Thursday, December 08, 2011

On Hiatus Until January

My dear readers, I'll be taking a short break from Here and There until January. When I return, I'll feature the remaining two posts from my tours of select Smithsonian archival collections. In addition, I will spotlight the archives at Acadia National Park and the most recent MARAC meeting.

Finally, I should have some news to share regarding the Chester Public Library's Local History program. I've had to keep mum because there are many details that are still being hammered out. In any case, it should be very exciting.

Until then, I hope you have very happy and healthy holidays!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Visit with Carolyn Sheffield, Project Manager of the Smithsonian’s Field Book Project

11/23/2011 Update: Carolyn has linked to this story from the Field Book Project blog at

As I mentioned in the previous post, I met Carolyn Sheffield at a MARAC conference and wanted to know all about her job as Project Manager of the Smithsonian Institution’s Field Book Project. She invited me to visit her in D.C., and was very generous with her time, sharing many interesting stories about the field books and her work at the National Museum of Natural History. Below I have included some of the footage I shot of Carolyn explaining the importance of the project, especially when it comes to natural history and botanical research. Accompanying the videos are some close-up photos of the materials she featured in the clips. It was enormously fun to shoot those pieces with Carolyn, and as you’ll see she’s a natural in front of the camera.

About the Field Book Project
Although the project itself only began in June 2010, nearly 2,500 of the estimated 6,000 field books at the Smithsonian have already been cataloged. The bulk of these materials range from the mid-1800s to the late 1900s. It started as a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution Archives and the National Museum of Natural History (another arm of the Smithsonian) with the goal of improving access to biodiversity field books. Researchers use these primary source materials to see how biologists documented their discoveries of plants, animals, and cultures in the field.

According to Carolyn, “These materials share a lot of characteristics with archival collections in that they are very much a record of that field work. They also remain an integral part of the specimen collections in the museum because of all the rich supplemental information they provide.” Because the notes (as you’ll see below) are frequently handwritten and later bound when the scientists return from their work, they resemble library items. “What we find is that field books have been managed in each of these contexts—archives, museums, and libraries—and there is a real need for establishing best practices,” she continues.

So, in the future, if a researcher wants to view all of the work done by a certain biologist while he/she worked for different government agencies, the Field Book Project will prevent the researcher from having to visit the Department of Botany, the Archives, and/or a repository outside the Smithsonian to access all that information. In fact, one of the long term goals for the Field Book Registry once it becomes available online, is to link to digitized samples within the Herbarium and other repositories. It’s pretty exciting when you think about how much more connected a huge chunk of biological research will become when the project is completed. In the meantime, though, you can keep track of the great work on the project blog at

This next bit is for the archivists who read this blog. In it, Carolyn does a very good job of explaining the technical aspects of her approach to description and why the methods are important to the end user.

Our approach is to bridge the collection-level description of archives with the item-level description of libraries and to enrich that with authority records for persons, organizations, and exhibitions. We use Natural Collections Description (NCD), which is a natural history metadata schema, for the collection-level access. NCD is a rich schema that lies between Dublin Core and Encoded Archival Description in its breadth. We then use the Metadata Object Description Schema (MODS) for the item-level description. MODS is a Library of Congress standard that includes a subset of MARC tags made available as language-based xml elements. We tie the two together with Encoded Archival Context (EAC) records for describing the persons, organizations, and expeditions involved in the creation of the collections and items. This will be especially important as one of the longer term goals for the project is to extend the Field Book Registry to accept content contributed by repositories beyond the Smithsonian and having those persons, organizations, and expeditions entered and described consistently will help end users find all the relevant materials, regardless of how many institutions physically hold field books from a given collector or expedition.

Here’s a short video of Carolyn explaining the basics of the project, how it is funded, and what its goals are (including preservation efforts).

The materials covered in the project include the disciplines of botany, entomology, vertebrate and invertebrate zoology, and paleobiology. In order to cover such a wide array of fields, the Smithsonian partners with a distinguished group of institutions to share collections and work including the Biodiversity Heritage Library, Botany Libraries and Archives at Harvard University, California Academy of Sciences, Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, LuEsther T. Mertz Library at New York Botanical Garden, and Missouri Botanical Garden. Carolyn says, “We also are involved in the Connecting Content project led by the California Academy of Sciences. Connecting Content examines the relationships between field book content, the specimens, and published taxonomic literature.”

Sample Field Books
To begin our sampling of the field books, Carolyn (in the short video below) shows us some of the library-bound journals of Mary Agnes Chase (although in the book shown below, she wrote as “Agnes Chase”), 1869-1963. According to the Smithsonian,

The foremost grass specialist of her time ended her formal education after grammar school. She began collecting and illustrating plants in her twenties, and was hired by Chicago's Field Museum in 1901 and later as a botanical illustrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Scientific illustration was a way for women to enter science at the turn of the century. Chase studied on her own at the U.S. National Herbarium, and in 1906 published her first scientific paper and secured her first professional position, with Albert S. Hitchcock at the USDA. ... After The North American Species of Panicum, by Chase and Hitchcock was published in 1910, Chase published Tropical North American Species of Panicum in 1915, and Grasses of the West Indies in 1917. Chase was actively involved in the women's suffrage movement and aligned herself with the radical Woman's Party. She was jailed several times for participating in suffrage demonstrations, and continued her radical activity despite threats of dismissal from the USDA. Throughout her career, she demonstrated a special concern for the careers of young women botanists, and maintained a correspondence and specimen exchange network, providing training for young women entering the field as well. ... The First Book of Grasses, the Structure of Grasses Explained for Beginners was published in 1922. ... Chase retired from the USDA in 1939, at the age of seventy, but continued to work five or six days a week on her collections in the Smithsonian's tower.

Here is a close-up of the field book in Carolyn’s hands:

From Smithsonian Tours

Next, Carolyn shows us a field notebook from Edgar Mearns (1856-1916), an army surgeon and field naturalist. Among his many accomplishments, from 1892 to 1894, he explored the El Paso, Texas to San Clemente Island boundary, and collected 30,000 specimens of flora and fauna which were deposited in the United States National Museum (USNM). This notebook has particular significance because it originated during the Smithsonian’s African Expedition led by Theodore Roosevelt from 1909-1910.

Below is a close-up of one of Mearns’ pasted-in notes.

From Smithsonian Tours

As was the case with Mary Agnes Chase, David Griffiths (1867-1935) and Emil F. Lange were researchers who worked for the U.S.D.A. The Smithsonian says, “Griffiths was an authority on cacti, especially the genus Opuntia. His collection of cacti was donated to the United States National Museum in 1935.” The field book Carolyn shows us from 1900 isn’t just important because it describes forage and irrigation soil samples. She explains why in the short video below.

