Friday, July 27, 2012

How to Build a Small Archives at Your Institution

In my last post, I discussed the value of having an archive at your institution. The question now is: How does one actually start an archives in an institution that is not dedicated for that purpose? In this post, I will list a few practical considerations and ways for you to build an archive to reach your goals and document the work that you do.

The idea of building a small archives for my high school started during my interview process. It hung in the back of my brain until I saw The Storage Closet. [capitalization is purposeful here.] The Closet is used for housing circulating videos and miscellaneous odds and ends, including the existing "archives" - duplicate copies of school yearbooks going back decades. Videos were spread out taking up two bays of shelves. The "idea" moved to the front of my brain and very quickly became an actuality.

1. SPACE - So, to begin your small archives, it is important to find a space for them. A physical space makes it much easier to picture your future boxes of documents lined up neatly as a collection. I am a very visual person, so this conceptualization of a physical space is helpful in propelling my plans forward too. I don't have a reason to hold back. I have a place where I can immediately put things. I pushed together my videos and took my duplicates yearbooks off valuable shelf space and I now have a whole free bay in a space right near my circulation desk. The space can be locked. The space feels relatively stable and is part of the air conditioned library. I will later take measurements of temperature and humidity to see if any changes may need to be made in the future. Ideally, I would have climate control worked out beforehand, but I AM working in a public school not a professional repository. I do not expect perfection. Having an archives in a dedicated, relatively safe space is a valuable enough endeavor that I will proceed without perfection. Few of us achieve perfection, especially in small archives, anyway.

2. SURVEY - I know that I have yearbooks. I also have the older library records within my own office that do not need prime office space, but are valuable enough to save. I have found old planning documents - school technology plans, etc. Every institution has these kinds of things. This can form the base of your archives. During the course of the year, I will start asking teachers and administrators about other planning documents that they may have that will help build our archives. I expect resistance. There is always resistance, but that is no reason not to pursue this. Normally, I would perform a survey of the building and poke through drawers while sitting down with the people who created records to help them determine what they have that is valuable to keep for posterity. I think that is unrealistic in this case, considering my position at the school and school culture. Instead, I will begin by asking for volunteer input and I will help educate about what archives are and their purpose. After the teachers get to know me, I will write up a letter or ask to have a meeting with those interested to explain the types of records that best reflect our school and can help us project our core identity.

3. EDUCATION - Education is always a big part of collection development. This week on the archives listserv, someone posted a question about overcoming donor resistance to donor agreements. In a Special Collections, which as I explained in the previous post focuses on telling a larger story beyond your institution, collection caretakers ask donors to sign an agreement giving physical and intellectual property rights. Donors sometimes are offended when we request that they sign such things. A good way to overcome their resistance is to explain why we legally need to document the gift - to EDUCATE about archives. Archivists and others who care for archives must always educate about what they are doing and why. Our work is not intuitive to everyone. Though I will not need donor agreements in an institutional archives, at least in most cases, I will still have resistance to the building of an archives. I must continually seek new ways to explain what I am doing to get people on board.

4. DOCUMENTATION OPPORTUNITIES - Much of the work that institutions do is not documented. As you build an archives, consider what opportunities you may have to make documentation in the form of photos, videos, oral history projects, writing opportunities and more. In a school environment, I think our opportunities are limitless. There are lots of great projects I can collaborate on with teachers to get the students to create documentation about our school community. Within my own department, I also need to think about documenting my work. One of my first projects is to create an exhibit on mind-mapping. I will be sure to make sure I create an exhibit file so I can keep track of the exhibits that I do, including: my research; my designs; contact information about the people with whom I collaborate on exhibits (in the case of the mind-mapping I've got permission from outside sources to use their ideas and I think the public library will have a hand in this work.)

