Friday, November 03, 2017

The Benefits of Professional Societies and Conferences


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.


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:, 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.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

MARAC Spring 2017 in Newark, N.J.

The Spring 2017 Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference in Newark, N.J. (#maracspring17) had this for a theme: Adaptable Archives: Redefine, Repurpose, and Renew. From the sessions I attended on Friday (more about why I only spent 1 day there, later), it appears that the theme is well on the minds of many in the field.


For the plenary, MARAC requested Dr. David Kirsch, associate professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland. His topic centered on the records of failed entrepreneurial ventures, specifically those of Silicon Valley start-ups. He rightly asserted that business records are at risk, due mainly to the litigiousness of society. I remember when I worked at IEEE, over a decade ago, annual data shredding events would occur throughout the company.

What company can afford the physical space to save all that paper, as well as server space to save (and, more costly, people to maintain) the electronic records? The end product is a history of American business that is spotty at best, and is told by those who kept their archives rather than deleting them. Or, in the case of Kirsch and his colleagues at Sherwood Partners, history will be told by failed Silicon Valley companies and those who supported them. Sherwood Partners swoop in and claim selected data from failed companies (doing what we archivists call appraisal), work with the Library of Congress for subject headings, and eventually move the records to the Hagley Museum. One of the aspects of this concept that bothers me is that Kirsch said they only take the text files (OK, Lisa Gensel, I'll give you that something is better than nothing). His example was that they found an organizational chart in a text file. What if that was in a GIF or a JPEG file? It is my opinion that they miss out on the context of their record collection by only choosing text. Moving on...

Empire Archival Discovery Cooperative (Session S4)

During the beginning of this session on the Empire State Library Network's Empire Archival Discovery Cooperative (ADC), the chair Deirdre Joyce of the Central New York Library Resources Council reminded the attendees that the ADC was born out of a New York Caucus meeting at a MARAC in 2010. I'd attended that meeting -- sometimes I attend other state caucuses because I'm interested in what stuff is happening in other states -- and I've been following this project ever since. The speakers were Jen Palmentiero of the Southeastern New York Library Resources Council, Laura Streett of Vassar College, and Greg Wiederman of the University of Albany, SUNY. Another speaker, whom it would have been very useful to have, didn't make it. That was Ethan Gruber of the American Numismatic Society. He's the incredibly talented developer of the EADitor for finding aids, which is an integral part of the ADC web site.

Overall, the session was a very helpful explanation of the history of the project, it's importance to the New York archival community and surrounding region, issues they encountered, and the state of the project now. It's pretty exciting to hear that after all of the work put toward ADC, there are now approximately 1000 finding aids on the system that had been harvested by Ethan (via GitHub) in the last week. Even more relevant to all of the small historical societies is that the beta release allows them to use a relatively simple interface to create DACS-compliant finding aids via the EADitor. The object of the project is to allow previously "hidden" collections to become finadable, and it looks like it's much more cooked now. Those of us in N.J. should be thinking about using this good work as a model.

We Like to Move It, Move It: Renovating Special Collections Facilities (Session S8)

The session chair, Katy Rawdon of Temple University first introduced Elizabeth Beckman of George Mason University, who focused on what it was like to move to a new facility on the same grounds, and some of the challenges she encountered. She said that likely the biggest challenge was that she had not double checked in person the measurements of the shelves with regard to the number of document cases they would hold. She ended up with a top shelf that was about a third of the height she would need to hold the boxes, and that presented a numbering/labeling issue that required some shifting afterward. I felt for her as she described it. Measure twice, cut once, they say.

Next, Bruce Hulse of the Washington Research Library Consortium, a group of 9 universities in the D.C. area, spoke about his experience expanding their off-site shelving solution over several iterations. He detailed his process of working with the contractors in the planning and construction phase, most recently to expand the space by about 30 percent. He also spoke about measures he took to bring down energy costs that had dramatically increased with the new construction.

