Category Archives: Conferences

Society of Ohio Archivists Annual Meeting 2012

On Friday, May 18, 2012, I attended the Society of Ohio Archivists 2012 Annual Meeting at the Lakeside Room of the Conference Center at OCLC in Dublin, Ohio. (It seemed like I was just there… Oh right, I was [CDM-MUG 2012].) I’m a little embarrassed to admit that this was my first SOA Annual Meeting ever, and now I’m wondering, Why haven’t I been attending these all along? There were lots of great presentations and interesting projects.

Update 6/21/2012: Many of the speakers’ presentations/text are now available at the SOA 2012 conference web page.

*****

The plenary speaker was Jason Crabill, manager of Curatorial Services at the Ohio Historical Society. In his presentation, “Celebrations, Commemorations, and Collections: Delivering Immediate Impact and Creating Lasting Value,” he focused on recent activities surrounding the Civil War sesquicentennial and asked: What do we mean by “celebration” vs. “commemoration”? What was done last time (for the Civil War centennial)? How are things different today and why? What does this mean for archivists? He talked about how the centennial was more of a “celebration” (the whole “Big Man, Big Event, Big Philosophy” mindset). By contrast, the current activities are more of a “commemoration,” with a deliberate shift towards something a bit more solemn, with a bit more balance between Big Men/Events and reflections on the causes and bigger issues.

Jason Crabill delivering plenary session at SOA 2012

Jason Crabill delivering plenary session at SOA 2012

Jason asked us as archivists to really think about what we’re doing to commemorate the Civil War and always keep in mind why we’re doing it and the long-term effects of these efforts. With digital projects in particular, he advised us to make sure we plan for effective long-term access, citing several areas to keep in mind while attempting to ensure that long-term access. In my opinion, Jason gave us lots of interesting food for thought, both in regards to how we as a society think of history, as well as how we as archivists preserve and promote it.

*****

Concurrent Session #1 options included: “Help Us Help You: Using Focus Groups for Marketing Participants” presented by Stephanie Dawson, Emily Gainer, and Joe Salem, of the University of Akron, or “We Look at Giants: The University of Cincinnati Archival Grant Projects” presented by Kevin Grace, Doris Haag, Laura Laugle, Stephanie Bricking, of the University of Cincinnati.

I attended “We Look at Giants,” in which UC archivists discussed two large scale manuscript processing projects funded by grants. Kevin Grace and project archivist Laura Laugle discussed the NHPRC-funded Theodore Moody Berry Project, which has involved process the papers of Ted Berry, the first African American mayor of Cincinnati. Doris Haag and project archivist Stephanie Bricking discussed the NEH-funded project to process the archives of Albert B. Sabin, inventor of the oral, live-virus polio vaccine.

One of the points the presenters wished to convey was the following (quoted from conference program): “Important to the success of the grants is the concerted effort to develop outreach methods that effectively generate public support as the work progresses, and to clearly convey the national or international importance of the individuals whose papers were the subject of the grants.”

One of the ways that this was accomplished in both grants was through the use of blogs.  Laura Laugle wrote and posted to the Theodore M. Berry Papers Project Blog anything interesting that she found, which she said was “a great way to help others discover [the collection]” as she did. I found Laura’s advice about writing an archives blog noteworthy: “Do whatever you think is interesting. Don’t worry so much about rules; just be yourself and put it online, and you will have success.”

Laura Laugle discussing the Ted Berry Project

Laura Laugle discussing the Ted Berry Project

Stephanie Bricking writes blog posts about the Albert B. Sabin Archives on the UC Libraries blog. She, too, posts about interesting finds in the collection. She also had a couple of other really interesting ideas for archives bloggers. Not only does she write up posts about Sabin and put them “out there,” she actively seeks out interested organizations and stakeholders and directs them to the blog. (This can also help you get positive IDs on unidentified photographs, she added.) Furthermore, she has a Google Alert set up to notify her about anything new on the Web about Sabin. (I had never heard of Google Alerts, but I will definitely be checking that out!)

Other salient points from this presentation came from Doris Haag and Kevin Grace as well. Haag spoke mostly about how to handle potential legal issues, but she also said, “If [archival collections] are not accessible, they might as well not exist.” (A statement after my own heart.) Grace pointed out the advantage of releasing some of the research material onto the Internet via the blog before the entire collections are fully accessible; after all, providing access through arrangement and description is the purpose of the grant, so why not share some of those tasty nuggets as soon as you find them?

My goodness, I have written a lot about this session, but can you blame me? I’m an archivist blogger blogging about fellow archivist bloggers. (Try saying that five times fast.) I like to think that I try to do some of the same things that these archivists are doing with their blogs, for some of the same reasons: get the information out there! When I find or learn something really cool in our archives, I feel compelled to share it. (And getting stuff about our collections into the Google database doesn’t hurt either.)

And now…on to the rest of the day.

*****

Concurrent Session #2 options included: “Time has Come Today: Creating a Sustainable Library and Archives” presented by Andy Leach and Jennie Thomas of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or “Meet your Patrons Where They Are: Social Media in the Archives” presented by Beth Anderson (Wright State University), Janet Carleton (Ohio University), and Liz Tousey (Bowling Green State University).

I attended the presentations on social media.

First, Liz Tousey discussed ways to use the Flickr Commons, HistoryPin, and tumblr, and certain kinds of blogs to promote your collections. I say “certain kinds” of blogs because she specifically mentioned sites like Letters of Note and My Daguerreotype Boyfriend (love that one!), where materials from many sources can be reposted or linked. I had heard of HistoryPin — a super-cool site which overlays geo-tagged historic photos on top of current street views — and have even contemplated putting some of our (Dayton Metro Library’s) images on there, but it hasn’t happened yet. (Looking at the HistoryPin map of Dayton makes me want to do this even more, as there are very few pinned photos for the Dayton area.)

Liz Tousey showing the HistoryPin site

Liz Tousey showing the HistoryPin site

Beth Anderson of the Wright State University Student Technology Assistance Center (STAC) talked about creating promotional YouTube videos for the WSU libraries (love this video for the archives!). In emphasizing how easy it is, Beth said, “It’s just a couple old ladies running around [in the library] with Flip cameras,” then editing the video using iMovie 11 and posting on YouTube. She said each video only takes an hour or two to create. She handed out a list of tips called “The Sock Monkey approach to Promo YouTube videos,” the first rule of which is to “keep it short & simple (60 seconds.” She also advised making the videos fun, funny, and catchy, which (in addition to keeping it short) helps to keep students’ attention and can have the added bonus effect of making your video go viral among the student body. (I find this sort of like hiding medicine in something tastier; everybody wins.) Including student workers in the videos also helps, because they want to show all their friends when it’s finished – which obviously also helps spread the video throughout the student population.

Janet Carleton discussed social media activities revolving around Maggie Boyd, the first female graduate of Ohio University whose diary for the year 1873 (her senior year at OU) was digitized 10 years ago for Ohio Memory. Now, the OU archives is repurposing Maggie’s digitized diary in the form of the @MaggieBoyd1873 Twitter feed, as well as WordPress blog posts and Pinterest boards about various aspects of Maggie’s world. The social media items link back to high resolution images of the relevant original diary entries.

*****

Next up, we had a tasty lunch and then the SOA Business Meeting.

The 2012 SOA Merit Award winners were William C. Barrow, Special Collections Librarian at Cleveland State University, and Angela O’Neal, Director of Collections Services at the Ohio Historical Society.

