Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Guest Post for ActiveHistory.ca

Below is a link to my guest post for Activehistory.ca . Active.ca is one of my favorite blogs. I was honored to be asked to contribute to their body of work.http://activehistory.ca/2012/02/outreach-and-collections-encouraging-community-members-to-play-a-role-in-saving-history/

Monday, February 27, 2012

The People and Their "Stuff" - What is the Point of an Archivist's Work?

An archival document showing human ingenuity at its best
I tend to remind people over and over that my work as an archivist helps tell people's stories, but I realized last week that to make a point, I've neglected the "stuff" of archives a bit and I need to clarify.

An archivist cares for the materials that are created by people - materials that tell their stories certainly, but materials that can also stand on their own in many ways. Archivists are not oral historians, genealogists, or even historians. As archivists, I would argue that our main focus is the "stuff" and not the people themselves. We care for archives and personal papers so that stories can be gleaned from them. We ensure that enough original items are saved so they adequately tell complete stories. Yet, we are more directly tied to the "stuff" and, at least on a professional responsibility level, more interested in what humans create than in the humans themselves.

What brought me to the realization that I need to clarify this? After beginning a web site redesign last week,I asked some friends for advice about what kind of imagery to use to highlight my work. A couple of them said that I should include more photos about people because "It's the stories about real people that [archives] is all about." It jarred me and got me thinking because I don't think that really is what it is all about.

As someone who is interested in the collections of museums, archives and libraries, I consider my work fitting within the field of "material culture." In short, "material culture is the relationship between people and things." (For more definitions see the web page for the Center of Material Studies at the University of Delaware.)  The things people create tell us about them and about culture, but they also stand in brilliance on their own. I think that the easiest example to use to explain this is a painting. (This is not a perfect analogy because an archival document is usually not a piece of art, but I think perhaps this can help make the point.) We can admire a painting because we know about the artist and see how it fits in the context of his other work. Or, we can admire a painting because it reflects a particular subject and time. Or, we can admire a painting just because it is beautiful and excites the senses on its own.

A document, an old journal, a map, and all the other materials with which archivists work show the brilliance of humanity. Yes, it is important to collect materials that reflect the individuals in a society. BUT, the materials we collect also reflect a sort of human artistry that goes beyond the stories of real people. From the feel of paper to the the poetry of words strung together to the encapsulation of ideas on a web page, the "stuff" humans create reflect a brilliance that is somewhat separate from the humans themselves. While we want to tell the human story, we focus on the various media used to convey that story. And while my work as an independent archivist sometimes focuses more on stories about people than their stuff, it is because I have chosen to go outside of the box a little bit. Other archivists will sometimes consciously go outside of that box too because, as I've said all along, the work of archivists, librarians, curators and the audiences we serve can be closely intertwined. The ideas driving each of our fields can benefit us all in the promotion of history and cultural knowledge.

But when it comes right down to a definition, the Society of American Archivists describe an archivist in this way: "An individual responsible for appraising, acquiring, arranging, describing, preserving, and providing access to records of enduring value, according to the principles of provenance, original order, and collective control to protect the materials’ authenticity and context." Indeed, archives work IS about the stuff.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A "Heartwarming Story with a Little Surprise:" Don't Forget to Document the Mundane

It took me a long time to learn how to speak to an audience. I am basically a shy person, but after over 40 years on this earth, I think I am finally learning how to be myself. Public speaking, like writing in many ways, has given me an opportunity to present the real me to the world. If you meet me one-on-one, I am not likely to tell you my personal stories with much detail. I always think, "Why would this person care to know so much about me?" (I am working to get over that.) I have never fancied myself a storyteller because I try to go light on the details and shut up as soon as possible.

I had been presenting a workshop for many years on preserving your family materials. I invited people to bring their personal items so I could tell them how to care for them. I kept the groups to twenty and under so that I would have the opportunity to look and talk about everyone's materials to give advice. It was (and still is) a fun presentation. But soon, people began asking me if I could accommodate larger groups. I needed to redesign the class, so I started seeking items with preservation issues at antique shops to use for demonstration materials. (If you are a regular reader of this blog, you now know how "More Finds at the Local Antique Shop" got started.)

