponsored with the Historical Society of Plainfield) (Aug. – Sept.)
3. Atlantic City Free Public Library, Atlantic City, NJ (Sept.)
4. Chester Library, Chester, NJ (Chester Library also providing all the pencils for the workshops.) (Oct.)
5. Dana Library, Rutgers Newark, NJ (Nov.)

The following people will be presenting the workshops):
1. Me
2. Gary Saretzky
3. Tara Maharjan
4. Heather Perez
5. Ashley Levine
6. Annamarie Klose-Hrubes
7. Alexandra (Alex) Plante
8. Russ Gasero
9. Annie Tummino
10. Paul Martinez

I developed the Train the Trainers workshop, which was held at Chester Library on Aug. 10. The trainers received a very full packet (which also will be distributed with the workshops at the end of the pilot, via the Lone Arrangers microsite). The packet has everything they'll need to present their workshops. At the Train the Trainers workshop, they had the opportunity to give significant feedback on the workshop themselves. It was fun and there were snacks. They said they found it to be very useful, and some of the presenters contributed additional handout materials to further clarify information and to provide templates for work such as description.

As part of the Communications plan, I began the outreach to prospective attendees in late July and continued through early August. I received recommendations from all over the state and did some of my own research to locate potential attendees. As of last week, we have 9 of the maximum 10 seats filled for Plainfield (we declared it filled), 9 for Trenton (we declared it filled), 6 for Atlantic City, 10 for Chester, and 7 for Newark.

Before leaving for SAA, I communicated with all of the attendees of Plainfield and Trenton because those workshops begin on Monday, as well as the presenters of those workshops, and the site contacts. There are a lot of moving pieces on this project, to be sure, but I’m working to ensure as much clear communication as possible. Examples of the emails also have been added to the Google Drive folder on the topic.

Most of the attendees are representing small historical societies, but we also have a handful of religious archives, public libraries, and museums. Notably, the Morris County Park Commission is sending a group to Chester (different people will be taking the different workshops). Other than that group, nearly all of the attendees have agreed to attend the full series of 5 workshops at the site where they signed up.

Notably, I’ve had to turn away 8 individuals because they already had paid archives professionals. or they only wanted to take one of the workshops. Because we have such a limited number of spaces, I couldn’t keep another organization willing to take the whole slate from signing up in favor of someone who wanted just the one workshop. There also were people who were very interested, but the schedule didn’t work for them. In all of the cases of turnaways, I pointed them to alternatives and web-based information that could help them to get off the ground, namely Steven’s LibGuides, which we used for our Processing and Arrangement, and Description Workshops.

I put together packets for workshop presenters and participants, based on forms developed by Ashley and Michele, as well as some general and site-specific instructions. These are sent to the participants at least two weeks in advance. There also is a good amount of communication via email with the sites and the presenters three weeks out from the workshops regarding logistics.

Last, but certainly not least, as a fundraiser for the project, I've been selling Archivist pins designed by the Los Angeles Archivists Collective. All of the profits go to paying transportation costs for workshop presenters (some will be traveling quite a distance to present for free). I'll be selling them at a table at Registration for $15 each at SAA. No, they're not available for sale online (yet – hopefully, at some point).

They look like this:
  Archivist pin in the shape of an acid-free folder.
Whenever I wear mine, I feel like a superhero.

Friday, November 03, 2017

The Benefits of Professional Societies and Conferences

Introduction

Of late, this space has become my outlet for writing about professional development via service to the profession and experiences at conferences. This year has been a banner one for both. I have attended four conferences (2 Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conferences, the annual New Jersey Library Association meeting, and the annual Society of American Archivists meeting) and have taken a leadership role in a national organization directly after cycling out of my state-level responsibilities (see my previous post).

Next year will be a big year for conferences (3) and service, but for readers who may not experience conferences and membership in professional societies, here is a summary of what I've gained from my memberships and service.

The Benefits

As a member of SAA, MARAC, and NJLA, I receive discounts on products, conferences, and other services. I also receive trade journals and newsletters that cover areas of archives and special collections work that are of interest to me. I especially enjoy articles written from a very practical standpoint, where the authors talk about the tools, skills, and knowledge they used to take on a challenge, implement a program or project, or raise funds. (I'll return to fundraising in a bit when I cover my work with the SAA Lone Arrangers Section.)

Not many people decide that they want to serve others in these professional societies. I believe that everyone has something to give, and perhaps they give back in other ways that take up too much time to even consider serving in a professional society. In my case, I've enjoyed the experience over the years. I have made many great friends and learned more than I ever thought I would about the work, how to mentor others, and how to truly be of service (mainly try to remove obstacles so that people can get things done).

Each of the societies to which I belong are different from each other in fairly large ways. For instance, NJLA is focused primarily on the public and higher educational libraries in the state. It models itself after the American Library Association and segments members by the type of librarianship they practice. I served and am a member of the History & Preservation Section. Some of my colleagues in the section also are members of the Reference Section. There are many different groups, and sometimes we meet together to talk about overlapping interests. During those times, the diversity of ideas and perspectives often leads to new projects and partnership opportunities. I really enjoy those types of meetings and learn a great deal in those situations.

MARAC is one of my favorite organizations for many reasons. First, it is truly the best bang for the buck, as far as professional development opportunities go. The conferences always have very practical, affordable workshops on the Thursday of the meeting. We meet in smaller cities, usually, so hotel rates are pretty reasonable. It's also where I met some of my closest friends who also happen to be archivists. MARAC members on the whole are approachable, friendly, and helpful people who embrace new members and travel scholarship members like no one else. We also meet twice a year, so if someone can't go to the spring conference, they can try for the fall one.

