END OF YEAR STEERING SHARE: Tales of an Engaged Archivist

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This mid-year post is from I&A Steering Committee member Laurel Bowen, University Archivist at Georgia State University

What is an example of an elevator pitch you have used concerning your own archives, and who was the audience?

As a university archivist, one of my most important constituencies is the university’s administration.  In soliciting records and selling our services, we let administrative staff know that:

The Archives can enhance your effectiveness by helping you find and use records that address your most pressing needs.  We work hard to respond in a timely and thorough way to your priorities.  Sometimes the results may surprise you.

Here is an example of one request.  The President’s Office wanted Board of Regents support to obtain state funding to build a new classroom building.

Kell_Hall
Kell Hall, Georgia State University, courtesy of Georgia State University Archives, Atlanta

The Archives quickly provided information about the large classroom building the university wanted to replace:

  • We acquired it in 1946.
  • It was built as a parking garage (ramps are still there).
  • It was originally “renovated” for classroom use using World War II surplus.
  • In addition to its primary use as a parking garage, it also housed a grill, a cotton warehouse, and a sawmill.

Certainly not an adequate environment for 21st century teaching and learning! The Board of Regents, which oversees more than thirty public educational institutions, made the university’s request its top facilities priority that year, and the state provided the funding.

What controversial item or collection have you had to deal with in your career?

In a previous position, I was responsible for the papers of a number of state and national political leaders.  Managing the collections of incumbents was challenging because, during every election cycle, opponents would try to gain access to those papers.  The innovative subterfuges they employed always made us cautious when political papers arrived.

One day a number of bankers boxes were delivered.  Markings indicated their use as evidence in legal proceedings.  These were the papers of a well-known state official.  In addition to the expected speeches and correspondence were a variety of financial records relating to his businesses, income tax returns, campaign finances, state vendor contracts, and race track investments.  Boxes of photos included friendly images of the official with his personal secretary.  Additional boxes concerned the settlement of his estate–names of some prominent people appeared there.

What was this?  Apparently, after the man’s unexpected death midway through his second term, a large amount of cash was discovered in the hotel room he routinely occupied in town.  A substantial liquor cache was also found.  (Remnants of neither remained in the collection—we checked carefully.)  On further inquiry, we heard the official was popular, folksy, and powerful:  people often came up to greet him, shaking his hand and simultaneously depositing little tokens of appreciation in his pocket.  He stored his growing collection in various sized containers in his hotel room closet.

How did we handle the situation?  After years of investigation by the Internal Revenue Service and the subsequent litigation, we decided anything controversial had already been well aired.  The collection opened for research without any restrictions.  (N.B.  The IRS recovered $1.5 million.)

What should archivists focus on in the future?

Change only happens when ordinary people get involved, and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it.

Archivists should be active in the civic arena, advising and even advocating on issues that have a records-related component.  Are elected officials creating and maintaining records documenting their decisions as they act on our behalf?  Do they provide timely access to those records when requested?  Are police body cameras  public records?  Are lives endangered by unwieldy records-keeping systems and laws limiting effective access to records?

Archivists who interact only with other archivists are preaching to the choir.  We need to be stepping out and engaging fully with neighbors and fellow citizens on issues that matter to us.  David Gracy’s “archives and society” initiative encouraged us to define the value of archives and archivists to society.  Rand Jimerson convinced us of the power of archives, enabling us to be bold in using familiar tools to effect meaningful change.  Kathleen Roe urges us to become expert at telling the stories that demonstrate how archives changed lives.

Archivists need to not only tell the stories, but create stories in our own communities.  We have the skills.  When is the last time your neighbors or a public official wanted to know, after seeing you in action, “What kind of profession are you in?”

Research Post: The Evolving Landscape of Collecting Protest Material, Part 2

I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts. Each post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This post, part two of a two-part series, comes from the General News Media Research Team, which monitors the news for issues affecting archivists and archives.

Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.

 

In the first part of this two-part series, we discussed digital, social media, and other online materials that can be collected to form archives. Forming bodies of these digital artifacts carries legal consequences and privacy issues for the folks whose information is collected, but such work also has issues around narrative and interpretation. Below are two lists: one is a list of projects and tools that use social media and online materials in documenting history, and the other is a bibliography where the work as well as its related issues are discussed.

Projects and tools

  • A People’s Archive of Police Violence in Cleveland. Digital repository that “collects, preserves, and shares the stories, memories, and accounts of police violence as experienced or observed by Cleveland citizens.” Partnership between Cleveland residents and professional archivists.
  • Baltimore Uprising 2015 Archive Project. Digital repository “that seeks to preserve and make accessible original content that was captured and created by individual community members, grassroots organizations, and witnesses to the protests that followed the death of Freddie Gray on April 19, 2015.” This is a collaborative project of Maryland Historical Society, university faculty, museums and community orgs.
  • DocNow. “Tool and a community developed around supporting the ethical collection, use, and preservation of social media content.”
  • Documenting Ferguson. Project of Washington University St. Louis. “Freely available resource that seeks to preserve and make accessible the digital media captured and created by community members following the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014.”
  • Trump Protest Archive. “Self funded digital repository, collecting [photographs of] items of material culture from protest events relating to the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump and the early part of his administration.”

List of further readings

This post is courtesy of the General News Media Research Team, and in particular Courtney Dean and Lori Dedeyan. The General News Media Team is: Courtney Dean, Lori Dedeyan, Audrey Lengel, Sean McConnell, and Daria Labinsky, team leader.

If you are aware of an issue that might benefit from a Research Post, please get in touch with us: archivesissues@gmail.com.

