Sunday, November 1, 2015

Who We Are in a Digital World

I am growing as a teacher and presenter, relying on my personal stories to deliver messages of history, heritage, hope, compassion, unity, and community.  There is no better way to connect with other human beings than to share stories. We build relationships this way. We build bridges of understanding by demonstrating common themes. I have learned that my stories impact the adults to whom I have always directed information about caring for archives, but similar stories make the same impact on children. How do we get students interested in a subject? Tell them stories about it. More than that, show them that you respect their own stories that they have already identified as important to their lives.
The Bow, NH Rotarians donated a
book to their local elementary school
to honor my visit.
This week, I had the pleasure of addressing Rotarians. A colleague asked me to deliver a short presentation about family history. She told me that her Rotary group has responded favorably to her own stories about her own family history. I decided to tie together some stories of my own for them.

My grandparents
My daughter's pancakes and mom's pizza
My students and encouraging thinking about the future 

In the classroom this week, I spoke about a totally different (but strangely related) subject. I was teaching about being an effective information consumer and distributor.  We discussed branding and the stories that companies are crafting about themselves to sculpt their reputations. I then asked students to turn inward and to examine what kind of personal brand they are creating online.

Like many of us, students are creating an online presence without thought to the digital trail they are leaving and the personal characterization they are sculpting for themselves. Today, our information often is saved before we even have a chance to consider its initial purpose, organization and long-term value.

Digital Life 101 asks young adults to consider their digital lives, the stories they are telling, and the information they are spreading. After viewing the short movie in the classroom, I split students into groups to discuss what they put online and what audiences they are reaching. Do they want all of the stories they share to reach all of these audiences? What personal brand are they projecting? How can they more carefully craft their personal story by using restraint and through the careful management of their social media and other online interactions?

It took me 20 years to craft my stories for diverse audiences. I had time. Our teens might not. By having them identify what is important to them now and by helping them focus in on personal branding, my purpose is twofold:
  • I hope to help young people gain a greater awareness of how their life fits in with their larger communities, to feel part of something bigger than themselves, and to gain an appreciation for their place in history.
  • But, I also hope to help them realize that the "stories" they tell now, those little bits of information they leave all over the Internet, are precious, potentially dangerous, and open to larger audiences they may not have considered. They may not be talking to Rotarians yet, but their words have potential and can make an impact on our culture.
Stories are powerful. If we don't craft them for ourselves, others will tell the story of who we are. Thoughtfully and deliberately consider your role in this world and the remnants you leave behind. Help the teens in your life do the same.

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Sturbridge Village Learning Experience

The girls enjoy some candy and fudge in front of a gift shop at Old Sturbridge Village
This week, I took my daughter and her friend to Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. The Village is the largest living history museum in New England on over 200 acres of land. It recreates an 1830s New England community with over 40 structures that include a general store, mills, homes, barns,  workshops, a school,  and more. The girls accompanying me were twelve-years of age and are about to dive into American History this fall as seventh graders. Our little trip gave them a taste of some of what they will learn, but the main lesson for my daughter surprised me.

The girls were disappointed with the beds of straw, but were enamored with the cozy wallpapered bedrooms. The cramped quarters in the stagecoach made us appreciate my car even more. They liked some of the outfits, but were glad that they did not have to wear them on a hot date. They enjoyed the games, but were not happy that they would be spending so much time at the age of twelve doing chores instead of playing.

Early in the visit, my daughter asked if she could have been artist during this time. I explained that art was a profession for very, very few and those few would not be from a village like this. If you lived in a city you may be exposed to art as she knows it, but not really on a rural farm. You would not be able to afford art supplies. You would not have had the time to practice drawing. And so, my daughter's thoughts turned to, "What profession could I have had in the 1830s?"

I have talked to my daughter about how much life changed for women in the 20th century. I told her about how when I was a kid, I was told that I could not run a steeplechase race that I really wanted to compete in because I was not a boy. I told her how much it annoyed me that our physics teacher often made points about physics by throwing baseballs to the boys in the class and not the girls. I told her about how grandma was turned away from her school entrance because she wore pants on a snowy day, even though she had a skirt in her bag for changing in the bathroom. But these are stories. These were my stories. Sturbridge Village helped us turn these stories into part of my daughter's own narrative when she was better able to apply what I've told her to herself.

The female interpreters in Sturbridge were sewing, caring for animals, baking and caring for the gardens. My daughter, who is an avid writer, wanted to visit the print shop. The girls hung back and I asked a lot of questions (trying to be a good role model.) "How did they make paper?... What was the ink made out of?" As we left, my daughter asked me if women could do that work. "I don't know" (Yes, I did.) "Let's go back and ask."
Her face grew grim at the negative response we received from the interpreter. Women may have done a little typesetting to supplement the family income, but that would have been rare and it would not have truly been a job. Women worked in the home.

My daughter walked through the houses with new eyes. Early in our trip, she mentioned how she liked the parlors and that she would spend most of her time there drawing. Now, she looked at the kitchens. She had no interest in the rooms for sitting and sewing. "I could spend my time in the kitchen. This room is open. I think I could do my chores here [and be comfortable and happy.]

When the girls saw the school house, they decided to be teachers.  "We could have done this!" they yelled as they ran toward the door. "You can pretend your the teacher now. I'll be the student." "I'll teach you spanish!"

The schoolhouse was actually moved from a town near us in New Hampshire, so I mentioned that fact hoping it would help the girls even better place themselves in the past. They ran into the building and were greeted by an interpreter who was standing at the teacher's podium. We took seats on the benches. Asking questions, we learned that the kids of Sturbridge attended school in summer and winter. They learned on their own at their own pace, from their own books. The teacher tested them on their lessons, but did not "teach" as we know it today. Teachers were young people who probably had just finished their own schooling. Adults did not teach. Young ladies would have taught in the summertime, if they had the opportunity to do so. They may have taught one summer session and that would be it. Teaching was not a "career."

The thought that my daughter would not have had choices in the early nineteenth century was eye opening for her. At various times during the day she talked about running away to the city. She learned she would likely then work in a mill. (Not appealing.) She imagined hiding in the fields so she could have some alone time for a day. I told her that she would not have even considered this. She would have been raised differently from the start and this would just be the only way of life she knew. She similarly said that she would have been terrible at sewing. I told her that if I started her off sewing at the age of four that she would have been just fine at it.

