Sunday, May 01, 2016

Service to the Profession

It's been a very busy year, as far as service to the profession goes. Since July 2015, I've been serving as President of the New Jersey Library Association's (NJLA's) History and Preservation Section (H&P). Besides representing the Section and NJLA at meetings and events, it's been my responsibility to develop a year's worth of meetings with tours and/or workshops, as well as plan for professional development opportunities for members and non-members in the archives, local history, and special collections fields. I recently gave the Section's annual report to the NJLA Executive Board. During the report, I spoke about our meetings and workshops:
  1. Meeting and workshop: July 27, 2015 at swanky Lawrenceville School's gorgeous Bunn Library – after the meeting, we had a tour of the archive and had two 1-hour photo preservation workshops by The Better Image photo conservators (and luncheon).
  2. Meeting: Sept. 30, 2015 our traditional meeting at the Monmouth County Archives/Library during Archives Week. The lunch meeting is sandwiched between great programs on local history and archives.
  3. Workshop: Dec. 1, 2015, a concentrated, hands-on, half-day Photo Process Identification and Care Workshop, produced by and held at The Better Image in Milford, NJ. The conservators own a great old opera house, and even have an original theatrical background that was conserved.
  4. Meeting:  Dec. 7, 2015 a meeting at the Morristown National Historical Park, Washington’s Headquarters, after which, we had a tour of the archive and viewed very cool samples of the special collections.
  5. Meeting: March 14, 2016 meeting at Trenton Free Public Library in the Trentoniana Room, co-hosted by the NJ Caucus of MARAC (Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference), after which, we had a tour and saw the treasures of the special collections.
  6. Workshop: March 22, 2016, a hands-on, half-day, Archival Basics for Librarians workshop, in Alexander Library’s Pane Room, taught by Rutgers’ Associate University Archivist, Erika Gorder. We received very good feedback from students who attended the workshop, and will likely make it an annual program.
I also spoke about the new About Us page, which grew out of an elevator-type speech that I put together to explain H&P to another "sister" organization. After the first draft had been sent to the Section for comment, we were able to post it online as the new About Us page on the NJLA H&P Section page. It's too long to include here, but click this link to view it for yourself. Please let me know what you think. 

Other significant accomplishments include Bylaws changes that create a Web Presence Coordinator and an H&P Archives Committee, as well as edits that simplified wording, clarified responsibilities, and updated areas that had not yet included electronic publications and social media.

