Blog 14: Archivists of the Houston Area and the Houston Archives Bazaar: Reflection on a Public Relations Success for Area Archivists

Last week’s blog post, a reflection on unprofessional conduct occurring and the soon-to-be closed SAA Archives and Archivst’s Listserv, inspired me to seek out a more positive story reflecting the best of the archival profession. I found this story on the google group page Archives in the News which linked to the ArchivesAWARE blog—a site hosted by the Society of American Archivists and its Committee on Public Awareness. It is ironic that within one organization, the best and the worst aspects of the field can be found.

The hyperlinked article posted is entitled “The Huston Archives Bazaar: An Interview with Emily Vinson, President of Archivists of the Huston Area”. This interview of  Huston Area President Emily Vinson, published on November 3, 2017, deals with the planning of implementation of the Houston Archives Bazaar, a free public event where archives in the Houston area advertise their institutions, oral histories are recorded, archival workshops are conducted and guest speakers discuss local history. The idea came from the Austin Archives Bazaar events in 2014 and 2016, which likely had seen some form of success for that community. According to the article, over 20 archives participated with over 200 members of the public in attendance at the Houston Bazaar. This is an impressive showing for the archival community in terms of cooperation; while the number of participants may seem less impressive, the fact that it was held two weeks after Hurricane Harvey speaks volumes. However, further information on the participants would be valuable. Did this event reach people who were not already patrons of participating archives? Has it inspired people to use area archives since?

Perhaps the most fruitful question posed to the president was “Did you get media attention? How did that happen?”  Vinson explains that a multi-faceted process was used to get the word out about the event that included: press-releases in secondary languages of the Houston area to all news outlets in the region (an excellent effort to bring diversity), social media, (including paid promotions on Facebook), postcards and finally, posters displayed in prominent gathering places. I would be curious to see what the objective of the event had been and how the objective was evaluated. If such a metric for efficiency was used, what are the measurable goals for the next Houston Bazaar in terms of event attendance, archival awareness, and patron growth?

From this article, I can gather the event is worth being praised for several reasons. First, it attempted to reach a diverse community of potential archive users by advertising for the event in Spanish and Vietnamese; archives need to accessible to a larger audience of users and be in tune to their needs. Second, it brought together a large section of area archives together by pooling resources; the archival community is best when it works together and is hurt when archivists at institutions act selfishly. Finally, and most importantly, the event brought the archives into public space; it is Important that archivists interact with communities and that sometimes means leaving the archive to meet your future patrons.

My short introduction to the world of archives has not only informed me about the institutions and archivists themselves, but has given me a clear sign that overall professionalism in the field remains strong. Like any field, there are elements which need to improve, such as the policing of professionalism amongst members and the need to reach more diverse audiences. However, outreach such as the Houston Area Bazar shows that a new generation is shaping the field to meet the demands of the 21st century patron. I hope to play a part in bringing archives into my future classrooms.

Blog 13: A Response to Archives in the News Post “ Professionials Without Professionalism, Part 1”

A short post on the Google Group Archives in The News —posted  under the title “Professionals without professionalism, Part 1 Archives & Archivists” by username Pakurilecz on November 17th, 2017 —grabbed my attention. It made me ask “why is Archives and Archivists Listserv from the Society of American Archivists so controversial?” and more importantly, how did it earn this listserv earned the twitter nickname “#thatdarnlist”?[1]

An SAA report from 2017 provided a bit more detail, suggesting that individuals on the listserv had engaged in unprofessional behavior stating, “The Terms of Participation clearly prohibit personal attacks and inflammatory remarks of a personal nature”[2] and “It seems that, at times, certain list participants (including nonmembers) have used the list to “tweak” SAA and taunt other individuals. We encourage them to seek out a new hobby.”[3] Perhaps most damning of all, the report states, “The reputation of the list has been declining for years, and this reflects poorly on SAA and its brand. One striking example is the emergence of the Twitter hashtag “#thatdarnlist” to mark conversations about the list. Many SAA members have publicly encouraged archivists to avoid the list entirely.”[4] The report closes by suggesting that the Listserv be decommissioned by December 31, 2017, that listserv archives be maintained for public use and that a new online forum for profession-wide discussion.