Finally, Katy introduced Karin Suni of the Free Library of Philadelphia, who spoke about moving the theater and rare book collections. She provided many helpful tips including: document the whole process with many photographs, make lists, be patient because planning can take several years, communicate the types and sizes of materials to movers, and take lots of notes at all of the meetings (and there will be many) prior to and during the move.

Radical Honesty in Descriptive Practice (S13)

This session was one where you could hear a pin drop. I sat with my friend from Penn State Behrend in Erie, Jane Ingold, and listened to speakers Michael Andrec of the Ukrainian Historical and Educational Center of New Jersey, Christiana Dobrzynski of Bryn Mawr College, and Sam Winn of Virginia Tech cover some pretty heavy ground about what we can do as archivists to improve the way we not only populate our materials, but more importantly, describe them. I am all about honesty in description. You might remember a few years ago the torment I experienced when trying to describe the records of the Superfund site in Chester. The speakers weren't going over that kind of ground, though, and I was more intrigued by that session than by many others I have attended over the years.

A couple of years ago during a NJ Caucus meeting, I had visited Michael at the Ukrainian Center (it's local to my home) and seen some of the collections that described the horrors experienced by the Ukrainian people. It was a stark reminder of what populations of immigrants have endured in order to experience religious and personal freedom.

Christiana spoke at length about the type of erasures faced by Black and LGBTQ Bryn Mawr students in terms of the lack of documentation and institutional racism. I was very impressed by the way she engaged with students and inspired them to write new descriptions that acknowledged the previous descriptive practices. She also worked with underrepresented communities to obtain donations and have students of those communities create the language for the finding aids.

Finally, Sam Winn used many quotes (that I wish I had to share with you, and I hope she makes her slides public so that I can link to them here) to talk about how we, the predominantly white, mostly female group need to do much more to ensure that we do better about making our collections reflect the diversity in our communities. Her point could be applied to where I work -- Chester is an overwhelmingly white area, but there have been families of color who have lived and who do live in the area. I need to do more to show that in our collections. I also need to seek out members of the Chester LGBTQ community so that they are represented, as well.

Marching for Science

So, the reason I wasn't there for the Saturday of MARAC, was that I, and many others, were marching for science in Trenton. Here's a photo taken by Mary Clarkin Ahern:

I'm holding the Walter Cronkite quote, "Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation." On the back, it says, "Archivists Have Your Back!" I met at least 15 other librarians and archivists, and I was very happy to participate. This IS what democracy looks like.

Monday, March 20, 2017

"What Do You Do?" "Among Other Things, I Read a Lot of Old Mail."

Recently, I've had the opportunity to talk to individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds, education/training, and life experiences about what I do for a living. Many of them did not know what an archivist is or what one does. I started with what I do as a local history librarian, and gradually worked my way into the archives work I do.

"That Sounds Like a Fun Job!"

"It is," I say. It's the most fun I've ever had at work (although my first job out of college at the recording studio was pretty cool, too). What makes it fun? A great number of things, actually. For me, one of the draws is that it's never the same day twice. Someone might walk into my office to donate a county wall map from 1977 and leave having made an appointment to sit with me the following week to record a video oral history interview. That same person may later, in an interview, reveal that he had worked on the Nike Ajax missile program during the Korean War. He might return for another recording session carrying photos and all of the license and permit cards from his wallet in the Army, which he allows me to scan and return to him on his next visit.

Another day, I might research how best to describe in a finding aid all of the electronic visual materials in a collection. I then reach out to professional friends I've met at the Society of American Archivists and Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conferences and ask what they would do. I send a link to the finding aid for their feedback because it's good to have a second/third set of eyes look at a finding aid, especially since I am what is called a Lone Arranger -- the department head of my department of one. Later, after all suggested edits are implemented, I will publicize the finding aid so that researchers can find the collection (here is one:

If you walk into my office in the coming week, you might see me putting together an exhibit. The image below shows an example of a holiday-themed exhibit I had developed. I made facsimiles of postcards that had been lent for the purpose of digitization, as well as ads and articles from a local paper and newsletter. The little turkey is a salt shaker that I bought at the dollar store, along with the fabric leaves.