Last, but far from least, the current P-E Carolyn Dorsey did a phenomenal job putting together the six sessions (and one pre-session) from H&P for the annual NJLA conference taking place on May 16-18 in Atlantic City. She did amazing work obtaining co-sponsorship (as you'll see below). Here's a bit about each, but check out the conference site and the individual links below for complete info:
  • Municipal Records in Public Libraries, presented and moderated by Sarah Hull, Plainfield Public Library; Ellen Callahan, NJ State Archives; Tuesday, May 17, 2016, 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. Sponsoring Groups: History & Preservation Section, Intellectual Freedom Subcommittee, Reference Section, and Urban Libraries Section.
  • Telling Your Library's Story, moderated by Janet Torsney, and presented by Tiffany McClary, NJ State Library; Ellen O'Keefe, Northvale Public Library; William A. Peniston, Newark Museum; and Michele Stricker, NJ State Library; Tuesday, May 17, 2016,-3:10 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Sponsoring Groups:  History & Preservation Section and Small Libraries Section.
  • Fundamentals of Preservation Care Part 1: Book Repair Demo and Part 2. Presentation: The Fundamentals of Managing Preservation Efforts in Libraries; moderated by: Michele Stricker; presented by: Kim Avagliano, Monmouth County Library; Deborah Mercer, NJ State Library; Tuesday, May 17, 2016, 4:10 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sponsoring Groups:  College & University Section, History & Preservation Section, Small Libraries Section, and Technical Services Section.
  • Starting from Scratch: The Challenges and Triumphs in Creating a Local History Collection moderated by John Beekman, Jersey City Public Library and presented by: Debra Schiff, Chester Library; Aimee Fernandez-Puente, Elizabeth Public Library; and Marian Bauman, archivist; Wednesday, May 18, 2016, 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.; Sponsoring Groups: College & University Section, History & Preservation Section, Reference Section, Technical Services Section, and Urban Libraries Section.
  • New Jersey Authors Speak, moderated by Jessica M. Myers, presented by Maxine N. Lurie, Seton Hall University and Chair, NJ Historical Commission and NJ Studies Academic Alliance; Richard P. Carlin, Executive Editor, Music & Art in Higher Education, Oxford University Press; Richard Rockwell, Bloomfield Morris Canal Greenway Committee, Bloomfield Historic Preservation; Wednesday, May 18, 2016, 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.; Sponsoring Groups: College & University Section, History & Preservation Section, and Reader's Advisory Roundtable.
  • Keeping Up with Copyright to Protect Your Library moderated by Gary Saretsky, Monmouth County Archives and presented by Greg Cram, J.D., Associate Director of Copyright and Information Policy, The New York Public Library, Wednesday, May 18, 2016, 2:30 p.m. to 3:20 p.m.; Sponsoring Groups: Administration & Management Section, Emerging Technologies Section, History & Preservation Section, Intellectual Freedom Subcommittee, Reference Section, and Technical Services Section
  • Yes, Our Collections Have Been Digitized: How Lyrasis' Digitization Collaborative Gets "Hidden" Collections Online, moderated by Debra Schiff, Chester Library and presented by Laurie Gemmill Arp, Director of Digital and Preservation Services, Lyrasis and Paul Martinez, Cataloging Librarian and Archivist, Sprague Library, Montclair University, Pre-conference Monday, May 16, 2016, 10:00 a.m. to 10:50 a.m. Virtual (Adobe Connect) – all conference attendees are free to attend. Sponsoring Groups: College & University Section, Emerging Technologies Section, History & Preservation Section, Reference Section, and Technical Services Section
I'm happy to be moderating one session and speaking in the other. My specific area in the Starting from Scratch session will be documentation. I'll be presenting a brief overview of all the documentation needed for a local history department. In preparation for the session, I created a "hidden" page on the Chester Library web site where attendees could obtain PDFs of forms I created for the Library and use them as templates for their departments. Essentially, I wanted to make it as straightforward as possible, so that no one would need to reinvent the wheel.

My experience with creating the documentation for Chester Library focused on reaching out to fellow archivists who had to create their own forms, policies, and procedures. I used the list servs, especially the Lone Arrangers Roundtable list because the members have always been so helpful. Also, because they're like me -- one-person shops, where you have to be all things to all people -- they were able to give me guidance and perspective particular to my situation. Fast forward to five years later, I'm able to do the same for others, and grateful to be able to do so.

Even though I'll be cycling out and becoming Past President in July, I'll still be connected to H&P. The Past President heads the Awards Committee. And, I'm always happy to mentor those who come after me, as I've done with the current P-E and Secretary. I can already see that they're well positioned to keep up the mentoring with those who come after them. It is gratifying to be part of that legacy.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Thoughts on the Practice of Description

As an archivist and local history librarian, one of the primary elements of my work is the description of collections and individual items. Sometimes, this description ends up in a finding aid such as this one on the Combe Fill South Landfill Records ( The purpose of that work is to make it easier for researchers to find and use the collection. It also provides a much deeper level of documentation of the collection that previously hadn't existed.

Beyond the finding aids, I also create a fair number of exhibits each year, both online and in cases within the Chester Library. Each of the items featured in the exhibits requires some description, but the more exhibits I create, the more time I spend describing the items. For my latest online exhibit, I kept a friend of mine in mind as a potential visitor. He uses a screen reader to experience web sites, as well as digital documents (think Word files), because he's blind.

Last week, I talked with another librarian about these types of motivations and decision-making efforts when it comes to description. I was reminded of attending the ARLIS annual meeting in Boston a few years ago. In one of the sessions, the speakers touched on the nature of description as applied to artworks. Her talk was in the context of describing paintings and other works to patrons with varied abilities, such as my friend Ken

Thinking about how to make a meaningful experience for anyone who might use a screen reader drove my process. Here is an example from the Memories of Chester, Herman Rademacher Series exhibit, "West Main Street and Morris Chamberlain" (