The election was also held. Emily Gainer was re-elected to the position of treasurer. Newly-elected SOA Council members are Jacky Johnson, Western College Archivist/ Special Collections Cataloger at Miami University, and…yours truly [Lisa Rickey, Reference Librarian/Archivist at the Dayton Metro Library]. (I appreciate the vote of confidence, and I hope that I live up to everyone’s expectations!)

*****

The next time block of the conference consisted of an Employment Roundtable discussion and Poster Presentations.

The Employment Roundtable was facilitated by Rachel Bilokonsky (University of Dayton), Dawne Dewey (Wright State University), Noel Rihm (Wright State University, Public History student), and Lonna McKinley (National Museum of the United States Air Force). The point of this roundtable seemed to be to have a discussion about the state of the profession (and the job market) and get ideas about what, if anything, SOA can do to improve the situation. (If you have suggestions, please share them on the SOA listserv.)

As director of the Public History program at Wright State University, Dawne Dewey had several bits of advice for current students. She advises, “Do more than the minimum” and “diversify [your coursework].” She also emphasized the importance of internships and volunteer work and said that, in her observation, students who “go the extra mile” tend to do better in the job market after graduation.

Current Public History student Noel Rihm advised getting a mentor and not being afraid to go after “big” internships (such as the Marine Corps-affiliated internship she will be doing in Quantico this summer!). Lonna McKinley added, “You don’t know unless you try.” (And, as my high school guidance counselor Mr. Smith used to say—in reference to scholarships, but it works for internships too— “If you don’t try, you know you won’t get it.”)

Another bit of advice was: be prepared to move. I had heard this one; there are a lot of archivists in Dayton because of the WSU program (of which I am a grad). And not all are lucky like I was, finding a job in Dayton; some have to choose between a job in Dayton or a job in the field.

Another bit of advice: don’t be afraid of grant-funded positions; it doesn’t look like “job-hopping”.

Once the discussion was turned over to the audience, other viewpoints emerged. A couple of project archivists voiced valid complaints regarding the state of the profession, with so many positions coming only through grants (and thus being finite in term). For instance, it’s difficult to justify moving your family to take a temporary job. One archivist said her husband left his job to move with her and then was laid off at his new job (I assume because he was “low man” on the proverbial company totem pole). They said it is aggravating — and I agree — that so many positions have become this way and that we have become complacent to it.

On the other hand, the obvious question is: Yes, but what, if anything, can we do about it? And yes, it sucks, but I can also see the logic of, Aren’t grant jobs better than no jobs at all – both for the archivists and the materials that need our attention and would otherwise continue sitting in storage? Lots to think about, and the problem is pretty massive. But it’s certainly something we need to think about and do what we can to change.

In response to “going the extra mile” while in grad school and not rushing to graduate, someone pointed out that taking extra classes and extra time in grad school all costs extra money. It was even stated that those who can afford the luxury of extra time and courses have an “unfair advantage” in the job market.

An interesting way of looking at things. I certainly see the validity and value of these comments, as well as Dawne’s. I suppose in a way it comes down to weighing opportunity costs and (in a way) gambling. You basically have to guess at which you think will be more valuable to you later on: an extra course or internship (or two) that may give you that edge (both of which take time, if not money – after all, you could volunteer for free, but it still costs time which can equal money), or the money you would save on tuition or potentially earn if you graduate sooner and are (hopefully) able to get a job sooner.

Someone else pointed out the homogeneity of the workforce in archives, particularly in reference to race. He wondered if there might be a reason that there seem to be so few people of color in the archives field. Another interesting question; something to think about.

*****

Following the Employment Roundtable — which I think could have easily gone on for quite a bit longer than it did (which is why it was suggested that it be continued on the SOA listserv), a Poster Session was held.

Poster Session!

Poster Session!

Poster Session presenters included:

  • “Getting Things Done” by Karen Caputo, Grant Joslin, Amanda Nelson, Danielle Ross, and Maria Pease of the Ohio History Service Corps;
  • “Bridging the Divide: Integrating Privacy Sensitivity Audits into the Archival Appraisal Process” by Judith A. Wiener and Anne Gilliland of the Ohio State University Health Sciences Library;
  • “Aerial Photographs: Taking Off into the Digital Realm” by Shayna Muckerheide, MLIS-Archives intern at the Sandusky Library;
  • “Worn Chappals: Soul Imprints” by Jacqueline Ruiz of the Asian Indian Heritage Project;
  • “Mississippi Freedom Summer: The Digitization Process at the Archives” by Jacqueline Johnson and Elias Tzoc of Miami University;
  • “Capstone Project: Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton Records” by Jeremy Katz, Wright State University Public History student; and
  • “Oral History: A Dynamic Source for Community Development” by Elise Kelly, Wright State University Public History student.

*****

Concurrent Session #3 (the final time block) options included: “Ohio Historical Records Advisory Board Regrants Program” presented by Fred Previts (Ohio Historical Society), John Runion (Stark County Records Manager), Natalie Fritz (Clark County Historical Society), Meghan Hays (Shaker Heights Public Library), and Ron Luce (Athens County Historical Society), or  “Mind Mapping for Archival Processing: Using Personal Brain Software to Facilitate Arrangement of the Auguste Martin Collection” presented by Jillian Slater and Amy Rohmiller of University of Dayton.

I attended the session on OHRAB Re-Grants. How could I not? My dear friend, former classmate (and on that particular day, carpool-mate) Natalie was one of the presenters! The presentations discussed projects that had been made possible with funding from the OHRAB Re-Grants program.

Natalie Fritz and the Clark County Historical Society have been using their grant funding to re-house probate records. Natalie shared some of the trials and tribulations of the project, as well as some of the neat stories that have been uncovered. This current re-grant project is a continuation of a previous re-grant. Most of the work is being undertaken by volunteers, and Natalie mentioned how glad she was that the volunteers were happy to hear the project would continue. They have found many interesting items in the probate records, the only downside of which is the inclination to read everything (because it’s so interesting!), which makes the work go a little more slowly. (I should note that they haven’t had any trouble meeting their grant deadlines, though, so hey, if reading the cool stuff keeps everyone happy and the work still gets done on time, it sounds like a win-win situation to me!)

Natalie Fritz discussing the Clark County probate records project

Natalie Fritz discussing the Clark County probate records project

Meghan Hays talked about a project to digitize a really cool collection of Shaker Heights building information cards. The cards include information such as when the building was constructed, original value, the architect, sometimes even a reference to where the blueprints can be found. (Man, I wish we had these for Dayton! I am so jealous on that count!) The cards can be viewed online at shakerbuildings.com, which is handy since it enables volunteers to work on the indexing/transcription remotely.

Ron Luce of Athens County Historical Society also talked about a project to preserve county probate records. He said he was horrified by the state of the records at the courthouse. (A year or two ago, I had a similar experience at an Ohio county courthouse that shall remain nameless, so I can relate!) So Ron asked if the historical society could have them, to preserve them better. After much discussion, it was eventually decided that yes, the historical society could take them. Preservation activities have included new boxes and shelving for the probate records.

*****

And so, another SOA Annual Meeting came to a close, about 4:00 p.m. I found the conference very interesting, informative, and thought-provoking. In my humble opinion, I think it was a great success, although, as I admitted in paragraph 1, having never been to one of these before, I have no frame of reference for what the SOA Meeting is “suppose to” be like. I expect that this will be the first of many for me, however…or at least, I hope so!

I was also one of several people “live-Tweeting” the conference under the hash tag #ohioarchivists. You can see all my Tweets, including several more photos, at my Twitter feed @LisaRickey.

