Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Yellowstone National Park Heritage and Research Center Tour

From September 2010

Last week, Anne Foster (the archivist from Yellowstone National Park) asked me to let job seekers know that three new archivist positions had been posted at USAJobs. Because a few of you readers might just apply for one of these great opportunities, I thought I'd share my experience touring the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center where the archives live and the parks' museum collections are stored.

From September 2010

The very large, very clean, friendly building was built in 2004 because the park needed more space for its archival and museum holdings. As far as the archives go, there are three collections: natural resources, donated materials, and scheduled records. The administrative records for the world's first national park (some shown above) include some pretty interesting records, especially the work journals of military personnel who ran the park in the early days.

From September 2010

Although the park is affiliated with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), records "born" at Yellowstone remain there instead of being sent off to NARA. It makes sense because if you are already at Yellowstone researching a given topic, such as the park's wolf population, it could be cost/time prohibitive to travel to NARA for records or pay for them to be digitized.

From September 2010

(There's Anne above, giving a tour of the big map room.) John and I were lucky enough to experience two tours, a private one with only Anne, and a public one shared with about 10 tourists. Prior to the public tour, I had the opportunity to ask Anne a bit about the collections. She told us that she was only a few months into the job (had come from the University of Alaska) and already had plans to do a lot of weeding, research into provenance, and much more work. That's when I first learned she would be hiring a few archivists to help.

From September 2010

The public tour started in the rare books room. Not only were there rare books but the park has scrapbooks and clippings ranging from 1914 through the 1940s. There we saw an exhibit of a note found at the top of a flag pole that showed the names of some of the workers.

From September 2010

There were signed copies of rare books, including the first book published in the Montana territories, "Vigilantes of Montana."

From September 2010

From the rare books room, we returned to the archives in the public tour, where we learned more about the content of the materials.

From September 2010

Early on, the military hired civilian scouts. Researchers can see their diaries. They can also see how park workers' attitudes toward the animal inhabitants changed over time. In the early days, the animals were referred to as "pets."

From September 2010

Here Anne is showing the important wolf migration maps. She also mentioned the documentation of elk overgrazing that can be shown in the elk movement maps. As an archivist very interested in advocacy, I was inspired by how Anne showed through the materials that archives help people understand how visitors experience wilderness over time.

From September 2010

After the archives tour, we were treated to a fun tour of the museum's storage area by registrar Bridgette Guild. There we learned that the photographs are kept in the museum storage area, not upstairs in the archives. Ken Burns used 900 images from the collection in his PBS miniseries on the national parks.

From September 2010

Among the museum's more than 300,000 items, they hold approximately 10,000 specimens, including 96 wolf skulls. Some of the items on the table are from the archeology collection. Researchers who take samples during their surveys of the park are required to submit samples to the museum.

The gun on the table is called a "Thumper Gun" made by Smith and Wesson. They originally used liquid slugs to break up riots. Now they are used with rubber bullets to deter bears.

In another part of the storage area are the Thomas Moran watercolors. They are kept in special cabinets to prevent as much deterioration as possible. Although they do get out, to protect them, the works are not loaned out on any long-term basis.

Overall, the Yellowstone National Park Heritage and Research Center (which also includes a lovely research library, by the way), is a stop that should not be missed on your next visit to Yellowstone. Best of luck to the candidates who apply for the prize archivist positions.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

EAD Workshop at MARAC in Harrisburg

Once again, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) delivered big conference value. Probably the biggest bang for the buck for me was the Encoded Archival Description (EAD) Workshop on Thursday.


For my non-archivist friends and family who read this blog, here is a quick overview (archivists, feel free to scroll down to Workshop). Because archivists want potential visitors and researchers to easily find and use our collections, we write documents called finding aids and put them on the Internet. (We also publicize collections by launching exhibits, press releases, and other outreach efforts, but for now, let's just stick with the topic at hand.)

Finding aids can hold a little or a lot of information. It all depends on the cultural heritage institution's preference. But to offer the same types of information categories across the board, we follow a set of standards called "Describing Archives: A Content Standard" (DACS -- rhymes with quacks).

Because we put our finding aids online, we have the option of adding more information and/or making edits later. This flexibility provides a good argument for entering the minimal amount of information required by DACS into a finding aid and throwing it up on the web, even if we haven't processed the entire collection yet. That way, folks can find the repository that has the historical information they need and use it. Otherwise, some backlogged collections could take years to process, and no one would know they even exist (happens all the time, sadly). That brings up the topic of "More Product, Less Process," but I'll just give you a link to the original piece and you can read about that at your leisure.

[In practice, I prefer to give a substantial amount of information in my finding aids. I want to give the researcher a leg up on his/her work by providing a good historical foundation for the collection as well as descriptions of each series in the collection. This way, when the researcher goes to look into a given folder or box, he/she will know what else there is nearby that might fit into his/her work. They might not have the time to fish around for it otherwise.