When I began thinking about writing my book "The Unofficial Family Archivist," I started to learn to be a storyteller. My own childhood materials from the 1970s were perfect samples of imperfection. My yellowing Polaroids and browning "magnetic" albums would be great for demonstration. I began searching my collections for more materials for demonstration. Memories came flooding back. I began to incorporate my materials into my writing and my public talks. I also began telling stories behind the materials and most surprisingly to me, people have responded enthusiastically.

Stanscopes and slide viewer from my family collection
Yesterday I was working on a photo collage to use in a banner in a web site overhaul for ArchivesInfo. In the collage I included a photo of Stanhopes. I showed the collage to a few friends and asked them for their opinions on my design. My good friend, Erica Holthausen of Honest Marketing Revolution suggested that I leave out the Stanhope image because she didn't know what those things were. I wrote her the following: "the image on the right is of an old slide viewer from the 50s (the black thing) and old Stanoscopes [sic], which are picture key fobs with images put right inside. (Think viewmaster with one image built right in.) Stanoscopes [sic - I've since re-learned the proper name] were made as little keepsakes, often at touristy sites like Coney Island, which is where I suspect my father may have had one of these done. A picture of him as a little boy is inside.)"

Erica wrote back enthusiastically and I hope that she doesn't mind me sharing what she said here. "Oh, I love that story! Have you done a blog post on it? Totally blog-worthy! A great, heart-warming story with a little surprise: the photo of your dad as a little boy. Very cool...again, it's the story about the real person that makes the object so special." 

Wow! My story - Worthy of telling - People want to hear. I am reminded of that once again. 

In "The Unofficial Family Archivist" I made a point to tell my personal family stories to show how my family memories and archives are not so very much unlike yours. And when incorporating those stories into presentations, I see eyes shining in my audience and nods of recognition. Each of us has stories that make up a greater community story. Each story I have in my head has roots in some community with other people who experience similar things. The little surprise at the end is how each story is so personal. An object is an object until you figure out its purpose and then tell its history through a community lens. If you can put a personal lens on it, that makes it all the more special.

I have had two presentations each week this month. The presentation topic focuses on two chapters of "The Unofficial Family Archivist" and relates to personal narrative and preservation of personal papers. In working and reworking the presentation, I've had many memories flood back as I try to find personal stories to shed light on points I am trying to make. I am going to leave you today with a personal story I remembered the other day and incorporated into a presentation a couple of nights ago. The point of the story is to tell people that sometimes important things about our lives do not automatically get recorded. We automatically grab a camera for special occasions, but we usually need to think more about things that happen to us on non-"special" occasions. Some of the things we do every day may be worth recording to shed light on our own personal narrative or our own family history, and to show what it is like to live in this time and place. Grab the video camera to document a morning routine; write in a journal about the mundane events of your day; make a list of things that struck your fancy as you went about your business....here is one of those stories in my life.

There will never be another pizza like
mom's. This is not mom's pizza. This is from
Wikipedia.
When I was a kid, my mom made pizza from scratch every weekend. She would start the dough early in the afternoon - mix up the ingredients, put them in a glass bowl, and let it sit in the cold oven (which was warmer than the rest of the room even though it wasn't on.) She would come back to the dough a couple of times in the afternoon to pound it down and let it rise all over again. While the dough rose, she would defrost her home made tomato sauce. Mom kept a garden and would use the tomatoes for her sauce. My sister and I helped with the garden, though what I most remember about it was planting seeds and tossing cherry tomatoes in the air to catch them in our mouths. The sauce was kept in a downstairs freezer alongside meat we had delivered monthly and other frozen garden treats. Once the dough had sufficiently risen and this sauce was defrosted, Mom would roll out the dough and pull it into a square pan, then adding its toppings and placing it in the oven. Three little kids would hungrily peer into the square window while we watched the edges of the pizza brown and the cheese ooze on top.

This was every day life in my house. This story tells a lot about how I lived and what my mother valued. Perhaps it's a "heartwarming story with a little surprise." My eighties teen years were a holdover from a time that was quickly passing. My family, like yours, is a microcosm of life as we know it now, but we may soon forget. I have no pictures. I have only this blog post about mom's pizza. (I hope it wasn't too wordy.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How to Attract an Audience? Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words?

Seacoast Science Center, Rye, NH.
One of my favorite online  images
of a patron interacting with collections.
Take a look at your web site. Is it visually interesting?

