Saturday, December 31, 2011

Year in Review - Building Communities - Looking Ahead

Helping kids understand that history has a role to play in
their lives is an important goal of ArchivesInfo in 2012.
Libraries, Archives and Museums have an important role to play in keeping cultural heritage alive through documentation, access, and outreach. But institutions cannot act separately from the communities that they serve. We need to consider our "audience" more as active partners in the work we do.  During 2011, I have worked to develop projects that emphasize the importance of communities and community building for the study of history and the protection of historical resources. The following ArchivesInfo projects have been launched in 2011 with these thoughts in mind. I look forward to sharing ideas, continuing to build community identities, and  working to promote cultural heritage with you all! I hope that you will join me on my 2012 journey. Visit my web site. Find me here, on Twitter, or on Facebook. Or better yet, I hope we may get a chance to build a sense of community together, in person.

Happy New Year!

1. The Diary Project - "On this blog on May 6th, I introduced a diary I found in a local antique shop. The diary covers a six month period in 1882 and includes the names of many people, places, and events in Southern Maine [probably Kennebunkport, based on research we've done thus far.] My elementary school aged daughter and I are working on a project to uncover the name of the person who wrote the diary and to find out more about this person's life." Our diary provides a window into the past that we think can help the community it reflects build a stronger sense of identity. Stay tuned for our diary project blog!

2. What I Know. What I Wonder. What I Imagine. - An introduction to the program states: "This program introduces historical thinking to elementary school students. The photos in this program include children from the past doing all kinds of different things. They are children like you, but most of them lived a long time ago. I don’t know the kids’ names, where they lived, if they were happy, or their ages. I want to know because these children are part of my heritage. They tell me something about kids in the past. They tell me something about history and culture. They show me that civilization has come a long way and yet, I have a connection to people who lived long ago. They are not so very different from me!" With the goal of "Teaching Kids the Value of History" this workshop allows students to identify facts about images; encourages them to ask appropriate questions based on those facts and what we don't know; and allows kids to use their creativity to imagine what life was like for the children pictured. I will begin introducing the program to local schools in 2012.

3. Life in Context - "Your story helps define the 21st century for future generations. The narrative of your life should describe your personal journey and can be viewed as a piece of a larger puzzle reflecting values, traditions and trends in society. Colleague and certified professional organizer Sue West and I have developed the workshop Life in Context: Telling Your Story to help people think about their places in the world. Through an exploration of personal objects, individuals can define what aspects of their lives are most meaningful to them.  Sue and I encourage people to pursue a greater understanding of the context of their lives to help them focus on what is meaningful, and to collect and preserve stories that are essential to better understanding ourselves, our communities and our culture." Learn more at our web site and join the Life in Context Project on Facebook.

4. Unofficial Family Archivist - "This new book advocates for the value, recording and care of your family memories. Are you passing on a well-rounded collection of personal papers, photographs and memorabilia or are you passing on bits that leave more questions than answers?" An outgrowth of the ArchivesInfo "Preserving Memories" workshop, The Unofficial Family Archivist helps individuals recognize the value of their personal historical materials and family papers for communities. I continue to arrange book signings and workshops in 2012 with the re-release of the book in early January.

5. Social Media, Digitization and DPLA - At the end of 2011 I joined the DPLA Content and Scope workstream to add my voice to help with the creation of a national digital library. I encourage all cultural heritage professionals to join DPLA to offer your expertise to making this important project successful. ArchivesInfo will continue activity across social media platforms and work to help small cultural heritage institutions to better understand and gain a foothold in the digital world. I am especially proud of the connections I've made to non-professionals interested in learning about archives and cultural heritage institutions. In 2011 I've also made many connections to genealogists, oral historians, and others in related fields -- some of whom I've begun working collaboratively to promote our mutual interests. I have included guest bloggers to expand their reach and to add their voice to mine to promote our field. 2012 will bring more guests to this space.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Top Ten Stories of the Year - The Archives Year in Review

Welcome to the 2nd annual ArchivesInfo Top Ten Stories of the Year. Our list includes the stories that have impacted the cultural heritage professions -- more specifically archives, libraries, and museums - the most over the past year. These stories were greatly discussed, contributed to a change in our profession, and / or are on our radar as potential changers of the heritage we keep. They were garnered from the ArchivesInfo Twitter archives. I have evaluated my tweets based on my own personal outlook and welcome differing opinions. The list is admittedly biased toward the United States. I apologize to my international readers, but I have tried to recognize areas where we are greatly impacted by changes abroad and stories that take on a global perspective are given extra bonus points! (hint, hint!)

It is easiest to begin with stories that just missed the cut.  This year I have cut from the top ten: Archives and museum thefts in the U.S. including thefts by a presidential historian; Crowdsourcing; Hungary and the protection of communist files as it relates to protecting history and human rights; Libyan looting;  the loss of languages and discussions about why "obscure" languages matter; The Boston College and the Northern Ireland oral history project controversy; politicians erasing emails / FOI and accusations of federal and state governments withholding info; release of the Pentagon papers; Wikipedia; NYPL at 100; 30th anniversary of AIDS; a new focus on personal digital archives. Any of these topics could have comfortably fit into a top ten cultural heritage list, but I think they were outweighed by other stories. (Are there any up there that you think I should have kept in?)