I also like to provide links to related materials elsewhere in the repository. For an example, at Rutgers, I processed a box of materials from an administrator who served during the late 1800s through the early 1900s (until he died, slaving away at his desk). When I wrote my finding aid, I researched his biographical history and found that he never left the place since entering as an undergraduate. Rutgers keeps files on students, and I was able to locate this administrator's undergrad box, which held all kinds of interesting items, including a number of photographs of him through the years. I also found his obituary describing his dedication to his students and death at his desk. I believe it to be true because he corresponded with every single student and potential student during his tenure. He was a very busy man.]

One last, very important piece on EAD before I start in on the Workshop -- EAD is a markup language based on XML (extensible markup language). XML code works on the premise that content is separate from structure and appearance. It's very flexible and allows the user to change how information appears without changing the actual content. It also allows users to easily make different versions of a document by applying different style sheets. Style sheets decode the XML to display the document on the web.

EAD has its own set of elements and attributes that specify the characteristics of a document. These characteristics are based on recognizable standards, and there are a lot of organizations that have made public their style sheets for others to use (awfully kind of them). OK, on to the workshop!

Now that you have a little background, I can tell you about the workshop given by the very knowledgeable and helpful Michele Combs, from Syracuse University. Prior to the day-long class, I had used EAD, but had never taken a course on it. So, I was counting on this introductory workshop to provide me with a good working knowledge of the basics. I was not disappointed. In fact, Michele said that SAA typically covers the same material in a two-day workshop (for a LOT more $$$).

Michele and Dale Patterson (archivist at the United Methodist Church Archives in Madison, NJ) provided us with software (XML and text editors) and an array of handy files to use in the workshop and afterward. Via PowerPoint slides, she gave us a good background on EAD and XML. She also explained how to use the code correctly, since there are a number of ways to make errors (although the XML editor, oXygen, showed us immediately where and how we went wrong).

There were around 35 people in the class, and most had no experience with EAD. At times, the class was slowed by individual class members' technical challenges, but we thoroughly covered all the ground in the agenda and had time for lots of questions.

Michele talked a bit about the standards to use with EAD and why it is very important to use them. What I found out later, when I sat in on the NY Caucus meeting, was that she's working with a few other EAD pros to create a consortium of organizations that will put all their EAD finding aids in one spot so that they are easily locatable and searchable by potential users. The idea is based on the Online Archive of California (definitely check it out). All these organizations need to apply the same standards to their EAD documents to make the search functions and style sheets work correctly on each.

Michele also explained how EAD documents are divided into two main sections, the "header" and the "archdesc." Because so much of the information we deal with as archivists and librarians is specific to the repository, the top section of the EAD document is dedicated to the finding aid itself, and not the collection. That portion is the header. It contains specific codes for the repository and descriptive and identifying information about the finding aid (names, dates, creator, etc.). This portion of the finding aid usually is invisible to the public, but provides valuable information to someone working with the document on the back end.

The other section, the archdesc, is further divided into two parts:
1. did = the description of the collection as a whole
2. dsc = the actual inventory (boxes, folders, etc.)
Here's one example of the did portion of a finding aid, as displayed online: The Plainfield Garden Club Finding Aid (I reprocessed the collection, but did not write the finding aid). So, from the top all the way down to the Container Listing is the did. After that, it's all dsc.

Mind you, many organizations do not go into as much detail as we did in the inventory. Here's an example of a short, but sweet finding aid with a pretty nifty style sheet: Alice Gold and Silver Mine Records. It fulfills many of the DACS requirements, but does it in a minimalist way.

In the workshop, we worked off our own finding aids to enter content into a template Michele provided. She also gave us a style sheet that unfortunately didn't include some of the elements I had in my finding aid. As the class went on, I wished more and more that we had another workshop on style sheets. It seemed that the answer to many of my questions revolved around them and other things we wouldn't be covering in the introductory course.

Because he was sitting to my right, I was able to ask Dale quite a few questions. He was very helpful and pointed me to the EAD Cookbook, where I could learn more about the more advanced stuff. Now I just need to carve out some time to apply what I've learned.

Some folks had difficulty with the inventory section, but since it was hierarchically based, I could follow the code pretty well. I liked using oXygen because it made it so much easier than coding by hand. The templates and style sheets were already entered into the software, so we just needed to apply the elements and attributes to our content. We also were able to open "working document" versions of our EAD files within our browsers. This way, we could track our progress each time we saved a new change to the document. Talk about instant gratification!

Overall, this workshop exceeded my expectations. Michele and Dale did an excellent job making EAD easy to understand and apply. I now feel a lot more comfortable noodling around with EAD and look forward to learning more about this very useful way of making collections more accessible.

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

My dear friend Jerome used to say, "If you do what you always did, you'll get what you always got, so change it up." Sometimes when I bump up against a wall, I'll hear his voice in my memory, gently reminding me that it's time to stop being Super Deb and ask for help. This week, I asked for help with my resume/CV.