CONTENTdm Midwest Users Group Meeting 2012

On Friday, May 4, 2012, I attended the CONTENTdm Midwest Users Group Meeting 2012 at the Lakeside Room of the Conference Center at OCLC in Dublin, Ohio. (It seems like yesterday that I attended the 2011 Midwest User Group Meeting at Ball State University in October!)

CONTENTdm is OCLC’s digital content management software. User group meetings are held in various regions in order for CONTENTdm users “to network, share best practices, and hear about the latest CONTENTdm product updates.” (I attend these because work with the CONTENTdm collections at the Dayton Metro Library; you can check out our digital collections at: http://content.daytonmetrolibrary.org/.)

I had never been to the OCLC main campus before, but I was pleasantly surprised that it was not difficult to find or reach. Even the 75-minute commute from my house to Dublin (a suburb of Columbus) was quite tolerable that particular morning. (The afternoon was a different story, but that’s neither here nor there.) The conference center was quite far from the main entrance, and I think I might have gotten lost if someone had not put out a half dozen or more lovely signs pointing me in the right direction, practically all the way to the very doorstep of the building.

CONTENTdm MUG Directional Sign

CONTENTdm MUG Directional Sign

Once I visited the registration table and got settled in, I pulled out my cell phone. See, this is the first conference I have attended since joining the hip kids and getting a smart phone, so I decided I was going to do some “live tweets” of the activities. The agreed-upon Twitter hash tag for the event was #cdmmug2012. Planning committee member Janet Carleton (@jcarletonoh) and I (@LisaRickey) and a handful of others made good use of it. I think I managed to tweet once for every session I attended—for which my husband later declared me a “dork” (but, as a positive thing)—and most included a photo (some of which I will include here on the blog, but if you want to see them all, check my original Twitter feed).

(Please note: As I go through the day’s sessions, I will just be giving a brief description of what the presentation was about and mention anything I found particularly interesting. If you want to know more, you should check out the conference web site, where full versions of the presentations will be available soon, if they are not already.)

For the first session, Christian Sarason, a product manager for CONTENTdm/OCLC, gave us the latest on what’s in store for CONTENTdm. Among the features they are working on (for release hopefully in 2013) are enhancements to Favorites and performance; implementing full HTTPS; search engine optimizations (e.g., your stuff being found on Google); and implementing the ability to actually create groups of collections. In the more distant future, they have some updates in mind for the server side of the software. OCLC has begun using the scrum method of software development, and so the biggest “take-away” I got from Christian’s presentation was: Tell OCLC what you want to see in CONTENTdm because they are eager for your feedback to help with improving the software!

Many of the day’s time blocks consisted of breakout sessions, wherein participants could attend either a formal presentation or a “Birds of a Feather” discussion on a certain topic.

Breakout session #1 options included a Birds of a Feather discussion on Metadata or a presentation by Bonnie Chandler (Columbus Metropolitan Library), “Creating Community Engagement through Digital Content.”

I attended the presentation, which discussed two collaborative projects—Columbus Memory and Columbus Neighborhoods—embarked upon as part of the Columbus Bicentennial (2012) celebration. Columbus Memory was a grant-funded project, the purpose of which was to create a digital archive of Columbus history, help other historical societies and organizations digitize their collections, and provide local history resources for Columbus teachers and students. Columbus Neighborhoods was a collaborative project with WOSU whose purposes was to record and share stories and memories of various Columbus neighborhoods.

Bonnie Chandler's presentation

Bonnie Chandler’s presentation

I was most interested in the Columbus Memory project, because it involved the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s digital archive hosting not only their own images of Columbus history, but also images shared by other organizations and other individuals. In some cases, the original materials were actually donated and then included in the project; in other cases, the original materials were borrowed, digitized, and returned, but the digital representations still shared online. As relevant, Memoranda of Understanding or Deeds of Gift were signed by involved parties.

I was particularly interested in Columbus Memory (especially its nitty-gritty details) because we (in my department at work) have periodically brought up the idea of possibly conducting a similar project wherein patrons could share their historic photos through the library’s digital archive. So I was very interested to see how another Ohio public library handled a similar project.

Breakout session #2 included a Birds of a Feather discussion on Customizations or a panel discussion on “Collection Infrastructure: Defining, Expanding, and Reshaping the Organization of Collections within CONTENTdm.” I attended the panel discussion, whose participants included: Ann Olszewski (Cleveland PL), Karen Perone (Rodman PL in Alliance, Ohio), Kevin Drieger (Library of Michigan), Lily Birkhimer (Ohio Historical Society’s Ohio Memory), and Shannon Kupfer (State Library of Ohio).

I attended the panel discussion, in which the panel participants shared many interesting ideas about how to arrange (and re-arrange) your CONTENTdm collections.

One thing that resonated with me was how different institutions treated their “catch-all” collections. These catch-all collections might be used when you have a few things you want to digitize from a lot of different collections, but you don’t want to clutter everything up by creating a bunch of individual digital collections to correspond to each physical collection you are drawing items from. Instead, just put them all into one collection, but make sure to cite all the collection information somewhere in the metadata, so people know where the original item can be found. First of all, I was pleased to learn that I’m not the only one with a “catch-all” collection! However, they gave me ideas for coming up with a more creative name for the collection besides “Local History Miscellaneous.” For instance, Cleveland PL calls theirs “Collection Treasures,” and OHS uses “OHS Selections.”

Another neat idea I got from the Infrastructure panel was to create a standardized “Person” field with a controlled vocabulary, so that items pertaining to a certain person can be accessed across all collections. I suppose the same could be accomplished with regular subject headings, but I thought it was an interesting idea to break it down further.

Breakout session #3 options included a Birds of a Feather discussion on Hosted Users or a presentation by Jim Cunningham (Illinois State University), “Accidental Controlled Vocabulary Development: Metadata for Specialized Imagery Collections.”

I attended the discussion. Although Dayton Metro Library hosts our digital collections on our own servers, rather than being “hosted” by OCLC (which is what is meant by “hosted users”), I thought it would be interesting to hear what the hosted users had to say. It turned out that about 2/3 of the participants were hosted; the rest were just interested in the subject. One resounding theme coming from those who had chosen to go with the hosted option (even though it costs a little more) was that they went hosted to avoid the IT headaches from such things as doing their own software upgrades or trying to gain a coveted spot on the priority list of their institutions’ IT staffs. With the hosted option, CONTENTdm upgrades happen quickly and painlessly, although one trade-off is a loss of flexibility for doing customizations.

After this discussion, it was time for lunch. After eating my lunch, I took a little walk outside. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of ducks near the “Lakeside” Conference Center.

Lakeside Room, Conference Center, OCLC

Lakeside Conference Center, OCLC

I was, however, surprised to see a large swan, whose named apparently is George. He had made a nest for himself near one of the windows of the conference center, where he spent most of the day. There were a few times where he kept walking along the windows. I joked that maybe he wanted to learn about CONTENTdm, but okay, he was probably just looking at his own reflection.

George, the OCLC swan

George, the OCLC swan

After lunch, Breakout session #4 options included a Birds of a Feather discussion on Audiovisual or a presentation by David Gwynn (University of North Carolina at Greensboro), “Broadsheets on a Budget: Low-cost Approaches to Newspaper Digitization Projects.”

