Sunday, August 17, 2014

Top Most Endangered Artifacts

This week, I stumbled across "Salem Museum nominates recently discovered documents as on of 'Virginia's Top 10 ,most Endangered Artifacts." The article describes a unique collection that is part of a campaign by the Virginia Association of Museums "to create awareness of the importance of preserving artifacts in care at museums, libraries and archives throughout the Commonwealth and in the District of Columbia."

People may choose their favorite nominated artifact on Vote for Virginia's Top Ten Endangered Artifacts 2014 or go to YouTube to see videos by museums promoting their collections up for nomination. A simple Google search of new on Virginia's Top Ten reveals a long list of institutions promoting their collections and their needs. This is a fabulous and simple idea that we can all model in our towns and states to help our materials and raise awareness about archives and other artifacts. Virginia provides a wonderful slideshow to explain the Top Ten program.

What endangered artifacts are in your collection?

Here are some good reasons to consider this type of event in your community:
  • It raises awareness about cultural heritage institutions and their work
  • It encourages donations for individual collections and institutions
  • The program provides a way for museums to learn about each other
  •  It provides a platform where institutions can work together for promotion (working together we are stronger)
  • It establishes the Virginia Museum Association as a true leader in their Commonwealth, which assists with all the work they do
  • It is a fun campaign that brings the work of museums to people without potential patrons needing to leave their homes [Outreach!]
  • It is a fun campaign that has the potential to energize museum staff and raise pride in their institution
  • It has the capacity to encourage future visitation to institutions
  • It keeps museums in the public's mind as the event that takes place annually
  • The program in Virginia is done statewide, but this event could also be done on a local level
What are some other advantages of this program that you can see? Can we make this an annual event beyond the Commonwealth of Virginia? Are there any other states doing similar projects?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Audio Recordings and the Boston Public Library Family History Record Series

I am happy to announce the audio release of the my presentation given as part of the BPL's Family History Lecture Series, Documenting and Keeping the Memories.  I love that BPL is making audios of their presenters available for their patrons. It is a valuable service that assists the history field as well as individuals. The audio series was put up by Boston Public with the assistance of The Voice Library. I am additionally pleased that I will be working with The Voice Library this fall to document memories of the community in which I work.

With the BPL audio lecture series in mind, I want to point out in this blog post how audio is an often overlooked form of documentation. This is true despite the fact that audio is now easy to capture. Furthermore listening to audio recordings allows us to consider what is being communicated in a way that other formats do not. We can analyze what is being said without the interruption of visual images that might take our attention to different aspects of what is being communicated. Listening to audio may force us to focus on cadence, pauses, tone, and other subtle clues about a person that we do not necessarily pull out in other media.  

As an educator, I now try to balance the formats of the collections that I put together. When sharing groupings of materials with others, a collection in multiple formats helps round out a story. It should be a goal when creating collections of information to gather rich layers of media that tell overlapping stories.

For one, in a library setting, a collection in multiple formats can help learners who may be able to better decipher information in one format over another. Library collections in a wide variety of formats can support patrons and students by providing them with the tools with which they are comfortable for learning AND by giving them similar tools in forms they find less desirable. For example, a student who is uncomfortable reading on her own may gain confidence when they read a book while an audio of the text is playing along.

An archival collection in multiple formats gives people a number of ways to identify with a subject. A collection of photographs, local documents, and audio / visual recordings from a community give us a well-rounded view of that community. We can see the thoughtfully recorded words of a people, hear their voices, see their mannerisms. We get a better understanding of our ancestors and peers when we create and keep different formats of documentation.

Even in your own personal life and professional life, multiple formats can assist you with your personal brand. When creating an online identity, an online portfolio of your work in several formats helps the person on the receiving end of the information get a better rounded perspective of you. [See my online "portfolio" as an example.]

Now, go out and record!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Archives and Reading Comprehension

WHAT I IMAGINE                                                                                  ©Melissa Mannon

Where did she live?

When did they pose for this picture?