I started by reaching out to the Archives & Archivists (A&A) list serv sponsored by the Society of American Archivists (of which I'm a member). Individuals do not have to be members or even archivists to post to the list. I've read inquiries posted by professionals in other fields seeking advice and the useful and speedy responses by list subscribers.

After thanking list members for their help in the past, I asked if the A&Aers would be willing to send me their resumes and if anyone would be willing to give mine a review. Essentially, I was looking for some typical examples of archivists' resumes and some constructive criticism. I was impressed and gratified by the number of people willing to help. Further, I was moved by the people who took the time to pick through my CV and provide thoughtful and practical suggestions (nearly all of which I've been applying to the document I'm reworking).

It was interesting to see how many people had worked at their university libraries and later had been hired at those institutions. At one point, I felt a bit intimidated by some of the CVs of people who have been archivists for many years and were quite accomplished. However, I was reminded that my internships and other recent work experiences are valuable and worth a look, too.

Probably the biggest challenge is balancing my previous careers with this new one. For years, I straddled a few different, albeit related, fields: technical writing and editing, feature writing and editing, and corporate communications. There were logical career moves that could be linked easily within a chronological resume. Now that I've changed careers to something quite different, the challenge is to write an appealing resume/CV that will show how key experience and skills from the previous fit comfortably within the current work.

While not all of the A&A topics are as collegial and helpful as my "help request" has been, I remain a big fan of the list's members. Now, it's up to me to give help where and when I can to pay forward the kindness that was extended to me.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Archive and Library Visits (Updated, Corrections)

From August 2010

November 29, 2010 update: This morning, Gina from the Utah State Archives took the time to send me an email that corrected some of my misunderstandings. Consequently, I've updated the text below (in bold) to reflect the changes. Apologies for any inconveniences my misinterpretations may have caused.

The week before John and I left Utah for our cross-country adventure, I had the opportunity to visit the Utah State Archives, Utah State History (formerly known as the Utah State Historical Society) and the University of Utah's Marriott Library. I had contacted both facilities in advance to arrange for private tours. Whenever I ask for tours, I am asked "why?" in some polite way. So, I've developed a very quick elevator speech telling folks that I'm an archivist and I'm interested in learning more about the institution's holdings and preservation techniques. I also want to know more about the kinds of research questions the archivists, historians, and librarians handle. Luckily, I had excellent tour guides.

By the time I visit one of these cultural heritage institutions, I've usually scoured the web site to see how these pros describe their collections -- the content on their web pages as well as any finding aids that might be online. Why expend all the effort? Well, despite the MLIS degree and recent experience, I'm still learning, and I enjoy the research process.

I believe everyone has at least one specialty -- whether it's career related or otherwise (just look at all those food blogs, mine included). For instance, one of my specialties is research. Back when I wrote feature stories for a popular engineering magazine, my favorite part of the job was the research, especially the interviews (which probably explains my love of oral histories). I also enjoyed putting together all the pieces of the puzzle to tell the story -- a big part of describing collections, it turns out.

Utah State Archives/Utah State History
Visiting the Utah State Archives had been on my to-do list for a while since I'd heard about their big, automated, climate-controlled records area. While that's certainly impressive (see the photo above), it doesn't hold a candle to what's in the basement of Utah State History. According to Gina, of the Utah State Archives, it "is a division of the Department of Administrative Services while Utah State History is a division of the Department of Community and Culture. The collections held by each are separately acquired, organized and stored (not to mention funded).

From August 2010

OK, it's a fancy shower from a Salt Lake hotel, but it's only one of a city block's worth of objects under what people typically think of as the state archives. Again, Gina says, "The joint research center was opened in 2005 as a service to research patrons since the collections are next-door to each other and it did not make sense to have two research locations. Previously, the Historical Society operated a library on the second floor of the depot and the State Archives operated a research center in its old location behind the State Capitol building."

From August 2010

My apologies for the less-than-optimal photos; it was a bit dark in some areas. Utah State History used to have a full museum space upstairs in what used to be the Union Station train depot. Although there are exhibits in the entry hall, it no longer has a formal museum space, and most of the objects live down in the basement (regrettably not climate controlled, unlike the records building, which also protects some records dating back to 1850).

From August 2010

Along with those acres of objects, the space holds a range of items you'd expect to see in an archives, papers, lots of pamphlets, rare books (many on aspects of Mormonism), maps, photographs, films, video tape, and a lot of microfilm.

From August 2010

Speaking of film, the archivists found that they had quite a few nitrate photographs that were deteriorating rapidly. Since that's not just a problem, but a hazard, they arranged for special packaging and some meat freezers to be brought downstairs so that the photos could be frozen to prevent fires and possible explosions.