I attended the presentation, which discussed a major undertaking of digitizing two historic newspapers using limited staff and budget, by working with the Lyrasis Mass Digitization Collaborative. Among my favorite parts of this presentation were: a real numbers breakdown of data and costs; examples of how to use the concatenate function in Excel to automate some of your metadata (and save tons of time!); and sharing about some of the metadata headaches. The main headache was how to deal with volume and issue numbers that failed to follow a consistent pattern over the years. (Now, not to sound “glad” that UNCG had metadata nightmares, but I think we can all relate to that feeling of “oh good, it’s not just me,” knowing that other people also find—and have to deal with—weird stuff! I think deep down we all know we’re not alone when bad/weird things happen, but it’s nice to have it confirmed once in a while. Ha!) You can check out the digitized newspapers (and their other projects) at: http://libcdm1.uncg.edu/.

Breakout session #5 options included a Birds of a Feather discussion on Workflows or panel discussion on “Repurposing and Extending your CONTENTdm Content,” with Janet Carleton (Ohio University) and Sara Klein (Upper Arlington Public Library).

I attended the panel, which (and I’m going to quote this directly from the list of accepted sessions because I think they way they said it is just awesome) covered basically this: “Got your cool stuff in CONTENTdm? Check. Now it’s time to reach out to where your users are in social media spaces.”

First, Janet Carleton told us about a number of cool things they have been doing with the Maggie Boyd project. Maggie was the first female graduate of Ohio University, and her 1873 diary (her senior year at OU) was digitized 10 years ago for Ohio Memory. Now, they are repurposing Maggie’s digitized diary in the form of the @MaggieBoyd1873 Twitter feed, as well as WordPress blog posts and Pinterest boards about various aspects of Maggie’s world. The social media items link back to relevant images of Maggie’s original diary, which is served up through CONTENTdm.

Janet Carleton's presentation on Maggie Boyd

Janet Carleton’s presentation on Maggie Boyd

Janet pointed out that the interconnectedness of meshing – or is it mashing? 😉 – all these things together helps to reduce information silos. And isn’t finding and using our “stuff” and actually “putting it all together” the whole point of what we are all trying to do when we undertake these digitization projects?

Sara Klein discussed her experiences with repurposing the Upper Arlington PL’s CONTENTdm collections for use on Facebook and the Flickr Commons. She has had success in using these social media tools to identify unknowns in photographs, as well as inviting community participation through activities like trivia questions.

Breakout session #6 (the final session) options included attending one of two presentations: “The CONTENTdm Catcher: What’s it Good For?” by Phil Sager (OHS) or “The Niiyama Japanese Poetic Pottery: An Interactive Digital Presentation” by Patrice-Andre Prud’homme (Illinois State University).

Since I was in fact unsure about what the CONTENTdm Catcher is “good for,” I decided to attend Phil Sager’s presentation. I learned that the Catcher is a web service that can be used for batch processing of metadata. It sounded pretty cool, although unfortunately, it has no pre-packaged GUI, so you need to build an application or use a script to run it. But if you can actually figure out how to do that, it sounds like it is pretty awesome and powerful! I found Phil’s examples helpful in understanding why you might want to use the Catcher (and, by the way, his session title was perfect). One example he gave was, let’s say you have a bunch of Flash videos; you want to set the Format for all of the relevant files to reflect that they are Flash video; and your Source field does include the original file name with extension (*.flv). You could use Catcher to loop through all your CONTENTdm objects, find the ones where Source = *.flv, and in those instances set Format = “video/x-flv”. Pretty slick. You can’t really do that with Project Client (the CONTENTdm GUI interface for editing objects)—not in one fell swoop, for sure. Sounds like the Catcher is a dream for any CONTENTdm Techie who needs to make a specific change to a lot of objects and would like to do so all at once. But Phil warns: Make sure you do a trial run of the potential output before actually changing anything! (There are known bugs, plus there’s always the element of human error.) Look before you leap; that’s good advice for mass updates to any database.

The wrap-up at the end of the day consisted of a CONTENTdm Tech Q&A Session with Erik Mayer of OCLC. There weren’t as many questions as I would have expected. Then again, people had been asking questions to the many in-the-know OCLC folks who attended (there were at least 6) throughout the day, so maybe they just had run out of questions!

All in all, the CONTENTdm Midwest Users Group Meeting 2012 was a very interesting, informative, and enjoyable conference.

Wright State University Public History Graduate Symposium, Mar. 2, 2012

Yesterday, I attended “Wright in Your Own Backyard: Historical Heritage and Collective Memories,” a symposium of presentations by Wright State University Public History graduate students.

Wright in Your Own Backyard program cover

Wright in Your Own Backyard program cover

If I heard correctly, this was the first one they’ve ever had, and I hope that there will be many more, because it was really great. I really enjoyed all the presentations (don’t worry, I’ll give more details in a minute), which is saying something because let’s face it, who hasn’t been to a conference where some of the presentations were just…well, they had you watching the clock?

The symposium also had the right balance of professionalism and casualness — it was structured enough to be appropriately professional and give the students a good experience of being presenters, but it was also…well, fun. Or maybe it’s just that I feel more relaxed attending anything at Wright State — partly because it really is “wright” in my own backyard (low stress as far as travel! it’s 20 minutes away!), and partly because I spent 6 good years of my life there, so it’s familiar and feels like home.

But enough about that, you want to hear about the presentations…

Wright in Your Own Backyard program

Wright in Your Own Backyard program

Keynote Speaker – Amanda Wright Lane

Our keynote speaker was to be Amanda Wright Lane, who is a great grand-niece of the Wright Brothers and a spokesperson for the Wright Legacy. Unfortunately, she received a last minute invitation to an event honoring John Glenn in Cleveland for the same day and felt it was very important that she attend it. However! She was able to make time to come to Wright State the day before and give her talk to a small group of students, and the talk was videotaped. So we were able to enjoy Ms. Wright Lane’s address after all.

Amanda Wright Lane giving her talk to us via video

Amanda Wright Lane giving her talk to us via video

Ms. Wright Lane advised us to “make public history personal,” and asked the rhetorical question, “What gives you goosebumps?

Then she told us about two of her “goosebump moments” wherein she was able to really connect “Uncle Will and Uncle Orv,” the relatives she kept hearing about, to “the Wright Brothers,” the inventors of the airplane.

One example was when she was looking through a notebook of calculations and found her aunt Ivonette’s name scrawled on a page — a concrete connection between the inventors and the family.

Another was reading the entry in the Bishop Milton Wright’s diary from the day his son Wilbur Wright died in 1912. Reading the words of a grieving father, you could see Wilbur not as a famous inventor but as someone’s son.

She closed her address by saying, “If you look hard enough, you can find the pieces on the pages of history that are full of personal consequence.”

Indeed. Dawne Dewey, director of the Public History Program and Head of the WSU Special Collections & Archives, reiterated that, as public historians, we help to “bring it home” so people can really make those connections [between the history they’ve read in books and the real people it happened to].

Session I: “Local History: From Preservation to Activism”
Moderated by Lisa P. Rickey, archivist & local history reference librarian at Dayton Metro Library

Misti Spillman presented “The Restoration of Howell Cemetery,” in which she described her project of restoring a woebegone cemetery in Shelby County. She fixed and cleaned many gravestones, researched the “inhabitants”, and got a new sign erected. At one point she stated that a cemetery is a primary source that is accessible to the public, right outside, an sort of outdoor museum — and I thought that was pretty cool.

Robin Heise presented “Yellow Springs: A Historical Menagerie.” Her project had involved conducting deed research on 12 historic homes in Yellow Springs, but the presentation focused mainly on six of the interesting characters (previous owners of the homes) that she had encountered in her research. They were: William Mills, the Means family, Julius Cone, Col. Thomas Tchou, John W. Hamilton, and William Wallace Carr. You can learn more about her project at her blog http://ysheritage.org/.