A search of the twitter hashtag #thatdarnlist  brings up a long list of tweets including:

“Unsubscribed from #thatdarnlist. Sick of the endless bickering and immature snark. Not even remotely worth it.” – @ElavatrSpeech, Sept 2, 2014

#thatdarnlist should have a specific purpose & audience. It’s called the Archives&Archivists listserv not SocialOutlet listserv.” – @Gonzoarchivist, Sep 3, 2014

“As a former victim of harassment on #thatdarnlist, I was happy to help kill it. And, as we note in the release, there will be opportunities for member feedback on what may come next. Please give that feedback.”- @barkivist, November 8, 2017

While I cannot comment directly on any content on this listserv, it is apparent that the SAA has an infamous record in terms of policing the professionalism of its membership and forums of communication. I am left wondering how a new forum will prevent the issues that seemed ever present in the soon-to-be decommissioned listserv. Is this listserv a microcosm of structural problems within the SAA? And how are issues of professionalism handled by other Archival associations and forums?

 

 

[1] pakurilecz, . “Professionals Without Professionalism, Part 1 Archives & Archivist.” Accessed November 19, 2017. https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/archives-in-the-news/tbimwt7gzMw.

[2] Beaumont, Nancy, and Matt Black. “Society of American Archivists Council Meeting November 5–7, 2017 Chicago, Illinois The Archives and Archivists Listserv.” Society of American Archivists . https://www2.archivists.org/sites/all/files/1117-V-A-A&AList.pdf, 2.

[3] Ibid, 3.

[4] Ibid.

Blog 12: USAHEC Archives tour

Yesterday, was given a brief tour of the US Army Heritage and Education Center by a research historian on staff. The center—supported by the 501(c)3 Army Heritage Center Foundation—houses objects, manuscript collections, oral histories, and even veteran’s surveys from as far back as the Spanish-American War. USAHEC, as it currently stands, was finished in 2011. According to the historian I toured with, several additions have been planned which will be constructed as funds are made available. The building has been built with many of these future plans in mind.

What surprised me most about USAHEC is that it has its own conservation facility. The Center also contains a permanent exhibit on the soldiers from the Spanish-American War to present. This exhibit was incredibly interactive. For instance, a visitor could lift up various mounted rifles carried by service members from 1898-present, follow the stories of several soldiers using keycards, and even enter a room that digitally-rendered a Vietnam-era firefight from the vantage point of an American bunker. In addition to this permanent exhibit, several rooms within the center feature rotating exhibits using archival material and objects. The current exhibit relates to the centennial of the US entrance into World War One.

I learned of one particularly interesting problem the archive is currently seeking to remedy: many of the collections need to be “cleared” by double-checking for identifiable information. As a staff member at the archives explained, various collections are being reprocessed in this manner. Anyone looking to have box pulled will need to have the requested box checked against a list of cleared material. Material that has been requested, but not cleared is given priority. Archival staff pull all requested material from one of several archival rooms. I was informed there are several rooms with Individual HVAC systems adjusted to the archival needs of various kinds of items. Unfortunately, I was also informed that part of the archives is dealing with a mold problem that has temporarily affected the accessibility of some materials.

I was deeply impressed by my tour of USAHEC and found kind, courtesy, and knowledgeable staff members at each leg of my journey. I also had the opportunity to be a patron at the archives. I had a box pulled from the collection of a man who had been a soldier during the Philippine Insurrection. I left the archive with a small set of notes and a thorough reference guide on the subject I had expressed interest in to staff members. I look forward to returning to USAHEC again in the future.