Here is a close up of the photos from the field book shown in the video.

From Smithsonian Tours

And, because you know I love maps, I’m also including a close-up below of a map that Griffiths and Lange annotated that was folded up and enclosed in the back pocket of the field notebook.

From Smithsonian Tours

If you are interested in seeing more close-ups of the map, visit my Picasa site (

In the last short video below, Carolyn shares with us an excerpt of field notes by Joseph Francis Rock (1884-1962), a noted botanist who specialized in the flora of Hawaii and China. After moving from Austria to Honolulu, Hawai’i in 1907, he became the state’s first official botanist. He also explored several locations in Southeast Asia, and directed many expeditions during which he collected zoological, ornithological, and botanical specimens. The field notes in Carolyn’s hands are from his journal on Siam, Burma, and Assam in 1920-1921.

Here is a close-up of the excerpt she read:
From Smithsonian Tours

Here is a photo of the map Rock created of his travels:
From Smithsonian Tours

About the Project Manager
Carolyn holds a Master’s of Library Science with a specialization in Archives, Records, and Information Management from the iSchool at the University of Maryland. She became interested in the field because, as she says, she was fascinated with “the stuff.” It later grew into an obsession “with the intersections of information needs and ways of describing the stuff. Add to that the sliding scale of ever-growing online content delivery methods and evolving user expectations, and it’s a stimulating intellectual exercise that you could happily devote a lifetime to (at least I could),” she explains.

Her favorite parts of the work include the collaborative aspects, the access challenges, and the rewards of bringing still-relevant resources to very grateful scientific researchers. For students or recent graduates, her very sound advice should be considered, “Figure out what aspect of the field you are most interested in and work towards getting as much experience in that area as early as possible, whether that means volunteering or interning. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions! We’re a profession of people who love to help people find the answers that they need. Participating in professional organizations and signing up on list servs is a great way to connect with a lot of librarians and archivists who are happy to answer your questions as you get started in the field.”

Contact Information
Carolyn Sheffield
Project Manager, Field Book Project
Smithsonian Institution
National Museum of Natural History
Department of Botany
MRC 166 PO Box 37012
Washington, DC 20013-7012
(202) 633-0902

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Tour of the Smithsonian Institution Archives

Update #2: The good folks at the Smithsonian Institution Archives' blog, The Bigger Picture, has linked to this story (

Update: Since posting this tour, the Smithsonian's Field Notebook Project blog has linked to this story (

One of the great things about going to conferences in the field is meeting the remarkable people who work at cultural heritage institutions. One example is Carolyn Sheffield (whom you’ll meet later, in the next blog post), Project Manager of the Field Book Project at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. Carolyn and I met at a MARAC (Mid-Atlantic Archives Conference) meeting, and we exchanged cards. When I saw her title, I was instantly intrigued. She invited me to come see her work in person when I told her how I’ve been visiting cultural heritage institutions and writing about their collections here on this blog. She also said that there were parts of the National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution Archives that she wanted to see, and that my visit was the perfect excuse to take some tours herself.

Carolyn kindly set up a day’s worth of excellent tours for my visit in late September. We began at the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA), so my series on the visit will begin there. Expect to see other posts on my visit with Carolyn, including short videos examining the field books, an illuminating visit to the Joseph F. Cullman Library of Natural History’s Special Collections; and the fascinating Herbarium.

Note: All the photos that include SIA materials are used courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

About the SIA

Although a chief clerk and the first official archivist were on staff beginning in 1852, the official establishment of the SIA happened a little over a century later in 1964. Since then, the SIA has amassed 36,000 cubic feet of material, but due to space constraints, three-quarters of those records are held at Iron Mountain. Because the James Smithson collections initially resided at the Library of Congress (because the country didn’t quite know how to handle the Englishman’s estate at the time), the SIA still retrieves an item or two from the LoC on occasion. Twenty-six lucky souls work with the archives of the Smithsonian doing everything from appraisal and acquisition to web and social media. To help the staff are 4-5 volunteers per week and up to 15 interns a year.

The SIA’s patrons are primarily private researchers, Smithsonian administrators, university professors, and doctoral students, but the Archives also serve many historians, image researchers, librarians, and research scientists, among others. The daily researcher visits are split between staff and non-Smithsonian staff (more than 850 visits in the period between September 1, 2010 and September 1, 2011), and the majority of inquiries arrive via email (more than 4200 in the same time period).

Collection maintenance at the SIA is funded through federal appropriations, private trust funds, and grants. A portion of those monies go to paying for an in-house paper conservator (who works in the space below), as well as external contractors who work on the film, video, and photographic conservation.

About the SIA Supervisory Archivist

Our terrific host for the SIA tour was its Supervisory Archivist, Tammy L. Peters. A 16-year veteran of SIA, Tammy began her career as an intern and was later hired by the Institution. She arrived with a bachelor’s degree in history from Bethel College and a master’s in American studies from Purdue University. Her suggestion for new grads or young professionals in the field? “Seek out as much experience as possible,” she says. (I just gave the same advice to an archives student at a recent map symposium in Philadelphia. Internships, volunteering, and independent studies are the keys to eventual placement in the field.)

Tammy’s favorite part of her job is “working with all the Smithsonian offices, museums, and research centers, and being allowed to go behind the scenes to meet people and see the work that they do every day,” she says. Currently, she is working to convert HTML finding aids into XML EAD (encoded archival description) format. So far, SIA has over 4,000 finding aids to 5,500 collections, a mammoth effort, to say the least. When it comes to her goals, the biggest is making the collections available to researchers. “That includes proper description, digitization, and reference service. Taking in new records and being stewards of our entire collection also is necessary to prepare us to achieve that goal,” Tammy says. If you would like to explore the SIA collections (and I recommend that you do), visit The Smithsonian has many blogs, but the SIA blog, The Bigger Picture ( is definitely worth the visit to see some of their incredible digitized photographs.

About the Collections
The charge of the SIA is to document the history of the Smithsonian. The collections originate from a variety of sources: the Institution itself and personal collections that closely relate to the history or collections of the SI. One of the online elements I most like about SIA is the Frequently Used Collections area of the SIA web site ( When visitors explore that part of the site, they can see which records were popular and why. Specifically, the content on those pages speak to the types of historical records SIA holds as well as their meaning to the wider world. These pages provide a good example of what all of us who describe collections ought to strive for in terms of making our materials more accessible to the public.

