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!

Mid-Year Steering Share: Breaking the Silence

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from Daria Labinsky, an archivist at the National Archives in St. Louis, who works primarily with 20thcentury military personal data records. The Mid-Year Steering Share was developed to discuss projects currently active or recently completed, either personal or professional.

In my first Steering Share, I mentioned that one of my greatest concerns is the deliberate or accidental creation of archival silences by record creators and keepers. When I wrote that post, I did not foresee how relevant this concern would become. Tweets that may be federal records are being deleted, and White House staff may be using private email accounts and encryption/deletion software to conduct government business.

And it’s possible (probable?) that efforts to hide or destroy information concerning the operations and motives of the administration will only increase. As the group Concerned Archivists has pointed out in A Statement to the Archival Community, the president’s corporations destroyed emails in defiance of court orders before he was elected.

The Federal Records Act states, “Electronic messages created or received in a personal account meeting the definition of a Federal record must be forwarded to an official electronic messaging account within 20 days.”  Likewise, the Presidential Records Act, states that the president, vice president, or member of their immediate staff may not create or send a presidential or vice presidential record using a non-official electronic message account unless they copy it to an official account or resend it via an official account within 20 days.

Some of the president’s tweets on his personal account, but not all, have been retweeted on @POTUS, the official account.

tweets

As for the deleted tweets, under 44 U.S. Code § 2209 the president could argue that they are personal records of “purely private or nonpublic character which do not relate to or have an effect upon the carrying out of the constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the President.”

Shontavia Johnson, professor of intellectual property law at Drake University, offers a well written and thorough dissection of the relevant issues in “Donald Trump’s tweets are now presidential records.” She closes with, “To create a full digital picture of Trump’s presidency, we may have to rely on the screenshots from private citizens or others.” Entities such as Pro Publica, whose Politwoops is capturing deleted tweets to the best of its ability, and the Internet Archive, which launched the Trump Archive to collect televised material, are among those answering her call. While these wouldn’t be federal records covered under the laws pertaining to them, they are admirable attempts to keep history from vanishing.

There are also efforts under way by public officials to fight potential historical silences. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) introduced a bill to strengthen federal records laws. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who co-chairs the Congressional Transparency Caucus, has emphasized the need to demand transparency from the presidential administration as well as from Congress.  Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) are investigating whether any laws were broken by administration staffers who were using the private email accounts.

It’s sad that any of this has to be dealt with in the first place, but it is refreshing that vigilance is not defined by party lines. The efforts of these and other people and organizations give me hope that we can turn the silence into noise.

The contents of this message are Daria’s personally and do not necessarily reflect any position of the Federal government or the National Archives and Records Administration.

Mid-Year Steering Share: Dealing with Controversial Collections-the Remnants of Racist Artifacts and Objects

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from Issues & Advocacy Section chair Hope Dunbar, an Archivist at SUNY Buffalo State. The Mid-Year Steering Share was developed to discuss projects currently active or recently completed, either personal or professional.

The materials that comprise the Lester Glassner African American Experience Collection were gifted to the SUNY Buffalo State Archive & Special Collections in 2009 upon Mr. Glassner’s death. From his late teens onward he collected dime store memorabilia and other pop-culture artifacts until his collection amassed many rooms within his New York apartment and numbered into the hundreds of thousands. A significant portion of his collection centered on black memorabilia—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Collection items range from 1850 to 2005 and include a staggering span of African American depictions in pop culture within the United States.

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Upon the donation of the collection, the Archives & Special Collections had to determine how this material would be treated. Would it be displayed? Would it remain in the collection? Many items, most of the collection, depict patently racists images ranging from Sambo, Mammy, Uncle Rastus, and general “pickaninny” depictions. Archivists and librarians adhere to codes of conduct and ethics developed by both regional and national organizations, including SAA. We are taught through coursework and practical experience the complex nature of archival assessment and collection development, however we are rarely told what to do with offensive items. If we have tackled such topics, it is likely in our direct work with donors, patrons, and administration, as opposed to a formal introduction through classroom instruction.

