Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Path

I am on a memoir reading kick right now. This happens every so often; this need to get into another person's head. It allows me to see my own journey through life linked to the journeys of my fellow human beings. We all walk this path of life together, straying from the group at different turns, but ultimately winding up in the same place.

I have strayed again.

I recently went out for a run with my daughter. The air was crisp and springlike despite the December calendar date. Frost glistened on the grass that should be covered with snow this time of year. The sky was a deep blue and the white birches that can be seen all over my neighborhood stood out against the setting. "They remind me of Robert Frost's farm in Derry," I told my girl. "I used to take you there when you were a baby." They remind of of my favorite frost poem, "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both..."

Finding her own path
I have chosen my path and have decided to follow it to the end. I don't know what that end might be for me, but I have strayed far enough from the last path to know that I am committed.

In the aptly named memoir that I just completed, "Without a Map," Meredith Hall discuss how life takes us to unexpected places. Along the way we find joy and pain. We are wrapped into the lives of others - a fine weaving of stories with many different ways to be told. This has always been my fascination with archives and with history. How can one person take in all those stories, to better understand herself, to define herself to others, to make all those stories part of her own.

I have been asked why I am interested. Why are all those stories -- your stories -- important to me? It connects me and grounds me and provides me with a meaning I crave. I internalize the stories and then have a further longing to share them - To find folks like you who understand the importance of this connection and to find happiness in it.

I am an archivist and a librarian, but outwardly the librarian part is singing more loudly right now. This is the path I am taking. We never fully leave any of the paths we've chosen behind. Meredith Hall has expressed that so well. I know this. It was nice to read about it from the perspective of another. Yet, despite volunteering at my local historical society and starting a school archives, I know that many friends and colleagues see the label "librarian" on my forehead with that other label "archivist" perhaps tucked neatly in a front pocket.

I like to think that these high school students of mine find something useful in my archivist's perspective. The idea that we are connected on a journey by stories is something that I carry with me always.

I have taken a large step. I have transformed fully in the last two-and-a-half years from Melissa to Ms. Mannon. Working with teens makes a middle aged women feel older and maybe a little wiser. I have saved many stories in the archives I have tended over the years. I have more than enough to share in almost any situation I find myself. I am surprised to find that I understand each of their stories, feel compassion for each of their places in the world. I want to help others find the tools within and outside of themselves to make their own mark, for now I am also a teacher. This is my path. This is what I follow.

This is what ArchivesInfo has become.    

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Community Thanks

We are once again approaching my favorite holiday. To me it is a holiday grounded in the idea of community. I give thanks for all I have and topping this list are the people in my life.

I have always purported that archives are all about community. Individual stories sit together in special collections, while the handiwork of individuals makes up the institutional archives. We are surrounded by people who are walking stories. The archivist attempts to capture the essence of each individual and their communities to save and share with posterity.

This month, I have been listing something for which I am thankful, each day. I think about my friends. Their diversity rounds out my life, while their uniqueness touches my soul. I think about all of my communities - my family, my coworkers, and my students. Of course - always my students. They allow me to show them every day what community means to my, why it's important and how it can enhance their lives. Together we are working to build a library and archives that shows the best of who we are; that lets us reflect on our knowledge of ourselves, boost it  with information about others, and aspire to greater things.

I have talked on this blog in the past about a tradition I uphold with my daughter each year. We make a tree of thanks and add as many leaves as we can to tell for what we are thankful. I took this tradition to my school library when I began there two years ago. I have discussed the library tree of thanks in this blog too. Now is the time to get it going again. Our tree of thanks will be made of all of our hand prints, this year. Each student will trace and cut out their hand to tape to the library wall with a message about for what they are thankful. This is one of the best traditions I have started and I hope that you may find room in your own lives, even in your own institutions, to reflect on how your community influences you; how being thankful for what you have helps strengthen bonds.

Finally, I would like to say that this marks a turning point on the ArchivesInfo blog. when I began this school journey two years ago, I wasn't sure I was making the right choice. I wasn't sure if a school environment was right for me, if the teens would welcome me, if my unusual ideas would be accepted. I have found a second home in the arms of educators and now consider myself one of them. I have been taking some education classes and have plans to pursue a degree in advanced graduate studies. It is my hope that I can continue to show the role of community in the school and that my own education will enhance my writing. I am an archivist at my core, but I am more than that. I am a librarian, information specialist and most of all, I am an a teacher. I hope that you stick with me on this journey. I am thankful for you all.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Storytelling and the Power of the Object in Education

Torah Dedication
When Mom told me about her Synagogue's Torah dedication, I knew immediately that it was something I wanted to share. As a student of heritage and material culture, I am always on the lookout for objects that best exemplify the stories of humanity. This object is exemplary for its significance to the Jewish people and its importance to this culture cannot be overestimated.

I remember back to my childhood. Mom would tell me stories about my family history using the items in her jewelry box as launching points. We would light the menorah, play dreidel, and watch a new husband break a glass under his foot at a wedding.  The objects that told the stories of my heritage and of Judaism made a strong impression. 

