Steering Share: Samantha Brown

Steering Shares  provide an opportunity to learn more about the I&A Steering Committee and the issues that the committee members care about. This post come courtesy of the current I&A Intern, Samantha Brown. Along with serving as I&A’s intern and Social Media manager, Samantha works as an Assistant Archivist at the New-York Historical Society.  

I&A Intern Samantha Brown
I&A Intern Samantha Brown
How did you first get involved in archives?

The first time I considered a career in archives was after I completed my undergraduate degree. I knew that I wanted to work in libraries, but I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do. Throughout high school and college, I had worked in a public library and enjoyed my job. However, being a public librarian wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. I wanted to find something that would combine my love for research, cataloging, libraries, museums, history, and politics into one career.

Since I was undecided, I sought out the advice of some librarians I knew. One suggested that I should look into becoming an archivist. While I knew about archives and their use by historians, I never thought about the people that maintained those records. After doing research on the internet and speaking to a few more librarians, I decided that being an archivist might be what I was looking for. With an idea in mind, I went ahead and applied to an information studies program that had a concentration in archives. After taking the introduction to archives class in my first semester of graduate school, it seemed like being an archivist was what I was looking for but I needed confirmation. I needed to actually work in an archive to see if the ideas I had in my head matched reality. Luckily for me, a class called “Archival Representation” was half in the classroom and half at a field site. In class, I learned the theories behind processing archival collections. At the field site, I applied the theories from the classroom and applied them to processing and describing an actual collection.The class was an amazing experience and helped me realize that archives were the thing for me. I loved taking an unorganized box of materials and creating something that is useable and accessible to researchers.

Once I finished this class, I wanted to make sure, once again, that working in archives was what I wanted and not something I just liked because of a class. That summer, I set up an internship working in the special collections department of a local college. For the three months of this internship, I was able to complete a variety of tasks and expand my knowledge of what it meant to be an archivist. Just like the class, I loved my experience. With two different experiences under my belt, I positively knew I had made the correct choice and made it my mission to become a professional archivist.

What made you want to be an intern for the I&A Section?

I decided to apply for the internship with the Issues & Advocacy Section because I wanted to connect with other archives professionals and use some of the skills I had gained working in public libraries to promote archives and archivists. In my current position as an assistant archivist, I am working in an isolated setting and don’t have much of an opportunity to meet other professionals or do outreach. By working on this committee, I hope to meet other archivists who can teach me about aspects of archives that I don’t already know about. Along with learning from others, I also want to share experience that I have gained from working in other types of library environments.

What is an archival issue that means a lot to you?

A problem that faces archives and archivists is visibility. While people know about historians and deeply care about the work they do, they do not know as much about the people and institutions that make the work of historians possible. This lack of visibility means that people don’t know about the importance of archivists and the records that they steward. While there have been great efforts by archives to create social media pages that will reach a wider audience than those we usually see conducting research, it’s questionable whether or not that is enough to make people care about archivists and the work they do. This means that along with gaining more visibility, we also need to inform people about our work and how our work impacts them as individuals as well as the impact that archives have on society at large.

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Steering Share: Vice Chair Courtney Dean

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This kick-off post comes from I&A Vice Chair/Chair Elect Courtney Dean, a Project Archivist at the University of California at Los Angeles Library Special Collections.

I&A Vice Chair Courtney Dean
I&A Vice Chair Courtney Dean
1. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB OR THE ARCHIVES PROFESSION?

In my current position at UCLA Library Special Collections, I oversee the day-to-day operations of the Center for Primary Research and Training (CFPRT), an innovative program which pairs graduate students from across campus with special collections projects in their field of expertise. I give the CFPRT scholars a crash course on archival theory, and train them in arrangement, description, and preservation best practices. Often times it’s the first interaction they’ve had with primary sources, and it’s thrilling to watch them realize their projects and hear how their experience in Special Collections directly affects their own research. Aside from the students, I love the strong community of practice among the archivists I work with. We hold informal study groups to expand our skillsets in things like RDA, XML, and born-digital archives. It’s exciting to be constantly learning and surrounded by such smart and passionate colleagues. Finally (last thing!) I’m inspired by the meaningful conversations about issues like transparency, ethics, and privilege that are happening within my unit.

2. WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO JOIN THE I&A STEERING COMMITTEE?

I’m heavily involved in a local professional organization in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Archivists Collective (LAAC), which I co-founded with some friends of mine a few years ago, and I really enjoy directly interacting with local archivists, archives, and communities. After the recent presidential election though, I felt like I wanted to step up and do more in terms of national advocacy for things like IMLS, NEH, and NEA funding, and raising awareness about the importance of archives in general. I’ve also long admired I&A efforts to spotlight issues like neutrality, climate and environmental data, and #ArchivesSoWhite, which was another big motivating factor for my involvement. I served on one of the News Monitoring teams last year, but this is my first year on the Steering Committee.