Who were they?


Archivists hold powerful tools to assist teachers with building literacy and helping students enjoy reading. This post discusses how our collections that peak curiosity, invite discovery, introduce unique cultures, and solidify our own sense of identity can engage students and further their work toward strong reading comprehension skills. I have been reading. I Read It, But I Don't Get It: Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers by Cris Tovani, which discusses reading comprehension strategies. I have been working with and writing about orphan photographs as a way to engage students. I want to explore the idea that visual images can serve as a gateway for reading comprehension.

Steps Toward Building Readers

I am not a reading teacher, but as a new high school information specialist I interact with reading students everyday. One of my challenges is engaging non-readers. My first steps in this direction had me introducing lower-level reading books. Soon, after getting to know my community, I realized that our collection was lacking in some of the subjects about which my kids are passionate. So, my next steps involved purchasing high-interest books. I am now on my self-assigned step three: learning about teaching strategies to encourage reading. 

Bringing in the Archivist's Mindset

Tovani's book has introduced a number of things to me that get me thinking with an archivist's mindset:

1. Show what good readers do - The Diary Project on which I embarked a few years ago was great for demonstrating how a good reader can use clues to make meaning of materials

2. Set a purpose for reading - In the archives, we always have a purpose for "reading." Whether it is seeking something interesting, solving a problem, or learning about new culture, reading archives such as diaries, letters and photographs impel us to discover cultural information.

3. Taking notes - It is very rare for me to see a researcher in the Archives without a pencil and paper to take notes. The archival medium implores us to find what we need and note it. Taking notes about a single diary entry or piece of correspondence would be a great way to introduce this skill to students.

4. Listen to the voices in your head - Tovani discusses an inner dialogue that we have with the text. She introduces strategies for students to pay attention to their thought processes, to notice when they are confused and to get themselves asking questions about what they read. As a prolific reader, I can identify with the idea of the inner dialogue. As an archivist, I know that archives can bring questions about text (or images) right up front. When reading a book, the voices may be soft. When looking at archives, "What is that?!" pounds in my brain and can even pop right out of my mouth. I provided an example of this in a Teaching Archives blog post.

Knowing, Wondering, Imagining

Part one: With orphan images, it is easy to encourage people to identify facts. My experience Teaching Archives in a classroom setting has demonstrated this. Students will jump to making assumptions, but I can reel them back to get them to focus on what they really know.

"This girl is wearing glasses" is fact. "This girl is bored" is supposition.
Part two: Teachers, librarians, and archivists can use their own curiosity to devise easy questions for students such as: Where did they live? Why did they pose for this picture? Who are they? to encourage students to look for clues and to wonder about the material they are examining. One can encourage students to look at the image itself, for dates and stamps on the image, for signs of aging and other contextual clues. The image does not stand alone. It came from somewhere, it is an image of someone and the printed image itself may have belonged to a different someone. Getting kids to think about the context of an orphan photo is easier than getting them to think about it in a secondary source. In my opinion, students can bring in their own background knowledge and relate an image to their own lives more easily than a written piece.  I can see that the girl in the picture above is probably from another time. Yet, I can identify with her expression and posture.

Part three: Students can use what they have observed to draw meaning from an imageI rarely can identify the person in an “orphan” image, but I usually learn enough about their appearance and setting that I can imagine what the person’s life was like and take guesses about the context of the image. One may encourage students to use their creativity to build context and generate interest in a subject.

What I Know, What I Wonder, What I Imagine can be a useful tool for getting students to examine their comprehension. In three easy steps, readers of an image examine it for clues to gain understanding. Next step? Seg-way them to reading archival documents in the same manner. We often thinking of reading primary sources as a more difficult task than read secondary material. We teach kids to read archives when they are teens. Why not start with orphan photos and other materials in primary grades to help build that inner reading voice? Archival understanding is not more difficult. It is just different. 

I think a visit to your local historical society is in order! Archivists, get ready!