But it is the Torah -- the book of Jewish laws --  that was revered. It symbolized the vitality of our community. I remember sitting in Synagogue at a young age and watching the removal of the Torah from the ark. There was a sense of tradition, celebration, solemnity, and togetherness in the room.  This object was held dear by everyone present. It embodied the reason for our connection. Every single person in the room felt that link implicitly when the door to the ark was opened and the blue cloth covered scroll was revealed.

Each Torah is created by hand for a community that commissions it. "Every letter in a Torah Scroll is vital, for if one letter is missing, the scroll is invalid." To be able to afford this special item, that is carefully constructed with faith and love, the community bands together to raise funds. When the object is completed, a celebration is held. (It is celebrations such as this that help bond communities and these objects that help legacies and traditions live on.) 

I was given the opportunity in a history class this month to talk about the history of Judaism as part of an introduction to religions of the world. I spoke about the people who molded the Jewish faith and carried on its traditions throughout history and how this faith fit alongside others. I talked about the Jewish culture in terms of its dances, foods, beliefs, and songs. I showed pictures of the Horah and breaking Challah bread. I talked about my childhood memories of "stealing" the afikomen and other rituals that bonded the young people in the household. I reflected on my neighborhood and how my Catholic neighbors shared their traditions with the Jews and vice-versa. I got to put up a Christmas tree with my Italian neighbors and partake in traditional Easter foods with my Russian Orthodox friends.

In class, I passed around the dedication pamphlet that I asked Mom to send me. The brilliant blue cloth pinned to the paper is soft. Students could touch it and conjure in their minds how it must have been for a young Ms. Mannon to watch her Dad kiss his Tallit (prayer shawl) and touch it to the object as it was carried around the room for the congregation. Within that little blue square is the spark to a story, a key to understanding, and the roots of our humanity. I saw its power to make my stories come to life in the eyes of my students and in their inquisitive questions.

Monday, October 6, 2014

More Finds at the Local Antique Shop: Reading Photographs

Photographs without descriptions require us to more carefully examine what is in front of us than we ordinarily might. While text and narrative can help us better understand an image, lack of text can help us figure it out for ourselves.

When you go to a museum, do you run up and read the label copy or do you first examine the object and see what you can figure out on your own? I am aware that the procedure of viewing that I choose may change my whole experience. Do I want the expert to tell me what to see? Or, do I want to take my time to decipher an item and then verify it with what the label copy tells me?  If I have a limited time at a museum, I'll read the label copy first. If I can afford the time, I prefer the puzzle. Both ways help me learn. Both allow me to connect information I am given to what I already know, but one way is much more passive than the other.

Why does this matter?

As an educator, it matters very much for my teaching,

Look at this image I found last week at an antique shop. What can YOU tell ME about it?

My students tend to tell me things such as: That woman lived a long time ago or that woman is wealthy. Fine. But we can do better. Let's reevaluate. Let's teach them to read an image. 

"Wait a minute! How do you know that?" They will look again and I will say, "Tell me something simpler about this image, such as it's black and white. Is that one clue that this woman lived a long time ago? How do you know she's wealthy?"

A young person might say, "She is wearing fancy clothes and jewelry. That tells us she has some money. And we don't wear clothes like that now. That is another way we know this picture is old."

"Okay, what else? Do you think a photographer took this? Why or why not? Do you think that everyone could have afforded a photographer back then? Let's look more closely."

The image is mounted in a cardboard folio. The photograph is covered with a thin tissue and there is a ghost image on the other side. Most young people would not think about this at all if I didn't point it out. The ink from the photograph is acidic and creating the shadow on the other side. When I point things like this out to students, they tend to start thinking about their family's own photo collections. The "life" of the photograph becomes as important as the subject. How can we take better care of our things? What does preservation mean?

When students learn to "read" a photograph, it opens new worlds of exploration. Notice the glasses on this lady below. Notice the oval frame. Notice her dress and tie. Notice that this image is not just black and white, but it's also browning. Notice this woman isn't smiling. "Ms. Mannon, they never smile in old pictures! They always look so angry!" Why?

I often hear that kids are not curious about the past and they are not interested in their family's heirlooms. Is this because we hand kids information that they cannot relate to their own lives and their own knowledge? Is this also because we don't encourage them to ask questions? Do we not teach them how to be curious and how to "read" a photograph or an item? I find that kids do not even know what questions a photograph can pose; what mysteries does it hold? Who cares about this black and white image?

Museums and archives can do the same thing that we do in a classroom by re-writing label copy to engage a younger generation. (Local historical societies, this is a good way for you especially to re-think your displays.)

Teach kids to ask:
What do you see? Is this something you would see today?

Teach kids to wonder:
Why does it look this way? Why are these people not smiling? Why is this image black and white? Why are these people dressed this way? Where are these people? Who are these people?

Teach kids to be curious:
Where and how can I find out more? Is it possible to figure out who these people are?