Elise Kelly presented “Oral History: A Dynamic Source for Community Development,” in which she discussed her project conducting oral history interviews with 5 activists in Dayton’s Latino community — namely, Rosa Caskey, Tony Ortiz, Maria Goeser, Victor Garcia, and Sr. Maria Stacy. She played several audio clips during her presentation, which I thought was a really excellent touch, since after all, the project was about recording people’s experiences in their own words and voices. (If you would like to hear the interviews yourself, they will be deposited at the Wright State University Special Collections & Archives.)

As the moderator, I was delighted (and a little relieved) that there were lots of questions for the presenters — since if there weren’t, I would need to ask them some questions myself. Then again, their presentations were so interesting that I actually had no trouble coming up with a few questions myself anyway. Most of my questions were the same ones other people had, so they were covered by various audience members.

I did have one general question for all the presenters though, but I can’t really take credit for it. It stemmed directly from Ms. Wright Lane’s address:

What was one of your “goosebumpy moments” while you were doing your projects?

Misti told of discovering that an unmarked grave was actually that of a soldier (Revolutionary War, I believe she said). Robin mentioned learning that Col. Tchou, whom she had not heard of, actually had a very interesting, important life. And Elise said it was just hearing the stories in people’s own voices. (Truly, oral history is just filled with one “goosebumpy moment” right after another.)

Lunch

We had an hour an a half for lunch, but many of us just went around the corner to the Union Market. (Hey, I actually really like that place and was looking forward to eating there again. And okay, I also didn’t want to deal with the rain, parking, or Beavercreek restaurants at lunchtime.)

Actually, there ended up being quite a few of us there, so we all sat together at a long table. Here’s a picture that Dawne took with my camera:

Public History crew at lunch

Public History crew at lunch

Seriously, if you ever need a picture taken of something and don’t have a camera, come find me — if I’m there — because I am pretty much always packing a camera.

Lunch involved lots of lively conversation — who could expect anything less from this group? One of the public history students who wasn’t presenting that day told us in great detail about her research about a little-covered angle on the life of John Dillinger. I won’t give away the details, in case she wants to write a book about it — and I hope she does, because it was a fascinating topic!

Introduction to Wright State’s Public History Program

After we returned from lunch, Dawne Dewey gave us an overview of the public history program, including: its mission (to which Dawne suggested perhaps we should append “cause goosebumps”), curriculum, faculty, activities, etc. (You can read all about WSU’s Public History program at their web site.) While those unfamiliar with the program were probably more interested in the actual content, seasoned grads Natalie Fritz and I were actually more excited about seeing pictures of so many former classmates in the PowerPoint slides and trying to remember the activities depicted.

Public History at Wright State University

Public History at Wright State University

Session II: “The Challenges of Museum and Archival Collections”
Moderated by Virginia Weygandt, Director of Collections for the Clark County Historical Society

Maggie Zakri presented “Sharing the Table: Unique Challenges of Processing Collections outside of the Archives,” in which she discussed some of the pros and cons of helping someone preserve their personal collection, in this case the archival materials (aka memories) of a woman whose Jewish family had escaped from France during WWII. Maggie is properly housing and digitizing everything and also making a scrapbook (using the scans) so the woman’s family can still enjoy the content while keeping the originals safe. Really neat project! (And on a personal note: This gives me some good ideas about my grandparents’ collections, which I have so graciously been permitted by my other family members to curate…)

Nicole Williams presented “Adventures in Medical Collections,” wherein she described her activities (adventures, indeed!) with the medical collections of the Greene County Historical Society. She encountered many problems related to accessioning. She has also encountered many hazardous materials (mercury, lead, arsenic, opiates, flammable chemicals, etc.) and hit some roadblocks in determining how to safely and responsibly dispose of them. She also gave us a helpful list of do’s and don’ts when working with these types of collections.

Linda Collins presented “Selling Deaccessioned Objects: Decreasing Controversy with Communication.” Museums often find themselves in possession of many items that have come into their collections over the years but that do not directly relate to the museum’s mission and collecting policy. Due to constraints of funding and space, they sometimes choose to “deaccession” these items (remove them from the collection), and they may be auctioned off. Linda pointed out that if museums are honest with the public about why they are getting rid of these items and how the money will be used, it can help smooth over any objections the community may have. She gave us examples of museums that had done this well (the Clark County Historical Society and the Indianapolis Museum of Art) and one that did not do so well (Philadelphia History Museum).

During the Q&A portion of this session, someone commented about how the presentations had caused her to “run the gamut” of emotions, at which point someone else piped up, “Then we’ve done our job.” 🙂

Session III: “Ethnic and Community Identity in the Miami Valley”
Moderated by Dr. Barbara Green, WSU professor of African American History

Noel Rihm presented “Longtown: Cultural Diversity in Darke County, Ohio,” about her research (and the resulting long-term exhibit at the Garst Museum) concerning Longtown, a multiracial settlement of African Americans, Native Americans, and white people, that straddled the border of Darke County, Ohio, and Randolph County, Indiana, beginning in 1822. She said the primary message she wanted to convey with the exhibit was that Longtown was about equality, liberty, and community. She hopes that people will feel immersed and get something emotional out of it. She also pointed out that these smaller community stories help people to see the big picture of history, which I think is an excellent point and a huge piece of what public history is all about.

Jeri Kniess presented “When Malindy Sings: The Influence of Matilda Dunbar on Paul Laurence Dunbar.” Jeri gave us a good deal of biographical background about Matilda Dunbar, including lots of interesting images of primary sources, and discussed why she feels it is important to know Matilda in order to better understand her son Paul. Jeri mentioned possibly wanting to write a book about this, especially since she has run across several instances of where published information about Matilda has been incorrect. I hope she does write a book — and makes sure to let Dayton Metro Library know so we can buy a copy!

Casey Huegel presented “Rethinking the Dunbar House: Interpretation and Place in a Changing Landscape,” in which he questioned the relationship of the Dunbar House to the rest of the Dayton Aviation Heritage Park and the Aviation Trail. He also discussed West Dayton in general and had some really cool “before and after” photos of several buildings that have been restored since the early ’90s. When I asked where the “before” photos came from — people ask us for old photos of West Dayton (and many other spots) all the time at the library — it turned out that they were from a collection at the National Park Service.

In Closing…

After the closing remarks of the symposium, student Jeremy Katz held a poster session about his project involving the processing of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton records (MS-434 at WSU SCA).

Pfew! And that wrapped up the day! The symposium was really awesome — just great, interesting presentations. I never cease to be amazed at all the cool things that public historians can do and are doing. I was really honored to be asked to be a part of this program, and I’m so glad I was able to attend. I am really looking forward to seeing what the Public History Symposium will have in store next year.

Preserving Our Cultural Heritage Conference, Part 3- Tour and Workshop

And without further adieu, the final chapter in my report from the Preserving Our Cultural Heritage conference at IU: the tour and the workshop.

*****

On Saturday afternoon, I attended a behind-the-scenes tour of the Lilly Library, rare books, manuscripts, and special collections library of the Indiana University Libraries. This tour was given by Erika Dowell, a public services librarian at the Lilly Library.

I won’t dwell on every aspect of the tour or how they do things at the Lilly, but I jotted down some things I found interesting. Until looking at them again, I had forgotten most of it — that’s why we take notes! — but it seems that most of my interest had to do with the reading room.