So, without further's the ArchivesInfo top ten of 2011!

#10 The Nixon Presidential Library
There was much news about Presidential Libraries in the news this year. The Kennedy libraries digitization efforts are truly worth note, but it is the Nixon Library that made news that should be of interest to every cultural heritage professional. I think this headline sums it up: "What’s a Presidential Library to Do? Should Presidential Libraries show warts and all?" What IS the role of those who display / interpret collections for their audiences?

2011-03-31 Watergate gets new makeover at the #Nixon #library  #presidentiallibrary 
2011-04-01  #Nixon #Library Opens a Door Some Would Prefer Left Closed   #watergate
2011-04-02 Nixon library is the big #archives news this morn. "At Nixon Library, A Raw Look At A Disgraced Leader. "
2011-04-02 Timothy Naftali: Nixon's checker. Director of Nixon Presidential library discusses new Watergate gallery and more
2011-04-18 Bob Woodward, no longer banned, on making his first visit to the #Nixon #Library  #archives
2011-06-06 The Nixon Library That Wasn't politics of a presidential library. #Duke
2011-09-14 NYT: What’s a Presidential Library to Do? Should Presidential Libraries show warts and all? Reagan vs. Nixon library
2011-11-01 Naftali, who helped re-image #Nixon library, resigns 

#9. Ebooks:
With the closing of the Borders bookstore chain in part blamed on the rise of the ebook, libraries fighting publishing companies over ebook circulation, and discussions about the future of print, this technology is altering the landscape for our profession, for businesses, and for culture in general. Returning to our list for the second year in a row, ebooks continue to hold our attention and it will be interesting to see how they develop.

2011-02-27 Cultural shift hurt #Borders' image - mass marketing of #books has lost appeal
2011-03-15 NYT: Publisher Limits Shelf Life for Library E-Books – Harper Collins boycott
2011-03-17 Library bodies warn publishers off 'retrenchment' over e-book lending
2011-09-18 RT @GalleyCat: Borders closes forever today. Here's a heartbreaking picture: "I cannot live without #books"
2011-10-18 the Future of Endnotes in the Era of E-books. (via H-Net]Finding Footnotes and Chasing Citations #books

#8. Natural Disasters - Japanese Tsunami, Australian floods, U.S. Tornadoes
The need for careful disaster planning for cultural heritage institutions has become intensely apparent in recent years. 2011 had a remarkable string of natural disasters worldwide.

2011-03-24 System protects historic buildings from #earthquakes with a new anchoring system.
2011-03-11 #Archives of Tragedy - new ArchivesInfo blogpost during the World #Tsunami crisis
2011-03-14 RT @KPKollenborn: #Japan Earthquake: before & after: Aerial photos reveal the scale of devastation http://bit.… (cont)
2011-03-15 RT @presarch: Archives and Disasters: #japan
2011-03-15 RT @japansociety: Wonderful NYT op-ed by JS member Marie Mutsuki Mockett: ”Memories, Washed Away:"  #japan
2011-03-16 Hawaii: Tsunami damage including flooded spaces holding #archives and artifacts  via Archivists listserv
2011-04-04 Japanese #Tsunami Damages National Treasures  #japan
2011-04-20 RT @the_archive: Why do the #archive, archives, & the act of archiving matter? New AP blog re: Japanese tsunami tragedy
2011-05-01 Help Tusaloosa tornado victims find family photos  via @subclassz

#7 Digital Projects by Institutions
One of four categories to make the top ten for a second year, digitization has significantly slipped from their number one standing. This is not because digitization has slowed down, nor because we are not as interested in its developments. New collaborative digitization projects among museums, libraries and archives continue to spring up. We are coming up with more remarkable ideas and fine tuning our efforts within our institutions. Many such fine projects are represented in our list of tweets this year. Here is a sample of projects we took on:

2011-01-15 RT @RAINbyte: Rockwell museum shares its digitization project with the world - Bennington Banner
2011-01-18 Oregon: Local poets can participate in digital-audio archive project
2011-01-21 GSU Library awarded grant to digitize Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization records 
2011-01-27 Community Digitization Project. Online photos, audio recordings and more bring Ontario's past alive
2011-01-28 Websites expand access to New Jersey and Pennsylvania state archives
2011-02-01 U. Texas: Digital Collection Highlights Photos Taken In Corpus Christi During Great Depression
2011-02-02 Online exhibit from London foundling hospital  {I adore this!]
2011-02-02 Vassar College: Special Collections digitizing #archives
2011-02-05 Digitization, Special Collections & University Archives, U Iowa #civilwar #sequicentennial
2011-02-13 RT @Arquivistica NY Metropolitan Museum of Art seeks new audience online: a virtual expansion 
2011-02-17 New website gives rare glimpse into times past - #Scotland's Places, views of city 1830+ and 16th c maps: http… (cont)
2011-02-20 Abu Dhabi: National Library to post historical content online [UNESCO's World Digital #Library collaborative 
2011-03-24 RT @subclassz RT @johnxlibris: The NY Philharmonic Opens Digital #Archives to the Public #music
2011-05-03 US #Holocaust museum to put records online  #genealogy
2011-05-11  The “National Jukebox” - An Online Destination For Historical Sound Recordings  #archives
2011-05-11 Yale announces free online access to #museum, #library, #archives collections. first in Ivy League #LAM
2011-05-26 Houston Area Digital Archives posts 3 volumes of Love letters donated by Lawson family
2011-09-06 Du Bois papers now available on the Web #archives
2011-10-18 Library completes digitization of medieval manuscripts 
2011-11-03 #BBC #radio #archives to go online

#6 Library of Congress Archiving Tweets
The news that the Library of Congress is Archiving Tweets can be seen as a game changer for the archives profession and the study of history and culture. Now, the words of the "average" person will be preserved for posterity in a way that they have never been in the past. As we change the way we communicate, we change the idea of civilization itself. Whose voices can be heard has been forever altered. Who can make an impact in this world has been altered. There is no going back. The Library of Congress, recognizing the amazing Twitter voice, has given it official status and recognition by formally seeing humanity's tweets as collection worthy.

