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 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.”
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.)
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 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!)
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!