5. PLANNING - Everything that one does that is worthwhile involves some planning. As the ideas flow, I will write a document that discusses the building of our archives. It will include information about: types of materials we will collect (my collection development policy), use of the collections (will outsiders use it or just the school community? materials will not stray from the library.), space planning and growth needs, a preservation assessment, a materials budget, a procedure manual for creating finding aids and "processing."

All of this will take time. Archives is not my main responsibility in my new role. Archives are often not the main "business" in institutional archives. And though we may have a lot on our plates within our institutions, building an archives one small step at a time is worth the effort. (See my last post if you need more convincing or comment here to let me know your thoughts.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Every Institution Should Have an Archive

Every institution should have an archive.

In case you are not an archivist or do not regularly use archives, let me start with an explanation. There are two kinds of archives. (Some of us use "archives" some of us use "archive." I tend toward archives, but use the other when it sounds better.)

1. One type collects historical records that relate to events and people beyond themselves. For example, historical societies collect information about the whole town - not just the historical society. This type of archives is called "Special Collections." It goes by other names too, but Special Collections is what you'll often see as an organizations official name. Example - The Milne Special Collections and Archives at the University of New Hampshire. 

2. "Archives" refers to the records an institution collects that relates to its parent organization, whether that parent organization is itself or a larger body. For example, while "Special Collections" describes records that UNH collects that do not directly pertain to UNH activities, "Archives" refers to the records that are generated by the institution that reveal the history of the institution. "Archives" is often used as an umbrella term to refer to both archives AND special collections, but if you want to get technical about it, archives refer to the institutional records. And now that I've been long-winded about it and I hope that you understand the distinction, particularly if you didn't before, I am going to talk about "archives" with respect to its specific definition.

I'll reiterate...Every institution should have an archives BECAUSE archives give you a sense of identity. They make your sense of place and purpose more permanent and tangible. They give you a status that your institution cannot possibly meet without them. They help you gain a sense of pride. They help you market your institution. They help you define who you are. They help you plan who you want to be in the future - how you will grow and change. They help you convey all of this to people who may be interested. They help you convey this to a larger outside organization so that you can be better embraced by a larger community.

I have begun an archives in the school where I will be employed this September. I began with  photos of new carpet installation in the library. It marks the beginning of my employment and a significant "facelift" within the school. Our efforts to develop a school archives will include a documentation strategy so we know what materials will best tell our story.

I have also taken photos of a summer event and plan to take many photos of events so that we can remember them. I was told that the yearbook editor will raid my photos. That's fine in most cases. That's part of the purpose of the archives, but a set of yearbooks does not make an archive. Many schools seem to think of their yearbooks as their historical collection, but yearbooks are mass-produced. Photos are culled for the purpose of picking the ones that highlight certain things. A school archives includes many photos of events, documents pertaining to events, and media including oral histories, videos, and more. Yearbooks do not tell the whole story. They summarize it.

I hope to eventually do oral history projects with students. We can interview students, teachers and community members about their connections to and memories of the school. I hope to create web sites that we can archive and refer back to as our digital presence develops. We will keep administrative materials. I found many in my office - policies and procedures that have already been superseded - that shouldn't be taking up space on my office shelves. I am sure that other members of our community have materials that belongs in archive and not filing cabinets and office spaces. I will seek older school materials throughout the community -- including old images, reports, attendance books and more -- that tell the story of a past we might otherwise forget as those who experienced that past are gone.

Beyond the school, this work will involve collaboration with the public library, historical society, other schools, and town citizens. One hoped for outcome is to make school ties to the town in general more visible. Such projects boost pride, sense of place, and sense of community. Any institution can strive for this and all will have different reasons for doing so. Whether to boost school spirit or to increase a shop's presence in town to increase sales, keeping an archives will help you better define yourself and your purpose.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Make Your Point with a Visual: Problems in the Library / Archives

Most "outsiders" do not have a strong understanding of the work that librarians and archivists do. And because most people do not have an understanding of my occupation, I am often confronted with "why?" Why can't I eat in the library? Why do you need a consistent temperature in your storage area? Why should we spend money on climate control? Why shouldn't I keep my grandmother's original wedding picture in the sunniest spot of my house so that I can see it and enjoy it every day?