In this instance, the Archive & Special Collections decided that the act of repressing such images would be to pretend such images, and consequently such opinions, did not exist. Instead, we framed the collection through the lens of discussion. These artifacts exist, they were produced to a mass market, and they depict cultural understandings of a historical period. Lester Glassner’s collection is extensive because he documented a full range of African American depictions through various time periods. He insisted the collection remain intact to provide context to the patron and student. Later items include positive representations such as African American Barbies, Santas, action figures, soldiers, and individual character depictions, such as Star Wars’ Mace Windu, Kendra from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Morpheus from The Matrix.

A selection are displayed in the main reading room and students who visit the department are encouraged to join the active discussion as we talk about the background and how the collection informs or clashes with their cultural perspectives. In addition, our collection page includes the historical background of the collection written by a former archivist in the department, again, to give context to the items.

Mid-Year Steering Share: Michiana Memory

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from Steering Committee member Alison Stankrauff, Archivist and Associate Librarian at Indiana University South Bend. The Mid-Year Steering Share was developed to discuss projects currently active or recently completed, either personal or professional.

michiana-pic

The St. Joseph County Public Library, Indiana University South Bend Archives, and the IU South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center have worked together for three solid years on a successful grant to add more materials to the Michiana Memory history website. Through the three years, documents and photographs have been added to create the Civil Rights and African American History Collection, the LGBTQ Collection, and the Historic Newspaper Collection.

Michiana Memory is the St. Joseph County Public Library’s website to provide free access to special historical materials. Anyone with an internet connection can visit the website to browse, search, and download materials such as yearbooks, postcards, photographs, and items. Michiana Memory is designed as a research and exploration tool for those studying or interested in the history of South Bend and surrounding communities.

In January 2014, the St. Joseph County Public Library reached out to the IU South Bend Archives and the IU South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center to combine their collections related to local African American and civil rights history. The combined archives launched online in February 2015. Since then, thousands of guests from all around the world have accessed the materials.

Renewal of the LSTA Indiana Memory Digitization Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services of the Indiana State Library means that sponsoring agencies will be able to include more materials than ever. This includes oral histories about local African American and Latinx history, and as of October—LGBTQ History Month AND American Archives Month—also includes the first collection of LGBTQ history in the Michiana community.

Access to these important historical records is meaningful and exciting for the organizing partners. With three years of funding, we’ve had the opportunity to include voices not yet heard before: local Latinos and folks from the LGBTQ community. Joe Sipocz, Manager of Local & Family History Services at the St. Joseph Public Library, said, “I am thrilled that we are able to continue our collaboration to include more voices through our work together.”

Adding more online access to these materials is especially important now because it takes place during the city’s sesquicentennial celebration as well as Indiana’s bicentennial. As South Bend celebrates its 150 year history, it is especially important that we recognize how our city overcame civil rights issues – specifically the practice of segregation in our public spaces, and how we continue to evolve our city’s embrace of LGBTQ people.

Guests can access the collections now by visiting http://michianamemory.sjcpl.org.

Mid-Year Steering Share: Bringing It In – To The Blog

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

Since it’s already been almost 6 months since the annual meeting, the Steering Committee members will be checking in about work we’re doing with the Issues & Advocacy Section and in our daily work. I’m gearing up for a very active year at work, but I’ve been kicking off the year thinking more about my contributions to the I&A Steering Committee and specifically this here blog.

Blogging is a really useful exercise for me personally and professionally. I am a lifelong journaller and blogged through college and beyond, and though I drift away from dedicated writing at times, I always come back. Putting my thoughts down and then editing to organize more coherently and concisely is a great way to make sense of issues, myself, and the wider world’s many dynamics.

I value providing the information and also am grateful for colleagues who are involved in the labor of blogging: research, writing, editing, choosing photos, double-checking links, etc. I hope y’all enjoy and employ the information shared here, and I hope the writers get value from the exercise of writing and publishing through more connections, more conversations and views on vital issues, and other opportunities that enrich their work and our profession.