While I have always appreciated images and good design when I visit a web site, the importance of those things has been emphasized as I search for good images of cultural heritage topics to fill my Pinterest boards. Don't worry. This is not another blog post for Pinterest, but what Pinterest has made quite clear to me is the value of including fabulous, interesting, and provocative images on our web sites (and our blog posts) to attract patrons.

Archivists deal quite a bit with text. Many of us care for documents and words more than we think about images. Librarians have the same issue. Our professions value "information" - a "thing" that is difficult to define, much less ascribe visual labels to it. However, images can be a major selling point for our work. Museums seem more likely to know this instinctively. They include images of artifacts on their home pages and pictures of people interacting with them. Archivists and librarians need to pay attention to this and to find ways to make their sites more appealing -- so people stick around to actually read the information part. It is very easy for potential patrons to click off your site. If you don't capture someone's attention in the first few seconds, they are likely to just go away. A picture can draw someone in faster than a word by quickly pulling on a heart string, exciting artistic sensibilities, or quickly engaging curiosity.

I realized as I was pinning that the uptick in the use of this new pinning technology is a chance for cultural heritage repositories to encourage individuals to explore their actual web sites more fully through pictures. In fact, anyone who has a web page to provide information that aims to invite visitors to a place should pay attention to their imagery as well as their words. Through my Pinterest work and the browsing I did to write this post, I understand more fully that people who come specifically to check out our web pages because they are interested in our institutions will be turned off by BORING. If your web page is boring, why would I want to see your museum, library or archives in person? Why would I want to extend the experience you are providing to have it in person? Does your web site tell me, perhaps even on a subconscious level, that you are NOT worth my time?

Archivists, don't just put your finding aids online and wait for them to come, unless of course you are only seeking "serious" researchers and don't want to expand your user base. (I realize that this is preferable for some institutions for many reasons.) Libraries, please do more than post the hours you are open. Use your collections to visually explain why you are fabulous. Show your patrons learning and having fun.

  • Post pictures of your institution
  • Post pictures of your collections
  • Post pictures of your staff
  • Post pictures of people in your institution, interacting with your staff and your collections
Below is a list of a few institutions in New England that I think are doing a great job with incorporating images onto their site to explain who they are, what they do and why we would want to take part. I have not evaluated the sites themselves for usability or information, but I was impressed with the kinds of images they showed. I found them inviting. I also tried to choose places with varying budgets to show that you do not need a large budget to find, make, and use great images of happy people and places. You can have a fancy Java driven web page, a Flickr photo stream, or just a simple html document. Images help give each web site a little character and make each institution more alive and welcoming.
And now I'm off to scrutinize my own web pages....I know that they need a little help.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Social Media Experience: How often Should You Tweet and Repeat?

Tweet Tweet Twitter Icon
From twittericon.com
I have been tweeting a lot this week about my "Pinterest Experiment" for cultural heritage and archives. I want to make sure that everyone online who might be interested in it hears about it. I am still seeking additional contributors to the "What do archivists do?" Pinterest board and I want to encourage volunteers. However, I am concerned that if I tweet about my own blog or my own interests too much people will start to get annoyed with me. (Have you ever worried about this with your own posts?) So, I posed this question to Twitter followers: "Any studies out there on how often you have to / should repeat things on Twitter to maximize / not annoy Tweeps?"

In general, these are my rules of thumb based on my experience:
  • I tweet about a new blog post 3x on the first day - morning, afternoon, then evening (The automated system Networked Blogs then tweets once more for me - a fourth time.)
  • If I am tweeting about a timely topic that requires or invites interaction, I take the subject up again the next day, but I then only tweet about it once or twice.
  • If it is an ongoing topic, I tweet about it a few times a week, but try to spread it out. I change the wording and try to make it interesting.
  • I aim to promote others more than I promote myself.
So, how often should you repeat things on Twitter? There has been a study by Guy Kawasaki and his observations seem to be the guide for experts on the matter...Here are some good links I've found on the subject:


One thing can't be overlooked in my personal experience on the Pinterest project in terms of drumming up support for it. I have spread myself over social media and have stayed alert for topics that relate to what I am doing. Soon after I tweeted multiple times about the Pinterest Experiment, I saw a LinkedIn post about using Pinterest for non-profits. I commented on the post and linked to my own related blog topic. The next day, hits to my blog spiked higher than I have ever seen with the Pinterest Experiment reaching double the number of viewers of any post I've made in the past - reaching over 1,000 hits.

