Sunday, April 23, 2017

MARAC Spring 2017 in Newark, N.J.

The Spring 2017 Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference in Newark, N.J. (#maracspring17) had this for a theme: Adaptable Archives: Redefine, Repurpose, and Renew. From the sessions I attended on Friday (more about why I only spent 1 day there, later), it appears that the theme is well on the minds of many in the field.

Plenary

For the plenary, MARAC requested Dr. David Kirsch, associate professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland. His topic centered on the records of failed entrepreneurial ventures, specifically those of Silicon Valley start-ups. He rightly asserted that business records are at risk, due mainly to the litigiousness of society. I remember when I worked at IEEE, over a decade ago, annual data shredding events would occur throughout the company.

What company can afford the physical space to save all that paper, as well as server space to save (and, more costly, people to maintain) the electronic records? The end product is a history of American business that is spotty at best, and is told by those who kept their archives rather than deleting them. Or, in the case of Kirsch and his colleagues at Sherwood Partners, history will be told by failed Silicon Valley companies and those who supported them. Sherwood Partners swoop in and claim selected data from failed companies (doing what we archivists call appraisal), work with the Library of Congress for subject headings, and eventually move the records to the Hagley Museum. One of the aspects of this concept that bothers me is that Kirsch said they only take the text files (OK, Lisa Gensel, I'll give you that something is better than nothing). His example was that they found an organizational chart in a text file. What if that was in a GIF or a JPEG file? It is my opinion that they miss out on the context of their record collection by only choosing text. Moving on...

Empire Archival Discovery Cooperative (Session S4)

During the beginning of this session on the Empire State Library Network's Empire Archival Discovery Cooperative (ADC), the chair Deirdre Joyce of the Central New York Library Resources Council reminded the attendees that the ADC was born out of a New York Caucus meeting at a MARAC in 2010. I'd attended that meeting -- sometimes I attend other state caucuses because I'm interested in what stuff is happening in other states -- and I've been following this project ever since. The speakers were Jen Palmentiero of the Southeastern New York Library Resources Council, Laura Streett of Vassar College, and Greg Wiederman of the University of Albany, SUNY. Another speaker, whom it would have been very useful to have, didn't make it. That was Ethan Gruber of the American Numismatic Society. He's the incredibly talented developer of the EADitor for finding aids, which is an integral part of the ADC web site.

Overall, the session was a very helpful explanation of the history of the project, it's importance to the New York archival community and surrounding region, issues they encountered, and the state of the project now. It's pretty exciting to hear that after all of the work put toward ADC, there are now approximately 1000 finding aids on the system that had been harvested by Ethan (via GitHub) in the last week. Even more relevant to all of the small historical societies is that the beta release allows them to use a relatively simple interface to create DACS-compliant finding aids via the EADitor. The object of the project is to allow previously "hidden" collections to become finadable, and it looks like it's much more cooked now. Those of us in N.J. should be thinking about using this good work as a model.

We Like to Move It, Move It: Renovating Special Collections Facilities (Session S8)

The session chair, Katy Rawdon of Temple University first introduced Elizabeth Beckman of George Mason University, who focused on what it was like to move to a new facility on the same grounds, and some of the challenges she encountered. She said that likely the biggest challenge was that she had not double checked in person the measurements of the shelves with regard to the number of document cases they would hold. She ended up with a top shelf that was about a third of the height she would need to hold the boxes, and that presented a numbering/labeling issue that required some shifting afterward. I felt for her as she described it. Measure twice, cut once, they say.

Next, Bruce Hulse of the Washington Research Library Consortium, a group of 9 universities in the D.C. area, spoke about his experience expanding their off-site shelving solution over several iterations. He detailed his process of working with the contractors in the planning and construction phase, most recently to expand the space by about 30 percent. He also spoke about measures he took to bring down energy costs that had dramatically increased with the new construction.

Finally, Katy introduced Karin Suni of the Free Library of Philadelphia, who spoke about moving the theater and rare book collections. She provided many helpful tips including: document the whole process with many photographs, make lists, be patient because planning can take several years, communicate the types and sizes of materials to movers, and take lots of notes at all of the meetings (and there will be many) prior to and during the move.

Radical Honesty in Descriptive Practice (S13)

This session was one where you could hear a pin drop. I sat with my friend from Penn State Behrend in Erie, Jane Ingold, and listened to speakers Michael Andrec of the Ukrainian Historical and Educational Center of New Jersey, Christiana Dobrzynski of Bryn Mawr College, and Sam Winn of Virginia Tech cover some pretty heavy ground about what we can do as archivists to improve the way we not only populate our materials, but more importantly, describe them. I am all about honesty in description. You might remember a few years ago the torment I experienced when trying to describe the records of the Superfund site in Chester. The speakers weren't going over that kind of ground, though, and I was more intrigued by that session than by many others I have attended over the years.