From August 2010

The research center (think reading room of a library) holds old-fashioned card catalogs of the photo collections. It also has a large collection of school yearbooks. One issue with holding yearbooks is that they tend to get torn (it's true! people come to tear out their photos or photos of others) or vandalized (mustachioed girls, crossed-out eyes, etc.). Fortunately, Utah State History keeps multiple copies of the yearbooks they receive from donors in case of such actions.

From August 2010

Visitors also find volumes on Utah law and history in the research center.

From August 2010

My very knowledgeable tour guide and research center reference librarian Greg Walz showed me some of the microfilm stored off the main room.

From August 2010

From August 2010

Because the Latter Day Saints have genealogy pretty much sewn up in Salt Lake City, Utah State History historians tend to send folks to the Family History Library a few blocks away when those kinds of questions arise. Gina let me know that the State Archives only sends people to the Family History Library for records they do not hold, such as items from other countries.

Finally, I was amazed that State Archives' records received the red carpet treatment, while the historical items were stored without any climate control (with the exception of items receiving conservation help in refrigerators or freezers). I wish them a great, big, preservation grant to retrofit the building for climate control.

University of Utah, Marriott Library
While I would have liked to have taken photos inside the library, my guide, Peter Kraus said it was prohibited due to student privacy protections. That's fine by me, so other than my photos of the Special Collections Department, you'll find the photo credits as given on Flickr.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Marriott Library is that there are art works everywhere, down to these bronze book sculptures found on the exterior of the building.

Bronze exterior book sculptures by Suikang Zhao
Copyright Marriott Library, University of Utah.

It's an impressively large building with lots of space for studying...

1st floor study alcoves
Copyright Marriott Library, University of Utah, photo taken by Mary Ross.

taking classes...

Computer lab 2
Copyright Marriott Library, University of Utah, photo taken by Mary Ross.

developing new techniques...

Copyright Marriott Library, University of Utah, photo taken by Mary Ross.

and much more.

Multimedia Archives
Copyright Marriott Library, University of Utah, photo taken by Mary Ross.

The Marriott Library holds 3.2 million volumes, but it continues to weed in favor of electronic versions of journals, etc. There is a storage facility very similar to the one in the state archives, which holds 1.2 million volumes including rare books and items from the Fine Arts Library. The first floor is designated as a food zone, and students/staff may have meals delivered there. The library recently completed a $5 million renovation, which included those lovely study alcoves shown above. I was a bit jealous, and thought I'd probably have spent more time on campus if my colleagues and I had those alcoves (and pizza delivery).

Six percent of the collection was weeded in order to make space for those fancy computer classrooms. Each of the 12 classrooms can hold up to 70 students. Outside the classrooms were very fancy (and in my mind, vastly overpriced at $5000 each) chairs designed just for the U's students. Speaking of the students, the library serves the students especially well by providing academic advisors within the spacious Knowledge Commons.

The Marriott is pretty famous for its Middle East Study Center (2nd oldest after Harvard). They have on staff a Middle East Cataloger as well as several multilingual librarians to help researchers and students.

Throughout the library are spaces where students can use a variety of techniques to study and learn. My favorite was the glass walls where students wrote with dry erase markers to demonstrate their theories.

Special Collections Tour
When Peter needed to go back to work, he put me in touch with Dr. Paul A. Mogren, a librarian and professor working in Special Collections. Luckily, Paul was providing reference desk support, so I sat with him as he described the holdings at Marriott Library. We overlooked the reading room, which happened to be empty at 4 pm in the afternoon.

From September 2010

The Special Collections floor is the only place in the library where visitors can see exhibits. When I was there, the exhibits included a Mexican book exhibit and an artists' book exhibit, showcasing works from their book arts program. Yet another reason to move to Utah.

As Paul showed me around, I was impressed with the sheer size of the place.

From September 2010

Well, that and the fact that it wasn't located in the basement.

From September 2010

Since it was recently renovated, the archives still had room for expansion. The holdings include more than 1,500 manuscripts. Some of those include the papers of Marriner Stoddard Eccles, probably most well known for having served as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve between 1934 and 1948. Also among the collections are the papers of Barney C. Clark (developed the Jarvik-7 artificial heart), loads of winter sports and ski archives, and the university archives.

The whole library is pretty darn impressive, and I'm looking forward to my next visit when I'm back in town.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Back in New Jersey

Typically, I keep this blog updated about once a week, but since the previous post, John and I have taken an epic cross-country adventure road trip in my 13 year old Honda Accord (which now sports over 180K miles on the odometer). We stopped at every national park and monument along our path, and then some. Although half our trip was spent at Yellowstone National Park, we explored the southern portion of Montana, a good deal of Wyoming and South Dakota, and stopped at museums in Michigan and New York State (The Ford and Corning Museum of Glass, to be exact).