At the start of the tour, Tammy showed Carolyn and me this gorgeous slide case in the entryway of the SIA.

In 2008, the SIA received that slide case above, along with the rest of the Smithsonian Photographic Services (SPS) cold vault photo morgue (about 3 million images of the SI’s research photographs from around the world). Next, Tammy took us to the area where the incoming records were held.

The SIA receives records in all kinds of states of preparation and preservation. Here, and during the acquisitions process, the staff makes decisions about how to handle certain records. For instance, anything coming from the Zoo goes immediately into the freezer for two days to prevent pest invasion. Additionally, if records show evidence of water damage, they go directly into the freezer to prevent mold issues.

The records above will be rehoused and processed, mostly by volunteers, in the processing room shown below.

I had to laugh when I saw the poster of “Clip Art or Artifacts of Paper Torture” (below).

Whenever I visit collections, the archivists, curators, and other cultural heritage professionals like to show me their treasures as well as the “hidden gems” that I request. Tammy was no exception. Having access to the records of the Smithsonian, she has some of the most interesting historical documents in the United States at her disposal. A prime example is the handwritten will of James Smithson, which states in no uncertain terms that should he pass, his collections will go to his nephew, and if the nephew were childless (which he was), the collections ought to go to the United States to establish a center of learning (see below).

The reflection in the photo shows that the will has been preserved in mylar to prevent injury while showing it to visitors.

One of the many attractive qualities of the SIA’s collections is that they are so diverse. An example is the correspondence below from Orville and Wilbur Wright to Samuel Pierpont Langley, who was the Smithsonian’s third Secretary, from 1887 to 1906. Langley had been very interested in aerodynamics and had designed a few failed flying machines. He wanted to see their experiments in North Carolina, but the Wrights told Langley that the weather was bad and his request to visit did not come at a good time. The brothers did not want to admit that they had already made their first flight, however they later gave the Smithsonian their flyer.

The archives world is full of fantastic finds. Tammy told us one SIA amazing story that yielded 900,000 visitors to its images on Flickr. She said that in 2005, the SIA had a visiting researcher who was examining radio records from the Science Service. It’s a frequently used collection comprising about 459 boxes. A volunteer had been processing the collection, and later, the researcher took over where the volunteer had left off. In the very last box was a set of little brown acidic envelopes containing nitrate negatives of photographs of William Jennings Bryant and Brian Darrow during the Scopes Monkey trial (known in legal circles as State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes).

The print above shows Bryant making his case on one of the days when it was too hot to hold the trial inside the courthouse, and it was held outside instead. If you want to see the entire set of photos printed from the negatives, as well as others later added to the collection, visit the Smithsonian Collections Search page at

“Documenting Smithsonian history and how that intersects with American history, scientific discovery, and the history of museums,” is how Tammy describes the contribution SIA makes to preserving our collective historical memory. I’ve only shared the tiniest bit of that monumental contribution here. I hope that it has encouraged you to explore their online collections as well as pay a visit the next time you are in Washington, D.C.

Contact Information
Smithsonian Institution Archives
MRC 507
P.O. Box 37012
Washington, D.C. 20013-7012
(202) 633-5870 or

Next in this tour series will be the Field Books Project at the Smithsonian. Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Building a Local History Department from Scratch – Month 1

At the beginning of September, you might remember that I announced my new position as Local History Librarian at the Chester Public Library (CPL) (in addition to being added to a grant for the work I do as an archivist at Plainfield Public Library). Now that it’s been a bit over a month, I thought it was time for an update on my progress at CPL.

First, when I say "from scratch" I mean it. I didn’t have a desk until October 11. But, that’s an issue easily handled – put a few tables together, and you have a makeshift desk. Ergo, it’s not, but it does the trick for a limited time. One of things about working in a library, archive, or museum, is that you have to be flexible and adjust quickly to change.

Another important trait is being persistent, in a kind and friendly way, while educating folks about information that might be new to them – especially concepts or situations that might be pretty complex or detailed. Some of the folks need repetition, visual aids, and lots of supporting facts and literature (sometimes I fall into that category too, I must admit). I enjoy teaching and training experiences, so that part of the job is fun for me. It also gives me a chance to review my education and pursue new research in order to more clearly educate others and keep up-to-date with best practices in the field.

This new position at CPL was created for a number of reasons, but two in particular are key: 1. Work with the Chester Historical Society (CHS) to process, arrange, describe, and make accessible their collections, and 2. Provide local history and genealogy reference services for the library and the larger community. It sounds pretty clear cut, doesn’t it? Well, it will be once we get a few big details out of the way. But first, you’ll need a bit of history to understand why.

For years, the CHS has been keeping a portion of its collections at the CPL. They also have holdings in a large room within the equivalent of a warehouse in the area. At CPL, they keep resources such as binders with historical site surveys of both the borough and the township of Chester (the land the library occupies sits in both locales); books on Chester, Mendham, Morristown, Morris County, and New Jersey history, as well as the Revolutionary War; Roxbury High School yearbooks; volumes of New Jersey legislature; nearly 200 years of the Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society; many decades of the New Jersey Genealogical Society’s publications; cemetery lists; rare, scarce, and not-at-all rare, but old books; and records of the CHS. All these now sit on shelves (with the exception of a few of the Proceedings, which needed conservation, so I foldered and boxed them) in my office (the former Young Adult Room).

Additionally, there is a pretty big storage closet in the new Young Adult room, which holds some other historical items and printed materials that the Society sells from time to time (which we will also begin to sell when we have a system set up to do so). So, what’s the problem with all this? Well, three big issues come to mind. First, there has never been a formal agreement in place between the library and CHS, e.g., a deed of gift or a loan agreement. These legal documents act to protect the collections as well as the institutions involved (more about these later).

Second, there is the issue of security. The CHS has access to my office and the storage closet. Because there are library-owned items in both those locations, this situation presents a security dilemma. Further, because there is no formal agreement in place naming each item of their collections within the library, there’s no control of their materials on site.

I have a good example of what this means. Recently, on a day when I was not working, one of the CHS officers borrowed one of the reference binders from my office. In its place was a note saying which binder and who had borrowed it. Because the collection isn’t formally “open” to the public, and because it is still the property of the CHS, it isn’t a tragedy. However, let’s say that we did have a loan agreement or deed of gift in place. That loan agreement would likely say that in order to ensure that we could offer access to the materials to patrons on a consistent basis, we would need to secure the area where the collections were kept.