I began working on  What I Know, What I Wonder, What I Imagine a couple of years ago as a workshop. I have since developed it into lesson plans that can be used in schools or in library/archives settings as an outreach program. Upon completion,  it will be included in my next book. Please email me directly if you would like more information.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Archives for Everything

My friends over at the American Association for State and Local History regularly tweet about unusual museums. They say that there is a museum for everything and the museumforeverything  hashtag proves that. Archivists can follow our museum colleagues lead on this one because there are  also #archivesforeverything.  Of course that makes sense because no matter the activity, records need to be kept for organizational purposes and #everythinghasahistory. Once again, we need to take a page from the promotional work of our museum colleagues. Can we make #archivesforeverything a "thing"? Let's get started with just a few archival institutions I came across this week that one may not immediately consider when thinking about homes for historical records.


I always grow very curious about the places I visit. I read the historical signs. I look for vintage photos showing the place's past. I wonder if they have an archive or library. While visiting the zoo with my family yesterday, I began wondering about Zoo documents. What's it like to be a zoo archivist? Curious? Check out this fascinating archivist's presentation -  Bronx Zoo archives.


My tweets revealed a couple of not-too-common Archives this past week:
Police archives
Social Activism archives


How about hobbies? Here are some that we practice in my home along with corresponding archives I stumbled across this week:
Gardening archives
Aviation archives
Kid stuff

What interests you and where can you find the historical records that shed light on that subject? Tweet #archivesforeverything. Publicize the prevalence of archives. Get more people thinking about the role of archives in their lives. Generate support for the profession. AND,sShare knowledge about some great collections.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Walking the Path of Learning

"Coach?" I asked as he was walking off the tennis court. "How is my daughter doing at this?"

After some nice words, coach told me that he is using my daughter's nine years of dance experience to explain how to properly hit a tennis ball. "You may have heard me," he said. She can use the grace she has gained from ballet to do that four stage swing I'm showing them. It will help her tremendously. I aim to show the students that all the sports activities they've done in the past relate." I was tremendously impressed with his wisdom and that got me thinking about how different life experiences relate and should be used to keep building wisdom, no matter what the subject.

1. When we understand that we can relate new experiences to old, we achieve a higher form of learning that has the potential to lead to remarkable things. This can mean advanced thinking (or just a better game of tennis.)

Earlier this week, I visited my school office after a week away. There was a message from a former teacher who asked if I would like some old yearbooks and other items for our new school archives. I returned her call and said that I would certainly love to take the historical items off her hands. What we can't use in our archives, I can help find an appropriate home in the community. "Please do tell your friends that we are seeking a wide-variety of items that have historical merit to tell our school story. All of these materials relate and can help build our historical collection."

2. When we understand that our experiences relate to those of others, we can build great things together, strengthen communities, and advance our knowledge of the world around us as a group.

My daughter is doing a big clean up of her room as a summer goal. She and I are both big collectors of books. As a tween, she is ready to clear out some of her things. I ordered her a new grown-up bookshelf. "Mom, some of these things I don't want, but there are some things that I don't read anymore that I do want." She's read them, has strong fond memories of them, and recognizes that they are special to her. They are her foundation books - ones that turned on her love for reading. I encouraged her to store them and to get rid of those that don't have meaning to her.

3. When we understand how we learn, the knowledge we have accumulated and how we gained it can take on a special meaning all its own.

It is important to acknowledge our own unique learning experiences and to appreciate the path we took to develop our expertise in any given area. As an information specialist, I encourage people to recognize the gathering and building of the information in our brains. I encourage people to recognize the role that others have played in their understanding of themselves. The experience of learning is as important as the knowledge we gain. The experience allows us to piece everything together so when we travel new learning paths, we can look back and better decide how to move on.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Copyright in Flux, Pictures on the Go

On April 5th, in the blog post More Finds at the Local Historical Society, I stated the following: "One problem with this information age is that it is too easy to pull out your camera to take photos and post them on the Internet. But permission should be sought from institutions' collections [sic] and the best photos possible should be used. Also, policies should be in place for the handling and publication of materials before such publication is done."