The moral? Experiment, engage, learn about your audiences, seek new related audiences, AND vary your social media energy. Sometimes finding the right audience for your work is trial and error. The benefit in finding the right online audience? Get attention for you and your organization. Think of social media as a wonderful outreach tool to boost your interests, but try to avoid annoying people. (This is always a good practice, right?) Once you find the audience, you can turn to them again and again for support in all that you do. Just remember, tweet and repeat is not the only answer.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Love in the Archives #loveheritage


In honor of Valentine's Day, archivists and librarians on Twitter are using #loveheritage to showcase romantic materials from their collections. Many are writing blog posts about collection finds related to love. It's a great collaborative endeavor with a few fun things already posted and presumably much more to be posted tomorrow.

Today, the North Carolina State Archives warmed us up with their fabulous post "Love in the Archives" http://ncarchives.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/love-in-the-archives/ .

Last year I shared a couple of themed cards from antique shops to celebrate the day:
http://archivesinfo.blogspot.com/2011/02/more-finds-at-local-antique-shop-love.html
http://archivesinfo.blogspot.com/2011/02/more-finds-at-local-antique-shop.html

This year, I want to share a book with you that was given to me by my thoughtful friend and fabulous dance teacher, Amanda. The book Love Letters Lost by Babette Hines includes what archivists would call an "artificial collection" of individual orphan letters including "Hine's treasure trove of love letters and vintage photographs devotedly at collected at flea markets and auctions..." Each letter gives us a glimpse into the life and loving relationship highlighted by its writer. The letters leave room for the romantic to imagine the full lost story of devotion (and sometimes heartache) between lovers, friends, and family.

The book consists of original copies as well as typescripts of some letters. Despite being puzzled by how they decided which letters needed typed versions and which did not, I am thoroughly enchanted with this volume and the idea behind it. The language in these letters pulls my heartstrings and makes me warm up to what I might sometimes see as overly gushy sentiment. Here is a sample:


                                                       August 26th 1890
Dear Miss Ada,


You will think strange of me for writing these few lines, but I get to see you alone so seldom, I cannot resist.
And besides I cannot half express my love for you in words.
Had I the eloquence of Cicero, or the pen of burns, it would be impossible for me to tell you half the love I have for you.
I love you better than any living creature, and no one knows, save the One above, how happy I would be if you could return my love.
When you seem to treat me cool, my life is a misery to me; and when you are the reverse, my happiness knows no bounds. 
Oh please don't turn from me coldly.
Will you not give me some encouragement? Can I not yet have some hopes?


I am yours most devotedly,
J.L. Slagle

Poor lovesick fellow!

I am looking forward to following #loveheritage to see what my fellow archivists share from their archives. Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Pinterest Experiment

Original image from "The Practical
Archivist"
http://practicalarchivist.com/
how-to-organize-photos-warning-this-advice-may-shock-you/
So, my last post on Pinterest attracted a lot of attention across the Internet and I've been playing with this new (for me) social media tool all week.  The ideas for new boards seem to hit me in the middle of the night and I'm wondering if the visual aspect of this project is appealing to my dreamy brain. Perhaps this is a good sign about the potential value of attracting an audience with this medium. In this post, I want to invite my archivist colleagues to join me on Pinterest for a collaborative experiment. Though the experiment itself is aimed at archivists, those in other fields might want to consider this approach too and how they can use Pinterest to raise awareness and educate. AND, perhaps there is a way we can all collaborate to promote each other cross-professionally down the road.
First, here are some ideas with which I have been playing. I have developed the following boards:

  • Museums I've visited and recommend - to promote the museum community
  • Interesting documents - to show just how amazing archives and the people they represent can be
  • Fabulous artifacts - more on the idea of amazing things created by people
  • Save Libraries - to promote the cause AND to give me a bag of visual tools to refer back to in my writing and promotion of this topic (Keep this "visual tools to refer back to" idea in mind for the archives project I mention at the end.)
  • Favorite places - to add a little bit extra of my personality (I think that is always important for a consultant to make connections to people.)
  • Art - because this is my first true love and can most easily by its very nature show the beauty of cultural heritage work
  • ArchivesInfo - to directly promote what I do
  • Quotables - because it seems like all the cool kids have one of these - most of mine relate to cultural heritage
  • Books worth reading - because my daughter told me that I needed to fill out this Pinterest supplied board (but I have Library Thing going on too and I'm not sure I'm willing to let Pinterest take over that role. Nor do I want to do it all twice.)
  • Women's history - a personal passion and something I often encounter in my archives work. There have been a lot of strong women in collections I've processed.
  • Gardening - a category just for me and probably not a cultural heritage related category until I mold it into one somehow, which I tend to do. After all, cultural heritage encompasses just about everything doesn't it? And everything has a history.
  • New England Food History - Now this one is interesting because I was invited to be a part of it. It is my first collaborative Pinterest project and relates to my Life in Context work. There are five people currently given permission by the creator of the board to "pin" to it.
Now here is where I hope that you come in...My last board is called "What does an archivist do?" I get the question. I get it a lot. I wonder, can we use Pinterest to answer it? Can we encourage an understanding of our profession in a visual way that might stick?

I got started by just searching on the Internet for "what does an archivist do?" I was re-introduced to some fun videos on the subject and found one to "pin." I found a photo of a woman at the Smithsonian caring for a collection. She has a nice smile. I hope to meet her one day. Pinned it. I took a comic from Derangement and Description, famous in my field for her humor. I found a nice picture of David Ferriero. Finally I found a nice bright yellow image that says, "Caution. Keeping everything means that someone else gets to decide what gets tossed later." Guess which one caught someone's eye and got "repinned?" (In other words, they liked the image that I found so much that they put it on one of their own Pinterest boards.) Yep. It caught your eye at the beginning of this blog post too, didn't it?

I see Pinterest as a great potential outreach tool. I put some text on each of my archives pins to explain what each image is about. I envision adding pins of archives boxes to explain how we organize and preserve. I envision adding pins of cool things from collections that show we sometimes find in the stacks. I'd like to show some of our unprocessed backlog. I'd like to show images of personal papers in homes to make the connection between professional repositories and "regular" papers....BUT, I see a twofold challenge: 1. can all of the ideas that I have to explain what an archivist does be represented in individual pictures and 2. can the pictures be interesting enough to attract attention so that people want to repin them and the value of archives is clearly seen by the public?

The SaveLibraries campaign is most interesting when considering this issue. Save Libraries has a clear and immediate need to quickly capture attention and bang people over the head with their point. People need libraries and if they don't pay attention, they are going to disappear because of budget cuts and apathy. My Save Libraries Pinterest board has really interesting images that people are repinning and commenting on. Do archivists need to make a concerted effort to develop images about our profession to promote ourselves too?

Before I issue a challenge, (well, that sounds very official doesn't it?), I also want to mention a couple of issues I've had with the site. One is that I had to be careful to keep track of the places from which the images came. I was not always careful. It is easy to get carried away with clicking and not fully thinking about all of the variables. Pinterest does not always do a good job of tracking back. It is up to the user to make sure the original site gets credit. This should be important to those who manage information. A few of the people to whom I have spoken also see it as a potential future legal concern for Pinterest. For cultural heritage professionals, if we do a good job of making sure our "pins" link back to the appropriate places, this could help drive traffic to the web sites of archives who have shared images. A second issue is Pinterest's very poor searching capability, which a couple of blog posts other than mine have pointed out this week. We need to overcome this to make a truly valuable collaborative project, I think. 

So here is my invitation to you. Let's see what we can find out there that will make the point about the value of archives and our work. Let me know if you would like to contribute to the "What is an archivist?" board and I'll add you as a person who is allowed to pin. Let's see if we can create something dynamic and useful for the field.

Any takers?



Find me on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/melmannon

Monday, February 6, 2012

Pinterest for Cultural Heritage

I belong to a small local group of women entrepreneurs who work together to share their expertise and experiences. All of them are brilliant and many of them are social media gurus. When they suggest that I check something out, I try to listen. Thanks to my listening, and thanks to my friend @suddenlyjamie from Suddenly Marketing, I now have a new favorite social media tool that I think is worth pointing out here. Pinterest has burst on the scene as a vision board style tool that at first glance seems best for play. After spending the weekend getting to know the site, I now believe it is so much more than this and that cultural heritage institutions should absolutely use it. This article is about why you should try it and how.