When we read a photograph, we may begin to see bits of ourselves in the faces that peer at us. We may see families like our own and people with hopes and dreams similar to ours. "Reading" images not only makes us smarter and more curious, it also makes us more empathetic. Images have the capacity for helping us to dig deeper into ourselves, to define who we are and how those who built history helped form who we are and what society is today. And I find that once we start encouraging them to "read", the curiosity won't stop. Keep providing more materials so those questions keep coming.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

From Obituaries to Objects: An Examination of the Human Narrative

Part of the role of cultural heritage professionals is to be safe-keepers of the stories of individuals. Where we once focused on the lives of the well-known, we have now know for a long time that it is the collections of the "common man" that reveal some of the most important aspects of our society. This idea was highlighted again for me this morning while listening to a podcast from NPR's On the Media, I learned that obituary writers re-create the lives of individuals by discovering small moments in a person's life and stringing together a narrative from them. If one believes in the importance of the human story for safekeeping our heritage, one must certainly see parallels in the work of the obituary writer and the work of the archivist.

Before listening to this audio, I did not understand that a good, classic, obituary writer researches people to create an intriguing narrative. Beginning at 34:50 in the podcast (to which I've linked above) is an interview with a reporter who discusses his craft. His goals when writing an obituary are intriguing: "...How can I tell the readers why this life was important? What did you learn from this life? What can I learn from this life?"

I was particularly struck by the reporters use of objects to dig up his story. He explains this first by recounting an experience. He describes meeting a widow who told him that, when her husband first went away to boot camp, she took up knitting. The reporter asked to see some of the things she had knit. "She took out this baby blanket and she told me its story, which was the night before Jim left for Iraq he knew he wouldn't be back in time to see the baby born. So, he slept with that baby blanket because he said that when the child was born he wanted the child to know how his father smelled." The reporter used that for the opening line of  his story the next day - "The soft blue green baby blanket still smells like second lieutenant James J. Catthey..." I believe that those of us who work with objects every day can feel the power of that line and relate it to at least some of the collections we have handled.

In the next piece of the podcast, the reporter uses the example of a shoe shine man to further explain how he reconstructs a life through objects. He recounts the research behind a story about this person who left behind no family when he died. The man's objects were kept in a box in a public administrator's office. From these objects, additional research, and the writing they launched, the author recounts  he life of this well-liked man who made an impact on the people he met. His legacy was sealed by his obituary. Without it, with no grave marking his burial, he would have been forgotten. The loneliness and special nature of the small collection, upon which the small biography of the deceased was built, immediately impressed me and I envisioned a row of archival boxes in a repository with similar stories to tell.

I now understand why some find obituaries so intriguing. To be truthful, I subscribed to the widespread joke that older people read the obituaries "to make sure they are not among them." Of course, I also know of the indispensable role they play for the genealogist. But now, I appreciate that good obituary writers can publicize an individual's impact in this world so we learn and remember that everyone is part of a larger community and a bigger story. How well the profession of obituary writers and archivists fit.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Diversity and the Value of Archival Collections

Diversity is a basic tenet of the work archivists do. It is written into our Code of Ethics:

Diversity is a basic tenet of archivist's work
Archivists collectively seek to document and preserve the record of the broadest possible range of individuals, socio-economic groups, governance, and corporate entities in society. Archivists embrace the importance of identifying, preserving, and working with communities to actively document those whose voices have been overlooked or marginalized. They seek to build connections to under-documented communities…Archivists accept and encourage a diversity of viewpoints on social, political, and intellectual issues, as represented both in archival records and among members of the profession. They actively work to achieve a diversified and representative membership in the profession.[http://www2.archivists.org/statements/saa-core-values-statement-and-code-of-ethics].

This fall, I am taking on online Education course in diversity and we began the class by setting out to define its meaning: Diversity is the inclusion of a broad range of individuals in a society noted by:
  • Their varied backgrounds - family history, ethnicity, socio-economics, residence, religion, and any other factors that are markers of cultural differences. (These categories of diversity bring to mind the word "multiculturalism.")
  • Physical differences, which include race, sex, disabilities, traits such as hair color, and natural talents, as having a role to play in diversity.  (Such characteristics are often used as excuses for the non-inclusion of individuals in some communities and therefore must be considered to form societies that are truly diverse.)
  •  That which makes our thinking unique among our communities. (This essentially includes the presence of individuals with differing interests and opinions.) 

My class was asked to respond whether of not diversity strengthens communities. This is something that I have always taken for granted, but I realized that it is not as obvious as it immediately seems. Diversity in itself does not necessarily strengthen us, unless we include communication in its definition. A diverse population that does not share and strive to appreciate diversity will not be bolstered solely by their knowledge of the existences of differences within. Programs designed to foster dialogue are necessary. This is why the work of an archivist is so important. Archivists keep materials that can serve as building blocks for cultural understanding and appreciation of diversity. Archives have the power to enhance communication about who we are as individuals within our respective communities.

I posted my thoughts about diversity and the archivist's Code of Ethics for my assignment. A classmate  responded that she never thought about archives management before and was pleased to know that there are institutions seeking to collect diverse materials for historical purposes. Our own advocacy for our work and the value of archival collections can happen in unexpected places!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Archives and the Maker Movement

Last week, I discussed Information Culture and the Maker Movement, which examined "making" to enhance STEAM education, creativity, and independent learning within a school setting. As I develop a makerspace in our high school library, I have been thinking of how to include archives in my planning. I believe that educational institutions wait too long to expose people to the idea of archives. Students may learn a bit about primary sources in association with a history class, but that does not teach them the full value of these materials. Most students do not get to work hands-on with archives until college, or grad school, if they get to handle them at all. As an Information Specialist, I want my students to understand the broad concept of information, i.e. that there is recorded information about every discipline and that it takes many forms. It is our responsibility to save archival information that sheds light on our ideas to help advance society. It is an Information Specialist's responsibility to make archival materials available to young people so that they have a better understanding of how archival materials may impact their lives.