The postcard, copyrighted in 1915 by local printer George E. Conover, shows leafy trees lining the right side of the dirt road. On the left side of the image are businesses, a gas station, and a garage. There is an early Model T parked in front of the striped gas pump tower. A man stands in the doorway of the second building on the right (the Masonic Lodge). The Lodge is a two-and-a-half story building with a painted shield hung between two windows on the second floor. The garage is a single-story building with a flat façade.
It's been a few months since I released the exhibit, and without the pressure of a deadline, I can see areas where I could have been more descriptive. For example, I would describe the façade as a brick one in the block, Art Deco style. Here's a link to the high-quality, larger image of the postcard:

This week, I've been teaching a volunteer and Friend of the Library how to describe another set of postcards given anonymously to the library. These came fully captioned and annotated on their versos, but they still required more description. For the first postcard, I told her what I was seeing, and I brought out a large magnifying glass so that we could read a hanging sign in the card. (It reads "heste House," due to weather damage, but it should read "Chester House," because that's what the subject of the image is).

We talked about the fact that the trees had no leaves, which indicated winter (confirmed by the snow on the dirt road), and the possible time of the day based on the shadows. She understood right away why we were embarking on this project, and did a great first pass. This particular volunteer completed all the transcription work on the Herman Rademacher oral history videos, and enjoys her work in Local History. Because she was so familiar with that project, she was able to transfer what she learned onto her current project.

In my very compact schedules at Chester Library and the Plainfield Historical Society, it's a challenge to spend as much time thinking about projects as I'd like to do. Fortunately, I have a handful of smart and capable volunteers (who sometimes end up with the fun projects I'd like to do myself) doing great work and, through training, taking a some of that thinking off my plate.

Just as an aside, recently I've become President of the New Jersey Library Association's History & Preservation Section. That also puts demands on my time, but I'm happy to do what I can to help move our profession forward. For example, with great help from Jacqueline Haun, the Archivist at the Bunn Library, our next meeting on July 27 will be held with the Princeton Preservation Group at The Lawrenceville School. Importantly, in addition to our meeting, we booked a hands-on photo preservation workshop with Peter Mustardo of The Better Image. I also arranged a catered lunch for those interested in staying for it. It will be a day of filling our minds and bodies with very good things.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Spring MARAC/NEA 2015 in Boston

Prior to the joint Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference/New England Archivists events this past week, my excitement and anticipation had been building steadily. I’d signed up for a workshop on the Thursday, as I usually do because MARAC workshops tend to be worth more than the price of admission, and this one promised to be fun and educational. I had printed out the online program and circled the sessions I intended to attend (we had been warned early on to get to sessions early because 500 people had registered and there might be some difficulty finding a seat; by the end, we numbered 700, mostly local NEAers). I also wanted to try to meet some of the NEA folks because, well, I’m friendly that way – like most of the MARAC people I know. Lastly, I was looking forward to visiting with colleagues and friends I only see at MARAC meetings.

The Workshop: Copyright Fundamentals for Archivists and Librarians Led by Peter Hirtle
Peter, whom you’ll remember from this blog post: or perhaps this one:, has physically moved from Cornell University Library to the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, where he is a Research Fellow. He continues to use his Cornell email and serves as Senior Policy Advisor to the Cornell University Library on intellectual property rights issues.

I had heard great feedback about his workshop from other MARAC members, so this time I took it. Even though the title focuses on fundamentals, the course also dealt with risk assessment; “copyfraud” (the notion that institutions are asserting rights that they simply do not have; e.g., a work is in the public domain and a museum states on its web site that a copy photo has “All Rights Reserved.”); reproduction of copyrighted works; and key for cultural heritage institutions, fair use. During the day-long course, I participated in group exercises with my table neighbor, the very bright and fun Caitlin Goodman (link to her twitter: from the Free Public Library of Philadelphia. Peter’s instruction was useful and fun, and the day flew by.

Friday Plenary and Concurrent Sessions

The Friday Plenary session featured Danna Bell, Past-President of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and Educational Resource Specialist at the Library of Congress. She spoke about professional development for archivists, and where improvement was needed in educational offerings. I wished that she had recognized the people who deliver consistently good workshops at MARAC, but maybe she was preoccupied about her talk.