A couple of years ago during a NJ Caucus meeting, I had visited Michael at the Ukrainian Center (it's local to my home) and seen some of the collections that described the horrors experienced by the Ukrainian people. It was a stark reminder of what populations of immigrants have endured in order to experience religious and personal freedom.

Christiana spoke at length about the type of erasures faced by Black and LGBTQ Bryn Mawr students in terms of the lack of documentation and institutional racism. I was very impressed by the way she engaged with students and inspired them to write new descriptions that acknowledged the previous descriptive practices. She also worked with underrepresented communities to obtain donations and have students of those communities create the language for the finding aids.

Finally, Sam Winn used many quotes (that I wish I had to share with you, and I hope she makes her slides public so that I can link to them here) to talk about how we, the predominantly white, mostly female group need to do much more to ensure that we do better about making our collections reflect the diversity in our communities. Her point could be applied to where I work -- Chester is an overwhelmingly white area, but there have been families of color who have lived and who do live in the area. I need to do more to show that in our collections. I also need to seek out members of the Chester LGBTQ community so that they are represented, as well.

Marching for Science

So, the reason I wasn't there for the Saturday of MARAC, was that I, and many others, were marching for science in Trenton. Here's a photo taken by Mary Clarkin Ahern:


I'm holding the Walter Cronkite quote, "Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation." On the back, it says, "Archivists Have Your Back!" I met at least 15 other librarians and archivists, and I was very happy to participate. This IS what democracy looks like.

Monday, March 20, 2017

"What Do You Do?" "Among Other Things, I Read a Lot of Old Mail."

Recently, I've had the opportunity to talk to individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds, education/training, and life experiences about what I do for a living. Many of them did not know what an archivist is or what one does. I started with what I do as a local history librarian, and gradually worked my way into the archives work I do.

"That Sounds Like a Fun Job!"

"It is," I say. It's the most fun I've ever had at work (although my first job out of college at the recording studio was pretty cool, too). What makes it fun? A great number of things, actually. For me, one of the draws is that it's never the same day twice. Someone might walk into my office to donate a county wall map from 1977 and leave having made an appointment to sit with me the following week to record a video oral history interview. That same person may later, in an interview, reveal that he had worked on the Nike Ajax missile program during the Korean War. He might return for another recording session carrying photos and all of the license and permit cards from his wallet in the Army, which he allows me to scan and return to him on his next visit.

Another day, I might research how best to describe in a finding aid all of the electronic visual materials in a collection. I then reach out to professional friends I've met at the Society of American Archivists and Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conferences and ask what they would do. I send a link to the finding aid for their feedback because it's good to have a second/third set of eyes look at a finding aid, especially since I am what is called a Lone Arranger -- the department head of my department of one. Later, after all suggested edits are implemented, I will publicize the finding aid so that researchers can find the collection (here is one: http://chesterlib.org/local-history-room/finding-aids/rademacher-family-collection-finding-aid/).

If you walk into my office in the coming week, you might see me putting together an exhibit. The image below shows an example of a holiday-themed exhibit I had developed. I made facsimiles of postcards that had been lent for the purpose of digitization, as well as ads and articles from a local paper and newsletter. The little turkey is a salt shaker that I bought at the dollar store, along with the fabric leaves.


On rare days, it's not as much fun. For instance, when links began disappearing from the .gov site, I had to update some of my Local History Resources to links from the Internet Archive. Sometimes, I have to take a stand (https://concernedarchivists.wordpress.com/). Other days, to keep positive energy flowing, I update my Facebook page with news stories of great work by archivists, conservators, and librarians. On the tough days, the updates include puppy videos.

"What's the Most Interesting Thing You've Found?"

That is a tough question. However, my favorite archival materials are maps, especially this one (http://hereandthere123.blogspot.com/2011/09/i-am-map-magnet.html). I'll be talking about that map at the upcoming annual New Jersey Library Association meeting (http://njlaconference.info/). The information about the map can be found here: http://chesterlib.org/local-history-room/about-our-1860-new-jersey-topographical-wall-map/.

I've found things that document the unattractive aspects of a town's history. The importance of telling the whole story, not just the parts we like, cannot be overstated. Consequently, when I uncover evidence of minstrel shows and KKK activities in a town's past, it is my responsibility to make that material just as accessible as the turtle races put on by the Optimist Club.

The most interesting things aren't artifacts or archives, but the stories given to me by the oral history interviewees. They are gifts that give to me as well as the giver. I might be the only person the interviewee talks to in a day. The patrons win by experiencing local history in a completely different way than they would otherwise. Researchers can use the impressions of the people who lived in the times they describe. I gain by meeting and getting to know some pretty fascinating people whom I probably wouldn't have met had they not happened to walk into my office while I was processing a collection of library records.

Maybe, someday, I'll write a book about it.