The Photos We Take with Our Cameras

" is too easy to pull out your camera to take photos and post them on the Internet."

We take pictures of everything these days. We take photos of the places we go. We take photos of the important and the mundane in our kids' lives. We take "selfies." We regularly photograph our pets, our friends, our homes, and our workspaces. Our lives are threaded with visual documentation of so much of what we see. This is a new phenomenon. Film was once expensive. Photos were for special occasions such as birthdays, weddings, and proms. Snapshots were for vacation. Today, we carry a palm sized camera everywhere we go. There is no film and processing required and therefore images are cheap and easy. We take pictures every day. We take many, many pictures everyday. Our cameras are an extension of ourselves. They are a regular part of how we interact with the world - like a sixth sense. Sometimes we forget that the cameras are helping us cross borders. They allow us to more intimately experience things that are apart from us. Because of this, we can easily forget that  that photos of things that do not belong to us might be legally off-limits to our use, manipulation, and online publishing.

Have you ever been to a museum that has asked you turn off a flash, put away your camera or sign a permission form before you take photographs? Or, are you part of an institution that limits picture taking on the premises? Institutions put these restrictions in place to protect their items. Some restrictions, such as the use of a flash, protect the physical structure of items that can be harmed by light. Other limitations, that are often written into the same photo-taking policies as the restrictions that help preserve an item, are there to protect intellectual property rights. These rights relate to the person or institution that owns the ideas behind an item. These policies are an attempt for institutions to retain some control over their ownership of an item and may be trying to exert the a legal copyright they hold.
A Proliferation of Images

"...permission should be sought from [collecting institutions] and the best photos possible should be used."

I recall in the early 1990s when visitors to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston were amazed by the life-sized images that were taken with a new special camera that provided intense detail. An example of what the camera could produce hung outside a secondary museum shop during a blockbuster exhibit. There was much talk about how reproductions such as this would affect the art world. Would such lifelike images replicate actual paintings so easily that the original item would lose its value?

We have really come a long way since then...

Those who care for artifacts now wonder if their works can retain their value due to a proliferation of images. We take for granted our abilities to produce items that look so much like the real thing. Today, I believe that most patrons of cultural heritage institutions are interested in an image of an object that they can take with them. They want pictures that remind them of special times and ideas. I believe that the quality of the image is less important to the typical visitor. We just want a copy that we can call our own, whether we take it ourselves or "borrow" an image created by someone else. 

Saving an image taken by another to our own computer, posting it on our blog, or "pinning" it allows us to claim some ownership over an object. It is a way for us to remember and to retain a bond with something meaningful to us. However, an image we take goes beyond solidifying a memory or connection. By taking or sharing images, we sometimes cross a prohibitive legal boundary.

Copyright is a sticky subject. Most people are not intending to steal someone's intellectual property rights. Most people don't know what this means. In fact, copyright is a tricky issue for professionals and is a topic that has been rolling around courts for centuries. [Want an interesting view into the subject? See Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates.] It is up to individuals to make themselves aware of the general gist of copyright law and to understand exactly how a proliferation of images of our material culture effects us and the institutions we trust to hold our cultural heritage.

When a museum shares a photo of an artifact it owns, it tries to put its best foot forward. It wants to share a good photo so that people can better understand an object. A museum hopes that those who experience an image in a book or online will be interested enough to come see the object in person. When someone else takes a picture of an object, the museum loses at least some of its control. A snapshot does not necessarily help the museum put its best foot forward. A snapshot may devalue the original through multiple sharings online. It seems less special when we see it everywhere. Low quality images also may not relate the specialness of an original item and may not encourage individuals to seek out more information or take a visit. However, these days, most museums recognize that this proliferation of images is a fact of life and that there are advantages to allowing images to spread for indeed more people become aware of an object's existence. If we are smart as cultural heritage professionals, we can generally work that to our advantage.    