The Lilly’s collections “are available to all with a research need for them” (see the Lilly’s use policies). To use materials in the reading room, you have to register (they photocopy your ID – good idea!), and you get “buzzed in” to the reading room when your requested materials are ready for you. They don’t require gloves except for photos or metal objects but obviously you should have clean hands — Ms. Dowell said they often wish they had a hand wash station available (another good idea – ah, facilities planning!).

I noticed that there was at least one security camera in the reading room. I have not seen that before in any library where I’ve worked; then again, I’ve worked mostly in public libraries. Some might say it could be considered a “privacy violation,” but I can’t blame them when they’ve got things like a copy of the Gutenberg Bible!

There were a lot of manual card catalogs around, too. In the reading room were over 100 drawers of cards comprising an item-level index of their manuscript collections. Ms. Dowell said these card files are not kept current anymore, but they definitely come in handy. (We have similar card files at the Dayton library – though not nearly as extensive because our collections are not as extensive! – but again, they are not kept up, but do come in handy at times.)

Ms. Dowell also pointed out another card file in one of the staff-only areas; it was a project of some sort that was begun a long time ago but never finished (because card files were “out” once the digital age hit), yet they still keep it because someone worked really hard on that – and again, it could still be useful – it was just never finished or kept current. (This was another one of those “I’m glad it’s not just me” moments!)

I enjoyed the tour very much, and I was extremely impressed and in awe of the collections – their content, their quantity, their significance…just rows and rows of amazing stuff.

*****

By far the highlight of my trip to Bloomington, though, was the Paper Conservation Workshop with Doug Sanders, paper conservator at the E. Lingle Craig Preservation Laboratory. I had heard of the Craig Lab prior to this conference because I refer to their online preservation how-to manual often. (Seriously, their manual is awesome: very detailed step-by-step instructions with tons of photos.) The conservation workshop was actually the deciding factor in my attending this conference. I thought it looked interesting anyway, but when I saw this workshop on the agenda, I had to sign up!

Mr. Sanders had a 3-page handout ready for us when we arrived. The handout briefly described each of the several treatments he would be demonstrating (more on that later) and had space for notes in between: it’s like they knew I was coming! I scribbled all over just about every inch of those 3 pages, plus wrote some notes on a fourth sheet of my own paper… (What? I’m verbose; don’t act like you hadn’t noticed.)

Mr. Sanders did not demonstrate any procedures on books or bound materials. As the paper conservator, he handles unbound and loose paper materials: manuscripts, maps, photos, etc. Here’s a great article about Mr. Sanders and his work. (Check out the other members of the preservation staff – there are nine people who work in the Craig Lab! How wonderful!)

The treatments Mr. Sanders demonstrated for us were:

  • Surface cleaning: to remove surface dirt and accretions from the paper.
  • Washing: to reduce acidity and discoloration, remove stains, deodorize.
  • Alkalization (de-acidification): to add an alkaline deposit to the paper, to neutralize acid and prevent future acid build-up.
  • Mending/infilling: to repair tears and gaps to improve handling and legibility.
  • Humidification: to introduce moisture at a controlled rate to relax paper (e.g., for tightly rolled items) prior to attempts at flattening.
  • Pressing: aka flattening.
  • Housing (e.g., boxes, enclosures, encapsulation): to protect the item while in storage.

The handout also mentioned (but did not describe) these “higher level treatments” that should really be left to a professional conservator with a solid background in chemistry:

  • tape removal
  • backing/lining
  • inpainting
  • fixing
  • consolidation
  • leaf casting
  • vellum/parchment

That is all I’m going to say about the actual treatments. That may come as a bit of a let-down, seeing as I was so excited about this workshop. But I am going to play the “liability” card on this entry, because I don’t want to run the risk of accidentally giving out inaccurate information in regards to actually performing these procedures. Yes, I saw him do it, and yes, I took a ton of notes. But what if I misheard or misunderstood or wrote it down wrong? I don’t want anyone following “my” instructions [or worse, attributing the misinformation to Mr. Sanders] and consequently harming something.

(I tend to think that Mr. Sanders would also appreciate my refraining on the details, as well: At one point while he was humidifying a photograph, I asked him if he could give a general recommendation about when it is safe to do so – because all the books I have say “leave for a conservator” – and after giving his answer [which I’m not going to post here!], he said, “But don’t quote me on that!” Haha.)

One thing I learned during the workshop that I don’t feel dangerous in sharing is the preservation challenge presented by documents written in iron gall ink. (Is it sad that I first heard of iron gall ink when I saw the movie National Treasure? In my defense, I didn’t start my archives master’s degree until after that movie came out.) 

Anyway, back to iron gall ink: Evidently, this ink was very commonly used up through the 1920s because it was so smooth and worked well in quills and nib pens. I won’t try to get into the chemistry of it all – that Wikipedia article I linked to does a good job of that – but because of the iron (yes, it really has iron in it) and other components of this ink, the ink actually eats through the paper it is written on, over time. Mr. Sanders showed us an example of a document written with this ink, and the letters were literally just falling out of it. It was the most bizarre thing. (This web site shows an image of iron gall ink corrosion.)

He said there are new conservation treatments being developed to help curtail this type of deterioration. (Here’s some info on iron gall ink treatment from Library of Congress.)

But just the idea of the ink eating through the paper blew my mind a little bit. We [archivists] spend so much time trying to figure out how to protect documents from all sorts of things – heat, light, water, bugs, people – and here is a type of document in which the writing itself (the very essence of the document) is causing it to self-destruct. I suppose it’s a similar idea to trying to protect documents being damaged by their own acidity, which causes brittleness in paper. Well, I knew the paper could cause the document to self-destruct, but I never thought about the ink!

(Note: After learning about iron gall ink, I was inspired to check a couple of our 19th century collections at the library, to see if the documents showed any signs of this type of deterioration. I am pleased to report that a spot-check — no, I didn’t study every document in detail but I checked several — of the Van Cleve Dover (MS-006) and Brown Patterson (MS-015) collections revealed no apparent corrosion around the letters. However, I did see a little bit of this “haloing” phenomenon; maybe 200 years is still not old enough to have actual corrosion damage yet…hrm. Guess we’ll just have to keep an eye on them!)

*****

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my adventures in Bloomington last weekend. I know I enjoyed the trip and the conference, as well as writing about them.

Preserving Our Cultural Heritage Conference at Indiana University, presentations, part 2

More from the Preserving Our Cultural Heritage conference at IU:

*****

Danielle Emerling (IU-Bloomington) gave a presentation, “Motion Picture Film Preservation at the Chautauqua Institution Archives.” This presentation described a project in which Ms. Emerling participated last year to preserve and make accessible 2 or 3 silent film reels from 1923 (35mm film). With the help of Eastman House and Kodak in Rochester, NY, the film was evaluated (not nitrate – woohoo!), preserved, and ultimately digitized for access purposes. We were even able to watch clips from the films during the presentation – cool stuff!

It was kind of amazing to watch these videos from 1923, being played on a computer, no less. This gives me hope for getting some of my grandpa’s old home movie films (16mm and 8mm from the 1950s and 1960s) preserved and digitized someday. (I am afraid to know how much the whole process cost, though.)

The subject matter was interesting as well. One film showed activities at Chautauqua. The other seemed to be a sort of patriot film, which depicted a group of “immigrants” being schooled on American history (the 30 second version!). (That was one of the more anti-immigrant time periods in American history – if you don’t believe me, check out the details of the Immigration Act of 1924.)

*****

Brenna Henry (IU-Bloomington) presented “Non-textual Objects in Library and Archival Collections.” In this presentation, Ms. Henry shared the results of some survey research she conducted regarding the non-textual objects (often called “realia”) in libraries and archives, including how and why the objects got into the collection and how the institutions deal with them.

