Friday, March 05, 2010


I almost forgot about this blog. The last time I posted was late in 2007, over two years ago, which may explain why it took me twenty minutes to remember my user name and password.

Now I can't remember why I thought about logging in and posting... but perhaps it will come back to me.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Is This the 21st Century?

I recently attended the OCLC CAPCON meeting in Washington, DC. The topic was social networking. There were some entertaining presentations, most notably the one highlighting OCLC's new Sharing, Privacy, and Trust in Our Networked World report. My "aha!" moment at the meeting came from the presenter who reminded us that social networking is a default action of human nature. Reading a book and discussing it is a form of social networking. All that has changed, in many ways, is the way that we network.

Inspired by the talks, I returned to the office and vowed to spend a few minutes every day evaluating how people communicate on the web. My main goal is to try to figure out how archivists might use these 21st century tools to reach out to our users. Some of my colleagues and I have been talking for the past year of making a movie to put on YouTube. What it would look like and what it would tell people is still unclear.

I joined Facebook. After two weeks, I have eight friends. All except one are librarians or archivists. I am not entirely clear how Facebook can help reach out to users, but I sense that its strengths lies in its applications. I've added several to my profile, including "Cities I've Visited." This allows me to pin on a map every city I've ever visited, and so far, I have 112. This makes me proud. And I willingly sat for about half an hour pinning them all. Imagine if we could develop some tool that would introduce people to archives in such a way. I found out that the Harry Potter character I most resemble is Hermione Granger. As a reward for filling out a five question-survey, a picture of Hermione Granger now appears on my profile, letting everyone know how cool I am. If I want, I can have quotes from the Doctor Who series appear in my profile automatically, set up a daily romance horoscope, and rate my favorite beers.

I can also allow access to my own visual bookshelf, which turns out to be a very popular item. People like contests and points an incentives. What about an application to rate your favorite archives? Or have a manuscript a day appear on your profile?

I know that digital library projects take time and cost money and manpower to do correctly. I know that Apple or Microsoft or Flickr or YouTube have computer programmers and money at their beck and call. But this is the 21st century. When I see how long it takes a digital library project to get off the ground, and what is involved in supplying correct metadata and preservation-quality images, I wonder, how much is worth it? Not that I don't think we shouldn't be digitizing. I'm all for it. What I wonder is how much we need to let go of our control in order to make more available. When I was a young one, I was sure that we'd be flying by the year 2000. I also thought that I'd be married to Paul McCartney. Turns out, that wasn't such a far-fetched idea - Heather Mills is only four years older than I am.

I have great respect for all the members of our profession who are working hard to improve access and to make archival materials useful and fun to our patrons. And I know it costs a lot of money to design iTunes or the Flickr upload tool. But boy are they easy to use. With a click of a mouse I can rearrange my music library 50 different ways. Who wouldn't want to have that option with an archival collection?

I feel like this is something that is on its way. I just hope I live to see it. Just like I hope I live to see flying cars on the Beltway.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Tetris Car

It's very important for an archivist to know exactly how many boxes will fit in his or her car. Because being an archivist is all about boxes.

I have a 1998 Toyota Corolla, and for the record, it can fit up to 15 standard size records center cartons as long as I don't have a passenger. The difference between 14 and 15 depends on how full the box is and whether or not I feel comfortable turning one on its side in my trunk. 5 boxes fit comfortably in the trunk, 6 in the back seat, and 3 in the front seat. But I can squeeze an extra one in there if I need to. Surprisingly, most of the donations to my archive come in batches of 14 boxes or less.

Is it weird that as I start thinking about a new car (I need to wait until mine hits 300,000 miles, which gives me at least another year or two), I think about taking an empty records center carton with me as I search, just to see if the new car will hold as many boxes.

That is my goal. A fuel-efficient, affordable, compact car, that can hold at least 14 boxes. Some people worry about child seats, 4-wheel drive, or a bitchin' stereo system. I care about boxes. How many boxes can YOU fit in YOUR car?

Monday, May 07, 2007

A Day in the Life

I often end each work day by working over the "required" 8 hours and not feeling as though I have accomplished much of anything. Then, when I run through the day in my mind, I realize that although I may not finish much of anything in a given day, I do a lot towards completing tasks. I think many people would be amazed to learn the variety involved in the typical:


5:03 a.m. The chime of my Zen Alarm Clock announces the dawning of a new day.

5:07 a.m.
The sound of insistent purring from a cat drowns out the second chime of the Zen Alarm Clock

5:10 a.m.
Slam lid of Zen Alarm Clock closed, throw cat off of bed, and rise to face the dawn.

5:11 a.m. - 6:00 a.m. Feed pets, shower, dress, gather things, clean cat litter, walk dog, make sure dog has dog treat for day.