Many other sections (formerly known as roundtables) have blogs, plus individual archivists too. How can we as a profession bound together through the Society of American Archivists make use of this work and not duplicate our efforts? I don’t have any true solutions except improved communication and open doors. Personally and through my work with I&A and the Collections Management Tools Section, I aim to boost the work of colleagues so that we’re all operating with as much information as our brains can stand. 

A reminder – I&A has an open blogging policy: if there is an issue you are passionate about and want to write about, we are here. If  you’ve attended a conference and you’d like to encourage more opportunities like it, we are here. If you have another idea entirely related to archivists and archives, email us – we are here to support archivists and our work. Many issues intersect in and with archives, which means many roads lead to and through professional conversations.

Our Research Teams are currently getting off the ground, so I look forward to reading the fruits of their labor on issues that we all wish we had more time to dig deep and research. Steering Shares will continue our committee’s reflections on a variety of issues and tasks. I would love to hear more about useful conferences and themes in ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) posts. And the Steering Committee is stirring up some great Archivists on the Issues posts about things we’ve heard about and fielding posts sent in to us.

Maybe one of you is currently pondering how to connect all these Section and SAA blogs (I have counted 12?) so that we see and talk to each other more often, not just at each other. When lightning strikes, I am ready and waiting to hear about the epiphany! In the meantime, I am optimistic about the work we can do together and separately in 2017.

Steering Share: Alison Stankrauff

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from I&A Steering Committee Member Alison Stankrauff. She is an Archivist and Associate Librarian at Indiana University South Bend. 

Alison Stankrauff 2016
Photo by IUSB Michael McCombs

What was your first job in a library, archive, or museum?

My first job in an archive was as a student worker at the Walter P. Reuther Library Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs at Wayne State University. I was working through the Archives Administration and MLIS program at Wayne State. I worked with the amazing Detroit News and Free Press Collection – scanning its glass and acetate negatives for preservation, putting them into acid-free enclosures, entering metadata into the system. I loved that job and working with the amazing archivists and staff at the Reuther. I kept the negatives’ original paper enclosures (instead of recycling them) and then did detective work on bicycle rides around the city – I learned SO much about my beloved Detroit’s history!

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

I feel very connected to making sure that the wider world know about archives – and primary sources, and the institutions that house them – are so important. They’re far from a luxury or a secondary concern for our society. Archives and professionals to properly care for and make these collections accessible are essential to a democratic society. I feel that archives and trained professionals are ever more important as we move forward to a presidency that questions verifiable data and information.

What is one major issue you see archives tackling in the next five to ten years?

I’d love to see the archival programs throughout North America really tackle and incorporate more classwork for students about teaching with primary sources. Another SAA group I’m active with, the Reference, Access, and Outreach Section (RAO), is taking this on. I’m a member of RAO’s Teaching with Primary Sources Working Group (TPS) and we are surveying archives masters programs throughout America and Canada to see how they’re teaching and what they’re teaching – or not. We hope to publish our survey, so stay tuned!

What archive issue means a lot to you?

I think, per my answer about joining I&A, our cultural institutions are increasingly under attack in ways that we’ve not experienced previously or anticipated. So I think that working with other archivists and information professionals to advocate for archives is key going forward. As a lone arranger in a woefully under-funded institution, I need all the help and extra voice that I can get to lend support to my message!

Describe and share an interesting archive you have come across over the years.

This past summer, I visited Bulgaria on one of my fantastic cycling vacations. I went there directly following the LGBTQ+ Archives, Libraries, Museums, and Special Collections conference in London, where I was presenting our LGBTQ+ Collection with other small archives from the U.S. I was able to visit an amazing archive of the Shumen Mosque in northeastern Bulgaria. This was an honor and the experience impressed itself upon me in so many ways.

 

Steering Share: Rachel Mandell

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 Digital Archivist at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Rachel Mandell

What was your first job in a library, archive, or museum?

As an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, I worked in Doe Library, the university’s main library stacks. The student library employees switched tasks every hour of our shifts; tasks included re-shelving books, collecting discarded books or belongings left behind by patrons, and participating in larger projects like shifting books. Re-shelving books involved gathering an entire library cart full of books and first arranging them in the proper Library of Congress order before bringing them back to the stacks. One of my favorite memories of that job was competing with my fellow student workers to see who could put together an entire cart the quickest without any mistakes!

