Sunday, May 26, 2013

Book Review: The Unofficial Family Archivist on Eastman's

Family letters in boxes are a regular
of the world of archivists and

This week, I'm pleased to link to a review of The Unofficial Family Archivist from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter, a very well respected genealogy publication. I am glad that the genealogy community is finding the book useful. I have come to learn much in the past few years about this enthusiastic group. I am honored that these talented professionals have given me space in their newsletter and have recommended my writing to others interested in the work of family history.

The Unofficial Family Archivist  seems to be filling a gap between professions. Most archivists focus on personal papers or institutional records housed within organizations. However, more and more archivists are recognizing the value of outreach for exploring what materials individuals have in their homes that fill gaps in the historical record. More archivists are attempting to help individuals with their own papers, such as in Massachusetts where they have the Mass Memories project. More archivists are recognizing the value of the family stories of "regular folk." More archivists still need to recognize the need for and the opportunity that they have to teach their larger communities how to care for such materials.

Simple acts such as cleaning,
boxing, and foldering  personal papers
can greatly increase their longevity.
Archivists should share their simple tips
to help communities
I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak with genealogist Marian Pierre-Louis on her radio program "Fieldstone Common" in December, 2012. We discussed about the role individuals play in caring for community history through their personal stories. More recently, I presented the topic of caring for family papers as part of the Boston Public Library's "Local and Family History Series." I look forward to continuing and developing my relationship with the genealogy community so that we may better understand each others' needs and boost each others' work.

Genealogists, as much as any other community I know, care about the work that archivists do. Professionals in the genealogy field are savvy researchers, smart networkers, and passionate advocates. They track down lost information and few whom I've met give up until they find it. As I've said in the past, archivists would do well to seek out genealogists and welcome them to the archives. Focusing on our mutual interests will enhance work and outreach in both fields. Thank you genealogists for caring and for giving me such a fine reception into your world.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Inspiring the Arts in a High School Library

I am pleased to introduce my first piece about my work as a high school librarian that was not written for the ArchivesInfo blog! Special thanks to the Library as Incubator project folks for taking interest in our project in the Goffstown High School Information Center. Our project shows how a cultural heritage institution can help educators make connections to boost student understanding. Working together collaboratively, such institutions can influence multiple communities and have great impact on individual lives. From the Goffstown students whose book art work was featured, to the person who made the Gordon Nash Library video, to those students whose work in the U.K. will serve to inspire our students here in the States...the connections we have made have instilled a greater sense of self-esteem, pride, purpose, and connectedness.

See Inspiring the Arts in a High School Library on the Library as Incubator blog 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Organizing Your Personal Papers: Spread 'Em Out

I recently re-visited a client to give her a little help with organizing her personal papers. I last left her with a set of instructions that described how she could organize materials into groups. She was to place materials in a box for herself, a box for her kids, and a box for her parents. Each box would have materials written by the corresponding family member. This type of organization, by provenance, is a basic tenant of archives management. (Simply put - keep materials organized by the person who created them.)  My client was able to accomplish this, but had trouble with the next steps. While I have written about organizing papers before, I want to share a few simple tips I've learned to share that may get you over a hump.

Shirley Historical Society
Lawton Papers in the process of being organized
I like to tell people that archives management is as much an art as a science, especially when dealing with your own papers. Do what you think is right. Do what will help you find what you need. Do not worry about "perfection" because there is no such thing when it comes to organizing. Take it one step at a time. Try not to be overwhelmed. Do a little organizing at a time.

Have you ever walked into the house of a friend who is in the middle of cleaning? A mop and broom lean against the wall. A bucket of water has splashed a bit on the floor. Picture frames are awry in the front hall with a dust rag and polish on the wood table. A basket full of small items sits at the bottom of the steps ready to be carried upstairs to be put in the appropriate room. 

"Pardon the mess," your friend says. "I'm in the middle of cleaning."

1. Things often get messier before they get neater. 

In my house, the basket at the foot of the steps usually contains things such as hair ribbons, things I've recently purchased for the upstairs bathrooms, and receipts to be filed in the upstairs office. I pick things up from around various rooms and put them in  one place and prepare to spread them out again. Things look neat in that little basket that I can label as "upstairs," but they are really materials from all different upstairs rooms that now need a more precise home.