The first thing you will notice on Pinterest is that it is a clean, nice looking site. The concept behind it is straightforward too. Find an image that you like online and "pin" it on your Pinterest page using their handy little button that sits on your toolbar. (I use a similar button to click on gifts to add to a wishlist for a site called Findgifts.com, as a point of comparison for those of you who are familiar with that site.) Your Pinterest page is made up of "boards" or little windows in categories of your choosing so that you can organize images as you wish. Jamie shared a great article covering the basics of Pinterest.


http://pinterest.com/melmannon/

So during my Pinterest weekend, I created the following categories to get me started: Museums I've visited and recommend, Interesting Documents, Fabulous Artifacts, Save Libraries, Favorite Places, Art, Archives, Quotables, and Gardening. Each contains photos I've found on the Internet and "Description" that I've added that describe the picture and/ or why I've chosen the picture for my Pinterest page. From my page, I can see the latest things put on Pinterest and choose to "follow" others and see what they are pinning. I can connect with friends; I can see statistics on how many people are "repinning" what I've pinned. People can comment on what I have pinned.

Early Observations about Its Value

1. For collection sharing and possibly for collaboration - I asked on Twitter which museums are using Pinterest. The Indianapolis Museum of Art responded that they use it to post images from their collections.  http://pinterest.com/imamuseum/ . I can easily see the potential for them to also link to collections from other institutions that relate to their own to create a collaborative Pinterest venture. Pinterest gives you the option to allow others to pin to your page. I have not explored this yet, but I think this can help to make it another kind of valuable collaborative tool that makes room for a participatory experience.

2. For driving Internet traffic and discovering the interests of your audience - Pinterest tells me which of my "pins" are most popular and I can use this to drive people to my Pinterest site. I can also use this to drive Pinterest traffic to other social media sites I manage and to my web page. For example, I made a collage of orphan photos a few weeks ago that I posted on my blog. I pinned it - linking from the blog - in a Pinterest category that I called "ArchivesInfo." I can tell from my Pinterest statistics that a few people have "repinned" the image. From my blog statistics, I can see that many more clicked the image to view my blog post where the image lives.

I can similarly drive traffic by linking to related information in the "description" section. For example, in my category on "Museums I've visited," I realized that there were quite a few museums about which I've written blog posts. So in the comments section on specific applicable museum pins, I've added links to these posts. My National Heritage Museum pin is a sample of this.

3. For sharing expertise - One of the "pins" that I created in a category called "interesting documents" relates to a diary that I recently found in the public library in Kennebunk Maine. My friend commented on the diaries started and we began a conversation about the act of diary keeping and about paper preservation. Cultural heritage institutions can keep this in mind to encourage similar information sharing about collections and educational topics.

4. For generating dialogue - When I created the category "Save Libraries," I was thinking about all of the images, cartoons and news articles that I've seen out of Britain discussing their library closures. I am going to continue following events overseas and in the U.S. about the state of libraries and add more pins as news develops. I am also going to try to find a way to place questions or comments that get people thinking about these events. I can see a museum using Pinterest this way to encourage dialogue about their exhibits. Or,  a library can choose an interesting image each day that can get people talking about a specific topic. This would have the added advantage of encouraging people to visit the library's web site and think about the role of the library in the community. To make it a participatory experience, encourage people to explore the information and pictures you introduce. Suggest a topic and encourage patrons to go seek more images for their own Pinterest pages to share with you.

In short, I have been on Pinterest for three days and already see limitless potential here for museums, libraries, and archives. Please give it a whirl. If you are already using it, please let us know how. What advantages do you see for sharing cultural knowledge through Pinterest?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Brick Store Museum - Kennebunk Maine


While driving into Kennebunk to do some research earlier this week, I noticed a sign for the Brick Store Museum. I have heard many good things about this institution, but I couldn't remember specifics. (Now here's another reason I love Twitter...) I tweeted, "I've heard good things of the Brick Store Museum and here it is right next to the library.... Shall I try to fit it in later?"  My friend Sarah @greenmuseum tweeted back, "Yes, you should." And so I did. And I am so very glad that I did! (And if you don't know Sarah Brophy and you are in the museum field, you should get to know her. She is the brilliant author of The Green Museum and Is Your Museum Grant Ready. She has guest posted on the ArchivesInfo blog too.)

