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?”

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.

A Celebration of Accomplishments, August 2015-August 2016

Hi everyone! I’m Wendy Hagenmaier, outgoing Chair of the SAA Issues and Advocacy Roundtable. As you know, our Roundtable is a forum for discussion of the critical issues facing the archival profession. We have over 640 members from SAA and beyond. Our group is committed to outreach and advocacy efforts that support the continued growth of the archival profession and nurture archivists and archives. Our Core Values are advocacy, awareness, diversity, education, and dialogue.

With SAA’s Annual Meeting taking place this week, I want to reflect on and celebrate the Roundtable’s accomplishments over the past year. Thank you all for your involvement, insights, and dedication over the last twelve months.

As Chair, my central goal for the past year has been to continue the discussion Past Chair Sarah Quigley started with leaders of SAA and allied advocacy groups to clarify the role of our Roundtable in light of SAA’s advocacy agenda, and to identify the concrete ways in which we can best “support the continued growth of the archival profession and nurture archivists and archives.” I believed like this was a crucial step towards mapping out how I&A could direct its efforts over the year, and into the future. I wanted to prototype some clear, sustainable models of taking concrete collaborative action, and to get as many members as possible involved.

Thanks to the stellar work of outgoing Vice Chair Christine George, an amazing steering committee (who met every month to share ideas and discuss progress), and to all of you, who generously volunteered your time to work on I&A projects, I think we’ve done a wonderful job of tackling that goal, and I’m very excited for everything this Roundtable will accomplish in the next year.

Speaking of which, do you have ideas about projects we could tackle next year or reflections on this year? We’d love to hear them. Please take a minute to share your ideas via this quick survey: http://bit.ly/IandAnextyear

And always feel welcome to get in touch with I&A leadership and our Council liaison throughout the year.

I wanted to share information about some of the Roundtable’s recent activities:

In January of this year, we launched 7 I&A Research Teams, which are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession.

Each Team is led by a member of the I&A Steering Committee, and their ultimate goal is to compile their findings into journalistic Research Posts for the I&A blog. Each Research Post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. Taken together, the Research Posts offer an important overview of issues affecting archives and the archival profession and serve as an informational resource for further research, advocacy action, and the historical record.

Research Posts and the work of Research Teams may inspire the following:

  • I&A Polls – to take the pulse of SAA members on a specific issue, in order to inform potential SAA action
  • Advocacy Overviews – detailed summaries of issues that provide SAA leadership with the information they need in order to determine whether (and how) SAA might be able to assist with an advocacy issue
  • Letters to the editor
  • Collaborations with SAA leadership, committees, sections, and roundtables

We had 87 volunteers for the Research Teams within a 48-hour period and were able to accommodate 42 volunteers. We’re treating the Research Teams as a pilot that will run through the SAA Annual Meeting in August, and we’re hopeful that the Research Team model will prove to be an effective way of mobilizing a large portion of our membership and beyond to engage in work that supports advocacy.

Three of the Research Teams did research on recent legislative activity in order to identify potential allies for archives in Congress. Two Teams were agile, on-call teams who could be mobilized to quickly investigate issues as they arise. One Team monitored the communications of other professional associations, for issues related to archives. And the final Team monitored news media for issues related to archives.

We also launched a WordPress site, to create a flexible online presence that provides a forum for dynamic content and discussion. Our Vice Chair Christine George has done amazing work organizing a very successful series of blog posts called Archivists on the Issues, which features personal reflections from individual archivists about issues facing the profession. The blog has also featured posts by the Research Teams and updates about advocacy talks and events.

Steering Committee member Jeremy Brett wrote a truly inspired nomination of Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ron Chernow for the 2016 Jameson Archival Advocacy Award, and they won!

In addition, we partnered with the Regional Archival Associations Consortium Advocacy Subcommittee to revise the I&A Toolkit, which is available on our site. We conducted a survey that provided useful feedback for improving the Toolkit, and will continue to revise it in the future, so it can be a resource for SAA and RAAC members.

We also welcomed nominations for “Great Advocates”–individuals in the archives profession whose advocacy efforts you admire. Thanks to your thoughtful nominations, we have an exciting panel session planned for this meeting!

Our overall goal this year has been to establish sustainable, productive models of advocacy practice that engage our membership broadly and support the advocacy mission of SAA through concrete projects that will make a difference to archivists and archives. To that end, we’ve been encouraging conversation and information-sharing among SAA leadership, various SAA groups engaged in advocacy (including the Committee on Public Policy and the Committee on Public Awareness), as well as the Regional Archival Associations Consortium.

Thank you all so much for your active participation in I&A activities throughout this past year. Archives change lives!