2. Move from big, to small, to smaller groupings for organization

Right now I look around the room and my vacuum sits out, a television waiting for repair lies face down on a table, my sewing projects (including pants that need re-hemming and a skirt for my daughter that needs taking in) are slung over a chair. My receipts, as usual, sit in a basket on the stairs. It is a never ending task, but it is handled in the same steps every week. Empty receipts from wallet onto table. Move receipts to hall basket. Move receipts upstairs. File receipts. 

My broken television could very well remain upstairs on its stand. But, then it will never get fixed. We'll forget to call the repairman. My receipts can stay in my wallet. But, then they'll never get filed. I'm not a very good or willing seamstress so I certainly wouldn't turn on the machine to complete that task for one pair of pants hanging in my closet. But, if I have a big pile that I can see needs to be completed, it will more likely get done. Over the years, I have collected pieces that need fixing and corners of my closet. They sit there so long that I no longer want to wear them. I finally got smart. I set up a table in a quiet room with my sewing supplies. They stay out at all times. There is a chair for me to throw the clothes needing repair. When I get two or three items, I sit down, click on the machine and fix them. I don't have to think about it. I don't have to find the clothes or get set up. It's just there.

3. Keep your papers in the midst of being organized out where you can see them. 

If you have a pile of papers neatly boxed waiting for folders, you probably feel pretty good that you've taken this first step to get them off the floor. Then, I have found that the mind block tends to come for many people. Now what? Set up a corner for your personal papers. Start organizing one box at a time and leave the materials out. If you have a small apartment or little hands that will touch everything you leave visible and can't leave your materials out in plain view, find a way to keep the organization you started easily accessible. Put materials laid out on a shelf. If necessary, put them back in your box with a partial organization under way that can be pulled out at a moment's notice.

My professional organizing "Life in Context" partner, Sue West of Space4U, recommends setting a timer. Organize for 10-15 minutes at a time and that's it. If you leave things out or easily accessible you can come back to it for those short sessions and it's not a big mental deal.

4. Do a little at a time.

Pull things out of one box and begin organizing by type of material. My letters in pile one. My certificates in pile two. etc. etc. Things may fit into more than one category. That's okay. Where do you think you are most likely to look for it? Put it there. Don't be afraid to move and change your categories as you go. This is not set in stone. Organize for accessibility.

Never forget that things get messier before they get neater. You can't organize directly out of a box. It's just too confusing. You feel overwhelmed because it's a big task, you are cramped, and you are looking too far into the future. Put things where they make sense to you. Spread out. Set a timer. Do a little at a time and walk away with your mops, broom, and dust rag, or sewing pile (um, I mean your papers, folders and pencils for labeling) out and ready to go next time.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

More Finds at the Local Antique Shop: Mother's Day

It's been awhile since I wrote up something for "More Finds at the Local Antique Shop." In honor of Mother's Day, today's post includes some of the mother and child photos from my orphan photo collection. Though these mothers are unidentified, their faces are a tribute to moms everywhere. Happy Mother's Day! [Label your photos!]

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Holistic Information

So has anyone called it this before?

"Holistic Information" (my term? at least in this sense? my definition): The healthy taking in and dissemination of knowledge or intelligence; A comprehensive understanding of how the use and misuse of communicated intelligence can affect one's life.

This was a core part of my week. I was charged with offering an information literacy lesson to a health class. (Perhaps because it was for health class that the word "holistic" is sticking with me.) One of the most fascinating things about my new position as a high school librarian is the diversity of classes I have the opportunity to teach. The lesson for health class was meant to show how we should be careful of advertising promises and information tools. The lesson preceded a mental health unit as a way to show how our evaluation of information can have positive and negative outcomes on our understanding of our world and thus on our overall outlook on life.

Though I don't usually share the particular lessons I do on my blog, I thought that this one in particular might interest readers. It shows the value of thinking about libraries, archives and museums as an information field. It shows how as professionals, we have a lot to offer beyond our traditional roles. I thought I'd share some ideas from the class and to show how I am using my new role to help people think more about different types of information, how we use information, and how we should use it.