Research Post: The Evolving Landscape of Collecting Protest Material, Part 1

I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts. Each post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This post, part one of a two-part series, comes from the General News Media Research Team, which monitors the news for issues affecting archivists and archives.

Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.

Protest materials have long found their way into archival repositories, and collecting initiatives such as the gathering of signs from January’s Women’s March are not unsurprising in our currently volatile political climate. While still fraught with their own set of ethical considerations, as was evidenced by Occupy Wall Street archive custody concerns, traditional protest ephemera does not harbor the explicit privacy and legal consequences that have arisen as a result of the increasing online presence of protest movements.

The internet is a richly generative arena where movements are born and developed, either with or without a coincident physical presence. The way it is mobilized for protests can vary–from coordinating and publicizing traditional actions, to communication and information sharing, community building, fundraising, and movement organizing. Its rapid and reactive nature means that the parameters of a movement can be constantly adjusted and redefined, often across social media networks. Social media content by design yields much more information about its creators and can therefore be harvested and analyzed differently than traditional material, and due to its increasing ubiquity, it warrants new conversations where traditional legal and social notions of the public and private domain may no longer be adequate. As the volume and variety of this content grows on an unprecedented scale, so, too, do the tools and methods by which it is subjected to scrutiny.

Curt Ellis, “Woman holds up her fist ,” Preserve the Baltimore Uprising: Your Stories. Your Pictures. Your Stuff. Your History., accessed March 15, 2017. 

Legal consequences and privacy issues

In response to this ever-growing body of online material, archivists and archival institutions have been initiating and developing best practices for web archiving projects. Web archiving and data harvesting provide opportunities to study metadata as well as content, in order to better understand the context of creation. For example, researchers may be interested in studying tweets across time, by geographic origin, or as part of a larger network of contacts.

This information is also of interest to law enforcement agencies, some of which have partnered with companies that sell tools for tracking and monitoring social media content culled from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media companies that offer programs which allow app makers to create third-party tools. One such company, Geofeedia, counts more than 500 such clients and has advertised services that were used by officials in Baltimore to monitor and respond to the protests that followed Freddie Gray’s death in police custody in April 2015. Using such tools, Baltimore County Police Department’s Criminal Intelligence Unit was able to discover and arrest protesters with outstanding warrants by collecting and filtering social media photos through facial recognition software, a practice that has been shown to have serious technical flaws and to disproportionately affect people of color. Such tools are also used to assemble dossiers on targeted individuals as part of a strategy of long-term surveillance, as evidenced in the Cook County Sheriff’s Office records.

Use of social networks by third parties and law enforcement agencies has been met with opposition by many, including activists and the American Civil Liberties Union. Companies including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram cut ties with Geofeedia last year, according to the Washington Post, and on March 13, Facebook announced that police departments cannot use data to “provide tools that are used for surveillance,” a move that some consider a first step in curbing the online surveillance and targeting of activists and people of color.

Given this context, it is important for archivists to be aware of the potential ramifications of collecting contemporary protest material. For example, lawmakers in several states have recently introduced legislation that would target and criminalize protests, in some cases creating or greatly stiffening existing penalties and in others going so far as to give drivers legal license to hit protesters blocking traffic. Regardless of whether or not such pieces of legislation are passed, their existence is a testament to a political atmosphere that is fraught with serious issues for people who exercise their right to protest. As protest and movement organizing moves to an online and increasingly public sphere, the potential reach of such legislation, in conjunction with increased surveillance and data collection, could expand significantly.

Archivists should also be cognizant that many communities have complicated histories with the legal apparatus of this country. Different movements stem from different contexts, and as such the needs and aims of communities may differ with regards to visibility and their own safety. For the indigenous communities at Standing Rock, for example, the violent response of law enforcement towards protesters is the latest in a long history of dispossession.

Communities of color also often find themselves at the convergence of government surveillance and the rhetoric of legality. Some police departments, which respond to and monitor protests, have formed partnerships with the FBI, DEA, and federal immigration agencies such as ICE. These task forces facilitate information exchange between local officers and federal agencies through data-sharing agreements that provide reciprocal access to local and federal databases. Such partnerships have serious consequences for the activity of targeted communities, whether they are Muslim communities that are subject to surveillance by Joint Terrorism Task Forces, or undocumented and immigrant communities that are fearful of local officers deputized as ICE agents.

Archivists can navigate these concerns through the appraisal and reappraisal of their roles and documentation strategies, and by opening dialogues about consent. One model for ethical collecting could be the solicitation of community materials via online digital platforms. In A People’s Archive of Police Violence in Cleveland, for example, professional archivists worked in conjunction with community members to develop “a safe and secure space to share any testimony, documents, or accounts that narrate or reflect on encounters or effects of police violence in their lives and communities.” In other words, members of the community self-select what to contribute, while professional archivists serve to make that material accessible.

Harvesting does not need to be inherently problematic, however. In fact, ethical concerns can inform the development of technologies themselves. DocNow, a collaborative project between the University of Maryland, University of California at Riverside, and Washington University in St. Louis, has created a suite of tools for working with Twitter data related to Black Lives Matter and other social justice actions. As part of their mission they explicitly affirm, “a strong commitment to prioritizing ethical practices when working with social media content, especially in terms of collection and long-term preservation. This commitment extends to Twitter’s notion of honoring user intent and the rights of content creators.”

A recent American History Association article by Kritika Agarwal further acknowledges technology’s potential to dismantle problematic archival constraints and to “rectify injustices associated with historic collection and archiving practices.” The article cites collaborative content management system Murkutu, which allows indigenous communities to limit access in accordance with community practice, as another example of a digital tool that places ethics at the forefront.