In anticipation of this "why?" question in my new library, I am digging up photos. I feel that nothing makes a statement better than a visual.

"Why can't we eat in the library Mrs. Mannon?"
"We will not eat in the library because it stains our brand new carpeting and attracts mice." This statement does not have as much impact as this...
The old carpeting in my current workspace
had stains like this all over the carpeting.
Stains are easy. People understand
stains, but a visual still makes an impact -
Especially if you can get a before and after
as I will do.

This is not as obvious, but the scene is all too common in the
institutions where I've consulted.
Mice come for the warmth of your building and will stay for the food.
Books and papers can become their tasty treats.

I keep a folder of "extreme examples" that I find in institutions so that I can use these visuals to make my point when it is necessary to do so. Here are some more examples:

Mold due to improper environmental controls.
Folded papers and mold.

Lack of a proper records management system from the get-go.

Improper storage for photos.

Water damage due to basement storage.
Want to make your point? Say it with a picture. I have found that keeping a folder of "extremes" has come in handy many times.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

We See Archives Everywhere - A Northern Light

    I am always thrilled when I find more stories that highlight the value of archives. I think my last post along these lines was the wonderful book "A Secret Gift." I posted about it last December. I am overdue for sharing another book with a connection to primary sources. Today, I'd like to share "A Northern Light." The story has a strong sense of place and time. I fits within a genre of writing that discusses women's rights and roles. While the book is recommended reading for teens by YALSA, I did not find it to be an outstanding example of this genre. What I most appreciated about it is its connection to archives.

I often end my basic preservation workshop / presentation by passing around books that use archives (or the idea of archives) to illustrate their story. My demonstration books include the following:

    Mr. and Mrs. Prince

     Mr. and Mrs. Prince: How and Extraordinary Eighteenth Century Family Moved Out of Slavery and Into Legend. 

     Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures

    Hellen Keller: Courage in Darkness William Shakespeare: His Life and TimesWilliam Shakespeare: His Life and Times   Fairyopolis: A Flower Fairies JournalFairyopolis: A Flower Fairies JournalPrincess Alyss of Wonderland Cover Princess Alyss of Wonderland
      I found most of these examples during bookstore wanderings. The first four show how the use of archives as book illustrations can make non-fiction more immediate and real. The Anne Frank book, for example, caught my eye because it includes images of Anne's diary, including the a very colorful image of the diary cover. I had never seen the diary cover before I saw the book and I found it powerfully moving. The book also included pages handwritten by Anne. While the diary is profoundly touching and while we are all familiar with the story, seeing images from the diary itself is much more moving than reading the transcript.
      The Fairyopolis book and Princess Allys also have the power to move a person's heart and mind. Aimed at children, these fictional accounts can bring a child (and an adult with a childlike mind or imagination) into a fantasy world. The books use made up "archives" to illustrate imaginary places, relying on a basic understanding that ephemera, correspondence, maps and more can be used as supporting evidence of "reality." Made up documents tell the imaginative child that these books provide documentation of lost or secret stories.

      A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly is a nice new addition to my list. This book  is fiction based on a true story. While many authors use reality as inspiration for their writing, this one caught me by surprise because the story seems so unreal and too storybook soap opera perfect. It is not until the end of the book that the author reveals its basis in truth.
      The author's note states: "On July 12, 1906, the body of a young woman named Grace Brown was pulled from the waters of Big Moose Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. The boat she'd been in had been found capsized and floating in a secluded bay..." It was later determined that Grace had been killed by her lover. "Instrumental to [the] case were Grace's own letters." A Northern Light is based on this real event and the author includes a bibliography of resources that relate to the case. I wish that she had included some handwritten pages to illustrate her novel or to further explain the connection between the event and how she developed her writing based on it.
      Despite the seemingly far-fetched nature of the story, I think of my diary project and the 1882 diary I found in an antique shop, which includes a train crash and a botched abortion in the opening pages. I am reminded again that we see archives everywhere. In them, we read about the absurdity of real life. When we examine archives, we realize the accuracy of the saying "Truth is stranger than fiction." How many good "stories" are buried in the collections of our cultural heritage institutions and the personal papers of families?  How many are in plain sight - overlooked or undervalued?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Diary Project Continues - An Archivist in the Classroom and Close Reading