2011-01-25 RT @paige_roberts: "Trouble for the tweet keepers?" Boston Globe:
2011-06-02 How the library of congress is building the Twitter archive  via Library journal on Facebook
2011-06-09 Gnip to deliver archive of public historical #twitter data to the U.S. Library of Congress  #loc

#5 Wisconsin Protests and Occupy Movements
Perhaps emblematic of the rest of the nation, perhaps even forerunning of Occupy movements around the world later in the year, Wisconsin citizens took to the streets to protest budget cuts in their state. As humanity considers our future direction, libraries, archives and museums are not only impacted by decisions, but we are also poised to document them and the events that took place that helped us make them.

2011-03-02 Wisconsin Historical society documents budget battle
2011-03-14 Wisconsin Librarians' March Merges with Tractorcade #library 
2011-04-26 Wisconsin’s public libraries in peril #savelibraries
2011-10-10 wow. this is nutty RT @AASLH: OH GEEZ: Conservative journalist says he infiltrated, escalated DC #museum protest
2011-10-16 Just thinking...This is one of those moments when a word's meaning may be changing. I think the word "occupy" will never be the same.
2011-10-20 Occupy Wall Street Archival Project #archives via@archivesnext
2011-11-03 I told you recently that the word "occupy" would take on new meaning! RT @geneabloggers: Occupy Genealogy
2011-12-01 National Museum of American History collects Occupy Wall Street memorabilia  #museum #OWS
2011-12-01 Occupy Wall Street and #Archives - new ArchivesInfo blog post   #OWS  #WashingtonTimes

#4 Copyright and SOPA
We are grappling with all kinds of copyright issues from how to deal with orphan works when digitizing to international ILL. Potentially one of the most influential copyright "events" for cultural heritage and information management professionals is the SOPA bill that is poised to censor the Internet in the United States. The struggles over copyright will shape the way we care for and manage information many decades into the future.

2011-01-11  Brussels Wants 7-Year Limit on Works Digitized by Google
2011-02-18 RT @conservators: Funding for Conservation facing deep cuts! action needed now. Visit our Advocacy page:
2011-03-11 RT @jennydigiMdHS: USA Today: "Misinformation about your #photography rights continue to spread"  #copyight #civilrights
2011-03-08 RT @mrlibrarydude: New Supreme Court Copyright Case: The Supreme Court will weigh in on a law that has l... 
2011-03-31 RT @LibraryLaw: Stanford not fazed by #Google #Books decision
2011-04-15 Europe creates orphan works registry, copyright ID system
2011-05-25 RT @lynnemthomas: RT @blefurgy: EU rules on "orphan works" proposed to help digital libraries  #copyright

2011-06-22 Coalition of #Library Consortia Joins ARL in Opposing Publishers' Position on International ILL  #copyright
2011-06-07 RT @lynnemthomas: RT @LibraryStuff: Why non-academics should be following the Georgia State U case  #copyright
2011-09-28 RT @JPvE: Princeton bans academics from handing all copyright to journal publishers  #copyright #writing
2011-12-20 #SOPA debate brings millions in political contributions from Hollywood, Silicon Valley 

#3 Egypt
Uncertainty and dissatisfaction with government policies has been followed by unrest around the globe. Continuing events in Egypt have the world watching to see what change will be brought about by revolution. Egypt also has us concerned about the fate of cultural objects that many have claimed are part of the heritage of all nations and not Egypt alone. Looting, destruction, and safeguarding of the world's cultural heritage is a great concern and Egypt is the most explosive microcosm of our struggles to maintain this heritage in a time of upheaval. 