Third, there are some big drawbacks to keeping the CHS’ “rare” books and other materials in my office (especially photos and audio tapes – oral histories in file drawers). My office is not designed to be an archival repository. It is not climate controlled (for archival items, we like to aim for a constant 68 degrees F or lower – the lower the better, as far as photos are concerned, and 45% or lower relative humidity). Ideally, archival items would be stored in an area separate from the workspace. That doesn’t often happen in small libraries, unfortunately, due to limited resources. For example, in Plainfield, the archivists and librarians in the Local History Department work in the archival space adjacent to the compact shelving.

Over the past month, I have been educating my very supportive, and frankly pretty awesome, Library Director, as well as the kind folks at the CHS, about why climate control is important to archival materials. Paper, the primary material in the CHS collections, is hygroscopic (it absorbs moisture in the air and swells). When the humidity drops and rises, and when the temperature drops and rises, it causes all kinds of changes in paper that leads to its demise. In short, the more changes in the climate, the faster the deterioration of historical materials. Those changes can be especially painful when it comes to film-based materials (some of which are in those binders). The Northeast Document Conservation Center has excellent resources online explaining in great detail why it's important to maintain lower temperatures and humidity. In some of my communications with the CHS, I have referred them to the Preservation Leaflets.

The last bit of background information is pretty important when it comes to work milestones and realistic expectations. I work for Chester only 20 hours of the week. So, when I track my hours against all the activity (which I do within an Excel workbook), I can see that I have made efficient and effective use of my time so far. I also need to remember that at the beginning of any project or job, there’s a big learning curve and a large amount of activity. In my case, it’s also been deliverables in a variety of formats, but I’ll get to that below.

The Working and Waiting
During the first month, the majority of my work comprised the following:
1. Creating forms and databases that I would need to serve the public,
2. Inventorying the CHS materials on site (including condition reports and conservation recommendations, as well as comparing my inventory against the Morris County library system’s catalog),
3. Researching and/or purchasing supplies for the library and CHS,
4. Corresponding with members of the CHS on a variety of topics, and
5. Researching and composing deeds of gift and loan agreements.

The waiting is due in part to the time it is taking to create the gift/loan agreements. Until these are in place, I cannot begin the actual processing work of the CHS collections. That brings me to an area where I have spent a significant amount of time over the last month -- communicating why I recommend a deed of gift over an extended loan regarding the CHS collections.

There are a number of reasons why a gift is preferable to a loan, but one that is worth considering concerns the members of the community rather than the immediate parties involved. Let’s say the CHS would rather have its holdings on loan (renewable annually) with the library, and we enter into an agreement. As we would do if there was a gift, we would announce the availability of the collection to the public and let folks know that is a loan.

Let’s also say there is a savvy patron who happens to be a tax payer in the area. That person could argue that his/her taxes are going toward housing and caring for materials that the library doesn’t even own, and what if the CHS decided to just remove them? By all rights, they could, since the items would be on loan. The library and its patrons would then lose all their access to those collections, and the tax payer would feel ripped off.

If the CHS decided to make a gift of the collections, they might fear that if the library no longer wanted them at some point in the future, it could just get rid of the items. However, in a draft gift agreement I created (and in no way a final document, since it has not yet been reviewed by legal counsel), the Society would have first crack at anything we would deaccession from the collections.

The point I keep trying to drive home throughout our discussions is the intention. Everyone’s intentions are to make these historical materials accessible to the public, especially local researchers, students, and genealogists working at a distance. I also try to remind folks that while a handshake and good will are wonderful things, we all need to prepare for the time when we are not the ones in charge of these collections and cultural heritage institutions, and there might not be as much mutual admiration among future parties involved.

I feel like I should write a book about this – or at least a paper. For now, I’ll be documenting my experience (for the most part) here on this blog because I believe that it’s important to share it. I’ve reached out quite a bit lately, especially to fellow archivists, to find others who also have built local history departments from scratch. There aren’t many of us out there. But, I met someone last night at the MARAC reception who has created a few archives in her time, and I plan to ask her how she did it. I know there will be missteps along the way, but I will try to prevent as many as I can and share the big learning experiences with you here. I hope you’ll do the same for me.

Importantly, I'll still be writing about my visits to cultural heritage institutions and my MARAC experiences. For example, I have upcoming blog posts on my recent visits to the Smithsonian Archives and the Archives of Acadia National Park. Keep tuned!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

I Am a Map Magnet

From Chester Public Library Sept. 2011
Not too long ago, I found a map at the Plainfield Public Library, hidden in an envelope of Courier News clippings. It seems that the universe has recognized my love of all things cartographic and sent another great gift of New Jersey history in my direction. During my first week working at Chester Public Library, Lesley (the library's Director) came into my office holding a long oblong box with an ebony handle poking out of one end, and said there was a map inside. The map had been hidden behind a filing cabinet, and its provenance was a mystery. I immediately rose and said we should go into the big meeting room two doors down and set up a few tables on which to unroll the map.
From Chester Public Library Sept. 2011
We each clad our hands in white cotton gloves and gently began unrolling the map. Lesley followed my speed, taking great care since we saw that the map was acidic and quite brittle (see the photo immediately above). Fortunately, the rest of the map was in very good shape for its age and its storage. It had been pretty tightly rolled, sleeved in a cardboard liner, then placed within a cardboard carton with one open end.
From Chester Public Library Sept. 2011
As soon as we had it unrolled, Lesley held the bottom ebony roller while I took as many photos as possible. The one directly above was taken from atop a step-stool. As you can see from the photo and the ones to follow, the center of the map is a topographic representation of the state, while surrounding images include small illustrations of cities from elevated views, street maps, and a fascinating time dial.
From Chester Public Library Sept. 2011
Above is a street map of Paterson, which has seen its fair share of news lately due to the recent hurricane Irene.
From Chester Public Library Sept. 2011
The city of Newark anchors the lower right corner of the map.
From Chester Public Library Sept. 2011
The border grapevine and flower design, as well as what I'd call "vignettes" of the Delaware Water Gap and Paterson are shown in the illustrations above.
From Chester Public Library Sept. 2011
The map also features a meteorological map designed by Lorin Blodget, author of American Climatology.
From Chester Public Library Sept. 2011
After I had finished photographing the map, I wanted to find out more about it, so Lesley and I began to roll it back up to place back into its original packaging for the time being. During the rolling, we discovered that it had been mounted as two pieces onto a woven fabric that was sewn together (see the photo abov).