Our visit to Sturbridge made the experience of nineteenth century American life come to life for the girls. My daughter in particular will never see her place in the world quite the same way again. Furthermore, this fall the kids will be able to look back on our trip to give them better context and understanding for all of their American History lessons. I think now they will be able to imagine themselves in the full narrative of our country's roots and with an understanding that as girls, their opportunities would have been greatly limited from the full scope of what they learn.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Copyright in Tangles: The Vivan Maier Collection

In last year's Top Ten Cultural Heritage Stories, I highlighted the woes we are suffering due to outdated law and perverted interpretation. (See list item 5.) The crisis rears its head again, coming to my attention this week with a story about a photographer. It begins as wonderful story about a hidden talent discovered after the death of the artist. I offer you highlights from what I've read thus far as a base to consider some of the issues that must be resolved with copyright law as it now stands. 

Imagine this : perhaps the most important street photographer of the twentieth century was a nanny who kept everything to herself. Nobody had ever seen her work and she was a complete unknown until the time of her death. For decades Vivian’s work hid in the shadows until decades later (in 2007), historical hobbyist John Maloof bought a box full of never developed negatives at a local auction for $380. [Upshout]

I was intrigued. So I did a quick Google search to learn more. I learned that Maloof's interest in the work and life of the nanny photographer grew and he began doing some research.

Thanks to one of the families that Vivian nannied for in Chicago for seventeen years, John was able to acquire items in her two (packed) storage lockers of personal belongings that were going to be thrown in the garbage. Most of what was stuffed in these two units was a giant collection of various found objects such as crushed paint cans, railroad spikes and other tchotchkes, but sandwiched between the clutter, were hundreds of rolls of color film and fresh clues that would take the research into new directions. [Maier web site]

As an archivist, I was impressed by how a collection of Maier's work grew, with Maloof finding personal papers mixed in with the clutter. These papers led him to people who knew Maier from whom he pieced together a fuller picture of her life and her photography work. This work awakens the streets of mid-twentieth Chicago for the 21st century viewer.

[Maloof] spent years tending and promoting [Maier's] work through commercial galleries, museum exhibitions, books and a recent documentary, “Finding Vivian Maier,” that he helped direct. Mr. Maloof hired genealogists to find heirs to Maier in France and eventually paid an undisclosed amount for the rights to her work to a man named Sylvain Jaussaud, whom experts identified as her closest relative, a first cousin once removed.

This work seemed to be a labor of love, but I'm sure it was also lucrative with books written, exhibits held, and attention gathered. This is where the story takes a turn from something that seemed culturally worthwhile to something people began to question:

According to the New York Times an attorney named David Deal claimed that the "situation bothered him so he decided to do some research.  "[He] hired his own genealogists and last year traveled to Gap, an alpine town in southeastern France, home of Francis Baille, a retired civil servant whom he believes to be another first cousin once removed.

Mr. Baille, who had no idea he was related to Maier, agreed with Mr. Deal to seek to be recognized as her heir under American law. Reached on Friday by phone in France, Mr. Baille said, 'For now, I just do not want to talk about this.' But his French lawyer, Denis Compigne, said: 'It’s an extraordinary situation. You can imagine what it’s like to get a telephone call about someone who died that he never knew, with this precious legacy. He is very, very surprised.'

The legal case to determine whether Mr. Baille is Maier’s closest relative has now set in motion a process that Chicago officials say could take years and could result in Maier’s works’ being pulled from gallery inventories and museum shows until a determination is made.

 Many people have risen up to add their objections, to cite their own interests, to use Maier's photos in their own work, and to try to untangle the story of Vivian Maier and her archives. 

Some considerations:
- What is the true purpose of copyright?
- How can this law protect the right of creators while encouraging creativity and progress in future generations?
- How are we inspired by others' work and when do we cross the line into infringing on others' legitimate interests?   
- Is there one "right" answer?
- Is there a way to resolve copyright disputes more swiftly for the public interest, to keep up any momentum of innovation when it is needed?
"Copyright is such a convoluted arena, I don't think anyone really understands it." [The Heart of the Vivian Maier Project.]

To read more about Maier's life and work, and the controversy surrounding her photos see:
- Man Buys 10.000 Negatives At Local Auction. Discovers One of Most Important Street Photographers of Mid 20th Century. Upshout.
- Vivian Maier Web Site
- Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found and More. New York Times.
- The Heir's Not Apparent: A Legal Battle Over Vivan Maier's Work. New York Times
- Finding Vivian Maier
- The Heart of the Vivian Maier Project
- Vivian Maier's Fracture Archives

Sunday, June 28, 2015

If You Build It, They Will Come?

We built a giant chess set for the last week of school. It seems like a perfect symbol for the first leg of my teacher librarian journey. It is also a fine example of how collaboration and community can come together and lead to great things.

In May, I eliminated the center tables in our library because the chattiest/ most extroverted kids seemed to sit there and their noise seemed to spread throughout the room. I felt that eliminating those tables would  encourage more pleasant chatter. (I was right.) But, then I had the "problem" of what to do with all this space. My principal passed through the library one day and, according to one of my assistants in earshot, apparently said something to the effect of, "What's she doing now? Making a dance floor?!" He was kidding (I think), but you can see that it was important for me to come up with something clever and worthwhile!

I had talked about building a life sized version of my students' favorite game many months ago. There was buzz around it among some of our more enthusiastic students. It seemed like a perfect fit for this perfect square. The board was created by a social studies teacher who offered his assistance when I  blathered about our plan to anyone who would listen. He had been in the carpeting business and had bits of carpeting lying around.