The serious researcher, the reliable blogger, and the good digital citizen makes sure that they provide information about the owner of the original object. This helps support culture, assists the reader in gaining a better understanding of the items, and helps keep the writer within the parameters of copyright law's intentions. The more people understand this, the better we can all collaborate to protect those who protect our material culture.

The Photos We Take from Others  
"...policies should be in place for the handling and publication of materials before such publication is done."

It is easy to copy and paste someone else's image, but when we do this it is possible to break copyright in two ways: For one, the original may be under copyright protection and we do not have the right to show it. Additionally, the image taken of the original may also be under copyright. When using images one finds online, it is advisable to trace down the owner of the original item and the owner of the image.

When working with originals, one should seek the exact wording an institution would like to see with the publication of an image of an item in its collection. On the other side, an institution should provide this information readily. It should state clearly on its web pages, in its libraries, and galleries if it has a copy of an image available for publication. Cultural institutions can help people help them put their best images out to the public.  For works under copyright protection, organizations should carefully choose and outline wording that claims their ownership and notes their authority for granting publication rights. Organizations should require that a statement of ownership be used whenever they permit an item in their collection to be published. Once works pass into the public domain [see next section of article], repositories may request the courtesy of a citation listing where the material is held and other appropriate information.

Policies should also state how cameras can be used in the institution. Many archives do not allow the use of cameras in their reading rooms just as museums do not allow photography. For archival documents, people sometimes want to bring in hand scanners. Cultural institutions should clearly outline if this is allowed in the institution.

Sometimes, a cultural institution may own a physical item but may not own the right to publish from the material or to use it without the intellectual property owner's permission. When a donor gives materials to a repository, the repository should ask that donor to sign over physical and intellectual property rights. Otherwise, each time the institution wishes to use the material or allow researchers to publish from it, they must contact the intellectual property owner. Institutions should avoid whenever possible taking materials into custody for which they do not know the intellectual property owner and the copyright holder. The parameters surrounding a document's physical and intellectual property should be made clear to users and visitors. If ownership is unclear (i.e. material is housed by the repository, but it does not own physical and/or intellectual property rights and the provenance of the material is unknown - as often happens in smaller repositories / historical societies) the user of the item must make a reasonable effort to identify the owner of the copyright before publishing the material.

A Few More Guidelines re: Copyright

Many people think only of published material as possessing copyright. This post has focused on unpublished materials because the law grants them copyrights too. The revised copyright law, which took effect in 1978, provides protection for all unpublished material for the life of the author plus seventy years. [Cornell University provides a useful table describing the basics of the law, the law as it applies to diverse formats, and a bibliography for more information.]  

Orphan works are also afforded copy protection, but their status is the subject of much discussion - and if more up in the air than other materials under protection:

The Copyright Office is reviewing the problem of orphan works under U.S. copyright law in continuation of its previous work on the subject and to advise Congress on possible next steps for the United States. The Office has long shared the concern with many in the copyright community that the uncertainty surrounding the ownership status of orphan works does not serve the objectives of the copyright system. For good faith users, orphan works are a frustration, a liability risk, and a major cause of gridlock in the digital marketplace. The issue is not contained to the United States. Indeed, a number of foreign governments have recently adopted or proposed solutions. [U.S Copyright Office - Copyright of Orphaned Works March 30, 2014]

After a defined period of time (see Cornell chart) works slip into the public domain. Copyright was never meant to give creators and their descendants absolute and forever ownership of materials. Copyright is intended to protect originators so that they may profit from their ideas (monetarily or intellectually) and then their ideas can be shared with society so that our civilization benefits. Individuals can take the ideas of others and expand upon them, with the hope that we can learn from each other and create bigger and better ideas.

There has always been much debate about what works are afforded copyright status, who benefits from the copyright of an item, and how long materials should be copyrighted. With our rapidly changing information society, it is guaranteed that the debate will rage on and get even hotter. 