As soon as I could, I posted my photos to Picasa and sent out a few emails to the New Jersey State Archives and some contacts at Rutgers Libraries' Special Collections. I heard pretty quickly from archivists at the State Archives who said that they do not have a copy of the map, but that the State Library does (and would we want to sell or donate ours to the archive -- can't blame them really, I'd probably ask the same).

The catalog page of the map states the information found in the title area (shown in the first photo at the very top of this post). If you magnify the image, you can see that it can be dated as 1860 because it states (in rather small print directly above the scale measurement) "Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1860 by Robt. P. Smith in the Clerks Office of the District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania."

It would be interesting to see which other state offices, organizations, and/or individuals might have a copy of the "Topographical Map of the State of New Jersey, Together with the Vicinities of New York and Philadelphia, and with Most of the State of Delaware from the State Geological Survey and the U.S. Coast Survey, and from Surveys Compiled by G. Morgan Hopkins, Civil Engineer. Adopted for the use of the Geological Survey, authorized by ACTS of the LEGISLATURE passed March 2nd 1854 and March 14th 1860, under the direction of William Kitchell, SUPERINTENDENT of the GEOLOGICAL SURVEY of NEW JERSEY." (The emphasis is not mine.)

If you have any information on the map that you think might be useful, or if you know about the history of this particular map, please let me know. Thanks in advance for any help you may be able to give.

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Good News and the Struggles

The Struggles
It’s hard to share good news these days without feeling a little guilty. However I have very good news, and I will share it. But since I’m one of those people who likes to hear the good news last (in a choice of good or bad news), I’ll share the struggles first.

A friend at the Plainfield Public Library who had been living in a Rahway basement apartment lost everything in the flood accompanying Hurricane Irene. She and her little boy are staying with family in a very small space, which means that co-workers and friends can’t supply her with replacement items yet. But we’re planning. For instance, John and I talked about what we could give up from our pile of combined-household items sitting in storage. It didn’t take long for a quick inventory to produce furnishings that someone starting from scratch should have.

Some immediate needs had to be met first. My flood-surviving friend only had the shoes she was wearing when she was rescued; all the others were destroyed. As always, I am grateful for unexpected generosity. When I reached out to my local and Facebook friends, used shoes in my friend’s size were readily supplied. For those who might be interested in making a donation, when a complete list of her needs is available, I’ll post it here and on Facebook. In the meantime, I’ll continue to let her know of donations that will be coming later.

In other Irene news, like tens of thousands of others, my parents’ basement furnishings and appliances were destroyed. Because they lost power, they did not have a working sump pump. Consequently, the water soaked into everything until they could bail out from it. It could have been much worse, but fortunately, they were able to save some books, papers, and old family photo albums.

I escaped pretty much unscathed. My power was out for four days, but I was able to pack up my frozen and perishable food, and bring it all to a pal who made room in his fridge and spare room for me until the power returned. Because my pal lives less than 2 miles from my house in the opposite direction from the worst flooding in the area, I was able to check on the house daily. Here’s how fortunate I am in all this: the worst of my circumstances was having to postpone my trip to D.C. to tour the Smithsonian’s archives and Field Book Project due to all the road closings and the lack of power.

We live close to the Raritan River, and the flooding made getting to the Plainfield Public Library difficult. Easton Avenue, a major artery in the area, became a red-brown river. Today, it’s not hard to see how far up the water rose. For those who might recognize the landmarks, the water line can be seen on the white cement wall by the Stop and Shop, as well as on leaves of the trees opposite Landing Lane.

Usually we expect that Easton Avenue will be closed by the entrance to Route 287 because the Raritan Canal and River provide the northern border between Somerset and Piscataway. South Bound Brook (which always floods) is the next town to our west. But we didn’t expect that nearly the entirety of Easton Avenue would be closed from that point up to the park past Landing Lane. Thankfully, the river receded quickly, and we haven’t yet had any rain (although NOAA reports that we’ll see rain for the next 4 days). By Tuesday, I was able to get to the Plainfield Public Library in about 30 minutes.

The Good News
Before Irene beat up the East Coast, I had been interviewing for a part-time position at the Chester Public Library. I had met with Lesley, the library’s director, and with members of the Chester Historical Society (CHS), all of whom were delightful. So, I was very pleased when Lesley offered me the newly created Local History Librarian spot.

I’ll be building the Local History Department from scratch and working with the CHS’s volunteers as well as library staff. It’s going to be an exciting partnership between the library and the CHS, since the society has been collecting materials for quite some time and storing them in local storage facility. I expect that it will be a bit slow going because I’ll only be there on a part-time basis, but the CHS members I have met have already assured me that volunteers will plentiful. I’m looking forward to this big adventure and will be sure to share it with you here.

But that’s not the end of my good news. After a year of volunteering at Plainfield Public Library, I’m now a grant-funded, part-time archivist there. I’ll still be an all-purpose archivist (not assigned to a specific project, as you might find with many grant-funded positions), processing and describing collections, but I’ll also help patrons with their wide ranging requests and handle some administrative archives tasks.

The way this all worked out is pretty fantastic. My work at Plainfield dovetails very well with what I’ll be starting at Chester. Plus, my long-time mentor at Plainfield, Sarah, continues to help guide me in ways that will be key to building a successful department. There are great resources closer to Chester in the Morris County Library system that I can turn to, as well as online resources. Among the helpful list servs of the Society of American Archivists is one for solitary practitioners cleverly named “Lone Arrangers.” It’s a great group of folks, and I’ll have to see if there are T-shirts or bumper stickers for a newly minted Lone Arranger like me.

Stay tuned for updates on the big adventures!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tour of Rare and Manuscript Collections at Cornell University

Recently, I had the great pleasure of spending the day at Cornell University, where I interviewed Peter Hirtle, visited Curtis Lyons at the Catherwood Library), took a tour of the Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC), and visited the Preservation department. My host for the RMC tour was Elaine Engst, whose entire title is Director and University Archivist at the Kroch Library Rare and Manuscript Collections at Cornell University. It was enormous fun seeing some of Cornell’s treasures, and I hope you’ll enjoy the photos and videos below, and be inspired to visit the collections yourself.

About the Archivist
Elaine Engst has been with Cornell for the entirety of her career, 32 years. She received her master’s in History from Cornell, returning to the Library in 1979.

She says that her favorite part of her work is “bringing the collections to students and scholars; the ‘puzzles’ of people’s research interests.” Of all the collections, she enjoys the Ezra Cornell Papers and the Willard Straight Papers the most. Cornell’s top her list because the University’s founder’s papers “cover the whole range of 19th century American history,” she explains. Straight’s papers “document China from 1901-1912” and include a “wonderful love story,” says Elaine.