2011-01-24 Egypt officially requests return of ancient Nefertiti bust
2011-01-24 German foundation refuses to return Nefertiti bust
2011-01-29 RT @theplayethic: The human wall protecting Cairo museum. So beautiful
2011-01-29 RT @arttheft: Photos of Egyptian Museum damages accessed via
2011-01-29 RT @cortsims: No kidding! “@science: Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit - Nefertiti's bust will stay in German capital
2011-01-29 RT @RAINbyte Breaking: Images of Egyptian Museum Damage via Al-Jazeera
2011-01-30 RT @cortsims ART THEFT IN EGYPT "Those were our own people" The Egyptian Museum in Cairo has been looted by own guards.
2011-01-30 RT @historyancient: News from Cairo: ARCE Director Dr. Gerry Scott talks abt the crisis & Egypt’s Antiquities
2011-01-30 Were Tut's treasures damaged?
2011-01-31 RT @AntiquiTweet: Some of Egypt's oldest pyramids are among the tombs that were broken into at Saqqara -
2011-01-31 Egyptians bravely defending cultural heritage, according 2 librarian of Alexandria/director of Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
2011-01-31 Egyptian soldiers arrest 50 men attempting to break into famed antiquities museum
2011-01-31 good idea!RT @kv64info: Egyptological Looting Database 2011: To help maintain a site by site list of looting
2011-02-01 RT @cortsims:  WSJ: Egypt's Antiquities Fall Victim to the Mob
2011-02-01 RT @cortsims: Interesting Blog Post. Egypt Museums and Archaeology News    
2011-02-02 RT @amlibraries: Photos of people guarding the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in #Egypt:
2011-02-03 Museums rally to protect Egyptian sites. Intl archeologists volunteer 2 help protect country's cultural heritage
2011-02-07 WSJ: Alexandria #Library is A Symbol for the New #Egypt
2011-02-11 RT @kv64info: Restoration of Objects in the Egyptian Museum: W/ blog post from Egyptian Minister of State fo… (cont)
2011-02-14 RT @archivistabby King Tut statue among missing #Egypt treasures -
2011-02-14 Egypt's Missing Treasures Shown in National Geographic Photos
2011-02-15 RT @Bennu: "Get out," crowd of 150 archaeology graduates chanted outside office of Antiquities Minister Hawass:
2011-03-03  Egypt: Protesters demand removal of National Library chief
2011-03-04 Egyptian antiquities attacked and under threat. Alarming report on the widespread looting and vandalism
2011-03-05  RT @dvergano: Egyptology: Zahi Hawass confirms his resignation, discusses reasons. ScienceFair:
2011-03-16 RT @paige_roberts: #Egypt releases illustrated list of 54 objects missing from Egyptian #Museum
2011-03-17 RT @EgyptologyNN: Ancient Egyptian artefacts found and thieves apprehended:
2011-03-23 UNESCO helps #Egypt's Museums. Director expresses how remarkable human shield formed by civilians 2 protect #museum was
2011-04-17 RT @ArchaeoNewsNet: Antiquities chief Zahi Hawass sentenced to one year in jail
2011-04-21 Egypt erases history: 5 places where the Mubarak name will be removed   #history
2011-05-24 Egypt in the Early 1900s: Rare Brooklyn Museum Slides 
2011-12-18 #Egypt Institute Burns; Scholars Scramble to Rescue #Manuscripts #archives

#2 Funding
Once again making our number two spot - funding for libraries, archives and museums is under close watch. There have been other times during modern history when cultural heritage institutions struggled to sustain themselves and sometimes redefine themselves in response to outside events, changing society, and funding crises. This year, funding concerns in the United States and Britain have reached a critical stage. Many institutions have cut staff, merged, and even closed in response to monetary pressures. (Great Britain responded early in the year with a #savelibraries campaign that helped set a tone for 2011.) The institutions that make it through the next few years will be those that have been able to create a strong, sustainable business model and will define the charge of cultural heritage institutions for the 21st century.

2011-01-12 Brown Proposes Eliminating All State Funding for California Libraries
2011-01-15 Exploring the economy’s toll on local #museums
2011-01-16 Watching #savelibraries with fascination in U.S. Good luck British friends! I see important implications for cultural heritage around world…[lots more]
2011-01-19 London museums urged to show more 'hidden' artefacts. Despite economic climate, challenge to offer more to the public.
2011-01-19 RT @Shahalti: Bill That Kills Historic Preservation Funding (Along w/ Public Broadcasting)
2011-01-19 RT @UKpling This is the reality of volunteers running libraries  It   simply is not good enough.
2011-01-25 Proposed Budget in #Texas Nearly Zeros Out Key State Library Funds
2011-02-04 RT @MarDixon: Protests across the UK expected for Save Our Libraries Day
2011-02-08  RT @MarDixon:RT @CollectionTrust: '#savelibraries World Trending' By @mardixon & how Museums can fight for the future
2011-02-11 NPR: Britain Faces Closing The Book On Libraries
2011-02-11 RT @gordonbelt: Archivists, B vry afraid:  Why U ask? I'll tell U:  [sounds lk all shld B afraid.]
2011-02-12 RT @CSMlibrary: One of saddest photo galleries @csmlibrary ever saw. Camden NJ Library closes for good.
2011-02-18 RT @gordonbelt: National Archives budget would drop 10 percent under current proposal:
2011-02-18 RT @conservators: Funding for Conservation facing deep cuts! action needed now. Visit our Advocacy page:
2011-02-19 Librarians in Texas Protest Proposed Cuts (noticing funding issues across spectrum – colleagues in libraries, especially in U.K. most active in media?)
2011-02-23 archivesinfo: #Texas #librarians offer a taste of protests to come  
2011-03-03 TN: Jesse Owens park, museums expect state funding cuts
2011-03-04 UK - Cambridge: Scorn for plan to run library with volunteers 
2011-03-05 RT @MarDixon: Exactly what @archivesinfo suggested bit ago RT @PaulFraserWebb:  interesting - UK map of heritage cuts:
2011-03-10 Petition 4 #TX libraries: Please RT When libraries cut digital divide widens @GITANAJAVA #savelibraries
2011-03-18 RT @CILIP_LSG: #savearchives Georgia Archives facing devastating budget cuts  #genealogy #archives #sunshineweek
2011-03-18 RT @LISNews: US Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) wants to rescind all IMLS and LSTA moneys  #museum #libraries #archives
2011-03-23 Reading more on Klamath County #Museum funding in OR. gr8 explanation on why voters should support them #savemuseums
2011-03-23 Oregon: Answers to #Museum funding not so simple  #savemuseums @MarDixon
2011-03-31 RT @CSMlibrary: BPL elimination of Sunday hours shows deeper woes at library. #Boston Globe editorial  #library #BPL
2011-05-23 Even considering closing Oakland libraries infuriates many  #savelibraries
2011-05-29 #Tennessee State #Library, #Archives Lays Off 9 Librarians
2011-06-11 Texas parks, #libraries, #arts, historical sites facing deep budget cuts
2011-06-17 Oakland's African American Museum and #Library survives, for now   #savelibraries
2011-07-07 RT @AAMers: House Appropriations Subcommittee just passed version of FY2012 bill cutting NEA & NEH far below already reduced levels. #museum
2011-08-25 #Minnesota Historical Society Announces Jobs Cuts; Fee Increases   #museums #savemuseums
2011-11-03 #Canada. Professors decry cuts to Library and Archives.
2011-11-17 #Libraries in Crisis [gathering of news articles related to library closings. well worth a look]
2011-11-27 #Texas: State budget cuts hit rural #libraries hard
2011-11-29 Britain: #Museum Workers to Strike Over Pensions
2011-12-02 "Enough is Enough": Cultural Workers and #Museum Staff Join in the UK's "Strike of a Generation"
2011-12-01 RT @ALALibrary: Chicago's neighborhood #libraries in a bind | News | Chicago Journal  Use up, funding cut