My school is developing a collection of archival materials in part to celebrate our school building's upcoming 50th anniversary. I have invited students to take part in the collecting of materials. These students are part of a committee that I call the "50th Anniversary Committee." It is my goal to have these students also perform interviews for oral histories. Beyond the direct role my committee takes in the development of our Archives, I want those not involved with our special event planning to be given an opportunity to "experience" the resources.

Last year, I copied and laminated a bunch of orphan photos. I have been waiting to decide what to do with them. I want the kids to be able to examine them, to play with them if you will, but I wasn't quite sure how.  I have set up a mini makerspace in the middle of our library. The space includes small bins of crafts, origami projects and more. I want the kids to see archives as something hands-on too. I want to include an archives project in this space. Few things make me as happy as processing an archival collection. I want the students who may feel the same contentment I do when touching these unique items to have an opportunity to do so.

This morning I was listening to the TED Radio Hour on NPR. Sugata Mitra discussed how his experiments "have shown that, in the absence of supervision or formal teaching, children can teach themselves and each other." Sugata Mitra has left computers for disadvantaged young people without teaching them how to use them. His studies have shown that kids will find a way to make them work and do useful things with them. Is it possible to do this with archives in a library setting? Can we entice teens to learn on their own within a school building during their off-time, especially when the learning is not tied to the classroom in any way?

What if, I started by putting out copies of unusual photos in a box on my maker table?. What would the students do with them? Would they ignore them? Would they organize them? Would they begin discussing them? Maybe someone might write something about them. Maybe an art student might be inspired to draw.
What if I put an original 19th century diary on a table. Would the students start wondering about it? Would they be interested enough to look at it and make connections to today? What if I shared an early 20th century nature journal for my science lovers, or old advertisements promoting medical devices? Then, what if I put some papers in an archival box with empty folders and other archival tools? Would they learn to process something?...Is there any chance that I might spark something in someone? I wonder - do I have to tell the teens that they are allowed to touch the materials to get them to explore them or would that kill any interest they may have? Maybe it's better to just leave them there. How do I make the items tempting? I don't know, but I'm going to give it a try and I'll play with the concept all year.

Perhaps I might find a student who develops enough interest in the work to join our anniversary committee. Perhaps someone will go home and ask their parents about the family papers they have stored in the basement. Or - dreaming big? - perhaps someone may even be inspired to one day pursue a career as archivist.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Information Culture and the Maker Movement

My visit to Dover, NH
Maker Faire
I began exploring the idea of creating a makerspace when I became a high school librarian two years ago. It seemed like one promising way to accomplish the mission of our Information Center: To foster a community of learning and literacy that leads to high academic achievement, independent reading and inquiry, and collaboration throughout the school. In fact, makerspaces are also a perfect way for cultural institutions and others with specialized expertise to do community outreach and reach the younger audiences they often have trouble attracting.


  1. enhance STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) in schools
  2. encourage collaboration for resolving 21st century problems 
  3. tie together concepts from various disciplines in a hands-on setting
  4. introduce students to ideas they may not otherwise get exposure to, perhaps prompting them to take a formal class they may not otherwise have taken

The broad concept of a makerspace is to encourage creativity that leads to discovery and independent learning. I love the idea of a makerspace for playing with high tech gadgetry. Many people think of robotics, 3D printers, and welding when they think of makerspaces, but cardboard boxes, paper and hot glue guns also have a place. In fact, I like to think of the makerspace as a "can do" space. You CAN DO anything in a maker space, such as:
Play with audio and learn about recording; Collect archival material and learn to organize it; Make a collage; Build with Legos; Weave; Design your own cosplay gear (Steampunk is my preference - bringing history together with the arts and literature!); Take apart appliances; Write poetry...

Makerspaces are popping up all over the country, as independent centers or within libraries and other institutional settings. Whatever your expertise, as an individual or in association with an institution, you have something to offer in a makerspace.

A 3D printer hard at work
Today I went to the Dover NH Maker Faire. This makers' fair was held at the Children's Museum of NH. The Children's Museum has many displays for hands-on learning, so their sponsorship was a natural fit. The Portsmouth Public Library was in attendance hosting a table. Librarians were helping children with crafting, weaving, and other activities. Portsmouth is on the cutting edge with their city's makerspace co-op and their frequent maker related events at the library. The historic Woodman Museum of Dover also had a table, showing off old fashioned tools - the objects of making.

Creative thinking is all that is required to participate in a makerspace. Some of the things museums, libraries and archives do every day fit into a makerspace model - From designing exhibits to drawing plans for new spaces to designing specialized book boxes for safe preservation, we use our hands and minds to MAKE.