On rare days, it's not as much fun. For instance, when links began disappearing from the .gov site, I had to update some of my Local History Resources to links from the Internet Archive. Sometimes, I have to take a stand ( Other days, to keep positive energy flowing, I update my Facebook page with news stories of great work by archivists, conservators, and librarians. On the tough days, the updates include puppy videos.

"What's the Most Interesting Thing You've Found?"

That is a tough question. However, my favorite archival materials are maps, especially this one ( I'll be talking about that map at the upcoming annual New Jersey Library Association meeting ( The information about the map can be found here:

I've found things that document the unattractive aspects of a town's history. The importance of telling the whole story, not just the parts we like, cannot be overstated. Consequently, when I uncover evidence of minstrel shows and KKK activities in a town's past, it is my responsibility to make that material just as accessible as the turtle races put on by the Optimist Club.

The most interesting things aren't artifacts or archives, but the stories given to me by the oral history interviewees. They are gifts that give to me as well as the giver. I might be the only person the interviewee talks to in a day. The patrons win by experiencing local history in a completely different way than they would otherwise. Researchers can use the impressions of the people who lived in the times they describe. I gain by meeting and getting to know some pretty fascinating people whom I probably wouldn't have met had they not happened to walk into my office while I was processing a collection of library records.

Maybe, someday, I'll write a book about it.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Spring MARAC, April 14-16 2016

As always, the Spring Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference, held in downtown Pittsburgh, PA, provided a great deal of bang for the buck. Attendees were favored with excellent weather, a fine conference hotel, and a lively location with plenty to see and do. It’s hard to say what was the best part of this most recent MARAC, but I’ll share the highlights of my experience with you.

The Plenary
Many of us are familiar with the plenary speaker, David Carmichael, State Archivist of Pennsylvania and former State Archivist of Georgia. He spoke on the conference theme, Archival Confluence (Pittsburgh is where three major rivers meet), as we as archivists are “at the confluence of past and future.” The thrust of his message was “What value does our repository create, and how do we measure and articulate that value?” The answer is through the stories of use and value to our patrons. What are the key record series that our patrons cannot live without? He spoke about using metrics to demonstrate our value. Many of us do this through counting patrons, tabulating hours spent on reference work, etc. He also suggested using surveying tools to expose the economic impact of our collections and institutions.

What he has learned through his work is that the value of what we do is not self-evident. We have to believe we have value to add. How do we communicate what the value is? He said that it’s about who benefits directly by our work. Additionally, we have to collect the stories and data – what can be measured and is it meaningful? We need to be able to draw the line to the value that the story delivers. Finally, his last, but key message was that because the “urgent gets in the way of the important,” we need to talk about why we do what we do, not just what we do.

Sessions I Attended

Culture in Transit (CIT): Digitizing and Democratizing NYC’s Cultural Heritage
CIT is a grant-funded partnership between the Metropolitan New York Library Council, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Library. They use the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) as a platform for the materials created at community digitization events. These scan-a-thons (my term) aren’t just about getting grandma’s scrapbook online. The CIT team members help the donors with licensing, creation of metadata, and most importantly, the contextualization of the materials.
The speakers, Maggie Schreiner of Queens Library, Sarah Quick from Brooklyn Public Library, and Caroline Catchpole of the Metropolitan New York Library Council, emphasized the need for a great deal of planning and outreach, especially media planning, to ensure success. Friends of Libraries groups also were used to raise awareness of scanning events. One of the patron groups turned their oral histories into podcasts as a class project. Overall, the session provided great examples of how to create, host, and publicize small-scale digitization services to the community that also help the library.