Issues of narrative and interpretation

In any collecting effort, archivists must consider whose stories are being preserved and why. As has been pointed out previously here, historically repositories tended to focus on rehashing, and thus elevating, hegemonic narratives. While now there is a greater acknowledgement of the power in appraisal, description, and access decisions made by archivists, and the position of privilege these often come from, issues of representation still persist.

A recent thread on the Women Archivists Section listserv spoke to issues of counter-narrative in the Women’s March on Washington Archives Project, specifically concerns over actively trying to document voices of women who chose not to participate, and the tension between respecting “intentional archival silence” and including a variety of voices in oral histories and other event documentation (Danielle Russell, e-mail message, February 15, 2017). However, narratives and collections no longer need to be limited by traditional single repository/project models. As WArS co-chair Stacie Williams pointed out, “Let’s not assume that they don’t want to be a part of the larger narrative happening here, however well-meaning our intent as archivists; they may have their own ideas for how they want to be represented.” (e-mail message, February 15, 2017)

While digital collecting brings with it a host of new challenges such as security and privacy, it also carries the potential to create tools and projects that possess community-centric values. These are not mutually exclusive imperatives. As Jarrett Drake stated in his #ArchivesForBlackLives talk, “We have an opportunity before us to transform archive-making, history-making, and memory-making into processes that are radically inclusive and accountable to the people most directly impacted by state violence.” Now more than ever, archivists need to consider the ethical ramifications of our work.

A list of tools and related bibliography will be in the next post.

This post is courtesy of the General News Media Research Team, and in particular Courtney Dean and Lori Dedeyan. The General News Media Team is: Courtney Dean, Lori Dedeyan, Audrey Lengel, Sean McConnell, and Daria Labinsky, team leader.

If you are aware of an issue that might benefit from a Research Post, please get in touch with us: archivesissues@gmail.com.

End of Year Steering Share: My Ever-Evolving Elevator Pitch, Thanks to Student Assistants

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This mid-year post is from I&A Steering Committee member Stephanie Bennett, Collections Archivist at Wake Forest University.

I had never heard of an elevator pitch before I became an archivist. I likely was first introduced to the phrase in grad school, and since then, it’s part of my bread and butter. I feel like every archivist has an array of elevator pitches, for donors, students,  administrators, their loved ones – heck, maybe even their favorite bartender.

As a collections archivist, I spend most of my time with my immediate colleagues, most of whom are well-schooled in the arts of Special Collections is not archival collections, or undergraduate student workers, whose interests are a bit less mercurial than I remember mine being at 20 (but not by much).

I do get out of the archives, of course: I have friends in departments around the university (I’m not above feigning casual interest as I ask pointed questions about department recordkeeping practices), and I meet with donors, prospective or current, who may be giving collections, attention, or financial donations to the institution.

In these conversations outside of my more routine archives duties, I find myself increasingly grateful for my work with those kind-hearted but ever-preoccupied undergraduate assistants. I’ve learned new descriptions and metaphors for the work that I do, because students are curious – either naturally or because it’s time for them to craft a resume – but even after some time working alongside me, they don’t have the vocabulary. (Don’t worry, they have the range.)

I still need a second to recover when someone asks that perennial favorite question, why can’t everything be digitized. But I recover and list, with a minimum amount of jargon, the labor of digitization. My answer to that question looks more like this now:

“We are able to do digitization work with the help of students: you would be surprised at the amount of time it takes to physically scan items, even with fancy scanners. To get high resolution images and not damage the physical item, we can’t simply run then through the copier. And even with training, things go wrong in scanning – you remember being a college student. So a librarian runs quality checks and has to re-do some scans. While the scans are being cooked up, or maybe before, a librarian creates metadata: describing that single item, or group of items, giving them dates. What’s your favorite picture of the university? Do you know the date, or the location, or maybe the people in it? We need as much of that information as possible about a photograph, say, since every person remembers it a little differently.”

In my answers, I aim to highlight the skills and number of people involved in the labor, and I skip over new vocabulary words.

First, the laborers: We do a lot with less, and it’s thanks to our student workers, but I want to impress upon them that students cannot do this all themselves. I am a skilled laborer, due to my Master’s degree, so I am agile in employing uniform names; but also, sometimes I renumber folders because a student missed something and every correctly numbered folder saves my reference colleagues time and energy. To drive this home, I may introduce controlled vocabularies – I often call them uniform vocabularies or taxonomies. Biscuits in the South mean something entirely from the biscuits of England, and if there’s time I tell the story of looking for biscuits at a KFC in Central London, for added punch. “In a world run by librarians, the biscuits in London would be just like Grandad’s!” Most folks can nod along with that, and in turn understand when I say, it takes training and experience to recognize when you should employ a controlled language and when you’re free-wheeling.

well-butter-my-butt-and-call-me-a-biscuit-12374435

Secondly, I have mostly given up “finding aid” and such terminology when I’m talking to non-archivists; apologies to my professor, Kathy Wisser, who insisted (correctly!) that every professional field has its own jargon and few abdicate that pleasure. But I would rather the student assistants learn the concepts and not focus on the words. So they’re collection inventories, or collection overviews if it’s an MPLP finding aid without a box listing – a hierarchical inventory, I tell them, with parents and children, like a family tree. They know about our DSpace instance, searchable on our landing page – but I don’t call it a content management system or a digital repository, I call it our processed collections database. It’s not right, but for initial conversations, it is enough. I can drop some more knowledge on them later – and thankfully, most of these interactions are the first of many, not one-and-done.