The first session I attended was S2. Lessons Learned: Legal Aspects and Ethical Principles of Oral History, with speakers Christine Anne George of the University at Buffalo, SUNY, and Cara Howe of SUNY Upstate Medical University (formerly of the Pan Am Flight 103 Archives at Syracuse). Christine spoke about her recent research on the Belfast Project at Boston College (she is not affiliated with BC), and mainly focused on the legal quagmire. The New Yorker magazine recently published an article that gives the history and the ethical issues connected with the oral history project ( 

Cara, whom I’d seen speak before, talked about the extensive oral history project for the Pan Am Flight 103/Lockerbie air disaster. I’m especially interested in her work, not just because it’s inherently interesting, but because she and her team invested a great deal of time documenting what they did and adhering to best practices.

The afternoon session was S11. Nurturing Nature, and it was where I presented for the first time at a professional conference. I had answered the call for speakers specifically because it was a “lightning” session, and we each would have about 6 minutes to present on our topics. Because Chester Library is the designated local repository for the EPA’s records on the Combe Fill South Landfill, I wrote that I could speak on the records for a local superfund site. Greta Suiter from MIT, the session moderator, was pleased, so I joined the 9 other speakers on the slate. 

Each of the speakers had great presentations, but I’ll just spotlight a handful here. One of my favorites was Sean Fisher’s (Mass. Dept. of Conservation and Recreation). He has an enormous job locating Mass. Parks materials stored in attics, crawlspaces, and essentially anywhere people could put stuff all over the state of Massachusetts. Miles Crowley also from MIT, spoke about pollution in the Charles River. Both Katie Hall and Sarah Denison represented the Delaware Public Archives. Katie focused on mosquito controls (and was hilarious). Sarah took a novel approach to her presentation on the storm of 1962 by running color films of the storm damage on a loop while she talked about the records (it was very effective). Liz Banks from the National Park Service, Northeast Region hit on a number of areas, but mainly focused on Yellowstone, especially Thomas Moran’s diary and paintings and the wolf research (some of which John and I had the pleasure of seeing when we took the Yellowstone archive tour). Rachel Donahue from the National Agricultural Library’s presentation was lots of fun, and spotlighted plant specimens. 

NJ/NY Caucus Meeting

This meeting was the first time I’d experienced a combined New Jersey and New York Caucuses meeting. It was led by Laura Poll of the Monmouth County Historical Association (more from her later) and Michael Martin of the New York State Archives. The meeting was an opportunity to hear what kinds of things are going on in each of the caucuses, although it was a bit of a shy group. It also could have been that it was at the end of the first day of the conference. Usually at MARAC meetings, the caucuses meet in the morning. I almost forgot to introduce myself as the incoming President of the New Jersey Library Association’s History & Preservation Section, but I squeezed it in and mentioned that I’ll be working with Laura on getting together some more H&P/NJ Caucus/Princeton Preservation Group meetings, since there’s so much of an overlap.

Saturday’s Events
On Saturday, I started the morning by attending the MARAC business meeting and enjoying the tasty breakfast buffet. The NEA folks also had a buffet and their business meeting in a different location at the venue. At our meeting, I learned that MARAC now has a Café Press site ( Outgoing Chair John LeGloahec from the National Archives and Records Administration also mentioned that changes to the Bylaws were in the making and he recommended that we attend a lunch session on the topic. There will be more discussion at the next MARAC in West Virginia, but I won’t be attending that one because I plan to attend the SAA annual meeting in August in Cleveland (and there’s only so much budget to go around).

The second plenary of the meeting followed the business meetings. It featured Sands Fish of MIT, who talked about networks in data and his project, Media Cloud. 

The first session of the day I attended was S15. Provenance vs. Artificial Collections: To Restore or Not to Restore? It was the most controversial session I experienced at the meeting. The speakers were Molly Stothert-Mauer of the Perkins School for the Blind, Laura Poll (see the Caucus meeting earlier), Linda Hocking of the Litchfield Historical Society, and Lindsay Turley of the Museum of the City of New York. The speakers talked about the individual experiences with dispersed, intermingled, and artificial collections, and more importantly, the justifications for the choices they made. I think all of the choices were valid, although I think in some cases I might make more use of subject/genre/etc. terms in finding aids to keep created collections together.  But keeping the researcher the top priority regardless of the arrangement choice is the bottom line. 