I can only imagine some of the things that might be floating around in an archives that, er, don’t really belong there. Sometimes you get and keep these things because they go with a larger manuscript collection that you really did want. Sometimes you have these things because someone at your institution in the past didn’t really understand the archives and museums are actually different. Or, sometimes, they just sneak in on you – like those 19th century notebooks with locks of hair in them. (Yep, we’ve got some of those…)

I asked Ms. Henry whether any of the institutions mentioned directing patrons to another repository that deals with 3-D objects, and she said yes, some of them do. That’s what we usually do at the library, if someone has historic artifacts that they want to donate: we recommend a museum instead. But we’re happy to take manuscripts that fit our collecting policy.

*****

Day 1 presentations that I did not attend (sessions were concurrent):

Kristopher Stenson (IU-Bloomington), “The Grigg Report and its Effect on Appraisal in the United Kingdom.”

Camille Torres (Simmons College), “Rethinking Appraisal Theory for Government Documents.”

Ed Hill (IU-Bloomington), “Heavy Metal as Folklore and the Case for Preservation.”

Richard Fischer (City University of New York-Queens), “‘The Mystery Song’: Histories of the Contingent in Documentary Jazz Recordings.”

*****

Day 2 presentations:

*****

Kristen Schuster (Simmons College) read her paper “Photography, Identity and Descriptive Processes.” Here is a description of the presentation from the paper abstract: “The relationship between the creation of records and the impulse to archive represents the interdependence between memory and identity. How we articulate our past experiences reflects our ability to understand the meaning [of] memory, as well as the subjects we include in them.”

Ms. Schuster’s presentation was intriguing, but it was so very meta that I think the best I can do to comment on it is to copy here some of the extermely interesting sound-bites I jotted down in my notes:

  • What we choose to save is a reflection of our perception of value.
  • “The camera is an archiving machine.”
  • Visual literacy can transform a photo from “art” to “document”.
  • Archival description does not preserve memory but the notion of memory.
  • Cataloging represents an object through controlled terms, thus limiting search ability and stripping details and memory from the photo. [This is one of my favorite snippets! Then again, subject headings and I have a bit of a rocky relationship anyway…]
  • Words and images communicate in different ways.
  • Folksonomy tags democratize subjects.
  • User supplied terms can broaden ideas of a photo’s subject matter or how it is considered; a single indexer cannot provide all possible relevant terms. [Yes!]

Just to be clear: Most of the above bulleted items are probably direct quotes or very nearly so – in any event, all Ms. Schuster’s ideas. Only the parts in brackets come from me. But I was scribbling so fast during the presentation, trying to listen and write at the same time, that I didn’t get everything word for word or sometimes forgot the actual quotation marks. (Ah, it takes me back to my undergraduate history lecture courses…)

*****

Micah Erwin (University of Texas-Austin) gave a presentation, “An Underappreciated Resource: Medieval Manuscript Leaf Collections.” The presentation discussed Mr. Erwin’s experiences with digitizing and describing medieval manuscript leaf collections. (Just so we’re clear: leaf = manuscript page, not like like a leaf from a tree!)

Apparently, in the past it has been fashionable to collect manuscript leaves, which has caused the individual leaves from manuscripts to become scattered among various collectors. Mr. Erwin mentioned some of the ways that digization (even Flickr!) is aiding in identifying leaves from different collections that originally belonged together, as well as how digitization might be used to create a virtual exhibit bringing leaves from different collections back together again. He also emphasized that although these individual leaves are often viewed as mere curiosities and are consequently not always cataloged adequately, the leaves can be valuable teaching aids – so cataloging should be done! [I couldn’t agree more! I think everything should be cataloged! Why have something if nobody knows it’s there?]

This was yet another interesting presentation on a topic I did not know much about, save what I learned in my History of Books class a year or so ago. Incidentally, Mr. Erwin mentioned that renowned medieval manuscripts expert Christopher de Hamel was at the IU Lilly Library recently. Mr. de Hamel wrote A History of Illuminated Manuscripts, which we used in the History of Books class (one of my favorites in my whole MLIS program).

*****

Rachel Woodbrook and Althea Lazzaro (University of Washington) gave their presentation “‘How are [we] to bring such wayward creatures into the bonds of organizations?’ Zine Archives and the Archival Tradition,” and led a discussion afterwards.

I admit I did not even know what a “zine” was prior to this presentation, let alone what sorts of unique archival challenges they might present. The presenters gave a very broad definition of “zine” as: “any self-published creative endeavor done out of passion.” Apparently, this format has been popular in a lot of counter-culture movements (my word, not theirs), such as punk, new feminism, and gay pride, among others.

As a result of the zines’ origins, this affets how they are being collected, preserved, and made accessible. That is, many zine archives (such as the Zine Archive and Publishing Project in Seattle) tend to be low-key and low-restriction, even circulating copies; to lock them away for their own protection would completely cramp the style of the format and step on the intent and the material itself. After all, many of these were written for the express purpose of defying control and oppression! It was a very interesting dynamic.

Issues regarding possible digization for access (so more people could view) and preservation (less handling of the originals) were discussed also. Copyrights and privacy issues were the two biggies. Intellectual property is protected by copyright upon its creation, but you can of course ask permission for certain uses. But what do you do if the item in question has a pseudonymed author that you can’t even find? As for privacy, there is some very personal stuff in some of these zines: it’s a little dicey whether the author would even like it being in an archives (but again – you can’t always find them to ask!), let alone know that something they might have created to circulate among a handful of friends has found its way not only into an archive but was digitized and made available to the world.

Yes, this presentation turned out to be an interesting an informative one indeed. Not only did I learn what the heck a zine even is, I learned about some of the very unique archival challenges they can present.

(As an aside, I overheard someone else talking about zines in a completely unrelated context later on that same day. Weird how one day I didn’t even know what they were, and the next day, I hear about them from two different sources!)

*****

Day 2 presentations that I did not attend (sessions were concurrent):

Sarah Keil (IU-Bloomington): “An Analysis of African Archives: Challenges for the Present and Solutions for Change.”

Alison Clemens (University of Texas-Austin): “The Woman Behind the Curtain: Winnie Allen as Archivist.”

*****

And with that, I’ve finished up the paper/presentation sessions. In Part 3, I’ll share some notes on the behind-the-scenes tour at Lilly Library, as well as the Conservation Workshop (which was my primary reason for attending this conference).

Preserving Our Cultural Heritage Conference at Indiana University, presentations, part 1

Last weekend, I attended the Preserving Our Cultural Heritage conference for grad students/new archivists conference at Indiana University in Bloomington. There were many interesting papers and presentations, and I would like to touch briefly on each of the ones I attended. I’m not necessarily going to recreate or even attempt to “summarize” the presentations, but I’ll tell a little bit about what my “take away” from the presentation was.

*****

Stacie Williams (Simmons College) presented “The Rainbow Connection and the Archives: Using Digital Preservation to Link the Jim Henson Company’s Past, Present, and Future.” This presentation centered on digitization activities at the Jim Henson Company Archives (located in Queens, NY), which is a private corporate archives. Documents being digitized included early sketches of muppets, most of which are signed and dated with the artist’s name – which can help with questions of intellectual property. These images can also be used by conservators who need references to the construction of existing muppets, so they can clean and maintain them. 

I learned some interesting things about Jim Henson – such as that he began making muppets for advertising purposes. I also had not given much thought to how muppets are constructed or what they are made of – but there are materials in this archive that cover all of that, as well as the evolution of different processes of doing so.