I took more than 1500 digital photos. Probably 600 more than was necessary. (Really, how many shots of bison do I need after the first 20?) While I continue cropping and adjusting the photos I've selected for online sharing, please enjoy the tiny videos (36 seconds or shorter) I've posted at YouTube (just click on the links below).

Bison Walking Very Close to the Car

Geyser in Full Force at Yellowstone

Fountain Paint Pots at Yellowstone

Coyote in the Hayden Valley of Yellowstone Capturing a Mouse

Coyote Called Back by His Fellows in Yellowstone

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Park City Museum Posts

Now that my work at the Park City Museum has ended, I thought this one-stop link page would be handy for those interested in my writings on the topic. The posts below are in chronological order from earliest to latest. Please leave any thoughts or suggestions in the comments section below the links. Thanks!

Wednesday June 10, 2010
Sunday June 20, 2010
Tuesday June 29, 2010
Saturday July 17, 2010
Saturday July 24, 2010
Saturday July 31, 2010
Monday August 16, 2010
Friday August 27, 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010

Tying Up Loose Ends

I have been writing this post in my head for about a week. As is the case in any work transition, it has been hectic wrapping up the work and planning to move back East. But, I have been thinking, in a very user-centric way, how to best present everything I've learned about the New Park Mining Company records and how to instruct those who come after me to do the same.

Since my last blog post, I have accomplished two big goals:
1. I wrote a finding aid based on the descriptions in the inventory of the collection (in Word and not EAD, as I would have liked, but that's another story that involves the Archivists' Toolkit and a great deal of sighing), and
2. I developed a plan with step-by-step instructions on how to keep the collection moving along after I've gone.

Earlier today, during my last meeting with Emily the Archivist, I mentioned that my favorite part of the post-processing work was the research and writing of the History and Scope and Content Note portions of the finding aid. I also enjoyed writing the series and subseries descriptions because the conciseness of those sections really made me focus on the nuggets that would attract researchers.

Because I had done a portion of the processing (along with three other History Chicks) and reviewed the meatiest records (the 20 boxes of General Files, those marvelous journals, and the oversized items) during the description process, I had a feeling of what needed to go into the up-front sections of the finding aid. Along the way, I had photocopied items and kept a running Company History file of my own, which I passed along to Emily during our meeting.

At slow points during my three hours of front desk coverage this week, I combed the Past Perfect database for related images in the museum's collection (for potential exhibits and for the Related Materials section of the finding aid). I used the personal names, corporate names, and subjects from the Keywords and Search Terms section of the finding aid to research the photos. It was especially useful to sort by Description field because all the terms are indexed in that field. I was rewarded with approximately 50 images of predecessor mines, New Park Mining Company personnel, and plenty of exterior photos of the company's holdings.

In writing the finding aid, I also described the arrangement of the collection and its series/subseries. This part of the process was greatly helped by all the notes I'd taken along the way in the Moleskine notebooks my mother-in-law had given me for Christmas. I also had asked the others processing the collection to note on folders when arrangements changed or differed from others in the materials they handled. There were many cases where we imposed order because the materials came to us in such a rough state. The Arrangement Note also allowed me to explain some of the decisions we made in order to make the collection useful to future researchers as well as other archivists.

On that subject, I'm just going to digress for a moment. I am now convinced that when working on a large collection with a group of people, it is key that at least one person has the big picture view of the collection. In this case, that person was me because I was writing the inventory as well as doing my share of the processing. Because I had the bird's eye view, I could take responsibility for the arrangement.

After I had completed the portions of the finding aid that I could (there is still a quantity of canceled checks requiring processing and description), I set to work on the documentation for what should come next. For a day, I focused my energy on envisioning the future of the collection. I began to prioritize the activities that needed to be accomplished first, then I filled in the steps needed to achieve those goals. In today's meeting with Emily, I walked her through the plan and checklist, discussing everything from completing the remaining processing to budgeting for and promoting potential exhibits. We also discussed responding to calls for papers for conferences in fields such as mining history and archival studies.

I'm a bit sad that I might not be in Park City when the exhibit happens, but I will keep in touch with Emily and the other fantastic women at the Museum who have made my summer so meaningful. I will miss my morning commutes through the canyons to one of the nicest places I have ever worked.

From August 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

The View from 10,000 Feet

As I flew back to NJ for a short visit, I had a few hours to consider the work coming to a close at the Park City Museum. While it may seem like there is a large quantity of work left, we had decided to rehouse the checks as simply as possible, thus saving a lot of processing time. I've been focused on describing and arranging the 20 boxes of general files and 16 boxes of oversized items, so it was Emily who developed the system for housing the checks in the oversized boxes.

From August 2010

Here, you can see Emily's technique. As she opened the drawers, she found bundled (so far) checks, bank statements, and duplicates. She kept the original order since the majority of what she had found was in chronological and numerical order. In some cases, she used "blue board" (or acid-free, thick corrugaded board) to create a bridge of sorts to keep the lid from touching the checks, but still have it fit the box. She's very resourceful!