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

Last year, I served as the Issues and Advocacy Intern. As a project archivist, I have found it difficult to acquire institutional support for professional development opportunities outside of my current position. I saw the internship as a great way to get involved in SAA, without taking too much time away from my daily tasks. After spending a semester working with the Issues and Advocacy team, I was hooked! It’s a great way to stay up to date with important archival issues and stay connected to larger archival community!

What is one major issue you see archives tackling in the next five to ten years?

I would love to see linked data incorporated into the archival field. In the linked data environment, connections between data points are created with links that are machine accessible rather than human accessible. The library community has already begun to tackle this issue. By using encoding schemas such as BIBFRAME created by the Library of Congress, the library catalog gets transformed into something more than structured information. These links become actual “things” that are connected to each other. For example, exposing library metadata as linked data means it could be crawled by search engine bots and included in user search results along with articles from Wikipedia and the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). In the archival environment, we can imagine using linked data to connect many different vocabularies to a collection of materials. We don’t need to risk interoperability by choosing one vocabulary over another, because we can link to many. Through linked data, we can make our projects more dynamic and flexible.

What archive issue means a lot to you?

My current work on the Japanese American Digitization Project at California State University, Dominguez Hills deals with an archival issue that has become very important to me: accurate archival description. The controversy surrounding how the Japanese American experience in the 20th century was historically and typically described by government agencies such as the War Relocation Authority is very present in this project. For example, internment is not a preferred or even an accurate term when describing nearly 120,000 people who were forced to leave their homes; internment refers to the legally permissible detention of enemy aliens in the time of war. So it is extremely problematic to apply this term to the unlawful incarceration of American citizens — and nearly 2/3 of those people incarcerated were U.S. citizens. As archivists, we have the power to describe and therefore perpetuate a particular perspective of history. Archival description should not be taken lightly. Terminology and description are power tools.

Describe and share an interesting archive you have come across over the years.

While living and working in Vienna on a Fulbright grant, I spent part of my time learning how to digitize Super 8 mm films at the Austrian Film Museum. In addition to the already impressive collection housed in the Film Museum’s archive, I was introduced to their wonderful collection of home movies and other ephemeral films. Ephemeral films are a very interesting archival artefact. They are defined as films with a limited purpose and not meant to endure– and include amateur, institutional, industrial, educational, and other films. They are often discovered by collectors or hobbyists, however there is often very little known about these films. One way that the Austrian Film Museum is tackling this issue of limited metadata, is to digitize the films and incorporate them into online platforms. An example of one such platform is the Ephemeral Films Project, which focuses on ephemeral films from the Austrian Nazi era. Researchers, historians, and other interested users can view the digitized films and actually provide feedback if anything is known about the film such as locations within the film. By crowdsourcing metadata, we can discover more about these unique and rare films.

Steering Share: Daria Labinsky

darialabinsky_smallSteering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from I&A Steering Committee Member Daria Labinsky. She is an archivist at the National Archives in St. Louis, who works primarily with 20th century military personal data records.

What was your first job in a library, archive, or museum?

As an undergrad at Northwestern, my first work-study job was to shelve books at the Evanston Public Library. The next year I was promoted to QC’ing data entry into the brand-new electronic catalog! I checked the entered data and metadata against what was on the cards and made edits when needed. I remember falling asleep sitting in front of an open card catalog drawer, and my supervisor waking me up. She was amused.

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

I attended the Archives Leadership Institute in June, and Barbara Teague taught the classes on advocacy. She mentioned that getting involved in some kind of advocacy committee, or joining a group that champions a specific issue, is a way to share your opinions through a collective voice. As a federal employee I sometimes feel constrained when it comes to being able to speak out about issues that affect our profession, and I think I&A can aid others who may feel the same way. I was a member of the General News Research Team last year and have been monitoring issues that impact archives and libraries for years.

What is one major issue you see archives tackling in the next five to ten years?

