Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Spring MARAC, April 14-16 2016

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

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

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

Sessions I Attended

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Service to the Profession

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

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

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

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

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