I am not a lawyer. The information in this blog post is from my twenty years experience as an archivist and my experience working with archives, museums and libraries. I welcome clarification and discussion. Anyone looking for more detailed and expert information see The Librarylaw Blog , which is a great source for Copyright information in the field of library and information science. 


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Artifacts and Information: Crossing into the Sciences

 One of the things I love most about being a librarian is the chance to be in the world of Shakespeare one day and to be exploring Marine animals the next. Usually I only get to do this through research, but yesterday they let me out of the school library to take a field trip. As an archivist who specializes in local history, I had quite a treat as we explored the shores of Rye beach in New Hampshire and took a boat trip off the Isle of Shoals. I took the trip in part to help me better assist students with a big biology research project they do each year. What I discovered is that this trip and project lend themselves to collaboration across multiple disciplines. I plan to inject what I learned into the library work that I do.

I started my day by bringing into school a bird's nest I found while gardening. I had been meaning to bring it in to share for awhile, but I think I finally remembered to actually do it since my head was anticipating a day in nature. I think that most people see birds' nests as part of the field of science. When I think birds nest I think about Audubon's drawings; I think about Wonder cabinets, stuffed birds in libraries that were popular in the nineteenth century, the specimens of birds I first saw at the Vanderbilt Mansion where I volunteered in high school; I think about the birds who frequent my garden who are different year to year ["the cardinals won the prized tree this year for their nest"]; I think of the stories behind the places where these animals go; I think of collecting; I think of the human hand in the natural world. In short, I think history.

The most perfect bird's nest I've ever seen. An outside layer
of flowering grasses, then a layer of leaves, then a layers of
flat wide twigs, then soft, fine grass. I want people to see
the information we can get from nature. I also threw in a little
Twitter bird to get my teacher and student patrons to connect
social media to the idea of the bird.
Doing some surveying work
So, it was a treat to visit the New Hampshire coast - so rich in history and sense of place. Students were brought to different stations to learn math and science concepts. History was popping up everywhere. One station in particular made me interject my librarian thoughts. Older students were teaching younger students about the science at the shore. At the salt marshes, they began talking about a business that had dumped sewage into the habitat years ago. The ecosystem was damaged by the actions of that institution. The students' sentences, so sure about their scientific information, were suddenly punctuated with "I think...this is what I was told...this could possibly have happened." I began thinking about our news database. I began thinking about the Portsmouth Athenaeum not far from where we are. I thought about the Seacoast Science Center that must have information about this event in their archives. 

I interruppted, "Finding out exactly what happened here would make a GREAT research project." They stopped, looked at me, said "Mmmmhmmm," and moved on. As a high school teacher librarian, in a moment like that, all I can hope is that I planted a seed in someone's brain. 

A "purring" fish.  Arawana? I'm not sure of my scientific labeling here
On our trip, I got to play with a vibrating fish, a star fish arm, periwinkles, crabs, rocks and more. These are the "artifacts" of my science colleagues. They collect them like I collect books and archives. They collect nature while I collect man-made material culture. Humans are all collectors, categorizers and information gatherers at heart!
It was seeing the Isles of Shoals  that got my liberal arts side purring. Author Celia Thaxter grew up here. This is where she and my beloved Childe Hassam drew inspiration. This is where Thaxter would bring the plants that she loaded on a small boat in Portsmouth to restock her famed gardens each spring. [see An Island Garden]

As we traveled out to the island, I told some of the students, teachers, and chaperones what I knew about Celia Thaxter. Right in this spot was science, math, history, literature and art rolled up and just waiting for us to explore. So much to see. So much information to take in. So much learning to be done!

I look forward to visiting the Island this summer. It's been calling me for twenty years. It's time to land there. Maybe some of my students' thoughts will follow me there too. Maybe there is another field trip in order.


Many weeks ago I promised a post about the right to copy from archival collections. I will publish that post soon. I have been working hard on it and am backing what I know with research. Copyright is a complicated subject, so I do not want to start people off with basic misinformation. Stay tuned...