3. WHAT IS AN ARCHIVAL ISSUE THAT MEANS A LOT TO YOU?

There are so many issues! As Rachel mentioned, a focus on digital preservation is absolutely essential. Not only does inaction put our existing collections at risk, but bigger issues of government accountability and an inclusive historical record are at stake. I come from a community-oriented service background (in my prior career I worked in community mental health) so issues of accessibility, inclusiveness, and historical silences are also of utmost importance to me. I’m heartened that the profession is finally beginning to acknowledge systemic oppressions and the implications for our collections, access and use, scholarship, collective memory, and the makeup of the field itself. Of course we still have a long, long way to go! Lastly, an issue near and dear to me is the (over)reliance on temp workers in our field. I’ll save that for another post though!

Steering Share: Chair Rachel Mandell

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This kick-off post comes from I&A Chair Rachel Mandell, Metadata Librarian at the University of Southern California Digital Library.

I&A Chair Rachel Mandell
I&A Chair Rachel Mandell
1. What is your favorite thing about your job or the archives profession?

My favorite thing about my current position is that I get to work with both digital and analog archival materials at the same time. As a Metadata Librarian in USC’s Digital Library, I am tasked with describing archival materials in a digital environment. I often use the original document, photograph, etc., to assist my description of the digital surrogate, in addition to spending my days toiling with spreadsheets, troubleshooting imports, and tinkering with file size and resolution. By working with both new and old technology, I retain what motivated me to join the archives profession in the first place – the tactile, tangible handling of historically and culturally important artifacts – while also staying up-to-date on relevant library and scholarly information trends and practices.

2. What made you want to join the I&A Steering Committee?

This year will be my third full year serving in some capacity with the I&A Steering Committee. Two years ago, I began as the Issues and Advocacy intern, working on ways to improve the Issues and Advocacy Toolkit. At the time, I was working as a grant-funded Project Archivist and found it very difficult to acquire the institutional support to pursue professional development opportunities outside of my current position. As my internship year came to a close, I found myself really enjoying working with the Issues and Advocacy Steering Committee. I had learned so much more about the inner-workings of SAA and also met a lot of people beyond my regional archival groups and local organizations. I decided to run for Vice Chair/Chair-elect. I was ready to take on a leadership role, as I had also secured myself a permanent faculty position so I had more institutional support and time to pursue volunteer positions. This year, I am so excited to step into the role of Chair. In today’s political climate, our section is more valuable than ever, as we raise awareness, engage with difficult and perhaps controversial issues, and do our part to strengthen the archives profession.  

3. What is an archival issue that means a lot to you?

The commitment to digital preservation. As digital technology/tools continue to advance and develop, we as archivists need to remember that digital ≠ forever. The commitment to perpetuity needs to be explicit in every new tool and every new digital surrogate that we create. For example, a new digital publishing platform called Scalar, developed here at USC, aims to transform scholarly communication into something more interactive, non-linear, and born-digital. This tool is beginning to gain traction, as students are even beginning to use it to publish their theses and dissertations. However, a known issue with Scalar is that there is no explicit commitment or workflow dedicated to the preservation of these projects. The ability to embed media is exciting, but there is no way to ensure the links don’t fall victim to link-rot. The Scalar environment provides innovative ways of interacting with research and scholarship, but there is no assurance that this environment will exist forever. I have no doubt that there are answers to some of these questions, but as we in the archives profession move forward with the creation and use digital technologies, I would like to see this issue of preservation built in to new tools of all kinds and not only considered after content has been created.

END OF YEAR STEERING SHARE: Tales from Michiana

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This end-of-the-year post is from Steering Committee member Alison Stankrauff, Archivist and Associate Librarian at Indiana University South Bend.

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

I have asked people in the greater South Bend community (known as “Michiana” as we’re so close to the state of Michigan) for materials for our Civil Rights Heritage Center (CRHC) Collections. The CRHC is a university-city partnership with its mission statement detailed as this:

The Civil Rights Heritage Center (CRHC) at Indiana University, South Bend, is committed to the advancement of civil rights and social justice research, education, and outreach, especially in the Michiana region. It fosters empirical and analytical research, sponsors student inquiry and activities and convenes faculty, visiting scholars, policy advocates and others to examine and discuss issues of importance to racial and ethnic minorities, to the poor, gays and lesbians, and to other potential beneficiaries of civil rights advances. The CRHC’s programming work focuses on civil rights education, economic justice, and voting rights.

In the area of research, the CRHC is committed to detailing and documenting the local civil rights history of Northern Indiana, and Michiana, as part of the larger national narrative of Civil Rights Activism among African-Americans, Mexican Americans, and other groups.