SAA is big (although not as big as ALA). Some might find it intimidating, but I didn't because there were some familiar MARAC faces there, and I made new friends right away. SAA also self-segments its population by areas of interest. I am not limited by the number of Sections I can join, and I am a member of quite a few. I confess that I don't read all of posts on each list servs I receive, but of all of them, the Lone Arrangers Section one is the one I read every day. I also try to populate it when I can with useful information since I'm the new Vice Chair/Chair Elect. I've been a member of the Steering Committee of the Lone Arrangers for a number of years now, and participate in that one actively.

In particular, I've been discussing the aspect of becoming a fundraising entity. We'd like to put on low/no-cost workshops for community members who can't afford SAA workshops. I've also been talking about teaming with other groups such as the NJ Caucus of MARAC and NJLA, as well as religious archives and other organizations to achieve this goal. I think it can be done, and some folks are interested in piloting projects with me, which is very encouraging.

To make this happen, I've been asking Lone Arrangers to become Local Representatives so that they can run local workshops the way that works best for them. I'd support their efforts and try to make funding and other resources available to them. So far, we have Reps for New York; N.J.; Santa Clara County, Calif.; Hawai'i; Nashville (Middle Tenn.); and Greater Boston. We have a long way to go, but it's a good start, and the enthusiasm is key.

Conclusion

Balancing work, service to the profession, and home life can be challenging on occasion, but I am grateful to have the opportunity to participate in these ways. Thankfully, I have the support of my Library Director. Additionally, my colleagues and I encourage each other, and my spouse is fully supportive of my efforts. Now, if I could just get some Lone Arrangers in other areas to sign on to being Reps...

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Big News

Today I learned that I will be the 2017-2018 Vice-Chair/Chair-Elect of the Society of American Archivists Lone Arrangers Section. What it actually means is three years of service:

  • Year 1 -- serving as acting Chair in her absence and continuing my work on the Steering Committee (I've been on it for 4 years, and it's been a genuine pleasure);
  • Year 2 -- serving as Chair of the Section. This includes directing and reporting the activities of the Section, organizing and conducting the annual meeting of the Section, chairing the Steering Committee, acting as liaison for the Section to other bodies, appointing subcommittees as needed, and handling administrative duties such as annual reports to the SAA; and
  • Year 3 -- serving as Immediate Past Chair, who serves on the Steering Committee and is Chair of the Nominating Committee (putting together the slate of new officers for the election).
I'm not unfamiliar with long terms of service to the profession. I just finished my term as Past-President of the New Jersey Library Association's History & Preservation Section (H&P). That ended 4 years of continuous service in the H&P leadership. My favorite part of that experience was mentoring the incoming Secretary and President-Elect who came after me. Throughout my career, individuals have given of their time to mentor me, and I have enjoyed doing the same for others.

Back to the Lone Arrangers, for those of you who may not know, we are a Section within the Society of American Archivists who are and support those individuals who may be a department of one (like me) at a college or university, historical society, professional organization, religious organization, hospital, business, fraternal organization, private school, public library, or other location. Because they may or may not be paid or paid to be trained as an archivist (or special collections librarian or other related title), or maybe their training didn't cover a particular area they might have encountered, they often come to the Lone Arranger list serv for help (the link is here: https://www2.archivists.org/groups/lone-arrangers-section/connecting-online, if you want to check it out).

The Lone Arrangers list serv is a group of incredibly helpful and friendly individuals. We handle many questions throughout the week, and are an invaluable resource for the profession and for others in related fields. It is an honor to have been elected to join the wonderful leaders of this Section.

Here is the position statement I submitted for the election (it is a bit informal because it was originally submitted as an email to the nominating committee for their consideration and later used on the web site for the election):

In the next three years, I would like to see the Lone Arrangers more involved with education in SAA, perhaps producing hands-on workshops specifically for Lone Arrangers and those individuals smaller institutions. I can imagine us partnering with regional archives consortiums and organizations, as well as statewide groups, to accomplish this goal. From my experience as an archives and preservation consultant with the MARAC CAPES group, I’ve seen so many small institutions that are struggling with caring for and making their collections accessible. It would be great if we could become more of a resource for those places and develop relationships with them, and encourage partnerships with larger organizations to help them preserve, organize, and describe their collections.
We already provide so much good guidance from the listserv. Maybe it’s time we put together a series of free online guides (or videos!) based on the questions we receive and answer. Perhaps these aren’t just for the next three years, but ongoing programs that could have stewardship through subcommittees. Overall, I’d like to see the Lone Arrangers marshal their energies not just toward helping others to meet their goals (which is why folks think so highly of us), but also toward raising the awareness of what we do on a larger scale – not just advocacy for the profession, which is great, but for our Section specifically.
I also would like to see more networking events on a local or regional level. We are doing very interesting, good work, and should be sharing it with others in our field. Also, we’re fun and enjoy eating good food and socializing. I can imagine a “Tell me about your current project” meet up? Or, a “What’s the next exhibit you’re planning, and what kinds of challenges/joys have you experienced with it?” luncheon.
For now, I look forward to the SAA Annual Meeting in Portland, where I will receive a brain-full of great ideas by the leaders in the field and hear how other professionals work to address their challenges. I also cannot wait to meet the other members of the leadership, steering committee, and members of our lively and collegial Lone Arrangers Section. I'll be sure to post here afterward.