Sunday, March 24, 2013

Staplers, Students, and Springtime

Sitting on my couch with a bad cold after a productive week with a lot of thinking involved, I am honestly up for something a little on the light side. So I decided to share a Twitter post from my Tweep @Citizenwald on my high school library blog and I'm sharing it here too. It's spring, and winter lingers...I figure we all need something a little quirky.

 1894_Gem_Paper_Clip_adv_discovered_by_The_Early_Office_Museum.jpg"Do you ever look at something and think, 'Now who first made one of those?' As a librarian and archivist, I love to contemplate how people come up with ideas and how they advance society. So, I got excited when I saw an article about staplers in the New York Times. (Yes, this is one of Ms. Mannon's quirks. I get excited about stuff like staplers.) But think about it...this little object helps keep us organized and we take it for granted every day. Before we had staplers, people used straight pins to clip things together. I know this from working for a long time in archives where I have seen many, many collections of old papers. After straight pins came paperclips, which took on many weird forms before someone, somewhere came up with the designs we find most recognizable today. Take a look at the NYT article, The Attachment That Still Makes Noise if you find these ideas intriguing. Think about what other every day objects have interesting stories about them. The simple tools that humans have come up with are really amazing! Maybe start your inquiry with those paperclips..."

I figured that this subject is a good way to get my students thinking outside the box and maybe even embarking on a little research. ;) Tomorrow, I'm talking to two classes about how to feel comfortable while doing an oral presentation. The life of a librarian / archivist is never intellectually dull.

Now, I just need to get rid of this nasty cold!

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Walking through the mall last week with my daughter, I was struck by a fad.

[These images from Amazon. com represent the diversity of products related to mustaches]

With a little research, I found that I am way behind the times. This is apparently not a new fad....but I began wondering how such a fad can get started  because of course when I see this:

Product Details

I think of this:

Orphan photo of unidentified man with mustache

I am constantly reminded how archives, in the very broadest sense of the word, connects to just about everything. If I were still an archivist who managed nineteenth century collections, I would dig into my archives and exhibit more photos like this. I'd show my patrons how our mustaches beat them all. (Even Hello Kitty.) And how the fantastical relates to what is real. Who could adequately describe the fine gent pictured above? (He must be shown to be believed.) So, I challenge my colleagues to dig into your archives and jump on the mustache band wagon. And those of you with family collections, do you have a distinguised gent you would like to share? I've created a mustache album on the ArchivesInfo Facebook page and if you post an image on the FB site, I'll add it to the album. Please share whatever info you have about your photo because, of course, the context of the image adds so much to the image itself.

Want to learn more about the mustache fad? See these articles:
State of the 'Stache  from The Atlantic.
The Bearded Man. The Wallstreet Journal.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Pinterest Revisited: Cultural Heritage Professionals Strutting Their Stuff

What does an archivist do aims to educate
about primary sources and the field of
archives management.
Since I first wrote about Pinterest over a year ago, the use of this unique tool has exploded in the cultural heritage field.  Pinterest is being used all of the ways that I suggested it might be useful: For collection sharing and collaboration; discovering the interests of your audience; sharing expertise; and generating dialogue. Pinterest has quickly become a favorite tool on social media and is being used in very innovative ways to promote cultural heritage and the businesses associated with it.

After my initial post, I wrote another one on "The Pinterest Experiment" and created the board "What does an archivist do?" A collaborative board with over 450 followers, the board has generated a lot of interest and discussion over the past year as I've tried to collaborate to "pin" information about my profession. My goal was to create a visually engaging introduction to the diverse field of archives. It was one of the first boards to try to find a way to share our profession using this new tool. I am now joined by many in the cultural heritage fields creating unique boards. This post highlights a few Pinterest efforts that I have found outstanding.

Rebecca Price of Chick History has recently created the board "The Historic Women of #STEM." It celebrates March as Women's History Month by highlighting a unique population. Her board taps into the month's theme, but also brings together a useful collection of biographies. For my own use, this collection will be a great resource for education.  I would love to see more boards like this that  highlight an aspect of information that can be used by educators.

Camille Breeze of Museum Textile Services has a fascinating collection of boards that reflect the field of textile conversation. One can learn about the history of textiles through subject focused boards that concentrate on such areas as "Historic Asian Textiles" or the "Historic Embroidery." Camille also includes a board dedicated to her company, allowing us to better appreciate her role in caring for this textile history.

The Museum of the White Mountains is a new institution that opened last month at Plymouth State University. Much to my delight, the museum has already begun using Pinterest to highlight its mission to preserve and promote the history, culture and environmental legacy of the White Mountain region. The set up of their board is thoughtful, providing insight into the "sense of place" offered by this unique, special place located in my state.