I have asked people at CRHC events know that I want their records. I’ve told them that their stories – the stories of the marginalized: the area’s stories of the African American, Latinx, and LGBTQ communities – won’t get told without their voices joining to the chorus.

Give an example of a controversial item or collection piece from your archive (or previous position) and how you dealt with the situation.

We hold the collections of all of our Chancellors of our campus. In our campus hierarchy the Chancellor serves as the head of our campus. Our second Chancellor, who served from 1988 to 1995, was indicted with multiple cases of sexual harassment by several women on campus, workers at several levels. The cases came to the fore in the final years of his tenure. He was, by the end of the court cases, deposed from IU South Bend. Not the way that you want your campus to get in national news! Our collection for this Chancellor hold sensitive communications surrounding the sexual harassment cases.

Through the years I’ve had people asking for the collection for research. As a public university with public collections, they are indeed open for research. That being said, when I get requests to use this collection, I have a conversation – an “interview” if you will – to further ascertain what the researcher/requestor wants to do with the content. I make sure that they have access to its materials accordingly.

What do you think archivists should be focusing on in the future? Where do you see the future of archives?

It’s difficult to choose just one thing for us archivists to focus on! One main thing to me is just how critical it is to make sure that we’re collecting content from marginalized people. Women, African Americans, Latinx, LGBTQ people – just to name a few communities – have had our stories not collected. Our histories and stories can get lost through time. So it’s critical that we sew the gaps in the cloth as we go along. Archivists can make sure that the full representation of our community – with all its “sub” communities – is collected, preserved, documented. So ultimately we can make it accessible.

I want to see more great partnerships between communities, repositories, and associated institutions happen. There are so many different ways that we can as archivists tell the full and complete and fully representative story of history.

End of Year Steering Share: Rachel Mandell—Looking Forward and Reflecting Back

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This end-of-the-year post is from I&A Vice Chair/Chair-Elect Rachel Mandell, Metadata Librarian at the University of Southern California Digital Library.

This year has been an exciting whirlwind for me—from starting a new job as a permanent library faculty member to deciding to continue with the Issues and Advocacy Section as the incoming Chair, I have taken on more responsibility, learned a lot more about what it means to be a professional archivist/ librarian, and have just started to figure out how to juggle it all.

As we wind down in our current positions with the Issues and Advocacy Section and look forward to our official section meeting in Portland, I want to take this opportunity to thank Hope Dunbar, our outgoing Chair, who has been a great leader throughout this past year.  I also want to thank the rest of the amazing Steering Committee for your enthusiasm and dedication to the section and the cause! I will need to ask for your continued support next year—I hope I can live up to the legacy that Hope is leaving behind.  

As I prepare myself to step into my new role as Chair, I want to use this post to reflect on what we accomplished this year and what I hope to continue working towards next year. This list is by no means comprehensive—these are just some of the achievements that stick out for me personally.

  1. Our nomination for SAA’s J. Franklin Jameson award was selectedThe Steering Committee nominated The Environmental Data & Governance Initiative & The Technoscience Research Unit, University of Toronto, and it was selected!  We are so proud!
  2. Updated the Issues and Advocacy ToolkitOne of our amazing Steering Committee members, Laurel Bowen, spearheaded the toolkit update this year.  She added significant content from the history and historic preservations professions, which provide substantive ideas on how to think about the value and impact of archives, to craft value statements about archives, and how to lobby or energize the support of decision-makers to relevant content on other websites.
  3. Social media updates: Daria Labinsky, another one of our esteemed Steering Committee members, was our social media rock star—she was on top of promoting all of our blog posts and getting important information out to our members through our Facebook page and Twitter feed.
  4. Maintained an Active I&A Blog: A HUGE shootout to Steering Committee member Stephanie Bennett—who coordinated and posted blog posts. We were able to maintain an active blog this year across our four series: Archivists on the Issues, In Case You Missed It (ICYMI), Research Posts, and Steering Shares.
  5. Research teams: This year we had Legislators Research and General News Monitoring Research Teams. These are logistically difficult to coordinate, but our teams and team leaders did a great job this year keeping up on the issues that affect our profession. You can check out some of the teams’ findings in our Research Posts category in our blog.
  6. Coordinated a great panel for our section meeting at SAA this year: This year, we’ll have a panel discussing experiences with controversial archival collections as well as their best practices for access and display. Promises to be an interesting discussion! Come check it out—Friday, July 28th from 11:15-12:30p during SAA in Portland. 
  7. Monthly meetings/Bi-annual joint calls: Every month, Hope leads a Steering Committee meeting as well as two joint calls with our collaborators: the Regional Archival Associations Consortium (RAAC) Advocacy Subcommittee, the Committee on Public Policy, and the Committee on Public Awareness.  It’s exciting to see where our groups’ interests align and we can develop collaborative initiatives. 