Above all: I keep my initial answer as short as possible initially. “I’m an archivist; I work at the University in the library with rare materials and University records” because I want to draw out their comments and questions. If zines come up, or recent activism and related recordkeeping, or family photos: I’m in. Repetitive though a question like “but what about digitization” is, I take the opportunity to regale them with tales of the immense digitized photo collections, or videocassettes that my students treat like cuneiform. I may even invite them to a “Hop into History” event (hat tip to Erin Lawrimore, UNCG) at one of the local breweries, if they’re lucky!

Archivists on the Issues: The Neutrality Lie and Archiving in the Now

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from Samantha “Sam” Cross, the Assistant Archivist for CallisonRTKL.

If you have an issue you would like to write about for this blog series or a previous post that you would like to respond to, please email archivesissues@gmail.com. Please note that opinions expressed in Archivists on the Issues posts do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.

 

Neutrality is a lie. The sooner archivists agree on that matter, the better the profession will be. It’s not even a good lie, considering the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Howard Zinn’s infamous 1977 speech to the archival community called us out, stating: “The archivist, even more than the historian and the political scientist, tends to be scrupulous about his neutrality, and to see his job as a technical job, free from the nasty world of political interest: a job of collecting, sorting, preserving, making available, the records of society.”

Echoing Zinn, archivists ourselves have revealed the facade of neutrality built into every step of the archiving process. Terry Cook, Helen Samuels, Mark Greene, and Richard J. Cox all consider appraisal “the critical archival act,” the step from which other aspects follow.[1] The selective nature of collecting and retention policies allow archivists to claim that they cannot collect anything outside of the established boundaries. Vernon Harris pointed out that even collection description is a byproduct of cultural and societal biases that construct their own narrative.[2] Last February, in an interview with the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA), Jarrett Drake bluntly stated that “Archives have never been neutral – they are the creation of human beings, who have politics in their nature.”

Claims of neutrality distance archives and archivists from the Now. In his book, Flowers After the Funeral: Reflections on the Post-9/11 Digital Age, Cox anxiously critiqued the purpose of digital and physical collecting in 9/11’s immediate aftermath. From his perspective, the compulsion to archive as a means of remembrance negates the “necessary” distance that the archival act supposedly demand.[3] That distance is where neutrality lives, allegedly, a convenient barrier between archivists and the real world. However, as Randall Jimerson states, “neutrality is the abdication of responsibility.”[4] It deters active archiving and reduces archivists to passive recipients. In reality, archivists have the potential, if not the responsibility, to act and explore other options of collecting and serving their communities.

Easier said than done, but if we want to fight against the perception of neutrality, we have to make a greater case, as a profession, for active, deliberate archiving. A stereotype remains that archivists are basement-dwellers covered in dust, gatekeepers of documents that have long surpassed their use. In truth, archivists have been agents of political disruption and social activism since the beginning of our profession. But whereas archivists of the past were limited by fledgling technology, archivists today can utilize technology to our advantage for the specific purpose of archiving the Now.

While Cox reflected on emerging digital spaces with caution in 2003, archivists in 2017 embrace the tools at our disposal. The ubiquity of platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and tumblr has turned the average person into an amateur historian or archivist. We openly document ourselves via tweets, vlogs, and status updates. For those in marginalized communities, the opportunities for visibility – evidence of existence – are enormous.

One of the first online platforms to formulate a response to deliberately archiving digital content was Documenting the Now (DocNow), a suite of tools designed to help researchers mine social media datasets as well as collecting and preserving digital content. The group began in 2014 in response to the Ferguson protests and the Black Lives Matter movement that chronicled events in real time and disseminated information quickly via Twitter and other platforms. DocNow’s mission is to put archiving power into the hands of those within marginalized and activist communities, offering ownership and access that traditional archives cannot provide. That power allows communities to hold others accountable, bypassing distance and neutrality for active and speedy responses, whether from law enforcement or a global community of witnesses.

Archiving the Now has naturally extended into “guerilla archiving events,” intent on swiftly preserving content of all kinds. One example is the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative efforts to preserve public data regarding climate change in danger of disappearing under the current presidential administration.

Another is the Women’s March on Washington Archives Project. As stated by coordinators Danielle Russell and Katrina Vandeven, the Project evolved from a desire to “ensure the preservation of women’s voices and responses to politics and legislation in wake of the intensely controversial 2016 elections.” Though materials aren’t immediately accessible, the project goal was to make available for future research the evidence and first-person accounts. Had archivists not acted, those voices would be lost and efforts to understand marchers’ motives would be at the mercy of speculation.

Even the Internet Archive, a repository of online content, has positioned itself as a tool of accountability through the Wayback Machine and its recent endeavor to collect the 45th president’s online statements, interviews, and sound bites. Like DocNow, the Internet Archive made deliberate efforts to provide evidence and access for the explicit, immediate purpose of use by journalists and citizens. These are efforts of people who understand the luxury of neutrality and the power of inaction. If they chose to remain neutral, the historical record would remain ever incomplete. Keeping up with the current pace of “historical” events is no easy feat, nor will archivists capture everything. But as archivists choose to act, we leave a far more encouraging and greater history in our wake.

Samantha “Sam” Cross is the Assistant Archivist for CallisonRTKL in their Seattle office where she oversees the physical and digital documents and drawings of the global architectural firm. A graduate of Western Washington University, Sam has a Bachelor’s in History and a Master’s in History with an emphasis in Archive and Records Management. In her free time she runs and writes for The Maniacal Geek and hosts That Girl with the Curls podcast where she talks with guests and friends about geek culture, comics, movies, and whatever weird thoughts pop into her head.