#1 The Digital Public Library of America
While institutions continue to work on using computers to make their collections more accessible, projects like DPLA are drastically altering the digital landscape.Boldly joining Europeana and other large scale collaborative efforts world-wide, the United States has begun churning its wheels to get its own national digitization project going. It is poised to change our professions, our own focused projects, and the world as we know it.

[*Google was left off the list this year, but I struggled with the decision to keep it off. On last year's list at #4, the Internet company's efforts to "digitize everything" have been seen as heroic by some and scary by others. DPL perhaps offers an alternative to Google. Perhaps one day it will find some kind of partnership with them...but for this year at least, the Digital Public Library's early efforts are outstanding. The goal to collaboratively link information professionals worldwide to provide extensive access to cultural resources overshadows efforts to privately digitize these materials.]

2011-01-08 New York Times: U.S. Playing Catch-Up in a Digital Library Race
2011-01-11  U.S. slow to digitize nation's cultural heritage

2011-01-11 Digitizing Public Domain in The EU
2011-01-27 Contributor Enhancing Europeana, the great European digital library
2011-04-01 How Europeana, crowdsourcing & wiki principles are preserving European history WH #archives #digitization
2011-04-04 NYT: Ruling Spurs Effort to Form Digital Public #Library
2011-04-13 Harvard Leads Digital Library Initiative. Digital library might eventually include all printed books
2011-04-22 Digital Democratic Vistas. re: "Digital Public Library of America "
2011-05-25 Demise of Google Newspaper Archive Shows Need for National Digital Library Policy
2011-05-25 Re: Google newspaper project, ""They need to give their head a shake here and realize they have some public re… (cont)
2011-05-25 Google archive decision 'astonishing.' End of newspaper digitization effort disappoints originator of technology
2011-10-21 Digital Public Library of America inauguration. Live stream: #dpla via @archivesnext
2011-10-21 Yay! thank you! RT @digpublib: If you can't view live-stream, keep up with our liveblog
2011-10-24 RT @connecthistory: #Digital public library of America & Europeana collaborating on opening up cultural #heritage #dpla
2011-10-24 @digpublib listening remotely last week stirred some thoughts. I wrote abt concern that small orgs be included in #dpla
2011-10-24 National Digital Public #Library November meeting in LA - #ndpl #digitization #dpla
2011-10-24 Archived #dpla plenary meeting  #digitization #archives
2011-11-16 British Library joins collections from seven countries for Europeana World War I project #archives
2011-11-17 Researchers work to build a national online #library to house Canada's history  #canadiana #canada #digitization
2011-11-20 Digital Public Library of America quotes me on "The Digital Divide"
2011-11-29 RT @Riparchivist: #Digital Public #Library of America » Blog Archive » John Palfrey: A Future for Libraries
2011-12-02 RT @digpublib: John Palfrey Presents at the LA Public #Library Conference - building a national digital public library

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

We Know the Real Santa. Who's Documenting This?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Celiac Santa. We discovered him when my daughter was very young and he's been the "real" Santa ever since.

Earlier this week, I learned that a friend has a different "real" Santa. He is one town over. Like our Santa, this one sets up a little building at the end of a well lit cul-de-sac. Kids drive from all over to see the lights and to see Santa and Mrs. Claus.

I've always thought that our Santa was extra special, sitting out every evening in December, waiting for people to visit him with no ulterior motive whatsoever. It turns out that there may be a whole community of Santas sitting at the end of cul-de-sacs! Has anyone ever done a documentation project to record their thoughtful actions? I don't remember Santas at the end of cul-de-sacs when I was growing up. Are these Santas even a sign of the times in some way or are they geographically noteworthy? (I didn't grow up around here.)