From Cornell Visit July 2011

About the RMC
Elaine (shown above with Ezra Cornell’s safe) says, “RMC was created in 1992, with the merger of the Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, the Department of Rare Books, the History of Science Collections, and the Icelandic Collection.” The first librarian of the university, Daniel Willard Fiske was an avid collector of Icelandic literature, and now the collection which bears his name is one of the three largest of its kind in the world.

If you have never been to Cornell’s RMC, you might find it a little challenging to find it because it’s located in a library within a library. Which is to say that RMC lives in the Carl A. Kroch Library – built as an underground addition to the John M. Olin Library.

When visitors first enter the space, they are embraced by open, airy spaces and modern architecture, with natural light provided via skylights rimmed with reflective mirrors. On one side, the skylights are blocked to control light in the area for archival displays, while unblocked skylights on the other sheds more light for reading and research

From Cornell Visit July 2011

Within its very large, climate-controlled vault, the RMC holds approximately 430,000 volumes (measuring about 46,000 cubic feet); more than 80 million manuscripts; and another million photographs, paintings, prints, artifacts, audio visual and electronic media. In this short video, Elaine talks to me about the vault.

RMC is staffed by 22 full-time employees and 5-6 part-time working students. Eight archivists/librarians are on staff. Patrons run the gamut from serious scholars and students, to journalists, genealogists, and enthusiasts (like me). The archives are being used by long-term researchers currently exploring the history of home economics, as well as city planning. The RMC sees from 5-20 visitors per week, and the staffers give frequent tours, as I saw from the numerous signatures in the visitors’ book in front of the vault’s entryway.

The most heavily used collections are the Cornell Alumni Files. These are created by the Alumni office and are only open after the person has died. John Nolen’s papers also are used fairly frequently. Nolen was a pioneer city planner during the early 1900s. Cornell’s finding aid for the collection is here. The item with the greatest impact on visitors is the handwritten manuscript of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, dated February 29, 1864. According to the RMC Lincoln Presidency exhibit, the “Cornell University Library’s copy of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is one of five known copies in Lincoln’s hand, and the only copy owned by a private institution. The four other copies are owned by public institutions: two at the Library of Congress, one at the Illinois State Lincoln Presidential Library, and one in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House.” I had the opportunity to see a facsimile because as Elaine says, “taking out the real one would require a Cornell Police presence.”

From Cornell Visit July 2011

Like my tour at Stevens Institute, I had the opportunity to see some very old records – cuneiform tablets.

From Cornell Visit July 2011

In the photo above, you can see five different tablets. The large one in the middle was an example of an adoption record from ca. 2250 BCE. In the short video below, Elaine explains why these tablets are so important, especially in teaching about archives.

Sometimes RMC receives donations from faculty members that represent moments of our more recent history. Below is a series of photos I took of RMC’s 2000 General Election Palm Beach County voting machine that Professor Stephen H. Hilgartner, a faculty member in Science & Technology Studies, purchased on EBay for his teaching research into voting technologies and later gave to the archives for posterity.

From the outside, the machine looks like a steel briefcase.

From Cornell Visit July 2011

Inside is a fully-contained voting booth.

From Cornell Visit July 2011

Remember that phrase “hanging chad?” The semi-punched holes shown below are examples of hanging chads from a voting punch chard.

From Cornell Visit July 2011

A voter would open a series of pages, then use the device in the lower right corner to punch the holes for the desired candidates.

From Cornell Visit July 2011

If you use the magnifying function in Picasa to take a look at the example punch cards, you can see that the demonstrator card was punched for several presidential candidates.

One of the most appealing aspects of visiting Cornell’s RMC is the great variety of the types of materials kept in the archives. Elaine showed me some Asia Collections records that were printed onto palm leaves. She also displayed an early example of a book that used both single and double column moveable type printing. Below, the photos show a 1495 book of sermons bound with a chain binding, the medieval security system.

From Cornell Visit July 2011

From Cornell Visit July 2011

I was especially impressed by the nifty box the Preservation Department made to accommodate the chain binding.

From Cornell Visit July 2011

Another type of record we hear of often in our field is lantern slides. You find them in pretty much every archive, and in the case of the Plainfield Public Library, they show up prominently in the photograph collections of local photographers. However, at Cornell, Elaine explains (in the video below) a completely different usage.

Elaine was very generous with her time and showed me many more treasures than what I’m sharing here (due to limited space). I hope that you will go visit her at Cornell and see some of these marvelous historical items for yourself.

Contact Information
Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections
2B Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853
(607) 255-3530

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Visit with Curtis Lyons, Director of the Catherwood Library, Cornell University

Curtis Lyons has a three-line title on his business card: Harriet Morel Oxman Director of the Catherwood, Hospitality, and Management Libraries at Cornell University. I’ve abbreviated it a bit for the title of this entry, but suffice to say, the man has a very big job. A genial fellow, he has a wonderful Tennessee lilt that can be heard as he speaks about the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation & Archives at the Catherwood. In late July, he generously gave me a tour of the archives and talked with me at length about the history of the collections and the importance of Kheel Center projects now underway.

About the Library and Archives
The Catherwood Library serves the School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) at Cornell University. The ILR school was opened in 1946 as an effort to help management and labor set aside their differences and work together to train union and management arbitrators. The Kheel Center was opened in 1949 as the Labor-Management Documentation Center, and was renamed in 1996 to honor New York City arbitrator Theodore W. Kheel.

The Center’s holdings include approximately 23,000 linear feet of paper, audio, video, film, electronic records, textiles, buttons, ribbons, and other objects. In the photo below, in the middle shelves, you can see garment workers unions' banners preserved in archival wrapping.

From Cornell Visit July 2011

Most of the banners have been digitally photographed and can be viewed in color here.

The archivists collect primary source materials about American labor unions, management theorists, and arbitrators and negotiators. Alumni in unions have helped to persuade their unions to preserve their records by giving them to the Kheel Center. The most popular collections are the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU), the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, and Ted Kheel’s papers. Curtis points out that the Center holds “almost all of the U.S. garment workers’ unions records,” allowing the archivists “a unique opportunity to give access to the history of an industry that was a cornerstone of the economy for decades. It also allows researchers to track the migration of jobs first within and then outside the United States.”