Other than the checks, last week we finished sorting through the vouchers and check copies. The New Park Mining Company kept multiple copies of checks, vouchers, and other documents, but in our materials, we didn't find a lot of overlap from year to year. That meant we would need to keep all the materials.

Well, not all the materials. After some friendly emails back and forth, the lovely folks at the Utah State Archives came to visit (while I was at storage, regrettably) and look at 6 boxes we wanted to give away to a good home. Most of these items were newsletters or reports from the Lead Industries Association, or publications of the Utah Mining Association that the president of the New Park Mining Company collected. Because these materials were not personalized in any way, did not fall into the collecting policy of the museum, and would fit better at the state archives (not to mention give us precious space), we were happy to put them into safe hands.

Otherwise, I still have yet to make the Archivists' Toolkit work at the musuem. Since I only have a few weeks left to do my work, I'm going to use an EAD template to build a framework for the museum to use after I've gone. I'm also going to develop a Word version of the finding aid in case they want just the content to add to the Past Perfect database.

The important part of the finding aid is the content, although making it accessible online is key (whether in EAD or HTML). Because it will describe a sizable collection, it will need to be easily searchable for researchers focused on specific elements, e.g., mining injuries, union negotiations, or stockholders. No doubt, I will be very busy with the task of writing the finding aid (well, as much as I can do without all of the collection being processed).

I wish had more time to work on the collection and its finding aid, but my last day is coming very quickly. Then, John and I take an epic road trip back to NJ, stopping at national parks and museums along the way. In the meantime, I keep sending out resumes and hoping that a good spot opens soon.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Curse of the Clean Desk

From July 2010

The curse of the clean desk is that once it's cleaned, there will inevitably emerge a pile of interesting, albeit complex, items that will land upon it requiring work of some sort. On the other hand, the joy is in the journey to the clean desk. Why else would I choose to become an archivist if I didn't love the challenge of solving the historical puzzle that is a set of records in heavy disarray? Well, there also is the art of the description, which has been such a big part of this experience at the museum this summer.

From July 2010

The funny-looking tube hanging from the ceiling is a fume vent (very handy for dusty and dirty collections such as the New Park Mining Company records I've been working on lately). It's somewhat loud, but as I've been working at this desk, I have hooked the laptop up to the network, and have been listening to my Pandora.com stations at a loud volume to cover the noise.

I really should have taken a before photo. The desk had been covered with items of varied purposes and origins, as well as oversized boxes with their contents. I also had been using a cart to hold several boxes since I kept having to return to the same 6 or 7 boxes to file more items.

From July 2010

I really like having a workspace shared with museum objects. There's just something about being present with all that history that seems to make me smile from the inside out. From the shelves' perspective, to their right are expandable shelving units where all kinds of interesting objects are held. For example, Wendy and I recently made space for the New Park Collection's oversized items by moving a beautiful, yellow, intricately beaded dress that once belonged to one of Park City's earliest millionaires, the Silver Queen (Susanna Egera Bransford Emery Holmes Delitch Engalitcheff -- she was married a few times).

This room was originally a liquor store. Although you cannot see the doors to the right of the desk, there are Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control stickers still on the glass of the doors.

From July 2010

Here's how I left the general files and oversized items yesterday. We've been hanging slips of paper out of the boxes to keep the subseries easily accessible. Miscellaneous items keep popping up in the vouchers that Jenette and Kate have been processing at the storage facility. Now that I've "finished" (until all the vouchers are done, I won't really consider them done) the box lists in an Excel file, it's much easier to locate which box holds a folder I need.

For example, on Thursday, I had created a file for licenses and registrations since we found a registration for a still, among the other items. (Why the miners would have a still up at the mine is ponderous. These fellow spent a great deal of time blasting in the mines, and had large stores of explosives on site. All safety issues aside, the registration said that as long as the paid registration was posted publicly, there was no issue.)

Late yesterday, in a pile of very unrelated items (a document for a course taught by mine manager Tom P. Costas for a local vocational school, Utah Taxpayers Association flyers, and mining injury reports), I found a purchaser's license. It took just seconds to find where that folder I'd created the day before was now housed.

Tom P. Costas is one of the many frequently occurring names we've found in this collection. He's easily remembered for his gorgeous handwriting and flourished signature. His correspondence with W.H.H. Cranmer, mine president, is well worth the read. Yesterday, Emily found some great photos in Past Perfect of Cranmer, Costas, and the mine itself. They will be key to an exhibition of the collection.

From July 2010

It's not pretty, but it works great for the moment until we can say this portion is no longer "in process." However, I'm looking forward to when the box labels arrive and these can be labeled properly.