Weaving project sponsored by
the Portmouth Public Library
The best part of the maker movement is the enthusiasm behind collaboration. I met many engineers today who said they would love to come teach my students how to play with their toys. I met cosplayers, fly fishers, and artists all willing to share their expertise. In fact, I have been working hard all summer to make connections with such people in cultural institutions and without, inviting them to come see our high school library and share with our students. Part of the fun of making is sharing. Perhaps above all, makers want to share information. They appreciate everyone who makes - Whether you are an artist or a chemist, if you are making, they respect what you do and the knowledge you have to create and develop new ideas. (Put his liberal arts ideas with her mathematics wizardry and the sky is the limit!) A maker event harnesses the creativity vibe and creates an energy that encourages everyone to put their best brain powers to work.

Over the coming months, I will share the development of our high school makerspace from the administrative aspects such as grant writing to the out-of-the-box ideas we think up within our space as it grows. I'll talk about collaboration, cross-pollinating our expertise, combining the old with new ideas and much more.

Are you involved in the maker movement? I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Top Most Endangered Artifacts

This week, I stumbled across "Salem Museum nominates recently discovered documents as on of 'Virginia's Top 10 ,most Endangered Artifacts." The article describes a unique collection that is part of a campaign by the Virginia Association of Museums "to create awareness of the importance of preserving artifacts in care at museums, libraries and archives throughout the Commonwealth and in the District of Columbia."

People may choose their favorite nominated artifact on Vote for Virginia's Top Ten Endangered Artifacts 2014 or go to YouTube to see videos by museums promoting their collections up for nomination. A simple Google search of new on Virginia's Top Ten reveals a long list of institutions promoting their collections and their needs. This is a fabulous and simple idea that we can all model in our towns and states to help our materials and raise awareness about archives and other artifacts. Virginia provides a wonderful slideshow to explain the Top Ten program.

What endangered artifacts are in your collection?

Here are some good reasons to consider this type of event in your community:
  • It raises awareness about cultural heritage institutions and their work
  • It encourages donations for individual collections and institutions
  • The program provides a way for museums to learn about each other
  •  It provides a platform where institutions can work together for promotion (working together we are stronger)
  • It establishes the Virginia Museum Association as a true leader in their Commonwealth, which assists with all the work they do
  • It is a fun campaign that brings the work of museums to people without potential patrons needing to leave their homes [Outreach!]
  • It is a fun campaign that has the potential to energize museum staff and raise pride in their institution
  • It has the capacity to encourage future visitation to institutions
  • It keeps museums in the public's mind as the event that takes place annually
  • The program in Virginia is done statewide, but this event could also be done on a local level
What are some other advantages of this program that you can see? Can we make this an annual event beyond the Commonwealth of Virginia? Are there any other states doing similar projects?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Audio Recordings and the Boston Public Library Family History Record Series

I am happy to announce the audio release of the my presentation given as part of the BPL's Family History Lecture Series, Documenting and Keeping the Memories.  I love that BPL is making audios of their presenters available for their patrons. It is a valuable service that assists the history field as well as individuals. The audio series was put up by Boston Public with the assistance of The Voice Library. I am additionally pleased that I will be working with The Voice Library this fall to document memories of the community in which I work.

With the BPL audio lecture series in mind, I want to point out in this blog post how audio is an often overlooked form of documentation. This is true despite the fact that audio is now easy to capture. Furthermore listening to audio recordings allows us to consider what is being communicated in a way that other formats do not. We can analyze what is being said without the interruption of visual images that might take our attention to different aspects of what is being communicated. Listening to audio may force us to focus on cadence, pauses, tone, and other subtle clues about a person that we do not necessarily pull out in other media.  

As an educator, I now try to balance the formats of the collections that I put together. When sharing groupings of materials with others, a collection in multiple formats helps round out a story. It should be a goal when creating collections of information to gather rich layers of media that tell overlapping stories.

For one, in a library setting, a collection in multiple formats can help learners who may be able to better decipher information in one format over another. Library collections in a wide variety of formats can support patrons and students by providing them with the tools with which they are comfortable for learning AND by giving them similar tools in forms they find less desirable. For example, a student who is uncomfortable reading on her own may gain confidence when they read a book while an audio of the text is playing along.

An archival collection in multiple formats gives people a number of ways to identify with a subject. A collection of photographs, local documents, and audio / visual recordings from a community give us a well-rounded view of that community. We can see the thoughtfully recorded words of a people, hear their voices, see their mannerisms. We get a better understanding of our ancestors and peers when we create and keep different formats of documentation.

Even in your own personal life and professional life, multiple formats can assist you with your personal brand. When creating an online identity, an online portfolio of your work in several formats helps the person on the receiving end of the information get a better rounded perspective of you. [See my online "portfolio" as an example.]

Now, go out and record!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Archives and Reading Comprehension

WHAT I IMAGINE                                                                                  ©Melissa Mannon

Where did she live?

When did they pose for this picture?

Who were they?


Archivists hold powerful tools to assist teachers with building literacy and helping students enjoy reading. This post discusses how our collections that peak curiosity, invite discovery, introduce unique cultures, and solidify our own sense of identity can engage students and further their work toward strong reading comprehension skills. I have been reading. I Read It, But I Don't Get It: Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers by Cris Tovani, which discusses reading comprehension strategies. I have been working with and writing about orphan photographs as a way to engage students. I want to explore the idea that visual images can serve as a gateway for reading comprehension.