First Impressions

I walked in and was greeted immediately by a friendly person. I was given some information about what I was about to see and was shown brochures about the institution. I asked if I could take pictures. YES! So, I am happy to share some of the remarkable things that I saw with you. 



The entrance featured information about a museum renovation and was followed by an exhibit about historic homes in the region. Photos of the homes were accompanied by text about the history of the homes, owners, and architecture. The exhibit explained architectural elements and the development of architectural styles in the United States. It was all very interesting and there was quite a bit of information with context. The colors were fabulous. I was invited to interact with exhibits, but I honestly do not remember the specifics of that. I had been told that there was an exhibit about the museum founder in the back. My interest was piqued -- My personal preference is to view an exhibit about historic people over one on architectural history. I had planned to return to the architecture if I had the time. I didn't because I spent so much time on part II. (I should note that it was lovely that the museum had both. Many people will prefer the historic building exhibit.)

Swept off My Feet

I'll start by saying that I am now enamored with the historic figure of Edith Barry. Rather than tell you about this remarkable woman, I refer you to the Brick Store Museum's web site that has a good movie about her along with other information. (The video is not nearly as dynamic as the exhibit itself and perhaps more consideration can be given to that for future exhibits, but it is informative. It is also wonderful that they thought to add a video to their web site.) About Miss Barry, I will just say that I dare any person interested in remarkable people to not be impressed by her. I doubly dare any woman who is interested in strong female personalities to not be inspired by her.

Instead of focusing on the woman, I am going to concentrate on how the Brick Museum highlighted her story and what I most liked about it.

Right off the bat, the exhibit was eye-catching (as was the architecture exhibit in the other room.) Small details, such as the wall in the image to the right that was painted like a map with pleasant colors, made the exhibit inviting.

The exhibit was actually split in two and was separated into two rooms. The first part "Impressions of a World Traveler" focused on Barry's travels. It used her photography to highlight her story and the stories of the people and places she visited. Photography was balanced by text that explained the travels and the context of the trips -- what was happening in the countries Barry visited and around the world at the time. The text also connected this context to Modern day happenings. For example, it talked about the recent Revolution in Egypt to describe changes in this country.

Objects, photography, archives, and label text were all balanced seamlessly together in the exhibit. Documents were not added as an afterthought, as I often see in exhibits and which is of particular interest to an archivist such as myself. The different media  were used together to great effect, providing a stunning visual treat and serving extremely effectively as interpretative and educational tools. Music was playing in the background to further set an appropriate tone.


    The obvious educational elements of the exhibit were also outstanding, inviting participation from visitors. The museum invited us to connect our own experiences to Barry's through tools such as this one above and to the left that asks, "What are your travel memories?" Participants were given paper and pencils to write their responses that staff would later string up for all to see and share. 


    I was completely surprised to enter the second room. The travel exhibit made my visit worthwhile on its own. Somehow, I hadn't caught on that Barry was also a remarkable fine artist. Her beautiful work filled the second room. It was again placed in context, with the curators using documents and other media to tell her story.

    In room one and room two, small tables held guest books and little cards for the taking that reminded me of old-fashioned calling cards and invited me to "follow" Miss Barry on Twitter @EdithBarry. I was live tweeting during my visit and sure enough, the next day, I found a tweet from the account that said, "Thank you for your thoughts! We're glad you liked the exhibit!" I am now a follower. I look forward to hearing more through Twitter and am glad that they seem to have found a way to keep visitors engaged even when they are no longer on the premises. (The only "criticism" I have is that I see before tweeting to me in February 2012, they had not tweeted since September 2011. I hope they find ways to keep the account going and to keep it interesting.)

    In short, the exhibit was not only effective, but it was also captivating. I was thoroughly impressed. This is an exhibit that will stick with me for awhile because of its remarkable subject, but more I think, because of how well the subject was handled by an obviously very talented group of museum professionals.

    One final note: At the back of the building was a room labeled as the library and archives. I peered in the window and hope that I may have the opportunity to visit there one day ;)