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.