“Scope Drift” and the Changing Role of the Archivist
The speakers here represented a varied group of archives, including The Abraham Lincoln Foundation of The Union League of Philadelphia (Theresa Altieri), University of Baltimore (Ben Blake), Maryland State Archives (Maria A. Day), Eastern State Penitentiary (Erica Harman), and Seton Hall University (Amanda Mita). In addition to sharing their individual experiences with jobs that became nearly completely different than what they’d originally signed on to do, the speakers shared some very practical tips. Here are just a few:
  1. Recognize things out of your control. 
  2. Prioritize your time and resources. 
  3. Focus on the things you can control (e.g., mission, collecting scope, preservation, job description, etc.). 
  4. Be assertive, diplomatically. 
  5. Challenge the business perspective (i.e., expectations of revenue generation). 
  6. Get the appropriate access you need to accomplish your goals.
Hearing about the massive challenges these folks face/faced in their work and how they approached them was inspiring, to say the least.

The Duchamp Research Portal: Moving an Idea to Proof of Concept
This fascinating session was a rarity in that it focused on a single, international project that involves four different organizations. The speakers were Susan K. Anderson, Philadelphia Museum of Art; Christiana J. Dobrzynski, Deadalus Foundation; Matt Shoemaker, Temple University; and Deborah Wythe, Brooklyn Museum. Funded by an NEH Preservation and Access grant, the end result of the project will be an online research portal for the artist Marcel Duchamp. The session focused on the 18-month effort to research and plan for a very complex collaboration between archivists, curators, IT professionals, and other museum team members. Add in the additional levels of complexity in that the IT team is in France and requires French translation, copyrights aren’t the same in the U.S. as they are in the E.U., the metadata to be collected differed for each organization, and the collections of Duchamp pieces had to be inventoried at each institution. Subsequently, the group published a gigantic white paper which will be included in their implementation grant proposal. It’s going to be quite something when it’s finished, and I can’t wait to hear the rest of the story.

If You Give a Kid a Document: Bringing K-12 Students into the Archives
In this session, the speakers talked about the successes they had with kids interacting in a very hands-on way with the materials in their collections. The speakers, Kira A. Dietz of Virgina Tech, Stephen Ammidown of the Gilman School, and Melanie Meyers of The Center for Jewish History focused on specific experiences, whether they were connected to a given event or collection. Getting the kids to share their observations about an object or record was of specific importance, especially in the effort to bring a new understanding about what is “old.” All of the speakers had good tips, but the ones that stood out for me were:

  1. Keep groups small, especially if you are limited as far as staff is concerned.
  2. Keep to 15 minutes of talking – 5 minutes on what I do, 5 minutes on what we have, and 5 minutes on what they could do with the materials.
  3. Expect troublemakers, and have extra hands available to deal with them.
  4.   Engage with teachers.
  5. Be clear about the teachers’ goals.
  6. Don’t underestimate the kids.
  7.  Know your limitations – they might know more than you do on lots of different topics.
  8. Create an opportunity for the kids that they wouldn’t ordinarily have.
  9. Create a photo contest for kids who take pictures of materials.

The End of Archival Adventures in Small Repositories: HCI-PSAR Findings and Methodologies
For this last session, I was very interested in learning the details on the Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories project that just came to a close (2011-2016). The speakers were Jack McCarthy, Anastasia Matijkiw, and Sarah Leu of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Focused on private non-profit, volunteer-run history organizations, the project sought to bring to light (in a digital sense) collections that had not been adequately described in finding aids. The project also did a great deal to bring archival and preservation training to groups on a monthly basis. The end result was the development of an assessment tool that includes information on collection condition, housing, physical organization, intellectual organization, and research value (developed by the HSP previously). Conference attendees participated in exercises to determine how they would survey collections. It was highly educational.

While I’m conferenced-out for the year (recently participated in NJLA, too), I’m already looking forward to next spring’s MARAC, this time in Newark, N.J. It should be a blast.