Another aspect worth considering is the idea of connecting previous indexes and cataloging efforts to the new arrangement. Laura pointed out that an archivist could create more of an issue if he/she didn’t invest the time to make clear the ties between the old and new. It also seems even more important to document all of those decisions and methods so that those who come afterward aren’t lost in the tangle of archival threads.

The last session of the day for me was S21. Physical vs. Digital and the User Experience. The moderator was Susie Bock of the University of Southern Maine and the speakers were Jane Metters LaBarbara of West Virginia University, Samuel Smallidge of Converse, and Anastasia S. Weigle of the University of Maine. Each speaker had a different perspective on the topic to be sure, but Samuel’s argument for practical uses of digital media for internal use at Converse in order to produce a new product (based on one from the 1970s) was pretty persuasive. I didn’t expect to learn about Chuck Taylor sneakers when I came to Boston for MARAC, but now I have a better understanding of some of the structural changes in them over time. By using digitized images of sneakers, he was able to help designers and marketers put together a custom sneaker for consumers in time for a big anniversary at the company.

The Conference Venue and Where I Stayed

There was a bit of construction in the Boston Park Plaza during the meeting. Because Boston had spent much of the winter under more snow than was reasonable, the work that was targeted to have been completed long before our arrival was still underway. In fact, the construction workers were laying carpet in some of the conference areas on the first day. It was inconvenient to be sure, but nothing we archivists/librarians couldn’t handle. 

I didn’t stay at the conference hotel, although I’d originally booked there. When it came closer to the event, my buddy John Beekman, Assistant Manager of the New Jersey Room at Jersey City Free Public Library, mentioned on the MARAC Facebook page that he’d checked to see if the construction had been finished. After I saw his post, I read the comments from recent visitors, and changed hotels to Hotel 140 ( They were very accommodating and helpful. The hotel is located a few blocks away from the Boston Park Plaza, which wasn’t a big deal except that on the first two days, it was cold and very windy. However, the room was clean, the bed was comfortable, and no fragrances were used on the linens (key for those of us who are sensitive to heavy, synthetic fragrances often used in detergents). 

Dining at Davio’s
Last, but never least (this was originally a food blog, you know), something about the restaurant I frequented. My pal Jane Ingold, a Reference Librarian at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, and I made plans to have lunch together during the Thursday break during both of our workshops. We dined at a lovely Italian restaurant that caters to GF people like me, called Davio’s ( located across the street from the Boston Park Plaza.  The food was very tasty and the service was attentive, albeit a bit slow. However, when I returned for lunch again the following day with another friend, Jacqueline Haun, Archives Librarian at The Lawrenceville School, I mentioned I was pressed for time (because I had a short presentation to make at 1:30 p.m.). The waitstaff made sure to get us out the door by the time specified, and we were grateful. In case you were wondering, I enjoyed the chopped salad (sans bacon) and the GF tomato pizza (on both days, they were that good, and I had leftovers for my little hotel fridge).  

Wrapping Up
As always, I enjoyed the MARAC meeting, made some new friends, and learned a lot more than I expected. The best advice I can give to new archivists and librarians is to join your local/regional professional society and get involved. Next is the NJLA meeting in April, complete with a full day of History & Preservation Section sessions for attendees to enjoy. Can’t wait!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Work Updates: The Big Exhibit and a Third Gig

From Plainfield Public Library Detwiller Architectural Drawings Exhibit 2014

The Big Exhibit
Shown above is the terrific Charles H. Detwiller, Jr. Architectural Drawings Collection exhibit at Plainfield Public Library created by Sarah Hull, Senior Archivist and Head of Local History, Special Collections and Genealogy; Jeff Wassen, Visual Materials and Exhibition Coordinator; Jane Thoner, Genealogy Librarian; and Sandy Gurshman, Special Collections and Reference Librarian. My contribution to this impressive display (which covers walls in the main reading room, Plainfield Room, and Meeting Room 2, as well as 4 exhibit cases) took place much earlier during my processing of the collection favorites in 2010 and 2011. The favorites are a small percentage of the now 16,000 sets of architectural drawings that represent each of the Plainfield architects, each type of structure in the city, and the best examples to use for exhibits.