I also will be very happy when I've properly installed the Archivists' Toolkit. I've tried quite a few times to make the MySQL and AT programs talk to each other in a kind and loving way, but have been very frustrated at my inability to make that happen. The developers had been very helpful, but I haven't heard back recently. Hopefully, we'll be able to resolve the issues and I can start working on the actual EAD finding aid. Otherwise, I'll have to code it by hand, which is no trivial task.

In either case, I don't have much time left out here in Utah to accomplish the task. If need be, I can always make copies of those Excel files (where I've included detailed descriptions of the materials) and other historic documentation I've been collecting along the way, and write the finding aid back home in NJ to email back to Park City. Until then, I'll just keep plugging away at the New Park Mining Company collection.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Behind the Scenes in the Changing Gallery

While every day arranging and describing the New Park Mining Collection yields fun and riveting surprises, one of the other elements of working at a museum I enjoy is seeing what happens behind the scenes of exhibit preparation.

From July 2010

Two weeks ago, I took this set of photos while one of the museum's many dedicated volunteers, Mary, examined an original uniform of Park City's marching band members. There are quite a few holes in the lower right front of the jacket, possibly from the tuba playing, possibly from moths.

From July 2010

Mary, along with Wendy (the curator of exhibits) and Emily (the archivist), decided the best way to handle displaying the jacket would be to temporarily sew in a black fabric backing and support. It's important that work of this nature (improvements done to an historic object for display purposes) be reversible, so there was a bit of discussion about the type of thread to be used.

From July 2010

Here, Mary is measuring for temporary mending. We're down in the research library, where we keep large copies of Park City maps from the turn of the last century (and before); great photos of the City, it's inhabitants, transportation, and events; historical objects; and some records.

From July 2010

Here's a close-up of the damage to the wool.

From July 2010

Wendy putting the band uniform pants onto her homemade mannequin.

From July 2010

Mary and Wendy made some adjustments to the mannequin when we discovered that its legs wouldn't fit inside the pant legs the way they are hanging in the photo. Velcro was added to the opposite sides of the "thighs" and torso, which made the pants hang "normally."

From July 2010

Last week, the mannequin was moved upstairs to the changing gallery in preparation for the Park City Music exhibit. On the table is a large display of a photo with removable portions that tell the stories of some of the marching band members. The tuba player, whose uniform is on the mannequin, kept playing with the band despite having the lung disease silicosis.

From July 2010

Under this vitrine are pieces that go with the story of the singing cowboys. It's a great little story displayed here:

From July 2010

One of the biggest parts of the exhibit centers around the history of local radio station KPCW and its contributions to Park City. The station, which recently celebrated its 35th birthday, donated some of its equipment (which reminded me of my college radio days) for the exhibit. On the right side of the photo, you can just about see the pink gum stuck to the side of the console. I'm sure there's a story there, but we don't know what it is.

From July 2010

After taking the photos above, I went back downstairs to the library to continue working on the New Park collection. When I came back up, on my way out for the day, I saw that the gallery's preparation was in full swing.

From July 2010

From July 2010

I can only imagine how inviting the exhibit will be on Monday.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Making Progress in the New Park Mining Company Collection

Remember when the New Park Mining Collection looked like this? Well, it's come a long way since then, thanks to the very hard work of a handful of dedicated museum folks.

From July 2010

If I had to do it over again, I probably would have put together some basic archival science instructions and held a short training session for everyone, explaining not just the hows, but the whys of arrangement and description, as well as preservation and conservation. In fact, last week, in an effort to streamline the process, I developed some documentation on how to write a box list, with instructions that described some of that information.

At the same time, I am not the project leader, although I do feel that my input is valued and sought frequently. Next time, though, I'll take the initiative to make everyone's life easier and suggest a short training session and offer to develop accompanying documentation.

My apologies for the less-than-optimal photo quality in these three photos. Back on July 8, when I took these snapshots, the History Chicks (what the awesome ladies of the Park City Museum call themselves) and I had made some serious headway into sorting through a portion of this complex, dirty, and seriously disorganized collection.

From July 2010

Although we still have two-thirds of the records left to rehouse (I'll explain more about that in a bit), we have tackled what seems to be the toughest part of the collection, the so-called "General Files." When Emily, the Park City Museum Archivist, and I sat down to talk about the priorities of the work, we agreed that processing (sorting, imposing order on the files in complete disarray, refoldering, and cleaning the records) the boxes of records called General Files would be the best way to start. (When I say "cleaning," I mean is removing rusty staples, clips, and pins from the pages, as well as gently brushing the dirt and dust from the pages. And, there's a lot of dirt.)

Recently, because we're in a time crunch (I only have 5 weeks left working at the Museum), we decided that we would rehouse the checks and vouchers without focusing on arrangement. Our rationalization is that these items can be arranged later by a few of the many wonderful volunteers who give their time to the Museum. I can put together a general description of each of those series that won't be that intensive. And, they can be updated at a later date if notable documents arise during the rehousing effort.