 

Citations

[1] Terry Cook, “Documenting Society and Institutions: The Influence of Helen Willa Samuels” in Controlling the Past: Documenting Society and Institutions, Essays In Honor of Helen Willa Samuels, ed. Terry Cook (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2011): 2.

[2] Verne Harris, Archives and Justice: A South African Perspective (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2007): 142-143

[3] Richard J. Cox, Flowers After the Funeral: Reflections on the Post-9/11 Digital Age (Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 2003): 4-5.

[4] Randall C. Jimerson, Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2009): 294

Mid-Year Steering Share: Activating Coordinated, Compelling Advocacy

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This mid-year post is from I&A Steering Committee member Laurel Bowen, University Archivist at Georgia State University.

In the last few months, the Issues & Advocacy Section has been adding new content from the history and historic preservation professions to our Toolkit.  In a separate venture, many members worked on research teams to find information about legislators that could help SAA advocate on our behalf.  

Thinking about both projects, I wonder if we, as archivists, should (1) look to a broader range of professions for joint or coordinated advocacy; and (2) craft a value statement for archives that is as relevant and compelling as those done by the history and historic preservation professions.

We hear that “all politics are local”—that to get and remain elected, politicians must first focus on their home community and constituents.  A legislator whose constituents are passionate about their region’s wide open spaces may more readily support funds for parks, while a lawmaker representing an urban area that has fallen on hard times may lean toward funding historic preservation as a means of revitalizing that city.  

But these initiatives are not mutually exclusive.  The National Park Service manages not only natural areas but historic sites, monuments, buildings, and collections related to them.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation advocates for “saving places,” but how can either built structures or natural areas be restored to their former glory without documents, photographs, and objects that describe and illustrate what that past glory was?  Archives, libraries, museums, parks, historic sites—all provide ways to understand communities, places, and their interrelationships over time.  As a profession, we already work cooperatively with the library and history professions—why not with the historic preservation and park people as well?

Dennis Meissner tells us that compelling advocacy needs to be grounded on “data that speak to the archival value proposition:  economic impact, audiences served, outcomes achieved.”  The Preservation Leadership Forum (National Trust for Historic Preservation) has stepped firmly in that direction, linking their work to

  • engaging diverse communities;
  • “promoting building reuse in cities as essential to economic growth and vibrant communities”;
  • being environmentally responsible and creating “economically vital, socially equitable, and strong resilient neighborhoods.”

In addition, they articulate their value to those who redevelop property, and speak about their “new relationships” with historic sites (that often include collections) and with federal agencies that manage our vast historic and cultural resources.

The history profession, through the History Relevance Campaign, is also identifying “the value of history in contemporary life.”  History is essential because it:

  • nurtures personal identity in an intercultural world;
  • teaches critical 21st century skills and independent thinking;
  • lays the groundwork for strong, resilient communities;
  • is a catalyst for economic growth, drawing people to communities with a strong sense of historical identity and character;
  • helps people craft better solutions;
  • inspires local and global leaders.

And finally: “Through the preservation of authentic, meaningful places, documents, artifacts, images, and stories, we leave a foundation upon which future [generations] can build.”  At the bottom of all this…lies archives!  Surely we, as archivists, can craft as compelling, clear, and relevant a value statement as colleagues in allied professions.

As archivists, we know the inherent power of archives and how archives can be used in meaningful ways to change lives.  In my university archives are documents that: 

  • provided proof of employment and its length so an employee could claim retirement benefits;
  • enabled an alumnus to reconnect with a former classmate, pleasing both the older gentleman and his state legislator who made the request on his behalf;
  • estimated the cost of a former student’s education so he could claim his fair share of the estate of his deceased relative (and former benefactor).

Similarly, records are important in local governance. In my community, I’ve used:

  • court and county records to support our neighborhood’s position that a proposed commercial development abutting our homes wouldn’t enhance the livability of our community or the value of our homes (it was defeated);
  • planning documents to reveal that drawings of a proposed development didn’t include generous greenspace (the lawyer colored the parking areas green);
  • government engineering records to dissuade an eager decision-maker from quickly approving an expanding business that wanted to avoid connecting to a sewer line.

The archives we know, and that we use in powerful ways to change lives, are the underpinnings that support, strengthen, and insure the validity of the work of other professions.  Some of the same themes that flow through both the history and historic preservation value statements could be adapted to an archives value statement.

Ultimately, it’s about how communities can live and grow together through the years in harmony with each other and with the places they occupy.  We live in challenging times. Working with a wider variety of allies could help us compete more effectively for those dwindling resources. As one of our Founding Fathers remarked upon signing the Declaration of Independence, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Step Up to the Plate: Archival mentorship for students and early professionals

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post about early career mentorship comes from Adriana Flores, Assistant Archivist for Acquisitions at Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center.

If you have an issue you would like to write about for this blog series or a previous post that you would like to respond to, please email archivesissues@gmail.com. Please note that opinions expressed in Archivists on the Issues posts do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.

As an early professional, my path to becoming an archivist has been filled with mentors. I have no doubt that I would have eventually made it to where I am today on my own, but I arrived much faster with the help and guidance of professional mentors. Although I was extremely lucky to have multiple mentors who prepared me for graduate school and assisted me in my career, not every young archivist is provided that service. Since I made the transition to full-time archivist and now supervise student employees and interns, I have contemplated what makes a good mentor and how to become one myself. I explored archival literature, interviewed people I know throughout the field, and reflected on my own personal experiences in the hopes of starting a greater conversation on how to become a mentor and why mentorship is vital in our field.