When I took on that project, I applied the condition-reporting techniques I'd learned working at the Zimmerli Museum. My documentation included, among other things, taking measurements of each set and making recommendations for future exhibits. At the time, I didn't know where I would be working when those objects would be displayed, but I did know that the information I collected would be useful at some point. Since beginning his work on the exhibit, Jeff has let me know that my measurements, recommendations, and information slips kept with the rolled blueprints/drawings were helpful in their decision-making process.

From Plainfield Public Library Detwiller Architectural Drawings Exhibit 2014

The exhibit is extraordinary. It covers a wide range of architectural styles from the first building permit in 1896 to mid-century split-levels (the collection itself spans nearly 150 years). There are houses of worship, schools, homes of different types, apartments, stores, and even a drawing of a fancy snack cart for Muhlenberg Hospital. Below is a truly unique example -- a Central Railroad of New Jersey documentation of a train derailment in Cranford from 1924.

From Plainfield Public Library Detwiller Architectural Drawings Exhibit 2014

There are 25 architects' work on display. The archivists and librarians were able to locate information on 11 of them. For example, Col. Evarts J. Tracy, Jr. lived from 1868-1922 and was the great-great grandson of Roger Sherman, who signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Then there was Oscar S. Teale (1848-1927), who wasn't just a Plainfield architect, he moonlighted as a magician known as "Ottilidio," and called Houdini a close friend.

From Plainfield Public Library Detwiller Architectural Drawings Exhibit 2014

While those are notable stories, one of my favorite architects in the collection is Augustus L.C. Marsh (1865-1942). His attention to detail and flourish made his designs and talent famous with the wealthy families of Plainfield, as well as New York City, where he worked at the firm Marsh & Gette until he moved his offices to Plainfield.

From Plainfield Public Library Detwiller Architectural Drawings Exhibit 2014

The great collector and architect Charles H. Detwiller, Jr. (1916-1991) (shown above) saved this collection from certain ruin. As the story goes, Plainfield had been storing all the drawings and blueprints at the Wardlaw School until Wardlaw moved to Edison and the duCret School of Art bought the building. The city would have disposed of all the historical documents had it not been for Charles Detwiller. Son of an architect and father of two architects, Detwiller rented a storage facility for the thousands of sets of plans to save them for future generations until he donated them to the library in 1982.

Detwiller worked on many historical preservation projects including the Drake House in Plainfield, East Jersey Olde Towne in Piscataway, and others along the Atlantic coast. His residential works make up a fair amount of the collection. I've worked with many of the now fragile and acidic sketches of additions and new homes in locations as far flung as Montana (where he designed a fishing library with shelves bolstered by carved wooden fish). He's also the man behind the fancy snack cart I mentioned earlier.

From Plainfield Public Library Detwiller Architectural Drawings Exhibit 2014

I am sorry that I didn't have the opportunity to meet Charles Detwiller. Because I've spent so much time with his collection, as well as his own work, there are questions I wish I could ask him. For instance, what types of concerns arise when you speak with a client about the miniature golf course he wants for his garage (see the image below).

From Plainfield Public Library Detwiller Architectural Drawings Exhibit 2014

The Third Gig
Speaking of Detwiller, he and his wife Catherine also were active members of the Plainfield Historical Society (PHS). Earlier this year, PHS wrote me into a small grant to take a survey of their collection, make recommendations to bring the collections under intellectual and physical control, and do some processing (time permitting). I'm still at PHS one day per week, and very much enjoying the small and large discoveries in the Drake House. The volunteers and staff are lovely people who are dedicated to making the House and its collections more accessible and interesting to its visitors. On many a Sunday, I find much-needed and long missing photos of the House during a pivotal time period or a letter giving more insight into the relationship between a famous spinster and her mentor. Each week, there is an exciting new discovery, and I'm very grateful to be a part of that excitement.

Other Work News
Additionally, I recently celebrated two years as the Local History Librarian at Chester Library. The universe's gift to me on the occasion was to send a wonderful 83-year-old lifelong resident to me with a collection of postcards. It seems to be our trend now to digitize items on loan to us in order to increase their accessibility to our patrons both far and wide. His collection is no different, although this time, I have the great pleasure of video recording our patron talking about his Chester postcards and what the town was like during the 1940s and 1950s. My plan is to post an online exhibit on the postcards (much like this one), and add these short oral histories to each postcard page. I think it will add a wonderful new dimension to experiencing these postcards of Chester.