Efforts to make archives and the profession more diverse and inclusive will grow stronger. It’s exciting to see how the archiving of social media continues to enable the voices of historically marginalized people to be saved and shared. More needs to be done; we need to raise awareness by educating current archivists and those who control archival purse strings. And we also need to work harder to retain people once they’re hired. Quite a few people are writing eloquently about these kind of topics, but Jarrett M. Drake’s and Bergis Jules’ blogs are two of my must-reads.

What archive issue means a lot to you?

The destruction of records that should be permanent is a significant problem. In “Institutional Silences and the Digital Dark Age” Eira Tansey writes, “ … because those with the most power within organizations are rarely the same individuals tasked with carrying out records mandates, there will always be archival silences despite archivists’ and records managers’ best efforts.” The problems she sees in public universities are probably more prevalent in government agencies. Sometimes creators deliberately destroy records; sometimes it’s inadvertent—out of ignorance, accidentally during a move, or because they assume incorrectly that someone or some system is archiving their emails for them. In a perfect world laws requiring public employees to save the records they are legally mandated to save would be strictly enforced. We need to step up and make sure our elected officials know why enforceable records management policies are important, and we need to continue to educate records creators on how to integrate archival best practices into records management.

Describe and share an interesting archive you have come across over the years.

The holdings of the National Archives at St. Louis contain many, many interesting items. One of our most recent acquisitions are the Research and Experimental Case Files, records compiled during Army tests of potential chemical agents and/or antidotes on volunteers conducted during the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. These records provide fascinating written documentation by test subjects who were under the influence of a variety of drugs. Although the reports are sometimes humorous—patients’ acid trip drawings are not uncommon—there’s an undercurrent of tragedy within them. Just how “voluntary” were the tests for those subjects who were inmates in Holmesburg Prison? What kind of physical and mental health problems did the participants later experience? The files shed light on another troubling chapter in our history.

Note: The contents of this message are mine personally and do not necessarily reflect any position of the federal government or the National Archives and Records Administration.

Steering Share: Hope Dunbar

Steering Shares are anpic-small opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from  I&A Chair, Hope Dunbar. Hope Dunbar is currently an Archivist at SUNY Buffalo State in Buffalo, New York.

What was your first job in a library, archive, or museum?

My first foray into the world of special collections and archives was at the Newberry  in Chicago. I was chosen to participate in a small undergraduate seminar taught by the current Director of Exhibitions and Major Projects, Diane Dillon. The seminar highlighted novelty in the early republic and after just a few short weeks I was hooked. I loved the materials, I loved the staff, and most of all I loved that for the first time during my history degree I felt like I was connecting with my subject matter. There is something to the physicality of an artifact or book to drive home the reality of history and how close we are to a subject the surrounds us daily. After the seminar I became an intern, after the internship I became a summer page, and after the summer I became a full-time employee.

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

I eventually left the Newberry to complete a law degree at DePaul University, College of Law in Chicago and subsequently try my hand in the federal sphere. My time at the Dept. of Justice, Dept. of State, and Dept. of Education taught me the essentiality of advocacy and a strong voice, especially in relation to legislation and government. With many voices trying to be heard, there are ever present challenges to successful advocacy. I&A is an essential platform to allow a common voice that addresses everyday concerns archivists experience. We strive to equip archivists with tools for success to advocate for themselves and their department or institution on every level.

What is one major issue you see archives tackling in the next five to ten years?

Like many people in our profession, I worry about the inefficient or nonexistent capturing of early born digital materials, especially in relation to small institutions. Our collective history is less paper based than ever before. The hurdles to properly preserving digital materials are higher, more costly, and subject to obsolescence. My fear is that fifty or a hundred years from now we will look back at this period and have limited or incomplete materials to understand underrepresented or underfunded communities based on the shift from paper to digital.

What archive issue means a lot to you?

Access, access, access. If an institution has hidden collections, unprocessed collections, or no user access; in some ways that collection does not exist. This position is especially relevant when looked at through the lens of advocacy. It is more difficult to advocate for collections that do not provide a direct benefit to an institution or patron base. Exposing collections can be as simple as a general list on a library webpage or local state or professional association portal. A list and description can go a long way to informing patrons, scholars, and the public that they may want to contact an archivist for more information.