Be open and willing to share with others

Archivists first need to be open and willing to share with others. There have been many conversations lately about archivists moving away from a “gate-keeping” mentality, which we can practice not only with our patrons but with our students and early professionals. If archivists are more willing to openly share their experiences with others, within and beyond the profession, then our profession will be much more visible and approachable. In an article entitled “Mentored learning in Special Collections: Undergraduate archival and rare books internships,” the authors elaborate on this point in the context of student internships:

It is imperative for all library professionals, regardless of their responsibilities, to reach out to and mentor individuals who are interested in our profession if it is to remain relevant and vibrant in the future…By creating meaningful internship experiences for our students and volunteers, at the very least we will engender goodwill for our profession and create future ambassadors for our institutions and for our professional role in society. (page 60)

By being open and sharing knowledge with others, archivists can generate mentorship opportunities.

Actively look for mentoring opportunities

Next, I encourage all archivists to actively look for opportunities to become mentors. Although outgoing students will often seek out mentors themselves, it drastically helps when the mentor takes initiative and identifies mentorship opportunities themselves. If you actively search for opportunities to share knowledge, either through a workplace supervision role, at a local LIS program, or at a conference, you will foster potential mentoring relationships.

One of the easiest ways to become a mentor is through supervisory work. When asked about the main difference between a supervisor and mentor, Simmons College’s Professor Donna Webber responded:

I would say a supervisor directs and instructs work and the relationship usually ends when the internship ends. A mentor develops a long-lasting relationship and helps guide a new archivist into the profession. (Webber, personal interview)

If you are hoping to transition from supervisor to mentor, talk with supervisees about life beyond daily responsibilities. Ask them to take part in office meetings, explain the institution’s organizational structure, or discuss archival trends and issues with them. All of these actions will instill confidence in your protégé and will help guide them through their early career.

Don’t let your age or length of career stop you from mentoring

Even if you are a young archivist, I recommend thinking about becoming a mentor, even if you’re also a protégé. It is hard to recognize when you have learned enough to pass on knowledge, but in my experience it happens much quicker than you would expect. One of my past fellow interns and the current Project Archivist at Hoover Institution Archives, Paige Davenport, spoke with me recently about her attitude towards becoming a mentor as an early professional. She shared:

Although I have not participated in an official mentorship program, in my current position I supervise two graduate interns. It is my hope that I can guide them into the field as my internship supervisors did for me, as well as excite them about being part of this field. (Davenport, personal interview)

Like Paige, you do not need to participate in an official mentorship program to become a mentor. Start small if you’re concerned about your qualifications, but never pass up an opportunity to help and advise others due to your age or number of years in the profession.

Support mentorship programs

My last suggestion is to support any and all archival mentorship programs, especially programs that focus on diversity. Mentorship programs provide structure and resources for professionals who are new to mentoring, and they provide an avenue for students and early professionals to seek guidance and support. Mentorship programs are vital to the survival of the profession and programs that emphasize diversity are key to making our profession more reflective of the society we live in. Marginalized groups of people deal with many professional barriers and mentorship may help young archivists from these groups successfully navigate the workplace. If our profession is to grow and prosper, then we need to support the amazing mentorship programs that are available and create more to address the profession’s shifting needs.

Avenues for mentoring

Here are a few resources to explore if you’re interested in becoming a mentor:

  • Become a SAA Mentor. Learn more about the SAA Mentoring program here.
  • If you can attend the annual meeting, become a SAA conference navigator and advise a student or early professional through the experience. Keep an eye open on information regarding this program as SAA 2017 approaches.
  • Support any of the Association of Research Library’s diversity programs, especially their joint program with SAA, the Mosaic Program.
  • See if your regional association has a formalized mentorship program, such as the Northwest Archivist Mentorship Program or the New England Archivist Mentoring Program. If not, and you’re willing, start one up!
  • ALA’s Libraries Transform has a broader range of library and information science mentorship opportunities if none of the above hit the mark.

Please share other suggestions for mentorship opportunities and mentoring in the comments. I hope that this has been thought provoking and helpful; I owe a lot to the mentors in my life and I hope I’m doing my part by becoming a mentor myself and keeping the conversation going.

References

 

Adriana Flores is the Assistant Archivist for Acquisitions at Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. She graduated in 2016 with her MLIS from Simmons College, with a concentration in Archives Management. Currently, Adriana is also a contributor for SNAP’s “Year in the Life” blog series.

 

Research Post: the National Security Entry Exit Registration System, past, present, and future

I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts. Each post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This comes from On-Call Research Team #2, which looks into real-time issues affecting archivists and archives. 

Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.

In 2002, the National Security Entry Exit Registration System (NSEERS) established a national registry for foreign visitors from 25 predominantly Middle Eastern countries (Gamboa 2003). NSEERS, also referred to as “Special Registration,” was a post-9/11 program that consisted of three components:

  • non-citizens had to register when they entered the U.S.
  • they had to regularly check in with immigration officials
  • and those leaving the country were tracked to ensure that people did not remain in the country illegally

Registering entailed getting fingerprinted, photographed, and interrogated. Those in violation of this program would be arrested, fined, and possibly deported (Muaddi 2016).

The program did not operate fully, even early on; parts of the program were dropped beginning in 2003. At that time, the registration portion of NSEERS ended because it was made redundant by other programs in place or being developed (Gamboa 2003). The Obama administration suspended NSEERS in 2011, though it technically remained in place, and finally ended it in December 2016.