These Santas are certainly symbols of our community. I'm sure that my daughter will remember Celiac Santa forever, as will many little kids in our neighborhood, but will he be immortalized in a memory institution somewhere or will the memories of his time with us fade in a few generations?   Who's documenting this?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Home is Where the Photos Are

My grandparents continue to smile
upon us from the walls of my home.
My friend Marian over at Roots and Rambles said that I got her thinking when I wrote this on my Facebook wall, "Hanging photos of my family makes home seem even more like home." Now she's got me thinking about how family heirlooms help us create a sense of place, making our house into a home.

Photos are always the first thing that come out of boxes when I move to a new home. I must hang at least a few pictures of my favorite people around me before I can turn to the unpacking of dishes, clothes, and other living necessities. When I unwrap my wedding photos from newsprint, look at the giggling face of my daughter from when she was a baby, and place a photo of my siblings on the mantle, I feel like I am branding a new home. To me, putting out photos is like breaking a glass of champagne over the bough of a ship. Photos launch my new life in a new place, on untouched waters that hold awaiting happy memories.

Marian feels similarly about some heirlooms from her childhood and wrote about them, "I never realized the impact that having items from my family and from my childhood would have on how I felt about my environment. The connection with my family and with my past was strong and powerful.  It gave me a tremendous sense of comfort."

My Facebook post about hanging photos referred to some pictures I took this Thanksgiving when my siblings came to visit with their families. And indeed it was comfort that I sought when I hung them. It has been a difficult year for me, but Thanksgiving marked a turning point and a long weekend that I hope to remember forever. I sit at a new desk that I have placed next to my Christmas tree. The walls were bare. The lights of the tree helped further warm a sunny room on a cold weekend, but the space needed these photos to make it perfect.

I have family heirlooms that instill similar comforting feelings, but for me, it has always been photos that warm me most. I was attracted to photography in high school and studied to become a professional photo-journalist in college before switching majors. Photographs seem to capture the essence of a person and freeze it in time in a remarkable way. So, while my brother and sister may live a distance away, I feel their essence smiling at me right now while I write this from my desk. Home is where the photos are because I have those faces smiling at me from every wall and I feel blessed by their presence.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Food Memories and Culture

How are you documenting this festive season? Some of the primary things we think about when we consider the holidays are the special foods we serve. Give a little thought to what you serve, how you serve it, and why. Share your holiday food memories with your loved ones. Write down your memories. Pass on your recipes and stories you have about them. Photograph your dining events and those who attend them. Record information about your special serving pieces so that loved ones always remember the stories behind these heirlooms.


"Food is a vital part of culture. Our food heritage -- the dishes themselves, the dining company we keep, the places we associate with a good meal, our heirloom serving items, and more -- reflect our cultural identity, giving us a sense of who we are and what is important. 

"Food is part of the culture that cultural heritage professionals refer to as “intangible” because many of our food traditions are not recorded and are passed from generation by word of mouth or by live demonstration. For example, I know how to cook a meatball properly (the Italian way) because my Italian mother-in-law stood in the kitchen with me and showed me how her mother showed her.

"Think about the foods you eat that have special meaning to you because they were passed down by your family or were integral parts of your community life. Consider what foods represent your heritage and how that heritage has been passed on to you. Did you learn to cook standing at your mother’s side? Do you have a dog-eared, food splattered recipe book that once belonged to your grandmother? Do you have the sedar plate or the Christmas cookie platter that served your family well for generations? Is there a dish that reminds you of a favorite community eatery? This book offers you the opportunity to explore behind your everyday food experiences to discover the more meaningful side of sustenance. Why do we eat the things we eat and how do our meals reflect our life in context?

"We can think of the context of our lives in two parts: a little context and a big context. Our little context considers each of us at our very core. Who are you? What do you like? What specific memories do you have? The foods and food related things we like give some insight about us. We are a person who prefers salt or sweet. We may like to cook. We may prefer to go out to a restaurant. Those closest to us know our preferences and may acknowledge our food desires by serving us certain meals or helping us create food habits that suit our schedule. This is the little context of our food memories.

"The second part is a larger context. Who are you and who is in your community? What do you like to eat and how does it reflect your ethnicity, geography, or other community group? Do you like certain foods because they are part of your community? What specific memories do you have about certain foods and do other members of your community have related memories? How do your community’s memories differ from people in differing communities?

"... When you begin thinking about the value of your activities, your traditions, and objects, you begin to piece together a puzzle that provides a better understanding of your role and your place in the world. Understanding your food heritage is a vital piece of this puzzle because food says so much about your values and your culture. Indeed, you are what you eat!"

- From the upcoming, The Life in Context Project: Food Workbook

Join The Life in Context Project on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @URLifeinContext.
Learn more about this unique collaborative endeavor on The Life in Context web site

Read about simplifying and reorganizing food traditions to suit our lives from my Life in Context Partner @Space4U

Monday, December 12, 2011

More Finds at the Local Antique Shop - Etsy Descriptions

I've noticed something when I peruse online sites for items to use as samples in classes. Some people who sell ephemera and photos come up with some pretty strange titles and descriptions for their wares. For example:

A seller titles a photo "But She's Got Cooties" and explains, "This is an original vintage photograph from the 1940s. It shows a brother and sister sitting on a bench, the brother doesn't seem very happy about it." Actually, to me, the brother seems perfectly comfortable to be sitting on a park bench with his sister, but he SEEMS to be squinting into the sun!