6:05 a.m. - 6:55 a.m. Drive to work. Say morning prayer to thank the heavens for the invention of the iPod.

7:00 a.m. First one to work! At the archives!

7:00 a.m. -7:17 a.m. Turn off alarms, turn on lights, log on computer, boil water for coffee, make toast, shelve some boxes, unlock bathrooms, use bathroom, check mailbox, check voice mail.

7:18 a.m. Sit in front of computer with toast, coffee, and vitamins! All good archivists take their vitamins! Try not to drip crumbs into keyboard. It is not a sound archival practice to have food at your desk, especially in your keyboard.

7:18 a.m. - 8:00 a.m. Complete the following tasks:

* Read email, including skimming all listserv digests and RSS feeds
* Check reference email account. Three requests are waiting.
* Forward person who inexplicably decided to ask for an article from a Chemistry journal to the appropriate librarian
* Explain to the person asking to trace her great-grandfather's birthplace that sadly, due to staff and time constraints, we cannot conduct genealogical research, but I can offer some tips
* Tell the student writing his dissertation that yes, I can check Series II, Box 24, Folder 1 to double-check the date on that letter he needs to finish his chapter
* Update department web page to reflect new hours
* Print agenda for 9:00 meeting and print out policy that will be discussed
* File printouts of reference questions that have accumulated in printer into appropriate administrative files.
* File photocopy request forms into the Photocopy Request Form binder

8:00 a.m. - Say hello to colleagues stumbling into work who don't have such a long commute.

8:00 am - 8:20 a.m. Go to reading room to see if there are any pending photocopy requests from previous day. Reshelve items that are no longer needed and bring truck full of photocopy requests upstairs

8:20 a.m. - 8:45 a.m. Go with colleague across campus to take a picture of a haunted portrait in a locked conference room for our fall exhibit.

8:45 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.
Consult with student assistant re: plan to rearrange processing area that afternoon.

9:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m. Meeting with reading room colleagues, where we discuss our photocopy policy, building renovations, and training of new staff.

10:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Reference desk. It is slow today - there is only the one guy who comes in every day to use the computer and another guy who just wants to study. I entertain myself by:

* Looking up photocopy policies at other institutions to see what they charge
* Add new employees to email listserv
* Send some emails relating to various committees on which I serve
* Research a 1920s-era photograph
* Catch up with co-worker who just returned from vacation
* Talk to a mother and daughter touring campus who just want to see the library
* Work on a talk I have to give later this week
* Consult with student who is in charge of rearranging processing area

12:30 p.m. - 1:00 p.m. Crash a pizza party in another department

1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. Assist in rearranging of processing area, which involves:
* moving massive chunks of industrial shelving from point A. to point B.
* Using a swiffer to clean up the nastiness underneath
* Use what is available to me (Windex and Water) to try to clean some of the grime from the floor. It is not good archival practice to have your lunch area in the same area as your processing space, but what can you do?
* Maneuver another piece of industrial shelving from the back of the stacks to the front using a complicated system of two dollies, one master handyman, and two students.
* Clean all the shelves
* Answer question from student assistant about photocopy order
* Put things on shelves. Use my master appraisal system to throw away a lot of old trays and containers
* Wonder why we have pots and planting materials and why I never noticed them before
* Discover that we have saved not one, but two, inoperable coffee makers and one broken electric kettle. We archivists save everything, don't we!

3:00 p.m. - Sit.

3:02 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. Try to wrap up day in order to leave on time. This includes:
* Calling researcher who wants to visit and is unhappy we aren't open in the evenings
* Calling researcher who doesn't really want to talk to me, but needs to be transferred elsewhere
* Checking email for any breaking news of the day
* Beginning to read final report of subcommittee formed to implement DACS. Good stuff.

3:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
* Interrupted by student who has finished photocopy order. Call researcher and tell him his order is ready.
* Talk to different student about summer plans and possible summer projects.
* Realize I never looked up that citation for PhD student from this morning. Make big note on Post-It to remind myself to do it first thing next morning
* Ask student to scan two posters

4:00 p.m. Get wrapped up in poster scanning project. Open Photoshop to show student how to stitch sections of images together. Discover that even though my new computer is 4x faster with 4x the memory, Photoshop apparently needs five minutes to open a 40MB file.

Is this not the 21st Century? Can we not put people on the moon? Can we not give people new body parts and cars with complex engines that can go really, really fast? So I ask you, why can the average new desktop PC NOT open a semi-large file in a timely manner? WHY?

4:07 p.m. Make note to submit paper proposal to SAA that digitization isn't worth the time and effort if the average desktop computer takes TEN minutes to SAVE a friggin' 60 MB file.

4:15 p.m. Close Photoshop. Take deep breath. Grab bag.

5:15 p.m.
Arrive home. Discover that another day has passed without the dog using the back room as a toilet. The day is truly a success!

What was YOUR day like?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Recipe for Appraisal of Random Items

This recipe for appraisal of random items is a tried and true formula, tested in many archival work places throughout the world over the past century. It never fails to produce a certain light-headed, clean feeling, and it is possible to modify this recipe to include different proportions and ingredients without negative side effects.

Step 1:

Accumulate random items from a variety of places. These places include, but are not limited to:
* Well-meaning donors
* Fellow archivists from around the world who pass things off to you
* Your own stacks (files found in random places such as the tops of mapcases)
* Fellow colleagues who don't want to deal with unusual items
* Processing

Step 2:

Place items in piles and perhaps several boxes. Make sure they are not well-labeled and put them on a shelf nearby, preferably in your office, so that you SEE them, but can mentally block them out when necessary.

Step 3:

This is the most important step. Wait. Ignore. Clear your mind. It is important to prepare your brain to forget about these items entirely. Pretend that you are David Copperfield and that you have just made the Statue of Liberty AND those 1950s political bumper stickers disappear.

Step 4:

After your mind is entirely clear, choose a quiet day, free from interruptions, and begin to exccavate your piles.

Step 5:

Make sure you have a big trash can or recycle bin nearby. You will find that after a certain waiting period, you gain perspective and knowledge. You will have learned that the newsletters are duplicates and that the library already has five copies of that autographed book and that no one *really* wants a moldy photograph of unidentified old guys.

Step 6:

Any items that don't go into the recycle section can be evaluated. Perhaps you can find another archival colleague to give them to. Archivists are always happy for any new random item to spice up their own recipes.

Enjoy! By the end of the exercise your shelves will be clear enough to start the recipe all over again. And who wouldn't want to try this delicious treat time and time again?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Goody One Shoe

It is fitting that my last post was entitled "Goody Two Shoes" because I returned from vacation to find a shoe sitting on my processing table. I had instructed my student assistant to inventory a collection while I was away and he found this shoe and left the following note:

I found this in Box 10. But it does not seem to "fit" the collection.

In my opinion, a shoe is much more interesting than rodent droppings and dead spiders. And I haven't double-checked yet, but it is very possible that the shoe does fit. You never know. I will have to ask the donor. It won't fit me, that's for sure. It's a size 8 and too small for my big feet.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Goody Two Shoes

You Tube is my new favorite website. No one will ever be able to archive my stream-of-consciousness path as I click from probably-illegally-posted video to probably-illegally-posted video. If I were going to make this a very intelligent post, I would probably spend the rest of it discussing the legalities of You Tube. Instead, I am just going to highlight all the "archive-y" words in this post, because I actually logged on tonight because yesterday evening in the car I heard "Goody Two Shoes" by Adam and the Ants and it reminded me that there was a librarian in that video. When I watched it I realized that my memory was incorrect. She's not a librarian, she's a journalist. So nevermind.

That led me to search for archivist on You Tube, and I found this amazing training video that describes the life of an archivist. It appears to have been created by a site called Career One Stop. Anyone know if those are real archivists, and who wrote the text? It's actually a nice, little video - if I had a video iPod, I would try to add it on and show it to people whenever they ask what I do for a living. I'd be a hit at parties.

How many of these archival functions did you perform today?

* Archivists patiently sort historically valuable paper, film, and electronic records...
I wish. I mean, I supervise students who patiently sort historically valuable paper records. We don't sort the film; we just throw it in a box and I watch the students cringe as the harsh realities of life start to sink in to them. I also instruct the students on how to patiently "deaccession" those paper, film, and electronic (hahaha) records that are not historically valuable. With apologies to Sir Hilary Jenkinson, of course.

* [Archivists wear white gloves while patiently sorting these historically valuable paper documents]
I don't. Although I appreciate that they are trying to showcase careful handling of materials. But those gloves are just going to tear that paper... Sometimes gloves are necessary. Like when the historically valuable paper records have been acting as a mouse bathroom for decades.

* It's important that archivists be up-to-date on modern technology...
How much do I love that they show a shelf of old books when they read this line?

* Although usually comfortably quiet, the work place can be crowded with stored materials
How much do I also love the realistic portrayal of an archivist's work space? Although my work place is almost never comfortably quiet.

* The job may require bending to lift heavy boxes and climbing ladders to reach high shelves
I did this today! Lifted heavy boxes and climbed a ladder. I like to use the archives as my own personal gym.

* This is a job that goes far beyond simply keeping track of old documents. Archivists are vital guardians of fragile and often irreplacable history.

Rock on...