While in place, NSEERS resulted in zero terrorism convictions and even the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) thought the program was redundant and ineffective (Mauddi 2016). In his letter to President Obama calling for the end of the NSEERS program, Eric Schneiderman, New York State Attorney General, wrote that not only did it not reduce terrorist activity, but it encouraged mistrust and fear towards law enforcement in some communities (Liptak & Peled 2016).

The United States enacted similar programs in the recent past. From 1942-1946, the U.S. incarcerated as many as 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent in ten concentration camps following the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II. This program has been widely panned as unjust and a national disgrace, yet some supporters of a national Muslim registry have referred to this program as precedent (Ford 2015; Hawkins 2016). Similarly cited, Carter’s efforts during the Iran hostage crisis, 1979-1981, banned Iranians from entering the U.S. (with some exceptions for religious minorities and those with medical emergencies) and required the registration of roughly 60,000 Iranian students already in America. Experts find the comparisons don’t hold up (Jacobson 2015).

Other modern programs that are reminiscent of NSEERS include the influence of “see something, say something” initiatives in the U.S. (Mirza 2016) that mirror a DHS initiative begun around 2010; the growing network of facial recognition databases being used by law enforcement agencies across the country and globally (Newman 2016; Beaumont 2013); and the terrorist watch list, which is notorious for incorrectly including people on its various manifestations (Zetter 2016).

The Trump administration may roll back the Obama administration’s full NSEERS cancellation. Should NSEERS prove to be gone forever, the historic record demonstrates that future programs will follow.

 

Sources Cited

  • Beaumont, P. “NSA leaks: US and Britain team up on mass surveillance.” The Guardian, 2013 June 22. Retrieved 2017 February 27.
  • Ford, M. “The Return of Korematsu.” The Atlantic, 2015 November 19. Retrieved 2017 January 29.
  • Gamboa, S. “Homeland Security Ends Registration.” Associated Press, 2003 December 1.
  • Hawkins, D. “Japanese American internment is ‘precedent’ for national Muslim registry, prominent Trump backer says.” Washington Post, 2016 November 17. Retrieved 2017 January 29.
  • Jacobson, L. “Why Trump’s Muslim Ban Isn’t Like Jimmy Carter’s Actions on Iranians.” Politifact, 2015 December 17. Retrieved 2017 January 29.
  • Liptak, K. & Peled, S. “Obama administration ending program once used to track mostly Arab and Muslim men.” CNN, 2016 December 22. Retrieved 2017 February 27.
  • Mirza, W. “‘See something, say something’ culture is dangerous: How it spawns Islamophobia and keeps America insecure.” Salon, 2016 August 20. Retrieved 2017 January 29.
  • Muaddi, N. “The Bush-era Muslim registry failed. Yet the US could be trying it again.” CNN, 2016 December 22. Retrieved 2017 February 27.
  • Newman, K.H. “Cops Have a Database of 117M Faces. You’re Probably In It.” Wired, 2016 October 18. Retrieved 2017 January 29.
  • Zetter, K. “How Does the FBI Watch List Work? And Could It Have Prevented Orlando?” Wired, 2016 June 17. Retrieved 2017 January 29.

Archivists on the Issues: Disability Records Accessibility at the University of Texas at Arlington

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post about the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries’ Texas Disability History Collection comes courtesy of UTA’s Jeff Downing and Betty Shankle.

If you have an issue you would like to write about for this blog series or a previous post that you would like to respond to, please email archivesissues@gmail.com. Please note that opinions expressed in Archivists on the Issues posts do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.

July’s oven-like heat drenched Jim Hayes’ shirt with sweat as he pulled cable for Western Electric one last time. On Monday he was going to trade his workman’s clothes for the olive drab of the Army, but today was his 18th birthday and he intended to celebrate.

Once home, he shoehorned eight of his family and friends into his 1963 Ford Fairlane and made the short drive to Fort Worth’s Lake Benbrook.  During the ride Jim’s younger brother, John, bragged that he could swim the length of a nearby cove faster than Jim. As soon as the car pulled up to the lake, John sprang from the car and sprinted into the water. John was far ahead even before Jim got out of the car, but Jim knew a shortcut and he was a fast runner. He tore across the bank to a floating barge and climbed on top of the slippery barrier rail, ready to jump over it and into the lake.

Jim Hayes acquired quadriplegia on July 28, 1967, when he lost his footing and pitched head-first into two feet of water, breaking his neck.

After the accident, Jim enrolled at the University of Texas at Arlington. In 1971, only two majors were taught in wheelchair-accessible buildings—history and accounting. Jim chose history; he hated math.

Jim had been an athletic youth and he worried about the health effects of a sedentary life in a wheelchair. In 1976 he founded the Freewheelers wheelchair basketball team, which later changed its name to Movin’ Mavs. The team brought national attention to UTA when it won four National Wheelchair Basketball Association championships in a row, establishing the school as a leader in adaptive sports. In 1989, Hayes and UTA offered the first full-ride scholarships for adapted sports in the country, forcing other universities to follow suit or lose talent to UTA.

Cover, Sports 'N Spokes, May/June 1992
“15th National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament: Movin’ Mavs Successfully Defend Title,” Sports ‘N Spokes, May/June 1992. From University of Texas at Arlington. Movin Mavs Records.

When Jim died in 2008, hundreds attended the memorial service on the UTA campus and told stories of how he encouraged them to persevere. Jim’s own view of perseverance was summed up best in an interview he gave to the Dallas Morning News: “You can sit in a dark room watching TV and eating Cheetos for the rest of your life, if that’s what you want. But you don’t have to.”

