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.

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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.

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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?

STEERING SHARE: STEPHANIE BENNETT

face-2016aprilSteering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from  Steering Committee member Stephanie Bennett.

Hello, internet! I am a new member of the Issues & Advocacy Roundtable Steering Committee, so I’d like to introduce myself. As some of you know, I currently work as Collections Archivist at Wake Forest University Special Collections & Archives in Winston Salem, NC. Wake is my alma mater, though not the site of my first library or archives job.

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

Prior to earning my Masters, I was a consultant in Washington, D.C.; as a lifelong library user, when I was looking around for volunteer opportunities, I was excited to take one shelving books at my local library. I loved the work environment and enjoyed working among the librarians and library workers, so I turned my love of research, organization, and library/archives/museum folks into an MLS.

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

I first learned about IART when my friend Jasmine Jones became active with the roundtable while we were in graduate school. I love that it provides a forum for people to advocate for their point of view on any manner of subjects as well as learn about advocacy in general. As archivists, we see and learn about and touch a wide swath of topics issues in our work—not to mention what we experience as humans—so let’s talk about them, conduct research, and share our knowledge with influencers in many walks of life. And of course I love being part of advocacy efforts for archivists and archives! After graduate school, I became curious about salaries in the field because very little salary or benefits information is transparently presented in job ads. Thus a survey (and a report) was born.

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

I love the ongoing conversations about labor and archives and hope that we continue to work on improving and diversifying archivist labor as well as archival content. My survey gets at the ideas of compensation and, relatedly, compensation-related stress, and also presents thoughts from archives workers who see work-life support as an invaluable bonus to our labor. We lose folks in the field due to the stresses and sometimes the simple impracticality of pursuing work in the field, who I occasionally hear from due to my survey. Others have started writing and talking about archivist and archives labor as well. Stacie Williams has written poignantly about systemic inequalities in labor and how to disrupt those. Eira Tansey has published research on the topic in addition to writing here about labor as well. Just this week, folks again have been discussing prison labor on archives projects in the context of Ava DuVernay’s film for Netflix, 13th. Archivists are professionals but we are also laborers and it’s to our detriment if we forget that.

What archive issue means a lot to you? Describe and share an interesting archive you have come across over the years.

I care deeply about our field and those of us who move through it. I am always stopping by libraries and archives when I travel, looking at the ways in which people interact with their local history and heritage. I recently had the opportunity to attend a National Council on Public History Camping Conference (as cool as it sounds) and was thrilled to be among historians and even a fellow archivist all the way from Washington! We were able to talk about the history and the future of culture and the outdoors, archival resources and perspectives, diversity and inclusion particularly in outdoor spaces, and of course stars and s’mores construction (have you tried making s’more with peanut butter cups?!). The connections that we’re able to make with others and turn into benefits for our communities never fail to inspire me.

Please let me know if you have an issue (or issues!) that you would like to write about here on the blog or if there’s something on your mind that you hope IART will tackle in the coming years. I look forward to being part of the IART Steering Committee and am here to help y’all to the best of my abilities. Thank you for the opportunity to serve!