Steps Toward Building Readers

I am not a reading teacher, but as a new high school information specialist I interact with reading students everyday. One of my challenges is engaging non-readers. My first steps in this direction had me introducing lower-level reading books. Soon, after getting to know my community, I realized that our collection was lacking in some of the subjects about which my kids are passionate. So, my next steps involved purchasing high-interest books. I am now on my self-assigned step three: learning about teaching strategies to encourage reading. 

Bringing in the Archivist's Mindset

Tovani's book has introduced a number of things to me that get me thinking with an archivist's mindset:

1. Show what good readers do - The Diary Project on which I embarked a few years ago was great for demonstrating how a good reader can use clues to make meaning of materials

2. Set a purpose for reading - In the archives, we always have a purpose for "reading." Whether it is seeking something interesting, solving a problem, or learning about new culture, reading archives such as diaries, letters and photographs impel us to discover cultural information.

3. Taking notes - It is very rare for me to see a researcher in the Archives without a pencil and paper to take notes. The archival medium implores us to find what we need and note it. Taking notes about a single diary entry or piece of correspondence would be a great way to introduce this skill to students.

4. Listen to the voices in your head - Tovani discusses an inner dialogue that we have with the text. She introduces strategies for students to pay attention to their thought processes, to notice when they are confused and to get themselves asking questions about what they read. As a prolific reader, I can identify with the idea of the inner dialogue. As an archivist, I know that archives can bring questions about text (or images) right up front. When reading a book, the voices may be soft. When looking at archives, "What is that?!" pounds in my brain and can even pop right out of my mouth. I provided an example of this in a Teaching Archives blog post.

Knowing, Wondering, Imagining

Part one: With orphan images, it is easy to encourage people to identify facts. My experience Teaching Archives in a classroom setting has demonstrated this. Students will jump to making assumptions, but I can reel them back to get them to focus on what they really know.

"This girl is wearing glasses" is fact. "This girl is bored" is supposition.
Part two: Teachers, librarians, and archivists can use their own curiosity to devise easy questions for students such as: Where did they live? Why did they pose for this picture? Who are they? to encourage students to look for clues and to wonder about the material they are examining. One can encourage students to look at the image itself, for dates and stamps on the image, for signs of aging and other contextual clues. The image does not stand alone. It came from somewhere, it is an image of someone and the printed image itself may have belonged to a different someone. Getting kids to think about the context of an orphan photo is easier than getting them to think about it in a secondary source. In my opinion, students can bring in their own background knowledge and relate an image to their own lives more easily than a written piece.  I can see that the girl in the picture above is probably from another time. Yet, I can identify with her expression and posture.

Part three: Students can use what they have observed to draw meaning from an imageI rarely can identify the person in an “orphan” image, but I usually learn enough about their appearance and setting that I can imagine what the person’s life was like and take guesses about the context of the image. One may encourage students to use their creativity to build context and generate interest in a subject.

What I Know, What I Wonder, What I Imagine can be a useful tool for getting students to examine their comprehension. In three easy steps, readers of an image examine it for clues to gain understanding. Next step? Seg-way them to reading archival documents in the same manner. We often thinking of reading primary sources as a more difficult task than read secondary material. We teach kids to read archives when they are teens. Why not start with orphan photos and other materials in primary grades to help build that inner reading voice? Archival understanding is not more difficult. It is just different. 

I think a visit to your local historical society is in order! Archivists, get ready!

I began working on  What I Know, What I Wonder, What I Imagine a couple of years ago as a workshop. I have since developed it into lesson plans that can be used in schools or in library/archives settings as an outreach program. Upon completion,  it will be included in my next book. Please email me directly if you would like more information.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Archives for Everything

My friends over at the American Association for State and Local History regularly tweet about unusual museums. They say that there is a museum for everything and the museumforeverything  hashtag proves that. Archivists can follow our museum colleagues lead on this one because there are  also #archivesforeverything.  Of course that makes sense because no matter the activity, records need to be kept for organizational purposes and #everythinghasahistory. Once again, we need to take a page from the promotional work of our museum colleagues. Can we make #archivesforeverything a "thing"? Let's get started with just a few archival institutions I came across this week that one may not immediately consider when thinking about homes for historical records.


I always grow very curious about the places I visit. I read the historical signs. I look for vintage photos showing the place's past. I wonder if they have an archive or library. While visiting the zoo with my family yesterday, I began wondering about Zoo documents. What's it like to be a zoo archivist? Curious? Check out this fascinating archivist's presentation -  Bronx Zoo archives.


My tweets revealed a couple of not-too-common Archives this past week:
Police archives
Social Activism archives


How about hobbies? Here are some that we practice in my home along with corresponding archives I stumbled across this week:
Gardening archives
Aviation archives
Kid stuff

What interests you and where can you find the historical records that shed light on that subject? Tweet #archivesforeverything. Publicize the prevalence of archives. Get more people thinking about the role of archives in their lives. Generate support for the profession. AND,sShare knowledge about some great collections.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Walking the Path of Learning

"Coach?" I asked as he was walking off the tennis court. "How is my daughter doing at this?"