Our patron also has lent us his collection of The Mendham-Chester Tribune newspapers to digitize. I'm in the process of writing a grant for that project. Those papers add to our current collection of local papers and fill in an important gap -- the 1936-1939 time period. I can't wait to read those papers!

Overall, it's been an exciting time at Chester Library. This week, I give a Genealogy 101 presentation and have another video recording session with our soon-to-be internet sensation. He really is a natural at it. I'll be posting a link to the exhibit here when it's available. Because he has many postcards and we're taking quite a bit of footage, I expect the finished exhibit will be online in early 2015.

Until then, I encourage you to visit the Plainfield Public Library at 800 Park Avenue in Plainfield, NJ to see the remarkable Charles H. Detwiller, Jr. Architectural Drawings Collection exhibit. It will be available for viewing until November.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Tour of the RIT/NTID Deaf Studies Archive

Deaf-Mutes Journal, 1899

Typically, the cultural heritage institutions I've toured aren't directly connected to me, except in terms of my interest in their holdings and archivists/curators. However, the Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute of the Deaf (RIT/NTID) Deaf Studies Archive's collections have a different affect on me.

During my MLIS studies, I took two courses that resonated very deeply with me and influenced the descriptive aspect of my archives work in a large way. The two courses were Human Information Behavior (HIB) and Art Librarianship. In the Art Librarianship course, one assignment was to create an annotated bibliography for a very narrow topic. I love a good annotated bibliography (and a challenge), and I had a very narrow topic from a paper I had written for HIB -- "Information Seeking Behaviors of Deaf Culture Artists."

I don't remember how I came across Deaf Culture Artists, but I thought the artists (and deaf patrons as a whole) might be a vastly under-served group when it came to library services. Both the professors of these courses recommended that I submit the large paper, with the attached bibliography, to Art Documentation, the journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America. I was grateful for the encouragement because the paper was eventually published.

Ameslan Prohibited, Betty G. Miller

During the writing/editing of the published paper, I was in contact with two wonderful members of the Deaf Culture Art community, Dr. Betty G. Miller and Patti Durr. They both were very helpful and gave me a great deal of information on De'VIA and RIT's programs, respectively. When MARAC announced that it was holding the Spring 2014 meeting in Rochester, I knew I had to ask for a tour of the Archive.

About My Hosts, Becky Simmons and Joan Naturale
Becky Simmons, RIT Archivist and Joan Naturale, NTID Reference Librarian were very kind and gracious hosts. Becky provided me with a background on the overall RIT archives, while Joan highlighted collection standouts and explained their cultural importance. Prior to joining RIT, Becky served in multiple positions over 18 years at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. Joan's background includes teaching high school English to deaf students at the Alabama School for the Deaf, serving as English Instructional Specialist for deaf students at Northwestern Connecticut Community College, and Librarian at the Austine School for the Deaf. She also taught American Sign Language and English classes to middle and high school students at Austine. Becky has been at RIT for 11 years, and Joan will celebrate her 15th year in July.

During the tour, Joan also introduced me to Jeanne Behm, RIT American Sign Language & Deaf Studies Community Center Coordinator. You'll meet her later in two videos (below). Both Joan and Jeanne were interpreted by Jonathan Hopkins, NTID Associate Interpreter. 

Becky Simmons, RIT Archivist, with Newby Ely Collection posters featuring deaf characters.

Joan Naturale, NTID Reference Librarian, with Deaf Characters in Films Collection posters featuring deaf characters.

About the RIT/NTID Deaf Studies Archive
The Archive is a subset of the RIT Archive Collections, which also contains the university archives, a substantial art collection, and special collections. According to its web site, the Archive's charge is to document "RIT’s central role in educating the Deaf and hard of hearing in the United States and draws from Rochester's significant Deaf community. The main focus of the archive is Deaf culture, Deaf studies, Deaf education, Deaf theater, Deaf artists and Deafness."

Established in 2006, the Archive includes NTID records, collections by and about Robert Panara (the first deaf faculty member), Harry Lang research files (another longtime NTID faculty member), Deaf Rochester Film Festival records, Student Life tapes, Lights On! Deaf Theater records, Lee Brody TTY Phone Collection, Patti Durr Deaf Holocaust Survivor Interviews and Films, International Archive of Deaf Artists, and many more (follow this link to see the entire list).

