Get the Community Involved!

Earlier this month, I had one of the greatest archival experiences of my career. Thanks to a grant that I won courtesy of the Society of American Archivists Foundation, I developed a Native American Community Curation workshop for the northwest Georgia community. The goal of this workshop was to gather participants from a variety of indigenous and non-indigenous backgrounds to discuss issues related to the preservation and exhibition of Native American archival materials. My ultimate goal was to use the results of this workshop to help curate a Cherokee exhibit that I am planning for the Kennesaw State University Archives in 2019. During this workshop, we worked through focus questions, had a show-and-tell session with indigenous archival materials, took a tour of the Kennesaw State University Archives and Bentley Rare Book Museum, and enjoyed a guest lecture by Cherokee printing expert – Frank Brannon. Our final exercise was a community curation workshop where community members actually helped plan and curate my 2019 exhibit. The program was a wild success! We all learned so much about the cultural sensitivities that accompany indigenous materials. I learned that as an archivists, it is my responsibility to seek out members of indigenous tribes and nations when dealing with Native American materials. I cannot assume that I am allowed to handle, preserve, or exhibit certain materials simply because they come into my possession. Our conversations were too in depth for me to fully repeat here, but believe me – they were incredible!

Don’t be afraid to get the community involved in your repository. You won’t believe the results! Take a look at these pictures!

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I will no longer stay quiet.

I generally do not engage in political talk on this blog. First and foremost, I simply do not like talking about politics; it stresses me out. But secondly, I like keeping the peace. I remember learning something in political science class during my freshman year of college that will always stick with me. The TA dropped a little wisdom on us and said that if you’re ever with a group of people you don’t know very well, stay away from discussing money, religion, and politics. Because this blog is a space open to everyone, I would hate for someone to feel attacked or unwelcome by a post simply because he or she holds certain political views.  Hence, my idea of a politically neutral blog has been totally sufficient for almost two years.

But there are times when you just cannot stay quiet. Right now, we are in one of these times. A few days ago, the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, and his administration released their proposed budget for fiscal year 2018. This proposal sent archivists, librarians, scholars, educators, museum curators, students and all those who care about cultural heritage into a complete shock. In this proposal, Trump and his administration desire to eliminate funding for the following programs related to archives and libraries:

  • National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
  • National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)
  • Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
  • National Heritage Areas program at the National Park Service. There are currently 49 Heritage Areas nationwide.
  • Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
  • Twenty individual grant programs at the Department of Education are eliminated. The proposal specifically mentions international education which includes Title VI/Fulbright-Hays.
  • The Department of Interior’s budget is cut 12%.

In my mind, this is nothing less than a tragedy. Even though this is just a proposal and it is highly unlikely that this will have any chance of making it through Congress, I call this tragic because it shows us that the President of the United States simply does not value what we value. Apparently, he does not see value in funding archives, libraries, and the countless other cultural heritage institutions that document the human experience. This proposal has once again forced me to confront the question, “why do archives matter?” I found my answer to this question many years ago, and it still has not changed. Archives matter because humans matter. Archives matter because the human condition matters, and our collective experiences, stories, victories, challenges, and legacies matter on this planet. Does President Trump value the human experience? Does he value human expression? Does he value the culture and rich traditions that we all share as members of the human race? According to this budget proposal, the answer is no, and that, my friends, angers me.

On an even more intense level, I must add that this budget proposal personally offends me. I cannot even begin to explain the incredible impact that programs like the NEH, IMLS, and National Heritage Area programs have had on my life. In 2015, I was awarded a ARL/SAA Mosaic Fellowship, which paid for the last year of my graduate schooling and provided me with a paid internship so I could gain experience in my field and enter the job force after graduation. Yeah, the IMLS did that!! Do you all remember my work with the Flat Rock Archives? The Flat Rock Archives is a small community archives in Lithonia, GA that documents the history of African Americans in the area. The Flat Rock Archives survives on two grants per year, and one of these grants is provided by the National Heritage Area program. Without this grant, the archives would cease to exist. As for the NEH, where do I even begin? The NEH and the IMLS partially fund almost every conference I attend as an archives professional. The NEH provides the entire cultural heritage profession with preservation grants, outreach grants, research grants, and more. Eliminating the NEH would be completely catastrophic for the development of the humanities in this country.