After some nice words, coach told me that he is using my daughter's nine years of dance experience to explain how to properly hit a tennis ball. "You may have heard me," he said. She can use the grace she has gained from ballet to do that four stage swing I'm showing them. It will help her tremendously. I aim to show the students that all the sports activities they've done in the past relate." I was tremendously impressed with his wisdom and that got me thinking about how different life experiences relate and should be used to keep building wisdom, no matter what the subject.

1. When we understand that we can relate new experiences to old, we achieve a higher form of learning that has the potential to lead to remarkable things. This can mean advanced thinking (or just a better game of tennis.)

Earlier this week, I visited my school office after a week away. There was a message from a former teacher who asked if I would like some old yearbooks and other items for our new school archives. I returned her call and said that I would certainly love to take the historical items off her hands. What we can't use in our archives, I can help find an appropriate home in the community. "Please do tell your friends that we are seeking a wide-variety of items that have historical merit to tell our school story. All of these materials relate and can help build our historical collection."

2. When we understand that our experiences relate to those of others, we can build great things together, strengthen communities, and advance our knowledge of the world around us as a group.

My daughter is doing a big clean up of her room as a summer goal. She and I are both big collectors of books. As a tween, she is ready to clear out some of her things. I ordered her a new grown-up bookshelf. "Mom, some of these things I don't want, but there are some things that I don't read anymore that I do want." She's read them, has strong fond memories of them, and recognizes that they are special to her. They are her foundation books - ones that turned on her love for reading. I encouraged her to store them and to get rid of those that don't have meaning to her.

3. When we understand how we learn, the knowledge we have accumulated and how we gained it can take on a special meaning all its own.

It is important to acknowledge our own unique learning experiences and to appreciate the path we took to develop our expertise in any given area. As an information specialist, I encourage people to recognize the gathering and building of the information in our brains. I encourage people to recognize the role that others have played in their understanding of themselves. The experience of learning is as important as the knowledge we gain. The experience allows us to piece everything together so when we travel new learning paths, we can look back and better decide how to move on.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Copyright in Flux, Pictures on the Go

On April 5th, in the blog post More Finds at the Local Historical Society, I stated the following: "One problem with this information age is that it is too easy to pull out your camera to take photos and post them on the Internet. But permission should be sought from institutions' collections [sic] and the best photos possible should be used. Also, policies should be in place for the handling and publication of materials before such publication is done."

The Photos We Take with Our Cameras

"...it is too easy to pull out your camera to take photos and post them on the Internet."

We take pictures of everything these days. We take photos of the places we go. We take photos of the important and the mundane in our kids' lives. We take "selfies." We regularly photograph our pets, our friends, our homes, and our workspaces. Our lives are threaded with visual documentation of so much of what we see. This is a new phenomenon. Film was once expensive. Photos were for special occasions such as birthdays, weddings, and proms. Snapshots were for vacation. Today, we carry a palm sized camera everywhere we go. There is no film and processing required and therefore images are cheap and easy. We take pictures every day. We take many, many pictures everyday. Our cameras are an extension of ourselves. They are a regular part of how we interact with the world - like a sixth sense. Sometimes we forget that the cameras are helping us cross borders. They allow us to more intimately experience things that are apart from us. Because of this, we can easily forget that  that photos of things that do not belong to us might be legally off-limits to our use, manipulation, and online publishing.

Have you ever been to a museum that has asked you turn off a flash, put away your camera or sign a permission form before you take photographs? Or, are you part of an institution that limits picture taking on the premises? Institutions put these restrictions in place to protect their items. Some restrictions, such as the use of a flash, protect the physical structure of items that can be harmed by light. Other limitations, that are often written into the same photo-taking policies as the restrictions that help preserve an item, are there to protect intellectual property rights. These rights relate to the person or institution that owns the ideas behind an item. These policies are an attempt for institutions to retain some control over their ownership of an item and may be trying to exert the a legal copyright they hold.
A Proliferation of Images

"...permission should be sought from [collecting institutions] and the best photos possible should be used."

I recall in the early 1990s when visitors to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston were amazed by the life-sized images that were taken with a new special camera that provided intense detail. An example of what the camera could produce hung outside a secondary museum shop during a blockbuster exhibit. There was much talk about how reproductions such as this would affect the art world. Would such lifelike images replicate actual paintings so easily that the original item would lose its value?

We have really come a long way since then...

Those who care for artifacts now wonder if their works can retain their value due to a proliferation of images. We take for granted our abilities to produce items that look so much like the real thing. Today, I believe that most patrons of cultural heritage institutions are interested in an image of an object that they can take with them. They want pictures that remind them of special times and ideas. I believe that the quality of the image is less important to the typical visitor. We just want a copy that we can call our own, whether we take it ourselves or "borrow" an image created by someone else. 

Saving an image taken by another to our own computer, posting it on our blog, or "pinning" it allows us to claim some ownership over an object. It is a way for us to remember and to retain a bond with something meaningful to us. However, an image we take goes beyond solidifying a memory or connection. By taking or sharing images, we sometimes cross a prohibitive legal boundary.