The ILGWU is a very large collection (more than 2,500 linear feet) in process. In a move away from the More Product, Less Process methodology, Cheryl Beredo was hired as the ILGWU Project Archivist to process the collection on a very deep level. She also is describing it in detail to help researchers learn more about this very progressive union. For instance, the union provided housing and healthcare for its workers, which means that researchers studying inner-city housing could use these records to learn more about the topic. A short piece by Cheryl Beredo will be appearing in this month’s Archival Outlook, and I'm looking forward to reading about her work with the collection. Soon, the Kheel Center will launch a preliminary web site on the ILGWU records, including digitized photos from the files. But, until then, you can view many of her finding aids on the ILGWU here.

The collection with the greatest impact on patrons so far has been the Triangle Factory Fire. An online exhibit on the fire should not be missed. The site commemorates the centennial of the fire (March 25, 1911) that killed 146 mostly immigrant workers in a sweatshop in lower Manhattan. It is extensive, to say the least. Visitors can view historical narratives, letters, testimonials, photos, and much more. “We hear many, many stories from people who are overwhelmed by the material we have on our web site. High school kids who realize many of the victims were their age, descendants of victims, witnesses, [and others] see the connections between this tragedy and eerily similar tragedies happening right now in Asian sweatshops,” says Curtis.

The materials at the Kheel Center are processed, described, and maintained by 5 full-time archivists, 2 full-time staff, and 1 part-timer. Below is a photo of the well-sized processing room.

From Cornell Visit July 2011

The Kheel Center is patronized by Cornell students and faculty, academic and independent researchers, high school students and teachers, and documentarians. Although they see 5-10 visitors a week, the Center’s staff works to a large degree with off-site researchers. Next to the visitor’s reading room is a large enclosed area where some of the digitization takes place and where many of the paper-based records were previously stored. In the short video below, Curtis talks about the move to digital records and what it means for this space.

Although most of the collections are too “young” to be digitized and made available due to copyright concerns, the Kheel Center is posting some photographs on the Labor Photos site and on Flickr. The Center’s list of EAD finding aids may be viewed here.

About Curtis Lyons
Prior to becoming Director of the Catherwood Library, Curtis was Head of Special Collections and Archives at Virginia Commonwealth University for 9 years. Previously, he was at the University of Tennessee (UT) Special Collections and Archives for 10 years first working with their manuscripts and later the University Archives. Like many of the archivists I have met during my tours, he “fell into” the field of archival science. “I got a job at UT Special Collections as an undergraduate, used it to fund my graduate degree in history, and along the way decided that I liked archival work more than I would like to teach,” he explains. His favorite part of the work is “vicariously sharing the ‘Ah-ha!’ moments with researchers.” Curtis continues, “Playing a teeny-tiny part in the creation and discovery of the world’s knowledge,” is one of the many ways that his work at the Kheel Center is rewarding.

Contact Information
Kheel Center
227 Ives Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-3901
(607) 255-3183

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Interview with Peter Hirtle, Senior Policy Advisor, Cornell University Library

Recently, I had the great pleasure of meeting and interviewing Peter Hirtle, Senior Policy Advisor of Cornell University Library. For my readers who may not recognize his name, Peter served as President and Vice President of the Society of American Archivists (SAA); was an active member of the Section 108 Study Group, Library of Congress/Copyright Office; and co-wrote with Emily Hudson and Andrew T. Kenyon Copyright and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for Digitization for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums. Those are just a few aspects of his notable service and professional work. Please visit his VIVO page to learn more about his background, experience, and publications.

Over the past few years, Peter has unwittingly become my copyright mentor, answering my emailed questions when I was an MLIS student at Rutgers and providing checklists to follow in Copyright and Cultural Institutions. When I cannot untangle a copyright issue, I turn to Peter Hirtle to help me make informed decisions. So, when the opportunity arose during a recent email exchange, I asked if he would be willing to be interviewed for this blog. Not surprisingly, I was thrilled when he replied that he would be honored to be interviewed for Here and There.

At the time, Peter was in Oxford, England, visiting his wife, who had been Cornell University Librarian prior to her current gig – Bodley’s Librarian. He offered to have the interview via Skype, but since he would be returning to Ithaca in a short time, I offered to visit him at Cornell instead and hoped I could tour the school’s legendary Special Collections while I was there. Peter very kindly set up a series of excellent tours (which will be covered later this month), and was generous of his time, giving me two hours for the interview and a lovely visit in the Olin Library cafe.

Because Peter has been actively involved in the archival community since the mid-1980s, especially in the areas of digital archives and copyright issues, I was looking forward to hearing his thoughts on a range of different topics. Below are a series of videos that represent the breadth and depth of our discussion. I've set the volume at it's lowest setting, which means you'll need to adjust it to your comfort level. The originals were shot in HD, and these all may be viewed in HD by adjusting the setting in the lower left corner of each viewer.

In this first clip, Peter discusses Encoded Archival Description (EAD), the semantic web, linked open data, and other solutions for presenting archival information online in a more meaningful and wide-reaching way. This clip is little over 3 minutes long.

Next, Peter speaks about partnerships (or, if you prefer, collaborative relationships) between cultural heritage institutions, the Hathi Trust Digital Library, and the work involved in identifying potential copyright owners for orphan works. This clip runs for approximately 5.5 minutes.

As a follow-up to the copyright discussion, Peter talks about risk mitigation as it applies to digitizing collections. He also gives tips on what cultural heritage institutions should know when dealing with copyrights. His examples make his points in a very practical way. This clip is a bit over 6 minutes long.

Since I’m still relatively new to this career, I was especially interested in hearing what Peter had to say regarding the “must-have” skills, experience, and attributes every newly minted archivist should have. A deep knowledge of the fundamentals of archival theory and practice may be key, but he wants folks to have a solid foundation in IT and technical skills. Watch the clip to see why (it clocks in at a little over 4 minutes long)

Following along the lines of archival practice, here we talk about the More Product, Less Process methodology. A good portion of our discussion isn’t included here (because we talked about it for a considerable time), but Peter does an excellent job of weighing the pros and cons of MPLP and summarizing the methodology. The clip runs for almost 5.5 minutes.

Finally, we have a short, but powerful clip of Peter explaining the importance of archives and why being an archivist is the best job in the world. I agree with his sentiments and add that being able to discover something different every day is one of my favorite parts of the work. This clip runs 2.5 minutes.

Peter Hirtle’s complete contact information can be found here.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Quick Update

My July has been filled with adventures, excitement, and new experiences. For example, earlier this week, I had a marvelous time in the Finger Lakes district of New York. In addition to hiking the beautiful gorges and viewing the enticing waterfalls (days in the 90s and very high humidity), I had the great fortune of visiting with Peter Hirtle and some of his wonderful colleagues at Cornell University's Special Collections and Preservation. Next week, I should be able to share my videos and photos of the interview with Peter as well as the tours.