I want to raise my future children in a country that values their thoughts, expressions, and stories, and history. I want to live in a country that sees value in its people and their ideas. Right now, I am sick with grief over the current administration’s death sentence toward so many things that I hold true to my heart. But I will not give up hope!! There are too many of us to let this go down without a fight. I believe that through solidarity, activism, prayer, and grit, America will push back against this assault on its cultural heritage.

Who’s with me??

For more information about the Trump FY 18 Budget Proposal, visit http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/16/politics/trump-budget-cuts/

To see the Society of American Archivists’ most recent analysis of the Trump FY 18 Budget Proposal, visit http://www2.archivists.org/news/2017/trump-administration%E2%80%99s-proposed-fy-18-budget-slashes-neh-nea-imls

 

Out of Sight, Out of History??

Fun fact about JoyEllen: I LOVE Amish fiction. For those of you who are reading this post and already raising your eyebrows, yes, Amish fiction is actually a thing. See below…

img_1556

These are just a few of the Amish books I’ve enjoyed since my obsession began just a few summers ago. And just in case you are wondering, I am not making this genre up; you can go to Barnes and Noble and find an entire section labeled “Amish fiction.”  For some reason, I am fascinated by the Amish lifestyle and belief system, particularly since there are so many different types of Amish people. While my Amish fiction books make wonderful stories, the archivist in me keeps wondering about the real stories of Amish people that we can only find through their archives. How do Amish people preserve their history? Are there archivists within the Amish community? Are there academic institutions that collaborate with the Amish? This kind of goes along with my general interest in community archives and the hidden collections and stories of people mainstream society often lets slip through the cracks. This whole situation is a little difference when it comes to Amish folk, though. In many ways, they choose to separate themselves from mainstream society and its “fancy” culture, as they say. I completely understand and respect this choice; however, just because we may not see and interact with them as much doesn’t mean they are not a part of history. As archivists, how do we preserve and document the history of a people who, for the most part, would rather be left alone? This is an issue that comes up in other communities as well, such as the Native American community. In 2007, a collaborative group of Native American and non-Native American archivists and librarians got together and drafted the “Protocols for Native American Archival Materials.” Although this document was not officially accepted by the Society of American Archivists, it did establish some ethical and respectful standards for the historical representation of indigenous people. If archivists were to spend more time documenting the Amish, would a similar document be necessary?

I genuinely do not know the answers to these tough questions. After all, this is a matter of ethics just as much as it is a matter of preservation. I decided to explore what some archival literature has to say about it. But. . . after some quick online searches, I could hardly find anything related to the Amish and their archives. I did a keyword searches in The American Archivist and hardly found anything. The same goes for Archivaria, Archival Science, and Archival Issues. These are just a few journals off the top of my head. I definitely have more to survey. In addition, I may need to reach out to some archivists in states that have large concentrations of Amish people (Pennsylvania, Ohio, etc.) to see if they have any insight on the archives of the Amish. If anyone has any insight into this, please leave a comment! An inquiring mind (aka me) would love to know!

Reaching Out!

Outreach is a core archival function. Period.

I know, I know … I’m not leaving much room for debate there, am I? I’m sorry if I sounded forceful; normally I try to maintain an open mind about all viewpoints when I blog, but I really feel strongly about this particular subject, so excuse my slightly aggressive tone! Honestly, I think most archivists today would also agree that outreach is a crucial part of archival work; however, there was a time when outreach was considered a side effort or a task that was less important than “real” archival functions like appraisal and processing.  According to Timothy Ericson, this outdated mindset harkens from a past era when archivists considered themselves as passive custodians whose only goal was to serve and protect the records that came to them. F. Gerald Ham says archivists were “preoccupied with [their] own gardens, and too little aware of the larger historical and social landscape that sounded [them].”[1] Although it is crucial to acknowledge and understand our past professional practices so we can know from whence we came, sometimes, you just have to say, “so much for the past.”[2] Advances in technology and changes in user expectations/needs now require us to focus more on outreach. As archivists in the “post-custodial era,” our purpose is no longer to serve the records themselves; it is to serve the patrons (both direct and indirect) who can benefit from using our collections. (Part of me wonders if this was always the main purpose yet archivists were simply missing the mark, but that is a different discussion for a different day).

So what is archival outreach anyway? The Glossary of Archival Records and Terminology defines outreach as “the process of identifying and providing services to constituencies with needs relevant to the repository’s mission, especially underserved groups, and tailoring services to meet those needs.”[3] If that definition intimidates you, sometimes I like to simplify it by reversing the word itself. Outreach essentially means, “reach out.” Reach out to those who can benefit from the archives, and make archival services meaningful to them. Plus, the cool thing about outreach is that it can happen in so many different ways. Some archivists may create activities for K-12 or undergraduate students using items from their collections. That’s outreach. Other archivists may create exhibits showcasing archival materials pertaining to Black History Month, President’s Day, July Fourth, or whichever holiday may be happening at the moment. That’s outreach. Archivists may hold special workshops for genealogists or other constituents who have a deep interest in the collections. That’s outreach. Archivists may choose to host receptions, charity events, or community meetings at the archives. That’s outreach. Or, outreach can be as simple as “good, courteous service to any and all reference patrons.”[4]

I’ve included some links below that provide examples of outreach at various institutions.

Kennesaw State University Traveling exhibitions: http://historymuseum.kennesaw.edu/educators/traveling.php

Georgia Archives “Lunch and Learn” workshops: http://historymuseum.kennesaw.edu/educators/traveling.php

Princeton University Department of Rare Books and Special Collections exhibitions: https://rbsc.princeton.edu/exhibitions

“More Podcast, Less Process,” podcast series: http://keepingcollections.org/more-podcast-less-process/

I’d love to hear some examples of archival outreach that you’ve encountered! All comments are welcome!

Here are some pictures from an outreach activity we did at the Flat Rock Archives in October 2015. We hosted our annual Heritage Day and Jazz Festival which included an archival exhibit, music, food, and lots of family/friend fellowship. It was great!

flat rock 2015 jazz fest 9

flat rock 2015 jazz fest 2

flat rock 2015 jazz fest 8

 

[1] F. Gerald Ham, “Archival Strategies for the Post-Custodial Era,” American Archivist 44, no. 3 (1981): 207.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Glossary of Archival Records and Terminology, Richard Pearce-Moses (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2005), s.v. “outreach,” http://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms/o/outreach.

[4] William Landis et al. “Reference, Access, and Outreach: An Evolved Landscape, 1936 – 2011,” American Archivist 74, no. 1 (2011): 33, http://americanarchivist.org/doi/pdf/10.17723/aarc.74.suppl-1.l4625w7459q3g2lu.

New year, new look, new archives

New Year’s resolutions are fun to come up with but difficult to execute—am I right, or am I right? Each January, it has become custom for us to start the new year off right by vowing to improve our lives in some way. We may decide to eat healthier, exercise more, keep a cleaner house, read a book series, or something of that nature. Despite the fact that most New Year’s resolutions fail within a matter of weeks, the idea of a fresh start is still a very meaningful concept, not just for our personal lives, but also for our archival lives as well. Early in my graduate school career, Richard Pearce-Moses told me that an archives must have three things in order to thrive: a collection, a place, and a program. The “collection” refers to the archival materials themselves. The “place” is the physical area where the archives are kept. The “program” includes the policies and procedures that drive the archival workflow. As I’ve progressed through graduate school and gained more experience in the archival field, I’ve realized that all three of these aspects can be dynamic. It is up to archivists to not only respond to this dynamism, but also to anticipate it and constantly revisit the way archival work is being done. If we desire our work and our collections to remain relevant, we must regularly question our collection policies, our preservation practices, our technological resources, our description practices, our reference policies, and much more. Now don’t panic … I’m not saying we need to fix things that aren’t broken or randomly disrupt workflows that are working well, but I do think it is important to periodically step back and study the archival workflow of your institution. What is functioning and/or not functioning properly? What can be more efficient? How can we improve current practices? How can we adhere to archival standards better? Each domain of the archival workflow warrants these types of questions; in fact, that is exactly what I plan to do for the Flat Rock Archives—the local community archives where I volunteer. (If you want to know more about the Flat Rock Archives and my involvement with it, see the post I wrote here).

The Flat Rock Archives has a collection (check!), a place (check!), and a program…eh…not so much. The  Flat Rock Archives was not established by an archivist or by anyone with archival expertise; hence, a lot of necessary archival policies and procedures were never put in place during its development. According to James O’Toole and Richard Cox, establishing an archives and developing an archival program requires us to ask specific questions about the goals and scope of the archives. Why has the archives been established? What is it intended to accomplish? Where will the archives be placed? What kinds of records will the archives acquire? What subject areas will be represented?[1] Since these kinds of questions were not answered when the Flat Rock Archives was established, it is up to me to backtrack and revisit these questions in the hopes of developing a stronger archival program that serves the needs of users and also protects the collections. Considering the depth and breadth of archival work and how much effort it takes to develop a strong archival institution, I’m a little overwhelmed by the task in front of me at Flat Rock. There’s just so much to be done. However, as we all know, Rome was not built in a day, and neither is an archives. Instead of focusing on everything at once, I’ve decided to highlight a few basic and achievable tasks within the archival endeavor that I think Flat Rock needs to complete by the end of 2016. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Appraisal needs:

  1. Formal collection policy that supports the Flat Rock Archives mission statement

Acquisition needs:

  1. Accession record/Deed of Gift documentation for new acquisitions (and retroactive documentation for legacy collections)

Arrangement needs:

  1. Records inventory spreadsheet
  2. Intellectual control over collections

Description needs:

  1. Finding aids!

Preservation needs:

  1. Preservation grant
  2. Preservation consultation
  3. Condition reports
  4. Environmental stability
  5. Housing stability (archival folders, boxes, etc.)

Reference and Access needs:

  1. Reference policies
  2. Digitization of select items
  3. Digital finding aids

Outreach needs:

  1. More fundraisers
  2. Increased relationships with local schools and community groups

***

So, what do you think of my list? Am I missing something? Do you think I’m being too ambitious for one year? All thoughts are welcome.

Happy New Year, everyone! Let’s make 2016 a great one!

happy new year

[1] James M. O’Toole and Richard J. Cox, Understanding Archives & Manuscripts (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2006), 115-116.

Holiday traditions

During the holiday season, two of my favorite things converge—baking and archives. It’s pretty easy to see how baking fits into the holidays. Between cookie exchanges, holiday cakes, fruit pies, and treats for Santa, simply keeping enough flour and sugar stocked in the pantry is a full-time job. But how do archives fit into all this? Well, in my family, archives are essential to the holiday season, especially when it comes to baking. While it can be tempting to try and impress family members and friends with the monstrously magnificent cake creations plastered on the cover of the Southern Living and Food Network magazines each year, I find myself returning to the “archives” of my family’s recipes for inspiration. The tried and true recipes passed down from my grandmother to my mother and now to me hold a special place at our dessert table because they serve as an extension of our family history. Some of these recipes are not even documented on paper; instead, they reside in the archives of my grandma Ruth’s amazing mind. Such recipes include her red velvet cupcakes, her rich and gooey bubble bread, and her annual Christmas cookie assortment.