Copyright is a sticky subject. Most people are not intending to steal someone's intellectual property rights. Most people don't know what this means. In fact, copyright is a tricky issue for professionals and is a topic that has been rolling around courts for centuries. [Want an interesting view into the subject? See Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates.] It is up to individuals to make themselves aware of the general gist of copyright law and to understand exactly how a proliferation of images of our material culture effects us and the institutions we trust to hold our cultural heritage.

When a museum shares a photo of an artifact it owns, it tries to put its best foot forward. It wants to share a good photo so that people can better understand an object. A museum hopes that those who experience an image in a book or online will be interested enough to come see the object in person. When someone else takes a picture of an object, the museum loses at least some of its control. A snapshot does not necessarily help the museum put its best foot forward. A snapshot may devalue the original through multiple sharings online. It seems less special when we see it everywhere. Low quality images also may not relate the specialness of an original item and may not encourage individuals to seek out more information or take a visit. However, these days, most museums recognize that this proliferation of images is a fact of life and that there are advantages to allowing images to spread for indeed more people become aware of an object's existence. If we are smart as cultural heritage professionals, we can generally work that to our advantage.    

The serious researcher, the reliable blogger, and the good digital citizen makes sure that they provide information about the owner of the original object. This helps support culture, assists the reader in gaining a better understanding of the items, and helps keep the writer within the parameters of copyright law's intentions. The more people understand this, the better we can all collaborate to protect those who protect our material culture.

The Photos We Take from Others  
"...policies should be in place for the handling and publication of materials before such publication is done."

It is easy to copy and paste someone else's image, but when we do this it is possible to break copyright in two ways: For one, the original may be under copyright protection and we do not have the right to show it. Additionally, the image taken of the original may also be under copyright. When using images one finds online, it is advisable to trace down the owner of the original item and the owner of the image.

When working with originals, one should seek the exact wording an institution would like to see with the publication of an image of an item in its collection. On the other side, an institution should provide this information readily. It should state clearly on its web pages, in its libraries, and galleries if it has a copy of an image available for publication. Cultural institutions can help people help them put their best images out to the public.  For works under copyright protection, organizations should carefully choose and outline wording that claims their ownership and notes their authority for granting publication rights. Organizations should require that a statement of ownership be used whenever they permit an item in their collection to be published. Once works pass into the public domain [see next section of article], repositories may request the courtesy of a citation listing where the material is held and other appropriate information.

Policies should also state how cameras can be used in the institution. Many archives do not allow the use of cameras in their reading rooms just as museums do not allow photography. For archival documents, people sometimes want to bring in hand scanners. Cultural institutions should clearly outline if this is allowed in the institution.

Sometimes, a cultural institution may own a physical item but may not own the right to publish from the material or to use it without the intellectual property owner's permission. When a donor gives materials to a repository, the repository should ask that donor to sign over physical and intellectual property rights. Otherwise, each time the institution wishes to use the material or allow researchers to publish from it, they must contact the intellectual property owner. Institutions should avoid whenever possible taking materials into custody for which they do not know the intellectual property owner and the copyright holder. The parameters surrounding a document's physical and intellectual property should be made clear to users and visitors. If ownership is unclear (i.e. material is housed by the repository, but it does not own physical and/or intellectual property rights and the provenance of the material is unknown - as often happens in smaller repositories / historical societies) the user of the item must make a reasonable effort to identify the owner of the copyright before publishing the material.

A Few More Guidelines re: Copyright

Many people think only of published material as possessing copyright. This post has focused on unpublished materials because the law grants them copyrights too. The revised copyright law, which took effect in 1978, provides protection for all unpublished material for the life of the author plus seventy years. [Cornell University provides a useful table describing the basics of the law, the law as it applies to diverse formats, and a bibliography for more information.]  

Orphan works are also afforded copy protection, but their status is the subject of much discussion - and if more up in the air than other materials under protection:

The Copyright Office is reviewing the problem of orphan works under U.S. copyright law in continuation of its previous work on the subject and to advise Congress on possible next steps for the United States. The Office has long shared the concern with many in the copyright community that the uncertainty surrounding the ownership status of orphan works does not serve the objectives of the copyright system. For good faith users, orphan works are a frustration, a liability risk, and a major cause of gridlock in the digital marketplace. The issue is not contained to the United States. Indeed, a number of foreign governments have recently adopted or proposed solutions. [U.S Copyright Office - Copyright of Orphaned Works March 30, 2014]

After a defined period of time (see Cornell chart) works slip into the public domain. Copyright was never meant to give creators and their descendants absolute and forever ownership of materials. Copyright is intended to protect originators so that they may profit from their ideas (monetarily or intellectually) and then their ideas can be shared with society so that our civilization benefits. Individuals can take the ideas of others and expand upon them, with the hope that we can learn from each other and create bigger and better ideas.

There has always been much debate about what works are afforded copyright status, who benefits from the copyright of an item, and how long materials should be copyrighted. With our rapidly changing information society, it is guaranteed that the debate will rage on and get even hotter. 


I am not a lawyer. The information in this blog post is from my twenty years experience as an archivist and my experience working with archives, museums and libraries. I welcome clarification and discussion. Anyone looking for more detailed and expert information see The Librarylaw Blog , which is a great source for Copyright information in the field of library and information science.