From the Library as Incubator
board, "Library Innovation"

The New England Museum Association has a rich collection of boards that highlights its members. Of special interest is their YEPs Resources board that aims to provide support to young and emerging museum professionals. The board offers advice for getting a job and growing a reputation in the field. It reflects the growing potential social media offers for thoughtful resources that can be applied to mentoring.

Always on the cutting edge of the library world, the Library as Incubator Project offers a collaborative board of library innovation. Fun, informative and diverse, the board brings together the best of the libraries. More of us should focus on the FUN and use new visual tools such as Pinterest to show how information is not only educational, but also entertaining and cutting edge.

This is just the tip of the iceberg! What boards do you like best? Please share your own comments and favorites.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Exploring Context in Art: Putting Interpretation Under a Microscope

[Keeping my thoughts on this to blog post length has been difficult. I hope that it will serve as a platform for discussion.] 

I recently heard a radio program about artist Charles Krafft, considered one of the pre-eminent artists in the Northwestern United States. He has created Nazi imagery for some time and this work has been considered by art historians and collectors to be "ironic." According to a recently broken news account, Krafft has recently been found to be a Nazi sympathizer and the art world has been turned on its head trying to find a way to handle this scandal.

In the interest of full disclosure as related to this story, I will say that my grandparents escaped from the Holocaust and I have strong feelings regarding "Holocaust deniers." I will also announce my ignorance by saying that I had never before heard of this artist. I have always had a strong interest in the fine arts and with an undergraduate degree in art history, I even once considered a career path as an art historian. However, the subject of interpretation, especially considering contemporary art, has been something I have struggled with for a long time. This case highlights that struggle. It shows how much "interpretation" is based on the "facts" as we know them or as they are presented to us. How much do we really ever know?

To me, Charles Krafft's ideas about his own work shouldn't be the determining factor in deciding if his is art worth viewing. It seems to me that this is part of the problem here. My husband and I discussed this in the car after we heard the radio program. He seemed to think that this new found knowledge about the artist's views of the Holocaust should change our view of his work, whereas I think that this new knowledge should give us new information about the work, but shouldn't fully change it. Krafft's art went for shock value, but is he really talented? Search for images of his work and see what you really think without applying any of Krafft's suggested context to the pieces. [Even with the context I have trouble appreciating this work. It is certainly kitsch and I think combining kitsch with political statements has been way overdone...but perhaps that's just me. After all, I didn't become an art historian. My professor laughed at me for my apparently naive criticisms of many modern movements.]

Hearing this story as an archivist got me thinking about Hilary Jenkinson versus Theodore Schellenberg. Jenkinson believed that the creator of a collection of records was the one who should determine the value of the materials -- who should decide what should be kept as part of the historical record -- and that the archivist was merely a caretaker, whereas Schellenberg's theories promoted the idea that an archivist has an essential role in selecting materials worth keeping. I began to wonder, what role does a curator play? Perhaps this is unfair, maybe our professions shouldn't be compared in this way, but it is something that I have wondered for a long it the role of the curator of contemporary art to listen to the creator of an artwork in order to care for it appropriately or should the curator evaluate the work on its own merit without the input of the creator? Do we know something is "ironic" because the artist says it is or do we know it's ironic because it's good art that somehow conveys the irony even without the artist pointedly telling us?

How does one's belief affect context? How should the artist's view of the world change our perception of his work? Is it possible for a curator to give context to art without the artist's input? If it's not, how much artist input is necessary? It seems to me that there was a bit of discussion about Krafft's world beliefs even before this story "broke." How far can, and should, a curator research to fully understand the context of what they are seeing. If we can, and do, evaluate context with older works of art -- by more objectively understanding the artist's life based on diverse archival documents and research materials -- why can't we do it with today's artist?

Once again, as always, it seems to me that archives have an important role to play in establishing context. I think we are at an important stage in our exploration of material culture. This case further demonstrates the value of cross-professional collaboration. The art historian cannot work in a vacuum with other art historians. Their work spans across disciplines. The Krafft dilemma sheds light on our times. It is a time when professionals are well-aware of the value of creating an image, a public face, in order to promote the work that they do. It is a time of complicated beliefs, polarizing opinions, multi-faceted interpretations of culture. Don't take what one tells you at face value. Dig deeper to fully explore context and be aware that what seems to be true may not always be so. How does one determine when context has been fully explored? I'd love to learn if others had alternate views of Krafft's work. I hope more diverse past interpretations of the art come to light and the story continues. I think we all have a lot more to learn here...