I have wondered about these descriptions lately. Does labeling images with a cute or catchy title, pointing out people's flaws, or otherwise subjectively responding to an image enhance its worth to a potential buyer?

For another image, the same seller titles it "Mischief on His Mind" and writes, "This is an original vintage photograph from the 1940s. It shows a young boy on his porch with toy gun at his hip and a trouble making look on his face." I don't see trouble. Here I see boredom. I wonder if the boy is unhappy to be stopped during his play so that a grownup can take a picture, but I don't know this for sure. I certainly would not call this image, "Taking a Breather from Cowboys and Indians So Mom Can Take a Picture."

I find myself connecting these labeled images to museum paintings. Is this labeling of images a way of marketing or a way of "curating?" Do the sellers really believe the things they point out in the images or is it solely a gimmick?  If these sellers really are interpreting these photos in these ways that are perplexing to a professional, does this give cultural heritage professionals some room for educating? I wonder if a museum can use online Etsy images as a tool for helping individuals better interpret the images they see.  

Does it really matter that people subjectively interpret and label such photos? I think it does and that's why I feel compelled to point out these strange descriptions in this blog. The meaning we attach to images we see should be backed by knowledge and research. It is easy to ascribe meaning to something based on our own point of view and experiences. It is much harder to put our personal feelings aside to make educated interpretations about the things we see and hear. So while the descriptions may be "clever," they help perpetuate stereotypes, prejudices, misinformation, and ignorance. 

And on that note, I'm going to share an image I purchased that one might call "cute." It has a great composition, and the kid's eyes just pull me in. I am not going to say something such as the girl is playing mommy or that she is taking her new carriage from grandma for a spin because I just don't know if that is true. I hope that you enjoy it anyway - without a catchy title.

 Pushing Dolly in a Stroller- 1940s Vintage Photograph

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Student of Communities and Santa's Celiac Baker

Forgive the cliches, but sometimes I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb. Other times, I feel like a square peg who fits comfortably in a much larger round hole. Please bear with me while I explain.

I have never been a "traditional" archivist. At various times in my life I have worked as an assistant curator, a reference librarian, an "Internet Coordinator," as well as an archivist. I've worked in historical homes, city archives, museums, a science institute, public fact, probably a wider variety of places than I can count on two hands. So, rather than self-identifying with any one type of place or profession, I  lately have been calling myself a cultural heritage professional with a specialty in archives. I spend my life exploring all of these institutions -- examining archives as a common thread among them. Today, while taking a long walk, I realized that I should also consider myself a student of communities because what really interests me about all these institutions is their community connection.

Outside of my consulting work, one of the largest projects on my plate is my Life in Context Project in collaboration with Sue West of Space4U Consulting. I will not rehash what I've written before about "Life in Context," but a meeting with Sue yesterday got me thinking about this subject. We are currently working on an aspect of "Life in Context" called "Food Memories." I am not a foodie by any means. I eat what I can on a restricted Celiac diet. I usually only cook big meals at Thanksgiving and other special occasions. I like to go out to eat, but I'm not a connoisseur. However, food is a good launching point for self-exploration and for exploring how one fits into a larger society. We all eat! And once I start thinking about a particular subject, my mind jumps to connections. Sometimes, serendipitously the connections present themselves.

As a case in point: This week, my daughter and I are preparing for our baking weekend. We bake cookies for our friends and for Santa. I only bake gluten free, since I have Celiac Disease. One year, we were concerned that my daughter might have Celiac Disease too, so gluten free baking was particularly meaningful. That year, we discovered that each December Santa sets up a fabulous little shed-like house at the end of a cul-de-sac in a neighboring town. We were told that the lighted houses along the street were a sight to see and Santa would be waiting for us at the end of the road to listen to what we want for Christmas. We drove up in our car. My daughter hopped onto Santa's lap and he offered her a candy cane. I told him, "I'm sorry Santa, but my daughter needs to eat gluten free and we are not sure if the candy cane is okay for her." Maybe I shouldn't have said anything, but I'm glad I  did. Mrs. Claus started practically jumping up and down. "Santa has to eat gluten free too!" Who knew? So I drove home and grabbed a tin of my special gf cookies. I drove back with my family and gave Santa the tin. "Merry Christmas Santa! You can have these cookies. They are gluten free." I thought Mrs. Claus was going to cry. We visit Santa's special shack every year and bring him his cookies. Mrs. Claus gives my daughter a special ornament instead of a candy cane. (I don't have the heart to tell her that after receiving medical test results we learned my daughter can eat normally now!) We also leave gluten free cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas Eve. I tell my daughter to not divulge to her friends that Santa is a Celiac because they would feel badly about leaving him gluten cookies all of these years!

Why am I telling you this? Besides being timely, this food story reveals my interest in communities. First of all, and perhaps most obviously, this annual December "event" is special to my whole geographic community. Cars line up down the street to see Santa in his shack. Secondly, I feel like I have a special connection to Santa since we are both members of the Celiac community. Third, I find it funny that I tell my little girl to not divulge Santa's food secret. When I was young, I didn't celebrate Christmas and my mother used to tell me to not tell other kids that Santa isn't real! My daughter is a member of a community in which I was not and it's interesting to see how some aspects of her childhood differ from mine because of it.