Looking towards next year, which officially starts after the SAA Annual Meeting in Portland, I hope to get started on the following:

  • Library Design Share PortalPossible pilot project for I&A, and collaborators, modeled after the Library Design Share Portal, where we could create templates that could be used for advocating for the library.
  • An Issues and Advocacy Intern: We have decided to join SAA in a call for interns. We hope to offer our intern some great experience of working with our toolkit, perhaps overseeing legislative or general research teams or coordinating some of our outreach efforts. I actually started with I&A as an intern, so it’s very exciting for me to guide our intern.
  • Continue with the momentum of our blog: I really hope to keep up with our blog presence!!  Can’t let the momentum run out now!

I am really looking forward to serving as Chair next year. I want to do a good job and be a good leader.  I hope that the rest of the steering committee holds me to that! Thanks for a great year everyone! Go Team!

END OF YEAR STEERING SHARE: PHONE CALLS, YES, FAXES, NO — A CONGRESSIONAL INTERN GIVES IT TO US STRAIGHT

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This end-of-the-year post is from I&A Steering Committee member Daria Labinsky, Archivist at the National Archives at St. Louis.

Want to get your message heard by a member of Congress? Here’s some advice from an intern in the trenches. Let’s call her Intern X. She spends hours every week in the Washington, D.C., office of a U.S. senator, fielding the calls and mail of the American people. While honing her ability to deal with difficult customers, Intern X is also picking up pointers on what works and doesn’t work when you’re trying to influence a legislator.

Note that this is what it’s like in this office; other Congressional offices may not operate in exactly the same way.

What’s the most important thing to know? “Make sure you only contact your Congress person,” she says. “I don’t need to hear anything about (for example) Elizabeth Warren. I can’t do anything about Elizabeth Warren.” And when you call a member of Congress who doesn’t represent you, you’re making it harder for someone whom they do represent to get through on the phone.  

What’s the best way to get your Congresswoman or man’s attention? Set up an appointment to meet her or him in person. Intern X’s senator hosts regular events for constituents in D.C. when the Senate is in session. There’s a section on legislators’ websites where you can schedule appointments in D.C. or in your state.

 “Town Halls are not as useful as private meetings in a conference room with 10 people,” says Intern X. “Even if you can’t meet with a senator, you might be able to meet with one of their aides. Town Halls are more for just asking questions.”

Next best? “If it’s time sensitive, then call or fill out a comment form on our website,” she says.

More about phone calls. “Don’t call assuming you’re going to talk to a United States senator.” They’re seldom in their offices, and the offices get thousands of calls each week.

Voicemail is OK. Try not to get frustrated if your call goes to voicemail. “Understand that they answer to a lot of people, and if you’re getting voicemail, that probably means they’re getting a lot of calls,” Intern X says. Rest assured that those voicemails are indeed being listened to—even on days when a thousand calls come in. “Don’t assume because you’re getting voicemail, you’re being avoided.”

“The maximum number of phone lines we can have ringing is six or seven,” she says. The interns and staff listen to and document all the messages, including the hundred or so that come in overnight.  

You need to provide some kind of identifying information–even if it’s just your ZIP Code. Intern X sometimes speaks to people who refuse to provide any identifying information. “I can’t record your comment if I don’t have a ZIP Code, because I can’t verify you’re from our state,” she says.

What about snail mail? If you want to discuss an issue that’s not time sensitive, then sending a comment by mail can be better than calling. “We can take as much mail as we get but only have so many people who can answer the phones,” she says. “And if you want your mail to make an impact, have a return address.”

What about faxing? “Faxes are useless. We get so many faxes. If you just want to comment or give an opinion, then don’t fax. We get too many, and it’s too easy for them to fall through the cracks.”

Don’t send form letters. They usually get shredded without reading. “Some offices have software that can recognize form letters,” making them easier to dispose of, she says. “Some of them are subtle, like, I read one that I didn’t know was a form letter until I read the same thing over three or four times.”

The petition-type email letters that many organizations email out—the ones where you add your name and contact information, and maybe personalize them, are OK, as long as they’re from a constituent.

Some postcards are OK. “Like, if it says, ‘Dear (Senator), I’m writing because I’m concerned about (some issue) and this is why (I feel this way)’—that’s OK.”

Don’t be mean. “Being nice on the phone never hurts,” she says. “I don’t know if it helps but there’s no downside.” She often gets calls from people thanking the senator for a specific vote, or even thanking the intern for answering the phone.   

And lastly,

No cash. “Don’t mail money to the Congressional offices, because we can’t legally take it.” (Like archivists have a lot of extra cash lying around. … )

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 year-end 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?”

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!

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.”

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!