*****

Jason Groth (IU-Bloomington) read his paper “Migration Thinking: Dietrich Schuller, Albrecht Hafner, and the Inception of the Digital Mass Storage System for Sound Archives.” His topic centered around an important debate in audio preservation: whether preserving the object (e.g., the tape) or the actual content (i.e., the sounds) is paramount.

This is a big problem for archivists in general these days – with audio, video, and electronic files of all types. If you focus your effort more on the object itself, then you are stuck being technologically dependent on old equipment. (For instance, if the sound only exists on an eight-track tape, you need an eight-track player. Or, if you have a file on a floppy disk, you need a floppy disk drive and the software and a computer capable of running the software.) If you migrate to a newer technology, you save the content (hopefully, assuming you did it right and didn’t lose any quality in the process!), but you are still setting yourself up to be technologically dependent, just on a newer technology. You’ll be doing the same thing again in a few years, probably. It’s an endless cycle…

*****

Dorothy Chalk (IU-Bloomington) gave a presentation “Preserving Growth, Preserving Decay: Born-Digital Materials That Will Not Sit Still.” I didn’t know what to think with a title like that! But after she got going, it made sense. She focused mainly on a born-digital poem called “Agrippa” by William Gibson. The poem was distributed on floppy disks that were meant to self-destruct (overwrite themselves) upon being viewed once. The discs were also distributed in a book whose ink was supposed to fade over time also – even more so than regular books and on purpose! It was a very odd and interesting idea. Despite Gibson’s attempts to create something that would disappear almost immediately, bootleg copies of the poem made it to the web, and it has grown from there.

In Chalk’s opinion, libraries ought to be documenting this web following as well, which I suppose is a good idea in theory, but I think it might set an unrealistic precedent for libraries collecting and documenting web communities related to other works. (Or perhaps she’s right, and this is a perfectly reasonable expectation but only seems unattainable now because we don’t have any processes set up for actually doing it!)

*****

Eric Holt (University Archivist at Indiana State U.) gave a presentation and demonstration entitled: “Open-Source Electronic Recordkeeping: A Review of Alfresco Enterprise Content Management System.” Alfresco is a piece of open-source electronic recordkeeping software that is certified by the Department of Defense 5015.2 recordkeeping standard but is not in a proprietary format and is less expensive to implement than some other systems. This system had some neat features, and it looked pretty easy to use based on the demonstration.

One thing Mr. Holt said during his presentation that really struck home with me was: He has an easier time providing people with information from the 1960s and 1970s than with more recent information (say, in the last 10 years). This is so true. Now that so many things are in electronic format, they are in such danger of disappearing. It’s too easy for people to click “delete” on items that are old or seem unimportant (or to not store things on the server like you’re supposed to and then lose data in an individual hard drive crash).

Is the answer to insist that people keep printing everything out so that their files can eventually make it into the archives?  Well, ye—-I mean, no, of course not.* We’re going to have to keep working hard to find better ways of preserving (really preserving – so that they are still accessible in 10 years) electronic records. Why? Well, because (a) that’s how many things come to the archives these days (if they make it at all – see aforementioned hard drive crash scenario!), and (b) some records only really exist properly in a digital environment (e.g., interactive web sites – or heck, any web site with links for that matter; Flash animations; even moderately fancy PowerPoints).

* My initial near-slip of saying “yes” to the printing everything out bit is due to my own personal perservation activities. I still print everything out. I just feel safer that way. Anything I want to have a copy of in 10 (or 50) years, I print it out. This also applies to stuff that falls into the “omigod I would be really screwed if I lost that” category – like tax-related documents!

Okay… I think that’s enough for today. I’ll pick up with the other 5 presentations later.

Long and winding road

It’s shaping up to be a very interesting week, involving many a long and winding road…

Yesterday, the Ohio Senate passed SB 5 (with some amendments to its original version) by a margin of just 1 vote (17-16). (If you want to see exactly how it all went down yesterday in the Ohio Senate – including who voted for what – check out the Ohio Senate Journal for Mar. 2, 2011.).

So now SB 5 is on its way to discussions in the Ohio House. According to the Columbus Dispatch: “If the bill passes the House, Gov. John Kasich said he will sign it. After that, Democrats and union leaders anticipate going to the ballot to ask Ohioans to overturn it.” So it should be a long and winding road before we know what the real end result of all of this will be.

I suppose that could explain the last line of today’s Ohio Library Council email regarding the legislation: “When the final version of the legislation is passed, we will provide a complete and thorough legal review of the Bill and how it impacts public libraries.” I guess I can’t really blame them for not wanting to do too much in-depth analysis until the thing is actually in its final form, since any or all of it could always be revised (or fail entirely). Then again, on the other hand, through all of this, I would have really appreciated some more in-depth analysis about all of it – what exactly does all of this mean, for me, in plain English? I’m sorry, but I don’t subscribe to the idea that all public employee union members should automatically think every word of this bill is evil. I’m going to need a little more in the “how does this affect me, really?” category. Anyway, moving on… Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Also yesterday: My federally-employed husband and I were glad to learn that another continuing resolution was passed for the federal budget, and Obama signed it. So government shut-down has been averted for another two weeks. Now if those guys in Washington could only agree on enough stuff to pass a real one for the rest of the year and then maybe, I don’t know, get started on the budget they need to pass before October, so we don’t have a repeat of this past fiscal year…that would be great.

(There’s an interesting poll going on at FedSmith.com right now as to whether a government shutdown is expected and whether the employees will get paid anyway. The results are showing that readers expect a shutdown but think that employees will get paid anyway; however, I would be hesitant to make my bets on anything right now!)

I never meant for this blog to have so many entries about legislation, but there’s just so much crazy stuff going on right now in that area, that affects my profession, that it’s hard not to get sucked into camping the news sites for the latest updates…and then wanting to talk about them here.

But enough on that for now. The other “long and winding road” in my life this week is a road trip to Bloomington, Indiana, for a conference. (Okay – I don’t know that the road will be “winding” – I’ve never been there – or even that you could really call it all that “long” – it’s about 160 miles, mostly interstate, and should take about 3 hours. But…anyway.)

I’m attending Indiana University’s Society of American Archivists student chapter conference “Preserving Our Cultural Heritage: A Conference for Students and Beginning Professionals on Archives, Rare Books, and Special Collections.” I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve never been to IU before, although the IU School of Library & Information Science was definitely on my “short list” in 2006 when I was considering whether/where to go for grad school to become an archivist. (They even have a dual degree in MLIS/History, which was pretty tempting. But in the end, I went back to Wright State; what can I say? it felt like I was going home, and it’s pretty hard to put a price on that. But wait, where was I…? Oh right…IU.)

IU Libraries’ Preservation Lab has a pretty awesome online repair/enclosure preservation manual that I reference a lot in my work, also. As a matter of fact, part of the conference includes a 2-hour workshop on paper conservation, and I’m really looking forward to that. (Actually, the conservation workshop and the $30 registration fee were pretty much what sold me on this conference. I’m sure I’ll enjoy the sessions and tours, too, though!)

So, stay tuned for updates… I’m sure I’ll be blogging about the conference – probably from my hotel room. (Actually the conference itself has a blog, too.) And you know I’ll have more to say as the details of the whole SB 5 thing are further hammered out… Oh, and let’s not forget the upcoming state budget release (which will probably be scary) and this summer’s upcoming union contract negotiation at my library (the last one – in ’08 – dragged on for months, and that was before things even got bad!).

The long and winding road, indeed.