For those who may not know what rehousing is, it's an efficient way of saying that we'll be taking the checks out of their decaying rubber band bundles and very dirty boxes, and then putting them into oversized boxes with homemade acid-free dividers to provide different sections for different months and years. In the case of the vouchers, we'll take them out of their painfully overstuffed boxes and put them into folders according to month and year. Both series of records seem to be at least 50% in their own type of order, which we'll follow.

In the photo above, the canceled checks are on the left, while the boxes of vouchers are on the right. The boxes on the dolly are a mixture of new, clean boxes that held our very shiny and empty, oversized boxes, and old, dirty boxes that were home to oversized records and letter and legal-sized papers.

As of today, the empty boxes are gone, and another rack is in their place, waiting to be filled with the boxes of records we've processed this week.

One box of oversized records (stockholders' stock transfers recorded by the Irving Trust Company for the New Park Mining Company during the 1940s and 1950s) took me an entire afternoon to clean and sort. Thankfully, two or three months were clipped together, albeit covered in a thick layer of dirt and dust. I probably should have worn a respirator.

See that stack of 4 oversized boxes on the top right of the chrome rack? Those are the Irving Trust boxes. As of today, the entire top shelf is covered, 4 boxes deep in oversized items. We're still waiting for even bigger boxes for some very large items. But we're nearly finished with rehousing the very dusty and dirty oversized records.

That box on the lower left with the crooked sheet sticking out of it shows one of our systems of dealing with half-full boxes or boxes we continue to populate over and over as we continue finding items that fit within its folders. We started hanging signs on the boxes with general descriptions so we'd know where to find things since I'm the only one with a laptop for quick access to the box lists. Speaking of box lists, because the boxes are works in process, so are the box lists. I'm looking forward to finalizing the boxes in the General Files series and numbering the folders. I know, it sounds like a weird thing to look forward to, but there will be a big sense of accomplishment after all we've finished rehousing, arranging, and describing this collection.

From July 2010

Having been so immersed in the collection in the past month, it's heartening to see how much work has been done in just a few weeks. It's almost like watching a growth spurt in a plant right after it goes from being a seemingly inert seed to a sprout 1 inch above the soil.

For the past two weeks (and moving forward), my focus has become less processing and more description. One of the discoveries I made yesterday was that in the beginning of this process, we really didn't know what we had (although we thought we did). Now that we have a greater understanding of the records from spending so much time sorting them, it has become clear that even more sorting needs to be done.

I find as I flip through the records to describe them, the folders that were previously titled as one thing actually hold a variety of different items that now fall much more neatly into folders within other boxes. This is one of the hazards of having multiple people work on a large collection without looking at each others' boxes to see if there are subjects in common (at least in the beginning).

Because we received so many of these records simply as stacks of wildly unordered pages, some not even boxed, we don't feel badly rearranging by subject and chronological order those that weren't deliberately ordered. Earlier this week, I chatted with a coworker about choices in rearranging. When we think about original order, we struggle with the amount of ordering (or rather re-ordering) we find ourselves doing at times. However, some decisions are easily made for us. A good portion of the records were clipped into folders or clipped together with these types of clips. It wasn't difficult to decide not to re-order those records, especially when someone had taken the time to clip them together in that order (even if it seems haphazard to us).

On the other hand, in the case of the folder that held the proceedings of a union contract negotiation, it was necessary to rearrange the correspondence and legal documents so that they were in chronological order. Let's say a researcher wanted to know more about union negotiations. If she examined this folder in its original state, without rearranging it herself, it would be quite arduous for her to glean the nuances of this particular negotiation (which are important because this mining company handled union negotiations in a pretty unique way -- and you'll just have to visit the collection to find out why!). All that to say, why make it hard on the researcher? If there's a story to tell, let the records tell the story in the way it happened.

Speaking of stories, some of the folders I've described have revealed more history of New Park Mining Company and its predecessors. For instance, more of the relationships between recurring names are becoming clearer. Today, I uncovered a year-long conversation (taking place via typewritten correspondence) between the president of New Park (W.H.H. Cranmer) and a member of the board of directors, who appears to have been a close friend of his. Such intimate letters! Well worth having to dig through piles of stockholders' dividend inquiries to find them. (By the way, today I also was rewarded with the discovery of exactly what W.H.H. stands for: William Henry Harrison.)

Additionally, the deeper we go into the papers, the more mysteries we solve by putting "missing pieces" into folders that may have held 10 items that didn't seem to fit together, but now do. One trend I continue to see are the missing pages of mining claim disputes showing up in the strangest places. Then, there are the legal documents that appear between other items. And smelting settlements among correspondence (and everything else, for some reason).

We have 6 boxes of industry newsletters that we might not keep, if we can locate copies elsewhere. I'm hoping to speak to an archivist at the Utah State Archives to find out if a. they have these publications, and b. they would like them, if they don't already have them. Oh, and if they have a job for me when I finish at the Park City Museum. Well, one can hope.