Blog Post Week 11: Archivists in the Post-Custodial Era

After reviewing several articles on how archivists reach the general public— in particular Timothy Ericson’s 1990/1991 article “Preoccupied With Our Own Gardens, the SAA’s Strategic Plan, NARA’s “Teaching with Documents” webpage, and the Interactive Archvist’s— I firmly believe a vast majority of archivists are operating in a post-custodial era. One particularly interesting example of a post-custodial archival project is the twitter account “Ask Archivists” in which twitter users can interact and follow the archival community. The page, operating since 2010, has 9,044 followers and represents a media venue being capitalized upon by archives and archival institutions. The social media presence of archivists and archives represents a clear effort by the archival community to connect to the public. Lesson planning and interactive document platforms (as seen in Web 2.0 and Nara’s Teaching with documents via DOCSTeach) represent the innovative measures archivists are taking to reach a larger audience; archival studies joining the larger digital humanities movement represents a clear adoption of the post-custodial mindset. The name of the game appears to be how can archives/archivists cheaply use technology to interact with a larger audience.

Perhaps the bigger issue for archivists, in the digital age, is how to best preserve today’s information. Many formats—CDs, DVDs, Cassette tapes, Floppy disks, etc.— present a challenge in terms of preservation due to the unforeseen “half-life” of many of these mediums. Even more pressing may be content created online, such as the 1996 satirical website “Bert is Evil, as discussed in Roy Rosenzweig’s 2003 article “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era”.  Much of this content is created and either changes appearance of disappears without leaving a physical trace. However, web crawling services offer a solution to part of the dilemma; what is unfortunate is data created on social media accounts that are privacy protected, e-mails, text messages or similar files from messaging applications. This information is easily deleted, or is stored on servers not designed to archive the material past it’s date of continued use. How will this information, that is most personal and perhaps most valuable to a future researcher, be saved and stored? Archivists should be inserting themselves into the tech world so they may understand how information technologies are created and operate. They should also reach out to this community in the hopes of becoming part of the informational process; the creators themselves should have a vision for the archival part of their creation’s existence. Archivists need to pose questions to creators of digital content in terms of how they wish to proceed once the creation or data is past it’s usable life. The archivist, by and large, is aware of the post-custodial age. The question is, does the digital age require a new archivist—in particular, an archivist who is there from digital cradle to grave?

Week 10: My Site Visit- Brief Impressions

A few weeks ago, I toured the Abraham Lincoln Foundation’s archives within the Heritage Center of the Union League of Philadelphia. Overall, I found the experience to be pleasant and enlightening in regards how archives actually operate. I left with the following points in mind.

The archive is incredibly easy to get to by subway and is located a few blocks from City Hall on Broad Street. While the Union League itself requires a strict business formal dress code, the archive itself does not. The Archivist on staff quickly responded to my request to tour the archive and the Union League. Upon my arrival, I was given a thorough tour of the complete faculty and was provided with the most recent copy of the collections management policy and several finding aids. I was surprised to learn that only 5% of the Abraham Lincoln Foundation’s holding are owned by the foundation itself; the majority of the collection is stewarded, on agreement with numerous institutions/individuals, by the foundation. Perhaps what struck me most was how relatively the whole operation was. The Heritage Center, which houses the Abraham Lincoln Foundation and two of its sister foundations, was completed and stocked with archival holdings between roughly 2011 to 2013. The majority of the archival collection includes member records (used mostly by genealogists and prospective members looking for hereditary membership rates) and administrative records of the Union League, partial record holdings of the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia, records of The Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS) and records of The Dames of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Much of the material is still being processed due to negotiations over holdings between other institutions, incoming records from properties newly purchased by the Union League, and the limit of funding (the Archive operates largely on the donations of individuals). The Abraham Lincoln Foundation is financially separate from the Union League. It will be interesting to see how the foundation evolves as its current form is relatively new. In many ways, the archive at the foundation seems to be in metamorphosis; not yet certain on how it will serve a greater audience due to a need to understand what it has in its entirety and due to financial limitations. However, it bears repeating that the archive is operated and staffed by a small group of dedicated individuals; its limitations are not the product of neglect but rather the reality of finances, work force size and operational imperatives. I look forward to writing in more detail about my site visit for my class report.