If there is one thing that working in this community setting has taught to me, it's that communication is the key to pretty much getting anything done. Word of mouth generates interest. Taking interest in the health and happiness of the group as a whole builds our sense of community, encourages positive spontaneous interaction, and builds trust in the library's work. My direct contact with people every single day is the key to encouraging participation. 
  • Grab a good idea and don't let anyone look at you askance. Run with it!
  • Tell everyone about your idea. (Do not do this if you are not actually going to follow through. Demand follow through from yourself no matter what!)
  • While talking about your idea, keep you ears open for partners. If someone seems interested, make them fit into your scheme somehow.
  • Be flexible! Your original idea may not be what works best in the end. Be open to others' thoughts.
  • Be prepared to change things up mid-stream. If something isn't working, try it another way.
  • Be patient
  • Share your idea and don't treat it like your sole property. Let others do what they want with it.
The chess board I  conceived many moons ago was to be made of floor tiles and stryofoam pieces, but the teacher's idea of carpeting was perfect. The colors he chose even  matched our room decor. (I don't know if this was serendipitous or his choice because he sees the careful attention we've been giving to making our space comfortable and coordinated.) The building of the board was slower than I had hoped, but when the tiles were finally brought in, it turned out that the timing was perfect. It was the last full week of school, the students were ready for summer and something a little different. The board was a perfect way to hold their attention for just a bit longer.

When we put the tiles out, we had photocopied flat pieces. Students turned these down for their play and decided to use little regular sized board pieces instead. And though they had a great time, I wanted bigger pieces. Our flat pieces became three dimensional with some velcro and cardboard developed by one of my assistant. We then put string on them with the hope that some students might be interested in using them around their necks and becoming human pieces. I told everyone in earshot that would be so amazing to see. (We also made checker pieces on the request of some students and they added yellow dots to one side to denote kings. Not part of the original plan, but a lovely addition to the concept.)

On day four, a bunch of kids (mostly my extroverts) were sitting on the floor around the library. "Guys, I know we are getting near the end of the school year, but we are still functioning as we normally do. Would you please find a seat in a chair somewhere?"

"Ms. Mannon, we are waiting for our turn at the board. Is that okay?" I was pleased as punch.

"Of course. Sure thing," I replied.

When two students finished their game with the pieces on the floor board, a flock of kids got up and began hanging queens and kings and rooks around their necks. Someone had helped us spread the word that the game was there and new users were joining in library activities. My assistants and I immediately got to work recruiting more board pieces to help out. One reticent girls got very excited. "I've been waiting all week for this! I don't know how to play chess, but I want to be a piece!" She was welcomed into the fold. (Maybe the experience will even encourage her to learn how to play.) The kids worked it all out themselves - picked team captains, decided who would be what piece, and let everyone play from all different grades and all different cliques.

When I first fell into this position as library media specialist, the library was a place to hang out with your friends. During my third year, it has become a place for interaction and communication for our larger school community.

Getting  to know your audience as a cultural heritage / information professional is key to what you do. I do not play chess. I know how to play, but I would not call myself a chess player. Watching my students enthusiasm grow for this game over the past few years has been exciting. At times, every table in our library has a chess board on it with students playing. I always tell my students that their time in the library is productive time, not time for gossip. When they play chess, I know that they are working their brains and growing appreciation for something that could play a relaxing and joyful long-term role in their lives.

My role as an information specialist gave me a platform for a. introducing something they might like, b. helping them grow their interest, c. building something big and memorable that they latched onto because of a and b. The moral? If you build it, they will come IF you have laid a foundation of trust, collaboration, and community.

*For those of you who have followed my journey in this career shift, I am pleased to report that I am now an official teacher, awaiting my approved and paid for teaching license in the mail! I have also enrolled to pursue a post-graduate teaching degree (CAGS.)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Running through History

Runners took to the streets of Manchester, New Hampshire today to do a little run through history. Runner's Alley, a popular store in my area for all things run related, organized the event around the hobby of one of its employees. When taking locals for training, he would begin to talk about this town in which he grew up. I overheard one runner this morning who said, "It's nice because he did all the talking on our group runs. We just ran and didn't have to say a thing." As a life-time runner myself. I was intrigued by the idea of running from place to place and stopping to hear a little history, combining two of my passions. I was not disappointed. My knowledge of the area was boosted with a little local color, personal stories, and reminiscences. I began to think about how this concept could be applied to teaching and to boosting interest in cultural heritage institutions.

We started on the steps of City Hall. Our large group of runners were engaged from the start and immediately started to ask questions.

We talked about the age of our city and settlers. Our famous Revolutionary General, was a central part of our running route. Stark's words, "Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils," were the inspiration for our state motto. 

As a former archivist in the city of Waltham, Massachusetts, I was excited to learn a bit more about the mills of Manchester, built by those who had moved up the river away from the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution...From the mill girls to the canals to trains to the mill owners to the work of making cloth, the stories are embedded in the re-purposed buildings and grounds we saw today. I think all mill towns should consider running tours to boost local pride and tourism. Their set up is perfect for such tours. (Hear me Waltham?)

I was brought to overlooks I had never seen, though I've lived here for 18 years. The Merrimack River, which so many take for granted, has a rich history and tucked away spots with hidden stories. It was nice to stop and consider with the group how the river helped mold our home. I learned that we were following a route of a heritage trail in Manchester. Despite my interest in history and my professional background, I had no idea that there was a heritage trail here. 

We stopped at a former rail station, called "Governor's station" that was built for a powerful man who wanted a station convenient for him. It is now a home tucked below the end of a dead end street, right along the railroad track, which is still here today. I never would have ventured here on my own, despite my curious nature that often takes me off the beaten track.

Our run took us to Stark Park. Where we again admired the foundation that this war hero laid for our state and country.

I liked the contrast of the running shoes on what remained of the Stark homestead.I enjoyed thinking about the very different shoes our forebearers must have worn when they stepped on this exact spot.

I ended my tour at the John Stark house that was purportedly saved by the DAR in the 1960s. My running tour group continued on to the library and Victory park where they were going to explore a more modern history. The part of the tour in which I participated covered 5 miles in about an hour-and-a-half, with frequent stopping to discuss the sites and a much desirable water break on this hot day. People of many different abilities and ages joined us. The youngest was in a stroller. The youngest runner was about ten-years-old and the oldest runners were in their 60s.

I am hoping to develop a similar run for the running club at my school in our own town. I think this is a great way to interest  teens in history outside of the classroom. A bicycle tour, scooter ride, or another fun means of getting place-to-place can help kids focus and participate in something that works their mind and body. I have been to history open houses that involve driving or bus tours throughout a town. Why not sponsor a person-powered tour? Museum, archives and libraries, team up with your local running store or running association. Offer runners water while they learn about your institution. Give runners a pouch for their run where they can tuck goodies such as a history passport book, keychains and pens. Better yet, offer running items such as water bottles with your organization's name, headbands, etc. Be creative. Have a library card sign up in front of your building so each runner, biker or person on a scooter can leave with a card if they don't already have one. Give free passes to the inside of your institution so when the group is showered, they can come back to explore your facility more deeply.

This is one more way for cultural heritage organizations to expand our audience.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Coming Full Circle: Intergenerational Oral History

This week I'm thinking about the living relationships we develop when we build archival collections. Earlier this month, in an effort to highlight our school building's fifty-year history, my students and I invited alumni to visit and tell us their stories. It was amazing to see the students' curiosity and to hear the bonds being formed between adults and teens.

In the twenty-first century, generation gaps seem larger than ever. In fact, it even seems like there are more "generations." The adolescents of five to ten years ago had an extremely different experience from those of today. Case in point: This afternoon a student was lamenting to my twenty-something male assistant that her teachers just "didn't get" her attachment to her phone. "YOU know what it's like," she said to him, thinking that the young man would understand because he was still young too. "Actually," he told her, "We didn't really use cell phones when I was in high school."

Times are changing fast, but we can temper feelings of disconnect through the celebration of a common history. In fact, in our oral history project and through the growth of our archives, exploring our community roots has enabled students to note shared interests and to recognize how things sometimes come full circle.

Oral history is a strong tool for building community and tying generations. And, oral history projects are something in which a child of any age can participate. All you need is a voice recorder -- your cell phone will do, or an MP3 players like we used. It was surprisingly easy for the kids to use and to make our visitors feel comfortable.

Goffstown High School c. 1987.
Goffstown High School Archives.
We prepared students for an event with five interviewees by giving a short tutorial a couple of weeks ahead of time. We focused on how to ask questions, what to ask, how to keep people talking, and how to keep silent while people told their stories. On event day, students were eager to listen and adults were eager to share. They learned a lot from each other. Then, we backed up our completed recordings to store in our archives and uploaded copies at The Voice Library for safekeeping and easy access.

Now, students are eager to talk to more people who once traveled through the halls they know so well. These walls have stories to tell and it is our intention to capture them. We want students to know that what they experience today is built upon the experiences of those who came before us. Coming full circle and to the realization that we are connected is a very powerful thing.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Providing Primary Resources to Strengthen Instruction

This week, I attended the New Hampshire State Library Media Association Conference. I was particularly interested in a conference session that discussed how to support teachers by pairing informational books with fiction. I have learned in the past three-years as an archivist in the world of school librarianship that there is often a place here for archivists' expertise. This conference was not an exception.

Beth Fuller from Perma-Bound was passionate and knowledgeable, and it was great fun to listen to her speak about books. She noted that pairing fictional and informational titles is something she loves to do, and she made recommendations for how we can do this better in our libraries. During Beth's talk, she mentioned that librarians may want to coax teachers to check out Google images for primary sources. This would provide more more inspiration and context for their students; Say, pair a lesson about the history of labor with books such as "Fresh and Blood So Cheap," "Ashes of Roses" and "Brave Girl." Lights went off in my brain.

Workers pose for photo
(personal collection of Melissa A. Mannon)

We can do better than Google images.

At the end of the presentation, I spoke up about and europeana. I mentioned how archives and libraries are working to pull information about their primary source materials together on these sites for easier access. Ears perked up and another audience member asked me to spell out the web sites.

I urge archivists to better promote our resources. Let's bring kids to the sources of information. Let's show that original materials reside in our institutions and not just on the Internet. Let's show how materials are clustered in collections and cared for by professionals and do not just appear online. Let's show students the connections between an event, the creation of material, the true stories surrounding materials, the people who made the original materials, and how our cultural heritage institutions support knowledge about all of these things. When good authors write they use archival materials. They visit our institutions. They correspond with archivists and librarians. Let's show this to young people as part of their early schooling. Let's reach out to local schools, attend librarian conferences, and explore how our professions support each other.

A lesson about the history of labor, for example, can bring in so much. We can learn about the people and times. We can learn about buildings and place. Beth discussed how we can transport kids back to an event by giving them a visual connection. Let's also strengthen the timeline in students' heads by showing the materials that were created as a result of human activity and by helping kids understand the provenance of items. Primary sources are history. Without them, we would not know about our past.

Earlier this month, I tweeted "Is history what we remember or what happened?" Let us ask our students how we "remember" history. Show teachers and librarians the depth of your collections by giving them the information they need to access it in forums where they are listening. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

We Will Be Remembered through What We Post

In this social media driven decade, the way we will be remembered may be reflected in what we post. What we project to the world online today will likely be the information about us that is easiest to gather in the future. Therefore, we must be aware that who we are, at least as far as history is concerned, might be molded by the Internet. In my view, our public face is being melded with what should be a more private side and the reality of our lives is perverted by an online public image. It is up to individuals to consciously create their own personal brand, or suffer the consequences of allowing others to attempt to reconstruct our lives through our random posts and musings.

On the Internet, what we record becomes part of a permanent record of our lives. Today, most people leave behind a great documentation footprint through digital means. It wasn't that long ago when most people did not leave much documentation behind for the world to see. Even 20th century lives are reconstructed from sometimes hard to find sources. We are lucky to find records that tell us about someone's pre-21st century life - handwritten correspondence, diaries and the like formed the personal papers from an earlier period.

A note that a friend penned to me in high school. We would
have been horrified to post these thoughts for others to see.
Remember hiding your diary under your mattress so your younger sister wouldn't find it? Remember passing private notes to friends in class? Today, young people are less likely to draw that line between public and private. Do you have something to say to a friend? Tweet it to the world; put your inner most thoughts in a blog. It's a very different world from the one I grew up in and society has a different mindset from the society in which I was trained as an archivist in the 1990s.

In this second decade of the 21st century, individuals can have more power over how they are remembered. The proliferation of the public records people create by interacting with their government and public groups online are augmented by those writings and postings which strike my generation as more private in nature. Many call this the "age of oversharing." Perhaps after a decade of this, we as individuals need to step back, take a hard look at our sharing habits, and curb our communication. While those sharing information online (the content creators) are sharing more and more, archivists are working to understand more fully the rapid transition our society has made in personal documentation, and we are considering what aspects of it are important to our profession.

Regular readers of this blog know my deep fascination with diary writing in particular. A recent article in the  Huffington Post discussed how the act of diary writing itself is changing and how there are many people who now write diaries for public consumption in a way that hasn't been done in the past. "On some level, when we vent, we want to be heard -- if only by our future selves. Why else would we choose such a permanent format for sorting out our thoughts?" [Crum. These are My Confessions: What Diary Keeping Means in the Age of Oversharing. ] Yet, venting for our future self in a personal journal is very different from online venting. I think this point needs to be more deeply considered by information professionals on every level.
  • What online personal content should be worthy of "permanent" status?  And controversially:
  • What content should be created? Do information/cultural heritage professionals have a role to play beyond gathering content? Should we also be helping individuals manage their online documentation and help curb the creation of unending documented random thoughts?
A particularly poignant and perhaps egregious example of the way we broadcast without forethought is evident in a high profile 2013 Twitter scandal.  Certainly, Justine Sacco wanted to vent when she wrote the tweets that eventually led to her dismissal from her high powered job, but did she really want to be heard?

As a teacher / librarian / archivist, this issue has an important place in my life. Every day, I watch students create content that shouldn't be shared. I realize the permanence of the words they place online. They do not. I realize how their content is affecting society and can affect their lives. As a mentor, I have a responsibility to help them fully understand how information impacts them. As an archivist, I believe that it would be to the profession's benefit to spread this message to a greater populace. Is the information we are spewing worth the computer space we are using? Computer space is cheap, but the never ending bombardment of gossip and misinformation is not, in my opinion.

We once documented our thoughts for ourselves, to share with a friend in a letter, or in well-thought out speeches. Today, as content creators, a quick thought easily flies out our fingers onto a screen and into what we may perceive as a void. "[the sharing of] our once-discreet musings could be seen as narcissistic -- a strategic move in a quest for validation...But it’s something else, too. When such observations are compiled into a work of art, they become an honest reflection on how we absorb and produce information." [Crum]

Certainly, there is a benefit for informational professionals and historians to have so much now available to us. If archivists can successfully save what is being broadcast, and if we can successfully preserve and provide access to it, we will have an abundance of material to examine, consider and study. Perhaps we will have a rich view of early twenty-first century life and a rich view of how we use information. We will be able to study society through a combined public and private lens that past historians could only have dreamed.

However, I wonder if alternately, this bombardment of information provides an inaccurate understanding of how individuals really function. Does all this information accurately reflect our communities? What role can ideas of personal branding and full understanding of an online image play in protecting documentation that accurately projects our own lives and our times? Can, and should, information professionals craft a salient message to help protect the value of good information versus bad (if indeed there is such as thing as good versus bad information at all)?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

What Inspired You to Do What You Do? #archivistinspiration

This morning, I read an article by archivist Sarah Ferencz of the Whitby Public Library in Ontario, Canada. In the article she states, " was the letters written to my grandmother from the French family tending to my great-uncle’s war grave and the photographs of my grandfather as an early emigrant from Hungary in the 1920s that inspired me to become an archivist."

This has me thinking...what inspires each of us to become an archivist, or to become a genealogist, or to become an historian? I've tweeted two things that directly inspired me  - my grandparents escape from Poland and an internship at the Vanderbilt Museum on Long Island. Tell me what inspired you. Use #archivistinspiration #genealogistinspiration #historianinspiration... What made you want to be part of this noble profession of cultural heritage? How can our own passion, borne of our own experiences, help excite others about history?


- MM

My grandmother Myra, the women after whom I am named, is one inspiration

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


This past weekend, my family accompanied a nice chicken dinner with stories about school in the 1940s.  I watched my daughter, the only child at the table, and wondered what kind of impression the tales her granddad told over the meal made on her.

I remember when I was a girl and stories were exchanged around my parents' table.I would hang on every word my elders shared about their own childhoods. I don't recall my siblings in the room or any other children. (Were they there and I just don't remember)? I do remember that I was enthralled and that at least sometimes I was the only person under thirty remaining at the table beyond dessert.  Looking back, I realize how these experiences prepared me for my future career. I enjoyed sitting at the table listening to the grownups talk about the past as much as I enjoyed playing with the other children. Sometimes I enjoyed it more.

I loved the stories that my Dad and Uncle Bob told of stickball, punchball, and baseball played on the streets of New York City.
I loved hearing how my paternal great Uncle Sid and Uncle Joe landed as American soldiers in Normandy during World War II.

I loved hearing about how my neighbor, "Uncle" Al, had climbed some of the highest skyscrapers in New York City to install windows on our now iconic buildings.

Looking back, it was primarily men's stories that were told over large meals that involved multiple families - weekend barbecues, holidays celebrations, birthdays, and neighborhood parties, A focus on the men seems unusual now, but it was a part of the times and perhaps the location. It was an era when most women in my Long Island neighborhood were housewives and their days were wrapped around their neighbors. When the men left the table, the women would sip teas and coffees and talk about our community and their children.

More personal stories from Mom and Aunt Rochelle and the other women in my life were saved for quiet moments when it was just one of them and me. Girl talk. They were usually life lessons passed down to the next generation, not tales of bravado. They were stories about family connections and I learned how where they came from played a vital part in who I was.

Listening to the storytellers in my life, I grew to appreciate the past, their experiences, their personalities and our community. Through their stories and personalized lessons. I better understood the world and my place in it.

Does my daughter get it? Does she listen and internalize the stories?

I realize that I share my own words of wisdom with my daughter when we are alone. (Is this quiet together time part of the nature of our gender or the reality of circumstance?) I tell my daughter about my childhood when we are driving together. I tell her about my family background when I get ready in the morning. I try hard to file away in my brain the stories that she tells me when we go for walks together - her favorite anime, teachers, friends -- in part so I can repeat it back to her and reminisce about her childhood when she is older. If she doesn't fully appreciate the grownup stories now, I know she will when she is older. I will help her connect generations in her mind by referring back to our times together.

And then there is a larger group of youngsters to consider...This past Monday, I introduced my students to the field of oral history and techniques of interviewing as we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our school community.  When I make archives presentations to an adult audience, I often am questioned about how to make kids interested in their own history. Do kids today value the stories we tell them or do we just seem old-fashioned? I know that my students are excited to have a formal event that encourages them to ask questions of their elders. Are they proud of their community and do they see this opportunity as a way to honor it? Are they interested in seeing connections between themselves and past generations? I'm not sure. I am not sure that they know themselves, but giving young adults an opportunity to try to make a deep connections to the past is important. Creating an event, series of events, or a platform (like a dinner table conversation) where they can explore their thoughts and feelings about their own history is important. Kids will not make the connections between history and themselves without the approachable stories as a foundation.

We all have different reasons for studying the past. Does it matter why we seek more information about those who came before us? Do we need to understand why we want to know to fully appreciate what we learn? Perhaps listening to the storytellers may not make an immediate impression. Perhaps we do not immediately have a full grasp of the stories' meanings in our lives. But we must keep the storytellers telling to get the listeners questioning.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Cultural Understanding, Serendipity and the Human Library

The international Human Library Project aims to break down prejudices and stereotypes through one-on-one interactions with diverse people. Project coordinators offer a setting, time, and materials -- so-called "human books" with whom "human readers" can interact.  This past month, we ran our 2nd annual Human Library at my high school to offer students a chance meet professionals and learn about the diversity of people in varied careers. Students learn about varied paths to success, stereotyping encountered along the way that had to be overcome, a wide-breadth of lifestyles, and backgrounds of professionals. We want to show students they can be whatever they want to be regardless of their own circumstances. The program builds community and cultural understanding, with room for serendipitous discovery built in. The human library can be a particularly valuable tool/program to help museums and libraries fulfill their missions. 

Human books spoke with my students about their careers and challenges.
Our human books included people in fields such as engineering, finance, videography, military, aviation, journalism, fitness, entomology, construction, health and wellness, law enforcement, psychiatry, animal sciences, museums, space science, and chiropractic. More importantly, books shared information about how they overcame stereotyping because of their sex; how they overcame disabilities; how they moved beyond what was expected of them to create the lives they wanted.

Students speak with a human book. Some teens felt more comfortable talking to the adults
with a  friend rather than sticking to the one-to-one format.

A particularly wonderful thing about working in a place that has a mission to preserve human stories, educate, or exhibit ideas, is that we never know what doors we may open for people. Our opportunities for changing lives is broader than the mission we might see right in front of us.

Students had the opportunity to speak with their books for 15 minutes, sometimes more. In between sessions, I talked to them about the experience. One conversation in particular stood out for me and I want to share it with you. It is an example of the unexpected opportunities that cultural heritage institutions can provide when we arrange creative programs. ..

A student entered the room. He had participated in our Human Library last year and enjoyed the experience. However, this year he is an eleventh grader and his ideas about what he wants to do with his life are a little clearer than his sophomore year.

Me: "May I help you find someone to talk to today?"
Student: "I want to be a history teacher, but you don't have anyone in that field."
Me: "Hmmm....well, I have two museum people here today. One of them worked in a history museum before moving to a science museum. She might be a good fit for you."

He was willing to give it a go and came back to me after his session.

Student: "She was awesome! I thought we were going to talk about history, but she told me about her life. She told me about how she got into college and her struggle. I never thought about all of that!" Looking around the room he said, "Who else can I talk to, Ms. Mannon?" 

The Human Library has made a great impression on many young people in my town. They learn the value of communication, listening to new ideas, and being open to diversity. I look forward to running it again next year.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Open Letter to the U.S. House of Representatives in Support of IMLS

I am outraged by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan's proposal to eliminate IMLS and I urge you to stand against it. As our nation's strongest funder for museum and library initiatives, IMLS has an important role to play in supporting our nation's freedom, innovation, and success.

Libraries work to digitize our nation's resources through programs such as the DPLA that are providing a bridge to the future by upgrading information to new formats.  They support 21st century invention and learning through new makerspaces and by helping to facilitate the exchange of ideas. Libraries support the freedom of information for all, which is vital to any democracy. They support strong communities and help our children's understanding of good digital citizenship. They provide a safe and supportive place for those less fortunate, and help them better their futures with access to technology and informational materials they cannot afford. Libraries serve as a neutral gathering space for diverse ideas, providing forums that support critical thinking and expression for all regardless of background or personal belief.

As the librarian at Goffstown High School in New Hampshire, I see the results of what good community libraries do every day. I work with my colleagues at the Goffstown Public Library to positively impact the lives of our teens. We collaborate to run programs that bring mentors in to support our children's dreams. We work together to bring in materials to ignite passion in innovation, developing makerspaces with high-tech equipment for our students to use for experimentation and learning; materials they could not afford on their own. We support informational and cultural literacy through our collections and services.

Our profession cannot effectively accomplish all we do without IMLS support. According to the Industrialist Andrew Carnegie, the builder of many of our nation’s libraries, “A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.” Libraries have supported our communities since founding father Ben Franklin established our country’s first library in Philadelphia. Please help ensure that American libraries may continue to boost their communities and support the American citizens within them.

Melissa Mannon

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Libraries, Innovation, and Our 21st Century Role

Many years ago, I began serving as a judge at the New Hampshire State competition for the Young Inventors Program. It is a wonderful program that encourages inventiveness in young people in grades K-8. It is a perfect place for a curious librarian/archivist to spend some time.

Designed for the classroom and aimed at encouraging K-8 students to "think outside of the box," the Young Inventors Program is structured and developed to encourage all students to participate, including those who may not "fit the mold" for traditional sciences.

Finding a new calling: encouraging inventiveness

This year, I decided to sponsor an award. A Library and Information Services award seemed like a much needed focus area for encouraging invention.

  • First, as libraries across the country build and promote Makerspaces, and with a major project to retrofit my own library for such a space, I want young inventors to dream of going to the library to build,
  • Second, as a school librarian, I am also immersed in ideas for STEM initiatives. How can the library be part of the backbone for moving science, technology, engineering and math forward in our schools and across the country? I have been working hard with the science and math teachers at my school to make our library a center to support their needs. All libraries need to jump into the STEM discussions.
  • Furthermore, last summer, I was deemed an honorary science and math person by my colleagues at AP Academy. Teachers at this Advanced Placement camp were playing a game of Trivial Pursuit. Those in the Sciences were on one team and those in the Liberal Arts were on the other. I asked where I should go, "Well, as the librarian in the room, you are the one person who could legitimately play on either side!" - We need to cultivate that attitude in our profession. Librarians need to step into a room and say, "Yes, I am a science person too. I support the readers and writers, but I also support and understand the inventors." 
Putting aside the fact that I have come to realize that I would have made a good botanist, (I spend much of my free time in the garden when there is not snow on the ground and there is that obvious classification thing...) in my childhood, I was never on a path for science. My sister was on that path. She became a doctor. She spent her time catching butterflies, while I spent my time writing and drawing. This idea that I am a science-minded person too is new to me (despite my masters degree in library SCIENCE.) What if someone encouraged me to go out and draw the things I saw in nature or to write about the insects in the garden? I was a very good biology student and an excellent math student, but I never put two and two together. Don't get me wrong, I love my job, but there was another path to take that never crossed my mind. For someone who prides herself on taking the road less traveled most of the time, it is significant to realize that I missed this path entirely....Almost. I want to prevent other kids like my young self from missing the path too.

The Value of Libraries for Inventors

Here I am in my 40s, sitting in the audience at the Young Inventors conference waiting for my turn to present. The young inventors in the audience were told this about my award: "The ArchivesInfo Library and Information Services Award recognizes an invention that can support the day-to-day work of libraries." But, as I anticipated, they didn't realize the full impact of what this means, nor did their parents. They were not just creating an invention to support literacy. They were creating something to support themselves. Why libraries at an invention conference? What do libraries have to do with invention? I had a whole speech ready to go about how libraries have always provided books, but they are so much more. Yada, yada, yada...

For judging, students were invited to tag their projects so that specialty judges like myself would be sure to come view what they've created. Since this the first year this award was offered, I saw just three inventions that students said they designed specifically for libraries. Two of my library specific inventors designed bookmarks. They were nice but they did not scream library for the 21st century to me. Wandering among rooms, I stopped at the invention of Caitlin Connelly, a 4th grader from Sanbornton Central School. Caitlin's "Double Desk" was not designed specifically for library use. She dreamed of it for a classroom setting, but her incorporation of a white board and a tablet, which could be locked into the desk and released with a code so students could take it home with teacher (or librarian) permission, was perfect. I pictured a long desk in my library's own newly minted makerspace built on Caitlin's model. "I need this," I thought.  

The audience at the NH State Young Inventors Program
There were many specialty awards being given out. The award ceremeny went on for 45 minutes until I heard my name to give out my award. "I can't make these poor people sit here and listen to my speech about how great libraries are. They are tired. I am tired. They won't listen. They don't care. They just want to hear if their kids got award. How does this effect THEM?" So, I shuffled my papers and thought about the inventor who gave out an award and his story about inventing since he was very young. And, I thought about little Caitlin Connelly. I walked across the stage to give Caitlin a $75 gift certificate to Makershed and said something like this:

"I will make this short. This award goes to the invention that best helps libraries.  Libraries are hubs of innovation that supply space and materials for you to learn and to create. We want to create better spaces for you." I went on to explain how the invention that I picked would be perfect in my own school's makerspace; that Caitlin's table was perfect for helping people to be creative and inventive. I said that I hoped Caitlin would let me use her idea so that my students could have a great space for making their own discoveries.

Planting a seed

If anyone in the audience was not a library goer, they were probably now considering, "I can go to the library and find things like Caitlin's table to help me with my inventions?" Libraries are for the scientists too?


As librarians struggling within our own walls, within our own budgets, we often have difficulty looking out. As we move forward and re-mold and re-define our roles in contemporary society, we need to be better promoters of our own worth. We need to be on the cutting edge and to toot our own horns. Often. My role at the Invention Convention is one example of how to get on board with what our patrons need today and how I was able to advertise that message. 

How are you advertising the message that libraries are for everyone? How are you changing with the times? How are you planting the message in the minds of your community? Right now, think of three things that you can do to change the conversation about your role in the community so that it fits a new audience.


Thank you Academy of Applied Science. I had a great time and am honored to be part of your team.


I want to add that this week past, for the second year in a row, the House Budget Committee has proposed cutting all funding to IMLS. It is very important for librarians to speak up now; to show off our value and tie our images to the future and not the past. Write your Congressman today!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Age of Contested Knowledge

This week, I had the pleasure of listening to presentations from two local academic librarians. The librarians were visiting my high school to teach our seniors about college level research. They explored databases and discussed peer reviewed research with the students. They explained why "Google it" is not an acceptable academic search strategy. The information that the librarians provided was not unique, but it is something that students do not easily accept. Why? "Google it" seems easy. "Google it" helps us re-confirm what we already believe. "Google it" shows us what information is most readily available, not necessarily what is correct. Also this week, I listened to an National Public Radio podcast entitled "Why We Doubt Scientific Findings." A phrase stood out for me -- "the age of contested knowledge" -- and tied directly to what I see happening in the classroom. With a nod to Diane Rehm, this post discusses and questions the role of librarians and archivists in this new information age.

Rehm's program discussed how the world of information has changed. How people get their information has changed. There has been a disintegration of the old "gatekeepers" of knowledge. In my opinion, as librarians we have a responsibility to spread our own knowledge of information. People once saw libraries as the way to enter the gates and access information. Today information is at everyone's fingertips and most do not recognize the true value of a librarian's training.  "Gatekeeper" is too restrictive a word for what we do now. We need to re-brand ourselves as information "guides.

Information in Today's World

Rehm's program included science reporters and scientists discussing the way people gather and process scientific studies. The beginning of the show was most interesting to me from a professional standpoint, as it discussed general practices of information gathering:  The following parts of the discussion stood out to me:

  • Information that we accept today often reflects our world view. "[People] often find exactly what they already believe." 
  • People have a daily confrontation of their belief system with/against science. Science (information) was once much less readily available
  • There is a norm of false balance. Some things are presented as two sided, when they aren't controversies at all. 
  • Information is evolving. People sometimes point to new understandings to show why all information can't be trusted, rather than exploring how the new information evolved.
  • A lot more risk analysis is demanded of us than in the past.
The Role of the Librarian

The information puzzle
People have many more outlets to get information. Do they know what the "good" sources are and why they are good? How can we better explain this? This is one reason why good school libraries and librarians are so important. We need to help our young people understand sources so that when they are adults, they can better navigate channels of information. A knee-jerk reaction to information that seems to challenge our world view should be replaced with a healthy skepticism and thoughtful evaluation of sources. Information is a giant puzzle whose pieces sometimes fit neatly together. Other times, there are gaps between pieces as we wait for bridges in knowledge to connect diverse ideas that are all grounded in truth.

As information evolves, people need to learn to step into the conversation. The college librarians talked about becoming part of the conversation; the need to gain a basic understanding of the subject and its issues before jumping in and making conclusions. It is up to individuals to educate ourselves on the basics of issues. How can librarians help with this? I'm thinking of displays in my school library that introduce a topic with which students may be unfamiliar. Additionally, maybe archivists can more prominently display and explain original sources from which secondary arguments are based. Can all of us work to make sure that when people "google it" primary sources float to the top? Can we even develop partnerships with companies such as Google to make this happen? My students are amazed when I show them Their eyes seem to say, "Wow! Google even distinguishes between different types of information sources. Maybe Ms. Mannon isn't lying to me after all!" How can we make the separation between information channels more visible and understandable?

On Rehm's program, journalists discussed how responsible professionals can help people see caveats in studies. How is the latest study different from the last one? How have things changed? Librarians can help people be part of that conversation. What tools can we create to help people see the changes? "Most people don't keep delving [to gain a greater understanding of an issue.] They will take the headline...they will take the first paragraph..." How can we help them delve?

Finally, "a lot more risk analysis is demanded of us." Despite this, from my experience as a librarian, I see that we are less likely to analyze information. Everyday, we need to ask if the information that is handed to us is good information.  It is harder and harder for us to evaluate knowledge due to the abundance of information. One of the main reasons that I decided to accept a job as a high school librarian was what I was seeing happening with information and its effects on people. He who yells the loudest should not be believed simply because he is yelling. How can librarians better help people evaluate information? How can we help them believe that they even want to be better evaluators?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Young Inventors Program - Library and Information Services Award

For the past five or so years, I have been a judge for the New Hampshire Young Inventors Program. Each spring, K-8 students who win local school competitions move on to this competition that supports innovative young people throughout our state. This year, I am honored to be sponsoring my first specialty award, the Library & Information Services Award. Sponsored by ArchivesInfo, this award recognizes an invention that can support the day to day work of libraries. Inventions in this category could include items such as a new type of bookshelf, a computer database, or a stand for holding your e-reader while you ride a stationary bike. My intention in sponsoring the award is to support this valuable program and the kids who take part. I also wish to raise awareness about what libraries can do for people's lives and to encourage young people to think about ways to make libraries stronger and more impactful.
As libraries expand services, re-invent themselves, or just renovate their marketing to attract a 21st century audience, they must make their innovation prominent. Libraries serve as places supporting discovery, learning, curiosity, and invention. Conversations about our role in building makerspaces, encouraging cutting edge technology, teaching sound information seeking practices and more need to filter out of our inner circles and move beyond the field of library and information science. Librarians must show how our institutions support multiple disciplines and are capable of engaging in conversations ranging from the arts to mathematics, science and history. 
Inviting students to think about how they themselves can make libraries more helpful places can play an important role in continuing and promoting the relevance of our profession. I am hopeful that by offering an award for library related inventions, I can encourage young students to consider new possibilities. I look forward to seeing children's creations for progressive libraries and better information services. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

More Finds at the Local Antique Shop: Silhouettes

I have been on the lookout for paper cut silhouettes to decorate my house for many years. Attracted to the simplicity - the detail-less form that represents individualism while at the same time obscuring it; I am lightened by the delicate designs.

An article in the magazine entitled "Folk Art" provides a brief history of this pretty little form of art:

Initially, silhouettes were created to capture the likeness of a person in his or her basic form -- the "shadow" or "shade." to use the common language of the eighteenth century. Then, as now, the desire for a picture of a friend or loved one was important. With the invention of photography nearly three-quarters of a century away, silhouettes were the quickest, most economically feasible way of obtaining credible images. 
[DiCicco, Vincent. "Silhouette—Portraiture In America: A Fully Developed Form Of Folk Expression." Folk Art 26.3 (2001): 40-46. Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 8 Feb. 2015.]

Professionals and amateurs created silhouettes at the form's historical inception. By the nineteenth century, according to the Victoria and Albert Museum, silhouettes were one of the popular forms of small portraiture employed by the professional artist, marking a resurgence in the previous century's unique art form as artists realized this was a quick way to make some money.:

The cutting of silhouettes, or 'profiles' as they were called in Britain, was a popular pastime in the 18th century. From the 1770s professional artists began to produce profiles as a cheap, quick form of small portraiture. Sittings took no more than five minutes and endless exact copies could easily be made from the original.
But clients wanted novelty and artists needed to stand out from competitors. This soon led to elaborate variations on the simple cut profile. By the 1790s, many profiles were painted - on paper, ivory, plaster or even glass. Inevitably prices increased as the materials became more expensive.

To the left are the silhouettes I recently found at a local antique shop for a very reasonable price. Dated 1856 in pencil, the images are also marked as having been cut in the 1970s. They represent a "collaboration" or sorts on the final art form. According to the Norman Rockwell Museum, silhouettes became an illustrative form in the mid-nineteenth century and were an "important technique to the illustrator's artistic expression," accompanying stories in periodicals and the like. My silhouettes are likely among those used to enliven a story, later cut out of an antique magazine such as Ladies Home Journal, by a crafty housewife. In fact, when I was a child in the 70s, we completed our own silhouettes in class as a regular activity. My silhouettes and my classroom memory informally indicate to me that the 70s were indeed another resurgent time for this art form.

Both amateurs and professionals still create silhouettes today. A few artists local to me whose work I enjoy are:

Jean and Marcella Comerford
Joy Ann MacConnell 
Thanks to the Internet, we seem to be in the midst of another re-emergence of this style. DIYers offer instructions for creating your own silhouettes. In a decidedly modern twist, many suggest using profile selfies as a place to begin, recommending that DIY artists trace the images for their patterns.

Silhouettes are fun to do and fun to find. They offer us a look at who we are and what we value. These featureless figures show us our community traits - proud men, loving mothers, poised children - all done in beautiful lines expressing form over face. (Personally, I find myself especially attracted to the Victorian shapes here, giving me ideas for my next Steampunk festival costume and allowing me to see myself in their shoes.)