As far as the other adventures and exciting events go, I'll have to keep those under my hat for at least a month, but I'll be posting about them as soon as I can.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

On Challenges and Inspirations (many more of the latter than the former)

Lately, I've been answering my share of questions on the topics of challenges in processing collections, managing projects, and promoting collections. This morning, I turned the questions on their heads and thought "Wouldn't it be nice if I were asked about the benefits of this work." With that in mind, in no particular order, here are some musings on why I find working in museums and libraries so inspiring.

1. The materials -- A great example is the project I'm working on these days at the Plainfield Public Library. The thousands of architectural drawings kept in the local history archives represent a century of architectural styles in the town. The collection also shows trends in architectural drawing as a field -- from lettering and drawing styles to the types of materials used to produce the drawings. But as far as inspirations go, it's pretty high up there for me. When I drive through Plainfield on my way to the library (along 8th and other streets in historic neighborhoods), I see some of the homes depicted in plans from the turn of the last century. I also learn about the different classes in the town from the mansions with gorgeous libraries drawn into the blueprints to the 4-family apartment houses drawn by Charles Detwiller in the 1950s. While I'm still impressed with Adam Winger's cuneiform tablets, I'm also pretty fortunate to be exposed to so many different types of historical records at the Plainfield Public Library.

2. The archivists, librarians, curators, historians and other cultural history pros -- I like working with folks who get as revved up about copyright challenges, historical items, and ephemera from personal collections as I do. It's even more fun when we gather for conferences, or when I have the opportunity to tour a cultural heritage institution. My tour hosts are enthusiastic evangelists for our work, and I can't help but admire them and the work they do. Sometimes, I get to watch conservators think through how they will handle various challenges. I'm in awe of the pros who labor for a year or more on one item to delicately remove a harmful coating or repair beautiful plates in a damaged Audubon book. Recently, a classmate of mine from the Rutgers MLIS program landed a great job in a library at a California university. While I will miss her being close by, I'll get to hear new stories about her exciting work as a faculty liaison (among other fun work). And, I have yet another reason to go back to California!

3. The patrons -- I know a few people who would much rather be behind the door with the treasures than working with patrons, but I'm not one of those people. I like doing both. Just two days ago, a man and his adult son came into the local history room looking for information about a particular building in town. A librarian began to work with the son while the elder man watched me doing some preservation work at the large table in the room. I had two boxes of architectural drawings ranging from the 1860s to 1911 that were particularly interesting examples of mansions. The man began to edge closer to get a better look at the drawings. I looked up and smiled at him and he smiled back. I explained what I was doing and why, while I unrolled one of the precious blueprints for him. It was the front elevation of one of the town's beauties. This fellow lit up and started asking questions. I answered as many as I could before he had to go, feeling that I was probably as entertained as he was by the exchange.

4. The opportunities -- The biggest is the opportunity to learn. I am constantly learning something new, whether it's an historical fact, the proper way to preserve an item I haven't yet encountered, a better way to write or say something, a new software package, or any number of other things. Being able to put these new things into practice is a bonus because then they become what I can teach others. Another great opportunity offered by this field is being able to network easily. Whether it's through member societies, list servs, blogs, Facebook, conferences, or simply by writing a fan email to tell someone you appreciate they work they do (I'm inspired to write these all the time), making new contacts and friends in this field can be done pretty easily. Most of the folks in the cultural heritage fields want to be helpful and tend to be friendly people. How can you not like someone like that?

I'll probably think of a few more inspirations and put them aside for another post. In the meantime, please comment on your inspirations. I'm very interested in what you have to say.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Museum Visit: Museum of Early Trades & Crafts in Madison, NJ

From June 2011
My apologies to the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts for clipping off the edge of their signage in my photo.

Last week, my mom and I had a lovely time visiting two Morris County museums, the one profiled in this post and the Morris Museum, where she's a member. (We also enjoyed a very tasty lunch at the newly re-opened Sirin Thai restaurant.) We hadn't originally planned to visit the trades and crafts museum, but we usually pass the building, so we decided to visit this time.

The Museum of Early Trades & Crafts started as a way for Edgar and Agnes Land, who lived in Madison and collected thousands of 18th and 19th century objects, to share their collections and educate people about the lives of the early artisans, craftspeople, and farmers in New Jersey. The building housing the museum is nothing short of gorgeous. It is often mistaken for a church, but carved into the stone over the entryway is the word "Library."

From June 2011

Opened on Memorial Day 1900, the Madison Free Public Library was a gift to the town from D. Willis James, a wealthy New York (originally from Liverpool, England) industrial capitalist. James had a summer estate in Madison, now known Giralda Farms (you may know it as the estate of Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge). We need another James today. He was so invested in the financial well-being of the library that he set up a trust fund for it based in the income raised from a commercial building he owned across the street from the library.

In the photo above, you can see one of the many beautiful architectural elements of the building. The archway to the Trustee Room shows seven seals from some of America's earliest colleges. Included are Queen's College (later Rutgers College, and eventually Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey), University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, Harvard University, College of William and Mary, Princeton University, and Columbia University. Above the wood with the embedded seals you can see hand-painted designs that continue throughout the building.

Below is an example of a painted column.

From June 2011

In each room with stained-glass windows are beautiful glass-art medallions or plaques within the windows that display inspirational quotations. I can only imagine how stirring it must have been to have sat in the building when it was a library, surrounded by all of the grandeur. It made me a wee bit jealous of the folks who have the good fortune of working in it today.

Below are just a few of those windows that I photographed while walking around the exhibits.

From June 2011

From June 2011

From June 2011

From June 2011

From June 2011

As we explored the building, I was particularly impressed by the main exhibit "Mariners, Merchants, & Pirates." The clever curators use mock magnifying glasses to spotlight items found at the port of Perth Amboy. They also use rope to frame educational materials. It is one of the niftiest exhibits I've seen.

From June 2011

In the exhibit, there is a wealth of information about the tools sailors used to navigate, keep time, build ships, and generally do their work. There also are facts on pirates and privateers (separated only in category by a legal agreement). The exhibit will be featured at the museum until September 4, so add a visit to your summer calendar.

If you can't make it now, the museum has permanent exhibits and changing exhibits, as well as a research library worth exploring if you're interested trades and crafts topics. The permanent exhibits show how craftsmen and artisans created everyday objects like barrels, shoes, cabinets, and more. There also are exhibits on printing (complete with a large press) and other trades.

For more information and to plan your visit, contact the very nice folks at the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts.