Conscientious meetings

Jeremy Brett has a post on the Issues & Advocacy blog, “A Case of Conscience,” suggesting that SAA take steps to avoid holding annual meetings in states that pass discriminatory legislation.

I’m in agreement, including with Brett’s anger and idealism and the impulse to be able to pick up balls and go home. I suspect the logistics of picking up balls might be more challenging than a conscience clause; though I haven’t done it, I know hotel negotiations are complicated. But even if an event has to go forward there’s the possibility of pulling future business—and, perhaps, thinking Very Carefully about future business in states that seem likely to introduce discriminatory legislation. Kind of like the Voting Rights Act (1965–2013) for convention planning.

Somewhat queasy-making, from my perspective, is the prospect that chunks of the profession don’t agree with the position that this type of legislation is wrong. (Our reputation might be kind of lefty, but that doesn’t really mean much. I wouldn’t be surprised if some archivists find trans urine as terrifying as North Carolina legislators do. Though really, there are so many more terrifying things in restrooms.) Then there’s also the it’s-political-and-the-organization-isn’t argument, which I associate with folks coming from a place of unexamined privilege and/or hewing to strict process arguments but can also, I suppose, come from other places. But from an organizational policy perspective, I think this is the money quote that answers those arguments and personal bias:

Nor as a professional organization should we be tacitly granting second-class citizenship to our LGBT members, which we would be doing by giving our dollars and our time to a state or municipality that choses to wage war against a minority group.

If you have opinions, there’s an I&A Roundtable Poll open until April 8. Do stop by, whether you’re a member of the organization and profession or not.


Nomination squee

I am Not A Librarian, which I often make a point of saying for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I don’t want to be a librarian: I like working in libraries, but I like the archival approach; I like unique materials; I care a lot about context; I did not require graduate school training to embrace “it depends” as the correct answer to almost any given question. The second reason is that I’m not a librarian: a library degree involves specific training, theory, etc. which I have not studied and therefore do not wish to lay claim to.1 If we’re all calling ourselves professionals, let’s be consistent about the terms we’re using.2

So: I am Not A Librarian, but I am still a GLAM person, and based on the biographical details wafting through my Twitter feed I am super-stoked about the President nominating Carla Hayden as the next Librarian of Congress. First: librarian! While there are certainly times where a non-professional managing professionals can be fine, it is pretty much never going to be a bad idea if someone in the upper echelons has actual professional experience in the field. Second: diversity!3 Like other pink-color fields, librarianship starts purpling at higher ranks and pay grades, so a woman in a leadership role is refreshing. A woman of color just multiplies that to the tune of a few hundred years of institutional racism. Third: diversity! Random awesome people are constantly singing the praises of public libraries. But, like most other institutions geared toward promoting the public good, they get the short end of the stick. Placing someone from public libraries in such a prominent role would be terrific. (A children’s librarian, no less! The lowest rungs of the professional ladder don’t get any pinker than that.) Fourth: I’m not up on Who’s Who in Librarianship, but I’m impressed by the specific Hayden tidbits I know, like opposition to the Patriot Act and keeping Enoch Pratt open during the protests following Freddie Gray’s death.

This is not the nomination that will claim lots of headlines. But it’s a nomination that’s lighting up my Twitter feed, for good reason.

  1. There are, of course, a couple other reasons why I am Not A Librarian and/or make a point of saying so. It can be fun to joke about wars between archivists and librarians, or the obvious inferiority of the other group. On a pragmatic level—there’s that archival theory shining through—I looked at the cost of a library degree versus the cost of a history degree, and even without factoring in personal preference there was a pretty good incentive to stop looking at library schools, particularly since there were a range of library jobs that simply didn’t interest me and since I was aware of much of the debate about the value (pedagogical and otherwise) of library programs. And there was also the fact that I didn’t want to go on the job market as yet another white female librarian approaching middle age, though one could probably argue that subbing archivist for librarian in that equation is not a sure-fire way to improve my career prospects. 
  2. The professionalization ship sailed in the nineteenth century and we’re all on it. Working out specific degree requirements, certifications, and job listing bullet points is just whittering at the margins. 
  3. And yes, I am aware that “diversity” is a term which is, at best, loaded and, at worst, an actual tool of oppression. I’m not quite ready to give up on the word because I think there is some utility to be wrung from it, but it definitely warrants the interrogation it receives. 

Storification of last Friday’s PACSCL event

For your edification, I have Storified Building Philadelphia-area Digital Collections: From Project to Plan to Program. This is quick and dirty, based just on hashtag, and I haven’t made any effort to track down anything that was missed or excise anything superfluous. (Especially since that would have been a chunk of the hobbit stuff, which would have been a shame and a misrepresentation of the character of the discussion.)

Description, decolonization, activism, and the quick brown fox

Last week, I went to DVAG’s panel discussion, “Decolonizing Archival Description.” I have Thoughts and Feelings™ I intend to expand upon but probably won’t get around to, based on past performance. So instead, while I should be working on at least three other things, I will toss off a blog post. (Also: thank you to the organizers, panelists, and attendees.)

Continue reading “Description, decolonization, activism, and the quick brown fox”

Warm and fuzzy

Researchers have been requesting materials I processed. This is unsurprising, given that I have mainly worked on the technical end of things and I’ve done processing work on a number of collections. My most recent job titles have, in fact, incorporated the phrase “Processing Archivist.” But still. I feel like a Really Useful Engine.

My name also popped up in a researcher’s acknowledgements. (My assistance was pretty minor and non-substantive.) I think it’s the first time that’s happened since I’ve been in the field. (Again, unsurprising that it wasn’t happening, since I’ve been on the technical end of things rather than working a lot of reference.) A colleague talked about how she felt the first time it happened to her—suddenly she was googleable, in the era before Google was a verb (or, possibly, a company), and one of her colleagues predicted she’d only become more visible. Most of my search engine visibility has, historically, been driven by material I have created, so this type of reference is a bit of a change. But again, I feel the warm fuzziness of utility and third-party acknowledgement of my professional existence.


I did some things

Over the summer, I worked as an intern at the Hagley. I’m really glad this mini-gig worked out: it gave me a chance to work with some neat people and tour impressive (and often rather cold) facilities, all in a gorgeous setting. (The Hagley is located in the part of “Wilmington” that is dominated by rolling hills, which are good for the soul, if not radio reception.) I was in the AV Collections and Digital Initiatives department, mainly rehousing photographic materials. With the exception of digitizing Hallowell photographs, most of my APS work has been focused on paper, with photographs and other materials shunted out of correspondence and into separate series. Concentrating on those materials provided a good change of perspective. I worked with materials from the Public Affairs Department of the David Sarnoff Research Center. This was also a change of pace: I’m used to working with the collections of individuals, but this was corporate material. I wrote a little bit about some of the fun things I encountered in the collection; those pieces are (or will be) included in the Sarnoff Library Project blog.

In August, I took the exam to become a Certified Archivist and I am now a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists. I have Thoughts™ and Feelings™ about the test and certification, which I may write about later in more detail. But for now, if you see “CA” written after my name, you’ll know what it means.

This fall, MARAC called for volunteers to join its new Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion. This is Important Stuff™ and, I thought, a good way to (finally) become involved with MARAC in an official capacity. I was very pleased to be accepted as a member of the Task Force and I’m looking forward to the coming year’s work. I hope we’ll be able to do some good within the organization and, more broadly, within the profession and society. (It’s important to be realistic, but there’s no harm in dreaming big.)

In the category of things I’ve been meaning to do since spring, I finally volunteered to serve as a peer reviewer for the Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies. This will be a new thing for me, outside of peer comments on seminar papers and (less relevantly) critiques of fiction, but I want to try stretching those particular metaphorical muscles.

October is Archives Month. I’ve had the opportunity to attend some fun events (including watching colleagues’ presentation at the Wagner’s Lantern Slide Salon), and #AskAnArchivist Day was a good excuse to dust off my Twitter account.

Locating labor

Labor was a big theme of last week’s Women’s History in the Digital World conference. How to discover, analyze, and reclaim women’s invisible labor. How to incorporate the labor of conversation within the digital humanities—yakking rather than, or in addition to, hacking. How to find support, at the top and bottom, to nurture digital humanities work in general and produce projects.

A recurring theme—present at this conference, and perennially discussed elsewhere1—was the specific issue of academic institutional support, or lack thereof. I see similar conversations in groups of public historians and archivists, though folks working outside of the faculty, or outside of academic institutions in general, do not have the same sets of concerns (e.g. tenure committees, course loads) as academics. WHDigWrld15 trended very academic.2 The experiences of full professors, varyingly contingent faculty, postdocs, grad students, and undergrads bring different perspectives, opportunities, and limitations to performing digital humanities work. While I feel comfortable using the umbrella term “academic,” it’s very important to be mindful of the wide variation of roles gathered beneath that umbrella, some drier than others.3

Continue reading “Locating labor”

May Day

May Day 2015 Saving Our History logoThis is the first year I’ve done any SAA May Day1 activities, but this year an e-mail went around work about a webinar, “After Disasters: Salvage and Recovery in Small to Mid-Sized Museums and Libraries.” It’s available (free) at the Connecting to Collections Care website.

One thing that struck me was the number of times phrases like “[$subject] is its own webinar” popped up, though in retrospect that should absolutely not be surprising. “Disasters” can take many forms, and the contents of museums and libraries vary wildly. The webinar concentrated on fires and floods, both because they’re common and because they may occur as secondary disasters (e.g. an arson component to civil unrest).

I found the overview style useful. It stressed the importance of advance planning and forming relationships. One anecdote recalled how a local fire department, having been advised in advance of a repository’s more valuable items, carried furniture out of the building and left it neatly arranged outside for the staff. Everyone in the room liked the suggestion of placing reflectors on shelves with particularly valuable materials. Another point of emphasis was managing human resources—not just assigning roles and preparing to enlist the assistance of contractors, but the importance of self-care and the impact upon staff morale over the long term. Evacuating collections in the immediate aftermath of a disaster is a sprint, but disaster recovery is a marathon.

Other oft repeated words included “ask a conservator,” but the webinar did include run-downs of some conservation considerations. (Is the painting on canvas or wood? Have you checked the ingredient list of the kitty litter you’re planning to use for drying and odor control? Is the glue binding the book strong enough to support it being hung up to dry, or are you better off standing it upright with the pages fanned open or leaving it closed with frequently-changed interleaving?) I am used to having a conservator right across the street, which is very nice. (So is the fact that my conservation issues tend to be things like decades-old Scotch tape or torn paper rather than how to triage collection materials.) I think “ask a conservator” is excellent advice, but I’m always glad of the 101 level discussion. It helps focus the questions you need to ask.

Some of the other general advice fell into the category of common sense, but was still good to hear. I’d like to think that I would be mindful of supplies (masks, gloves, batteries, and non-battery dependent technologies, like pencil and paper, were mentioned as must-haves) and cross-contamination. But bullet points help. Walking paths are an obviously great idea, and the fact that they were mentioned explicitly now makes me more likely to think of them when they’re relevant, rather than in a post-mortem of a disaster situation. I’m unlikely to ever be in charge of a disaster response, but if I’m onsite I hope I can be a more useful soldier.

  1. There are enough iterations of “May Day” that the extra specificity helps. 

Inserting dick pics into public discourse

Last night I spent more time than I should have watching Last Week Tonight on YouTube, including the episode featuring John Oliver’s Edward Snowden interview. A series of man-on-the-street interviews show near universal ignorance about government surveillance programs in general and the NSA leaks in particular. In a decidedly uncomfortable moment, Oliver captures Snowden’s reaction to interviewees who do not recognize his name or confuse him with Julian Assange. (Hypothetical casting directors for a hypothetical adaptation of Night Watch take note: this is what your Reg Shoe looks like.) Oliver then has Snowden explain various surveillance programs through the more personalized lens of the dick pic. In a segment which is overtly hilarious, predictable, and somewhat uncomfortable in its implications, the man-on-the-street interviews are repeated, and the possibility of spying upon communication in the dick pic genre rouses public ire. It’s a puerile, well-executed stunt, and the underlying message is one that should be taken to heart by public historians and anyone else concerned with reaching a broad audience. Making people care is all about finding the right hook. Oliver succeeded in boiling NSA surveillance down to an accessible elevator pitch and also provided an example of what it is public historians (and other public intellectuals) can do in their most effective moments.