Me in my emptied office before new carpeting.
New carpeting went in last week!
As I slowly slip into the world of a high school librarian / information specialist, I have been spending many summer days getting ready for September. Today I had a really fantastic experience that may interest the readers of this blog. This week, I am taking classes in "Common Core" and "Close Reading" strategy. (Stay with me non- school people. I promise this will connect to my common archives and cultural heritage writing subjects.)

Common Core is a new standard that aims to prepare students for the future. I won't belabor this. You may choose to check out the web page about it, but suffice it to say that the goal of this initiative is to set clear expectations for student achievement.

Close Reading is a way to analyze text that helps students to be better observers and to gain more confidence in "unpacking" information. The end goal is to make readers into better interpreters and to allow them to draw better conclusions based on facts.

The teachers who presented the class on close reading repeated a few times that the ideas behind this strategy are very different from the methods with which most teachers in the room were comfortable. To me, though, this idea is very familiar. Close Reading relies on noting very basic things about the text - punctuation, word repetition, capitalization, verbs, strong words, mention of colors or feelings, etc.etc. When one reads a text in this way, one begins by leaving behind any context one may have. The reader looks for the straight up, plain, facts, observing what is on the page rather than one's feelings about it or interpretations. That comes later.

I felt myself fluttering inside as I heard about this "strategy" because I realized that this is what archivists often do when working with documents. We often do not know the context of materials in our care and we must work to understand it. We do not assume that what is in front of us is something that we have seen before in some other form. Each collection brings something new that waits for discovery and we must start from this idea of observing the text and pieces before we continue.

My 1882 diary is the most straightforward example I can use of this idea. I had a diary in front of me. It had a date. It had some names. It mentioned the state of Maine over and over. It mentioned a train crash. It talked about the weather. It talked about a shop....I did not know what any of this meant at first. I just picked out the clues (my observations) and then used those very basic observations to tease the text for meaning. 

There was a lot that I didn't understand, at first. For example, I didn't know if the author was a man or a woman. The person mentioned someone named Nell an awful lot. (Nell turned out to be the diarist's wife...see my older posts for more on that.) The writer mentioned a marriage, but I realized that perhaps "marriage" wasn't being used in the way that I understood it, since it was just mentioned in passing in one sentence and wasn't given the weight that I would expect such an event to be given. (I eventually learned that "marriage" was indeed a wedding, but I had to be willing to just observe that word and not attach my own understanding of meaning at first. In the 19th century, many terms were used differently.) It is only by relying on my observation that I could eventually determine what was important and what would lead me to a proper conclusion. In the end, as I've shared before on this blog, I did indeed learn the identity of the writer based on these clues.

At a break in class today, I told our instructor (one of our high school AP English teachers) that this strategy is very familiar to me. I explained about the diary and about my work as an archivist. He asked me to stand in front of the group and give a testimonial - to tell the others about my diary. I will be sending its transcript to our English department

So, here I am at the beginning of my journey as a high school librarian. Before today, I was excited about a whole range of possibilities related to what I MIGHT be able to offer to my school. I now have something very specific on the table. I am indeed excited to connect my outside experience to a public school need in a very direct way. I am also excited to give my diary an even bigger role than I originally planned for it. This diary is on a great journey and it's taking me along for the ride. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Her Name was Marjorie - Guest Post by Dana Hanson