We began with a discussion with what is information and then discussed how we get it. We talked about books and magazine, the Internet, word-of-mouth, media, billboards, objects, and archives... One student talked about getting information through discovery - by manipulating data and things on one's own. YES! (Perfect thinking leading to the "learning lab" we hope to create at school.)

I told the teens to question everything and to ask the following questions any time they are getting information: What are they telling me? Are they selling something? Who is selling this or telling me this? Do they have a vested interest? Why are they pitching it this way? [is there an angle? Should I believe them?] What’s right for me?

Attempting to relate this directly to them and to make it contemporary, I began with the misinformation about the Boston Marathon bombings. I talked about the early misinformation regarding the capture of the bombers. At the time, I had misgivings when the news media announced that they had suspects in custody.  It didn't sound right. Things didn't add up. I showed the students what had come through on Twitter in my feed regarding the news. It was contradictory and passionate. Everyone was jumping on the bandwagon. We are all guilty of that sometimes. My next slide showed an official update saying that indeed no arrest had been made. It basically told us, "Calm down everyone. By spreading misinformation you can mess this whole investigation up."
  • We discussed ads. Why is Vitamin Water called Vitamin water. Is it good for you? Why or why not? 
  • How does that Brooke Shields Calvin Klein ad from my childhood relate to the Hollinger jeans ad now? (Sex sells from generation to generation.) We also dug deeper. The discussion included an article from my friend Judith Ross, discussing the dangers of distressing blue jeans. The process of sandblasting to create that look is extremely harmful to the workers who create those jeans. Should this go into our decision making process about what we wear? How deep should we dig to find out about
    the products we buy?
    Should we judge them by how they look on a friend? Is just knowing that they look good on us enough? Perhaps it is, but if we do care about how products are made, should we seek this information? 
  • We talked about Made in America and what that means. Is it important to understand that "Made in America" does not necessarily mean it is 100 percent made in America? We need to understand that many companies walk a fine line to get that label.
  • We picked apart a sneaker ad to figure out who the manufacturer was trying to get to buy this footwear. We decided that it was Justin Bieber fans. In fact, all five classes I taught immediately said Justin Bieber even though he was not mentioned in the ad. That's pretty powerful stuff. We looked at a one star review of the sneaker and a five star review. We read them carefully. One of them was calling the high top a "running shoe." It seemed like it wasn't talking about that shoe at all. Did the students know that some people get paid for writing ads? What should we believe? How can we pick apart information to see what is false information?
  • Colleges were a big part of our conversation. Are these 15 year-olds already thinking about college? Where do they want to go and why? What goes into our decision about college? Location, major, size, future opportunities, cost... How are colleges manipulating their decisions through ads? We talked about a few ads. One read: "My purpose To Make a World of Difference." What exactly does that mean? Does it mean anything? Does it mean different things to different people? Are they playing on passions? (of course)
Finally, we discussed the Internet and social media. We discussed putting out information about ourselves as well as taking in information.
  • What is the value of Google? What are the drawbacks? Does Google do everything it claims to do? Is the use of Google black and white? Is it a good or bad tool? It is good in the right situation, but we must constantly evaluate the information it gives us and be aware of its flaws AS WITH EVERY INFORMATION TOOL. Why do we use proprietary databases at school? What other places can give us information? Did the students know that Google tries to tailor ads to us based on the information we are giving it? We are their product.
  • What role does social media play? We should use the right tool for the right job. I asked how the students use Twitter and then showed how I use it to talk to colleagues around the world and not to my friends. (That's what texting and Facebook are for?) We talked about the role Twitter played in the Egyptian Revolution and what a powerful tool it can be. Ah...and then snapchat. The app that lets your posts "disappear." This is very big in many of their worlds. We did a little "close reading" -- really paying attention to key words -- to see what snap chat says about itself:

We left with these main lessons in mind:


Liking something doesn’t mean it is right for me
We may like some things about something and not others. It may be the right product or tool for me OR there may be something better
The information we get about something often depends on the source
Sometimes sources purposely hide information
Always evaluate information for yourself!

Great week in the classroom for the Holistic Librarian! Any questions? ;)