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates nearly one-fifth of the population has a disability, making this the largest minority group in the country and the only one that anyone can join at any time. The history of disability leaders, activists, and milestones is often marginalized, making it difficult for members of the disability community to discover their own stories of empowerment, development, and activism.

Jim’s story is one of hundreds preserved in UTA Libraries’ Texas Disability History Collection (TDHC) online. The site, launched in 2016, makes once-hidden disability records available to researchers anywhere. The project was a collaboration between two Libraries’ departments, Digital Creation and Special Collections, and the University’s Disability Studies Minor. Funding was provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act.

UTA Libraries believed it was crucial to incorporate best practices for online accessibility into the website, encompassing visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities. During the website development process, UTA Libraries followed the standards issued by the Web Accessibility Initiative.

Special Collections partners were tasked with selecting 1,500 documents and photographs for the site from existing archived collections. Locating records not accessed regularly proved challenging.  A priority was to determine keywords to use for searching finding aids, since Special Collections houses few collections entirely comprised of disability records. For example, we encountered difficulty finding polio records; it took a while to learn that, decades ago, polio was often called infantile paralysis. After re-thinking our search terminology, we located many more disability manuscript and photograph records than we thought possible.

The Digital Creation department staff were responsible for project management, scanning materials, and building the website using Drupal. The chair of the Disability Studies Minor and her assistant were tasked with compiling a group of 40 oral histories, as well as advising on the site’s taxonomy.

Building for the Future

The foundational work on TDHC described above feeds into coming work by the Disability History/Archives Consortium in building a U.S.-wide portal for disability history collections. UTA researchers are already using the TDHC as a primary research tool. As a result of the project, UTA Libraries has developed expertise around designing maximally accessible websites and collecting disability-related materials. Growth of the collection and website is assured with $10,000 in additional support from UTA’s College of Liberal Arts. Connections are being made with State of Texas officials responsible for supporting disability efforts. In 2017-2018, an inventory to identify other disability-related collections in Texas will happen to inform planning of future activities.

Because of the project, the UTA Libraries has added disability records to its collection scope and is the “only repository in the state focused on collecting Texas disability history.” There remain many stories to tell.

 

Authors:
Jeff Downing, Digital Projects Librarian, UT Arlington Libraries. Jeff has been a Digital Projects Librarian at UTA Libraries for four years. During his 35 year career, Jeff has worked for a number of libraries and library-related organizations, including Amigos Library Services, the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory Library and of course UT Arlington.

Betty Shankle is the University and Labor Collections Archivist at the University of Texas at Arlington Special Collections. Betty has worked in the Archives field since 2004 and served on local, state and regional professional committees, presented at local and regional conferences, published articles, and curated several archival exhibits.

Steering Share: the Digital Library Work Behind “An Other War Memorial”

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from I&A Vice Chair Rachel Mandell. She is Metadata Librarian at the University of Southern California. The Mid-Year Steering Share was developed to discuss projects currently active or recently completed, either personal or professional.

Since my last steering share, I started a new position at a new university. I am now a Metadata Librarian working in the University of Southern California’s (USC) Digital Library. Fight on! Under this new title, I have relinquished some traditional archival tasks like processing collections, creating finding aids, and rehousing archival materials. However, I am still very much involved in archival description and cataloging, as one of my main responsibilities is to provide the metadata and publish collections online in USC’s robust Digital Library.

One of my current projects is to create a collection based on the work that USC professor and Pulitzer Prize winner, Viet Nguyen has conducted with his students in our digital library. The website, “An Other War Memorial: Memories of the American War” http://anotherwarmemorial.com, was developed for a class Nguyen teaches titled, “The American War in Vietnam.”

"An Other War Memorial" home page

The goals for this course are multi-faceted, “Besides learning critical thinking skills and acquiring knowledge about the war, what students will take away from the course is a set of multimedia skills and the ability to use them to share their scholarship and ideas with the general public” (http://anotherwarmemorial.com/about/ ). The multimedia skills referred to here are those involved in contributing to the website which profiles and commemorates witnesses of the war and testimonies to the dead through oral history interviews. The students themselves have been charged with conducting the oral histories in collaborative groups, using the WordPress website to construct the profiles, and also upload the videos of the oral histories using YouTube. Each profile includes background information about the interviewee along with the videos of the interviews and the transcripts, which have been organized into thematic segments depending on the content of the interview. Those profiled share a variety of experiences and perspectives as they were somehow involved or affected by the war in myriad capacities–from soldiers to civilians.

The “An Other War Memorial” website was designed with simplicity in mind, in order to empower the students to take an active role in creating this resource and reduce any technological difficulties that might have hindered the final product. The idea then is to create a resource that the students can use in their own studies, can be shared with the public, and hopefully be used by students and researchers in the future.

At the Digital Library, we are working to essentially capture the information found on the An Other War Memorial website and bring it into our digital library, thereby making this material accessible and discoverable to a wider community and user group. The important work of bringing these perspectives together into a single portal has already been done by Nguyen and his students, though I am hopeful that the new digital library environment will also yield new ways of experiencing, interpreting, and analyzing this material. We are still in the early stages of capturing the information on the website, choosing an appropriate metadata schema, and transforming the information into the new environment.  In the digital library environment, we are able to standardize certain aspects of the material, which can certainly assist in making the material more discoverable. However, we also want to retain the original content and feel of the original website, as well as preserve the students’ involvement in the development of the project.

I am so excited to be part of this project and this new team of colleagues. Keep an eye out for this incredibly interesting resource in the months to come!