Describe and share an interesting archive you have come across over the years.

I currently work in the Archives & Special Collections at SUNY Buffalo State. We have a truly amazing, and arguably under-processed, LGBTQ collection donated by Dr. Madeline Davis and local community members. It is unique to the region and documents the LGBTQ community going back in some instances to the early 1920s. Part of this collection is a selection of around 150 historical t-shirts made or acquired for marches, rallies, and community events. Many t-shirts are original creations and the only documentation to early LGBTQ activities. We are currently digitizing our collection to contribute to a project called Wearing Gay History that was founded to show both the distinctness and interconnectedness of queer identities across geographic lines; to bring visibility to smaller queer archives across the country; and to uncover often ignored history of diverse LGBTQ cultures. Recently, Wearing Gay History was also added to the Digital Transgender Archive containing around 29 institutions. Both Wearing Gay History and the Digital Transgender Archive are wonderful examples of cross-national institutions bringing together collections on a specific topic.

Steering Share: Laurel Bowen

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from  Steering Committee member Laurel Bowen.

What was your first job in a library, archives, or museum? 

One summer break I was hired as the Engineering Records Librarian at an IBM laboratory complex in my hometown.  The long-time librarian (I still remember her name!) had just retired.  My researchers were the engineers developing and testing new machines, and my job was to locate and retrieve microfiche cards of specific parts from a gigantic rotating metal storage system.  On the way to my office there was an exhibit of the company’s older computing machines.  The contrast between this larger older equipment and the more powerful compact computers being produced was vivid testimony to the pace of change in both technology and information dissemination.

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

I wanted a closer view and greater involvement in our profession’s efforts to raise public awareness about (a) the value and power of archives, and (b) how records—in the skilled hands of archivists—can make a concrete and definable difference in people’s lives.

 What is one major issue you see archives tackling in the next five to ten years?

We live in a digital world now.  Hacking and cyberthreats are commonplace.  Our medical and credit records are compromised.  Voter and driver records are probed.  Public utility grids (water, electric) and telecommunication systems and networks (Internet) are disrupted.  The potential for a quick and devastating blow to society is no longer science fiction or fantasy.  Both as archivists and a profession, we need to become more knowledgeable and well-practiced with regard to electronic records and digital records systems.  The Digital Archives Specialist curriculum is a firm step in the right direction.  But we need to partner more actively with organizations, companies, and specialists on issues like the authenticity and verifiability of vital records in an electronic or networked environment, the security and recoverability of critical information and infrastructures, and the management of risk for electronic records and digital data systems.

 What archives issue means a lot to you?

I’m concerned about the myriad ways that public officials ignore or mishandle records in an attempt to avoid transparency and accountability.  On the other side, I’m also concerned that many citizens seem unaware that documents define both their rights and responsibilities, as well as the scope and limits of a public official’s legitimate exercise of power.

 Describe and share an interesting archives you have come across over the years.

One of my most interesting experiences was with the very large collection of temperance and prohibition records discovered in a small town north of Columbus, Ohio.  I was one of those who arranged, described, and prepared it for microfilming.  The town librarian who discovered it, untouched in an outbuilding for decades, said exterminators returned multiple times “before everything stopped running.”  Books were pulled from shelves, and the termite-ridden bookcases collapsed.  Although she “saved everything we could,” the bottom layers of the collection (fused together) were shoveled into a line of waiting garbage trucks.  Over the next two years, I learned plenty about various types of mold, insect, and rodent damage.

In college history classes I wasn’t much interested in the temperance and prohibition movement, but these records opened up a new world.  There were characters like “Pussyfoot” Johnson, whose nickname reflected his law enforcement technique; Ernest Cherrington, the benevolent man with an Al Capone-style hat who was at the center of all the major organizations; and the women of the Scientific Temperance Federation, who gathered physiological and sociological evidence to demonstrate the ill effects of alcohol.  Did you know root beer used to be alcoholic?  Or that there is a reason that the 18th (prohibition) and 19th (women’s suffrage) amendments to the U.S. Constitution were ratified so closely together?