In contrast, some recipes in our baking archives come from books that various relatives gave to my mother when she was a newlywed back in the 80s. As I became older and developed a love for baking in recent years, I started incorporating recipes from these books along with recipes I found via the internet into our family’s holiday traditions. Now, many of these treats are so bundled with Christmas memories, we’ve already welcomed them into the family baking archives. A few of these recipes include my popular gingerbread crinkles, brown sugar chewies, sweet potato soufflé, and the cake that started it all—my famous applesauce spice cake (I’ve included an image of the recipe below!).

recipe book 1
I believe this cookbook was published in 1981. Not so “new” anymore right!
recipe book 3
The applesauce spice cake recipe is the one on the right. This was my first major baking project as a child.

My family’s baking archives are special to me because they connect generations of my family in a unique way. On Christmas Eve this year, I will get to watch my eighty-one year old grandmother pour love and marshmallows into her famously rich hot chocolate like she has for as long as I can remember. The next day, she will enjoy the gingerbread and shortbread cookies that my sister and I, the baking “newbies,” created the previous day. Through holiday baking, my family exchanges secrets, remembers history, and celebrates our legacy in a way that only our archives can facilitate.

recipe book 2
As you can see, this cookbook has definitely been used!

I am both comforted and fascinated by the intersection between archives, family, and recipes. That’s why I’m secretly hoping Santa  brings me the new book I’ve been wanting, which is entitled Preserving Family Recipes: How to Save and Celebrate your Food Traditions by Valerie Frey. I guess it all depends on whether or not I’ve been naughty or nice this year … we’ll see!

Do you have an archives of family recipes for holiday cooking and baking? If so, do tell!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all! I wish you joy, love, and peace during this holiday season 🙂

Sharing superpowers

Do you know which archival superpower I wish I had? The ability to identify photograph types! Womp, womp…not quite the answer you were looking for, right?  I know, but you’ve got to let me explain. Being able to identify photograph types is truly an asset for archivists. Nowadays, we take digital photos—point blank. However, the photograph industry certainly did not start off that way. The creation of photographic images has such a long, rich history—one that mirrors world history. Daguerrotypes , calotypes, ambrotypes, carte-de-visites, albumen prints, and Kodachrome films are just a few examples of photographs that have a distinct roles in the development of modern history, culture, and image technology. Hence, when an archivist can identify a photography type, she is often able to approximate the photograph’s date of creation and the context in which it was created.

Now do you see why I want this superpower? Okay, I admit it…I am being a bit dramatic. Obtaining this superpower is not a matter of sleighing a fire-breathing dragon or stealing the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West—it’s simply a matter of surrounding yourself with archival photographs, getting to know their characteristics, and practicing the identification process. Hopefully, I’ll get to do that one day, but for now, I am a bit stuck in my ignorance, which is why I need your help!

Last week, a co-worker of mine from the Flat Rock Archives (the community archives where  I volunteer on the weekends) attended a local craft festival. She ended up buying a random, large photograph taken of an African American family many years ago. The photograph, which is already in poor condition, was hanging by a string near a kiosk, and she didn’t want to see it harmed further. After purchasing the photograph, she brought it to the Flat Rock Archives. As you can imagine, we were greatly intrigued, but we quickly realized that we know nothing about the photograph’s history, the individuals in the photograph, or what type of photograph this might be.

 

flat rock mysterious photo

 

I’ve included an image of the photograph above, and I’m hoping that we can get some participatory archiving started right here on this blog post. Let’s do some crowdsoucing, because as you can see, I am very much at a loss when it comes to identifying the whereabouts of this photo! From the look of the clothing in the photo, I’m guessing this is probably a photo taken during the mid-nineteenth century or so. What do you think? Perhaps this was a family of slaves? But how likely would it have been for slaves to get a family photo as formal as this one? Perhaps this is post-slavery then??

Tell me what you think about all of this. Let’s share superpowers!