Today I offer a guest post by vintage shop owner Dana Hanson. I had heard many great things "Concetta's Closet" in Newmarket, NH and made my first trip over with my closest friend about a year and a half ago. While my friend oohed and ahhhed over colors and fabrics, I had a wonderful conversation about the histories behind the clothes Dana brings into her shop. She boosted my appreciation for the stories behind the objects that we wear. I now follow Concetta's Closet on Facebook and wait to learn about Dana's adventures and the people she meets. If you love local history, and if you want to feel a connection to the past through an object, visit a really good vintage shop like Dana's. (I must say, I have even picked up pieces for my own wardrobe that make me feel smart and chic! I have a new found passion for vintage that now relates to a new found passion for steampunk...but I'll save the steam punk for another day...)
Thanks Dana for bringing your wonderful little mystery to me and for letting me share your words and images here. 
Visit Concetta's Closet on Etsy
Visit the Concetta's Closet blog where this post originally appeared
A few weeks ago, I went up to Kennebunkport for brunch with my husband and son.  We rarely get to go up into Maine because of our busy schedules – but this Sunday was gorgeous and the weather was perfect.  When we had finished brunch, we went for a drive out on Ocean Avenue – which rides along the coast.  I saw an estate sale sign, about 3 houses down from the Bush Compound.  I quickly remembered that my friend Kathy, who has an estate sale company – had called me a few days before and told me about a sale she was having, where there were some vintage  clothes for sale.  I was excited and told my husband and son that we were making a quick stop.  We parked and the boy stood at the car, while I walked up to the house.
I was greeted by Kathy and she told me that most of the clothes had sold – but that there was a wedding dress in the house.  I walked into this adorable little Cape Code house, that has a huge barn with horse stables and an apartment upstairs.  From the front of the house, there is a perfect view of the Bush Compound.  I walked up the front steps and into the foyer.  There was barely anyone there, but then again, it was also 1pm.  In the foyer, the walls were covered with gorgeous wallpaper from the 50s and there stood a dress form with a lovely satin wedding gown with a veil and train.  The price on it was quite a bit out of my price range, and the dress was also very damaged but I looked down on the floor and saw a brown box.  I opened the box and saw a silk satin and Brussels lace 1920s wedding dress.  As I was taking it out, Kathy told me, “Oh!  That was the mother of the bride dress” – I looked at her confused and said, “I can guarantee you, that this brides mother did not wear this to her wedding.” – And then after closely inspecting the train and veil that were on the 1950s wedding dress, I realized that they belonged with the 1920s wedding dress!  The lace matches up perfectly and the silk satin is the exact color of that on the dress.
 I asked Kathy what the price would be, with the veil and train and she told me.  I was a bit taken back – it was a heavy duty price.  So I ask her if I could make an offer and that if the dress didnt sell – she would consider my offer.  She said yes.  So I put a very reasonable but still high offer in on a piece of paper and gave it to Kathy.  I took a quick look around the rest of the house (which IS GLORIOUS I might add!) and went back to the car to meet the boys.
Here is a photo of the home – a bit in disarray, but oodles of charm.
The following week, I got a call from Kathy.  The dress was MINE!  This past Monday, I drove up to Maine and picked up the dress at the house – Kathy told me that there was a photo of the bride and groom, but it had been purchased the week prior at the sale.  I gathered up the veil and train, and put them into the box with the dress.  I wrote Kathy a check and went back home.  When I finally was able to sit down and look at the box – there was a pretty neat label on it, along with some penciled writing.  Helen (who we will talk about later) took the veil out in 1953, I assume to wear it at her own wedding) Here is a photo of the label that is on the box:
So this is where it gets tricky.  At first, I thought the name of the bride was Mrs. Nathan Taylor.  I did an insane amount of research and came up with nothing.  But then I remembered that Kathy had told me the brides last name, Purves.  And if you look at the top of the label, you can see written, “MTP wedding dress and veil” – That was my cue.  So, after about 6hrs of research and some serious brain draining, I came up with history and timeline of Marjorie and her family – and the best part:  The amazing amount of American history that this family has.  I think the best way to give this information is in outline form, so here we go!
1904:  Robert Curtis Ogden purchased the home at the corner of of Ocean and Summit Avenues.  There was a main home, “The Billows” along with two other cottages and barns.  (The green home above, where the dress was found, was one of the cottages)
(Robert Curtis Ogden was a crusader for the education of emancipated slaves after the Civil War. He was the first of three generations to summer there who tirelessly championed the work of the Hampton Institute in Virginia.- More on Robert Curtis Ogden, as written by a Southern Maine Newspaper – with a photo of RCO and Booker T. Washington)
1926:  Robert Ogden Purves (Robert Curtis Ogden’s grandson) marries Marjorie Taylor, of Philadelphia.  Robert O. Purves was the treasurer at the Hampton Institute, the school that his grandfather worked at.
1953:  Robert O. Purves and Marjorie Purves daughter, Helen ” Hoppy” Purves marries John Barnard.  (John Barnard passed away last year, and his wife Hoppy is still alive – the house where the dress was found was being sold by the son of Robert and Hoppy.)
1973:  Robert O. Purves sells the cottage (not the one where the dress was purchased, its the one in front of it) to the Future President of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush.  Robert O. Purves passed away in 1976.  I believe that Marjorie passed away in the early 1980s.
So, now – there are a 100 other little details in between and Im sure they would bore you, but this dress comes from such an amazing philanthropic family that is rich with well documented history.  I had to share it with you.
Here are some more links to the Purves family:
Now, onto the dress – which is in remarkable condition, I might add!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Fork in the Road: A Career Path is Not a Straight Line