So, as a student of communities and a cultural heritage professional with my feet in many different camps, I sometimes see things in unique ways. I suspect that is the case with us all. While we may identify firmly with certain communities to which we belong, we may just have a bit of a toe dipped in others. To me, cultural heritage and "memory" institutions are fascinating for this very reason. They stand as their own communities, they can be vibrant parts of a larger community or communities, AND their holdings include the resources that shed light on societal groups - how they overlap and differ.

So perhaps my world-view and my professional view is a little different. (In fact, I was even the girl in high school who floated from one group to another group. I was a jock, an artist, and a school newspaper editor - taking it all in and examining my place.) I have always explored the idea that no matter what you believe, where you live, or what you do, you can find some community connection to anyone else on earth. I find this fascinating. I'm looking forward to continuing my exploration of documents as a "lens" into communities and to exploring communities more fully through my work with our collaborative "Life in Context" project.

If you are interested in learning more about our soon to be launched "Food Memories", See "Life in Context" on Facebook or follow URlifeincontext on Twitter.

For more about my work with communities see

Monday, December 5, 2011

Book Recommendation - "A Secret Gift"

Are you looking for a feel good book for the holiday season? I've found one that promotes compassion, community, and the value of archives.

A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness--and a Trove of Letters--Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression"A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness - and a Trove of Letters - Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression" tells the story of how one man's generosity helped lift the entire city of Canton, Ohio. Author and investigative reporter, Ted Gup, uses a family collection of papers as a thread through his story. In 2008, Gup's mother handed him a suitcase of family papers for him to explore. Within the collection was a newsclipping from 1933. It contained and ad that offered money from an anonymous donor to families in need so they could have a happy Christmas. Along with the clipping was an envelope stuffed with letters requesting assistance and also letters of thanks from those who received it. Gup's story unfolds as he discovers that the donor was his generous grandfather. He sets out to learn more about a larger than life man full of mysteries and along the way uncovers a tale of civic pride and personal survival.

"Then, one night at three in the morning...I sat up in bed and recognized the letters for what they were - not a dusty archive but a time capsule addressed to the present, one that had taken on a sense of urgency."

"A Secret Gift" links the voices from the Depression to those struggling today. It discusses parallels between generations while advocating for humanity's resilience. It shows how history helps us understand ourselves and society; how a knowledge of history can steer us toward making things better. From the work I feel a call to contemporary society to examine its past, to explore the goodness of mankind -- to see the parallels between our last "Hard Times" and today -- to find guidance through our current economic troubles.

"The letters helped me understand what our neighbors had endured and how the legacy of their suffering shaped the character of my community and my family..."

Gup does a remarkable job of uncovering the back story of families represented in the letters and locating descendants of correspondents. Through extensive research that he discusses in his publication, he reveals what happened to each family, and how the secret gift helped or sometimes changed them. While weaving his own family story among the lives of others, he recognizes their similar struggles and dreams regardless of religion and social "class." Early on he states, "community is more than collective self-interest." That, to me, is the moral of his story.

As an archivist, I see the suitcase of letters as the type of collection about which my profession dreams. Filled with first hand accounts that reveal a more personal history than most papers, the collection can take a researcher in many directions. In this case, it took one thoughtful grandson on a remarkable journey that will enlighten the reader and certainly fill one's heart with seasonal warmth.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and Archives

I'm sorry. I'm breaking my promise to myself and to you and am going to post about something a little serious this morning. Despite vowing to write only lighthearted post from now through the holidays, I just didn't feel like I could let this article go by without commenting. I couldn't leave myself all riled up with no place to post.

Please read:

National Museum of American History collects Occupy Wall Street memorabilia 

This article makes it sound like archivists and museum professionals are wandering aimlessly looking for OWS artifacts,  but I assume the Smithsonian and other "major historical institutions" have a collection plan of some sort. In my opinion, the article shows some lack of understanding about what cultural heritage professionals do.  It seems to me that if our profession is to be valued and funded that we need to fix part of the perception presented here. We do not collect what is popular or what people remember. We collect TO remember and Occupy Wall Street is an important part of our current events that needs to be evaluated by historians in due time. Those out collecting "ephemera" are doing exactly what they should be doing as good professionals and this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. 

Attempts to collect Occupy Wall Street items may present a good opportunity to teach the public about the role of memory institutions. We should explain why we are collecting these things. We should use the opportunity to show other similar things in our collections -- how our collections show the rise and sometimes the fall of movements. Our collections help historians and others better understand our past so that we better understand ourselves and can move more surely into the future. 

I do think it is a shame that a major newspaper such as the Washington Times presented our work in such a cavalier way. While not wrong in their facts, they create a perception that museum collecting and ebay sales should be thought of in the same way. In fact, it was the first paragraph that made me jittery right off the bat:

"Early in October, staffers from the Smithsonian Museum of American History went through the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York’s Zucotti Park collecting hand-made posters and other material to build up a record of the embryonic movement in case the protesters end up in the history books - and not just in jail for unlawful assembly and messing up public spaces. "

"In case the protesters end up in the history books..." I wonder... from where do they think the historians get their information for their history books?