Joan says, "The most popular collections are NTID History materials, NTID/Deaf Theater materials, Tripod, Deaf Films Posters, the Panara collections, Lang collections, deaf artwork, the first videophone, Ahira Webster diary, and Deaf during WW II/Holocaust materials." The Archive has 2-3 visitors per week, not counting e-mail and phone inquiries. The types of materials patrons can experience include paper, photographs, artwork, electronic files, and videos.

Of the many items in the Archive, Joan's favorites are "Deaf artwork because many deaf artists express themselves via De’VIA, a unique art form, but there are talented traditional deaf artists as well... Panara collections because he was the first Deaf faculty to teach deaf studies, particularly deaf characters in literature and film, and he is a talented writer/poet and sign artist."

In the video below, Joan uses materials from the Deaf Characters in Film Collection (purchased with library budget funds) to tell me about Charlie Chaplin's deaf actor, Granville Redmond.

She also favors the Lang collections "because of his in-depth research and biographies on influential deaf people in various fields that we didn’t know were deaf such as Ruth Benedict, Dorothy Fisher, etc."

First Videophone used on campus

Other materials that top Joan's list: "The first videophone that was used at NTID for a few years in the late 1960s, which was created by a Rochester company and shows that NTID was innovative and ahead of its time; the deaf survivors of WWII materials; Tripod materials because this was the first bilingual/bicultural school in the U.S. located in the LA area where both deaf and hearing children were taught together using sign language with two teachers also using sign language; and the Ahira Webster diary (from Fredonia, NY) which describes life at the N.Y. State School for the Deaf in Fanwood in the pre Civil War era."

Regarding the Ahira Webster diary, see the video below for Joan's explanation of how it and the newspaper at the top of this post were found.

The video below shows Joan talking to me about Webster's diary itself.

In our email correspondence, Joan told me that that the collection that has had the greatest impact on the patrons is the Deaf Art/Deaf Artists collection. She explains, "Many are attracted to the visual arts and a Deaf Art course is taught on campus. We have a Deaf Union Flag created by a French Deaf artist, Arnaud Balard, which shows a turquoise hand outlined in gold against a dark blue background. The colors have symbolic meanings: turquoise represents sign language and the sky; gold represents knowledge, light, hope, enlightenment and sun; and dark blue represents Deafhood, an individual and collective journey to combat audism and embrace Deaf Gain. Paddy Ladd, who coined the term Deafhood, established the Blue Ribbon ceremony to commemorate deaf people’s experiences around the globe, and this color is used by the organization The World Federation of the Deaf (the Nazis also assigned this color to identify deaf people during WWII)."

The video below features Joan showing me the flag and explaining its meaning.

In Fall 2015, NTID will be celebrating 25 years of De'VIA art, and will be exhibiting some of the works. Currently, De'VIA works are on exhibit at the RIT American Sign Language and Deaf Studies Community Center at the Wallace Library (downstairs from the Archive), in Joan Naturale's office, and at NTID's Roscia Hall. On the way to the Center, we dropped by Joan's office where she showed me some De'VIA art (shown below).

L’abbé de L’Epée (lightbox), created by Arnaud Balard, 2012

Deaf Women Soup created by Ann Silver, 1995

At the Center, I met Jeanne Behm, RIT American Sign Language & Deaf Studies Community Center Coordinator. In the two videos below, she talks with me about Arnaud Balard's work George Veditz, as well as Uzi Buzgalo's Artwork, Flower of Lanugage.

Rochester, N.Y. has the largest deaf population per capita, even larger than Washington, D.C., where Gallaudet University sits. Because the Archive collects materials on the history of NTID's founding; deaf education; and many more influential materials on local, U.S., and international deaf culture, it serves the need of preserving this important portion of our collective historical memory. If you travel to the Rochester area, don't miss visiting the RIT/NTID Deaf Studies Archive.

Contact Information
Becky Simmons,, (585) 475-2557
Joan Naturale,, (585) 286-4635
The Wallace Center
Rochester Institute of Technology
90 Lomb Memorial Dr.
Rochester, NY 14623