You may (or may not) have noticed that I've been quiet on the blogosphere this past week and relatively quiet on Twitter. I've hit a fork in the road that I am now ready to reveal.

It was quite interesting when a few weeks ago I was asked to chair a panel at the New England Archivists Autumn meeting on alternate career paths for archivists. I've accepted the role for the conference, but I'm not sure if it will come to full any case, at the time I was asked, I had just accepted a job as a high school information specialist / librarian. Strange roll for an archivist / former public librarian? Indeed, NOT!

With a strong focus on archives helping to build communities, this new position gives me a unique opportunity to help build a sense of place from the inside out. I plan to make the library a community oriented space that reaches out to the rest of our town and shows the value of strong cultural institutions and libraries to boost culture and education. One of my goals in this library is to build a high school archives from scratch and to explain the difference between primary and secondary sources and show how each can help boost our identity while supporting our knowledge of the world around us.

Throughout my career, I have been working hard to show the value of librarians, archivists, and museum professionals working together to promote the work that we do. I think that I am now in a unique position to tie the work of cultural heritage and information professionals to education. Sharing my work with teachers will help them use information sources to better support their curricula. Learning about their needs will better help me teach the value of libraries, archives and museums. I look forward to sharing a love for learning and information with young adults. While I plan to continue consulting, writing, and public speaking in my spare time, I look forward to truly being part of building community identity from the inside out; instead of continually boosting community as a consultant from the outside in. After 12 years as a full-time consultant, I look forward to being part of a community and helping to build it, rather than giving some direction and leaving others behind to follow through (or not.)

I am lucky to have a unique opportunity to re-design the role of the library while building upon what are already very strong traditional library services in this high school setting. With this new path for me is coming new library carpeting. I've spent the past week organizing a method for boxing 18,000 books so that new carpeting can be installed in our beautiful space. All the books have been moved. Those consulting / space planning skills have already come in handy! In fact, I am taking pictures of the moving and installation process and these will be the first addition / collection in our school archives.

I look forward to continuing to share my adventures in cultural heritage with you and hope to have some new ideas to add to the dialogue on the ArchivesInfo blog. Stay tuned for blog posts about my new exhibit on Mind Mapping to build communities, Steampunk in the Archives World, using avatars to make connections to kids, using social media for education, and much, much more!