 

 

 

Week 9 Blog: “Georgia Election Server Wiped After Suit Filed”: Record Retention Policies and Penalties of Law

According to a recent ABCnews article, a crucial sever at the Center for Elections Systems at Kennesaw State University was wiped out several days after a lawsuit against Georgia election officals was filed; Kennesaw State’s Media Center attributed the server wipe to “standard operating procedure.”[1] Was this a clear and provable violation of the law? One provision of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA act) requires voting systems to be auditable and produce a paper record available as an official record (Pub.L. 107–252 SEC.301 a. 2.).[2] Records on this system should have a hard copy backup. According to the article, the plantiffs, who are mostly Georgia voters, want to have a new voting system. The current system includes “27,000 AccuVote touchscreen voting machines, hackable devices that don’t use paper ballots or keep hardcopy proof of voter intent.”[3] How were these machines allowed to operate in seeming violation of the HAVA act of 2002? What did records managers have to say about this issue? The most important question may be, what was the record retention policy of the center and was the center legally notified to halt their standard procedure in order to protect the information on this server? Time will tell how this issue will play out, however, the implications of case like this are serious. We must ensure that good record management and archival practices are followed, from the creation of records to their preservation. We cannot rely on technology or honesty. Technology can fail and technology will fail—and technology can be made to fail.

 

[1] Bajak, Frank. “APNewsBreak: Georgia election server wiped after suit filed.” ABCNews. Accessed October 26, 2017. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/apnewsbreak-georgia-election-server-wiped-suit-filed-50729761.

[2] Government Publishing Office. “Help America Vote Act of 2002.” https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-107publ252/html/PLAW-107publ252.htm.

[3] Bajak, Frank. “APNewsBreak: Georgia election server wiped after suit filed.” ABCNews. Accessed October 26, 2017. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/apnewsbreak-georgia-election-server-wiped-suit-filed-50729761.

Week 8 Blog: Chaos and Disaster Planning

 

 

Chaos (Noun): “the inherent unpredictability in the behavior of a complex natural system”[1]

 

Chaos is inherent in all we do. Chaos theory in mathematics, Clauswitzian friction in war, and the field of Quantum Chaos in physics are testaments to the effects of unaccountable variables on even the most solid foundations of human understanding. In the archival world, chaos is countered thorough disaster planning. Chaos–such as a fire in a section of the archives, a pest infestation, or instance of flooding—that is planned for in contingency scenarios and rehearsed, ceases to be chaos. Archives that plan for and rehearse responses to the most common disasters that befall archives avoid unnecessary calamity. An important case study for archival disaster planning has been hurricane Katrina. The experience has given several lessons in avoidable chaos according to NYU graduate Kara Van Malssen.[2] These lessons include effective disaster planning, external recovery services, and risk of cultural collapse as a result of a disaster. After the hurricane, standard lines of communication that had been incorporated into disaster plans within ravaged areas ceased to be operational, “Don’t neglect to establish every possible line of communication.” Not only were these lines of communication severed, but archives lacked the resources for recovery and effective networks to accomplish timely recovery efforts, “Always be sure that your library, archive, or department within a larger organization has discussed emergency preparedness plans with the administration.” Finally, the largest disaster to the archives effected by Katrina may be the loss of the community which surrounded them, “The reductions in staff size and funding for both recovery and day-to-day operations are possibly even larger a threat to many institutions and collections than the hurricane itself.”[3] However, you will never avoid chaos. It is the sprinkler system with a 99% successful operation rate that fails at the time it’s needed; the most unlikely scenario can occur for the simple reason that even the statistically best-prepared institution is at the mercy of probability. All an institution can do is understand the risks. Studying the disasters that befall similar institutions or raw data on the likelihood of a disaster on institutions could be one way to accomplish this. Archivists who study past calamities, who weigh the probability of various disaster, and plan with cost and risk aversion in mind will be more likely to avoid avoidable chaos. But chaos will always occur, prepare for the worst and hope for the best .

 

 

 

 

[1] Merriam-Webster. “Definition of Chaos.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/chaos.

[2] Van Malssen, Kara. “Disaster Planning and Recovery: Post-Katrina Lessons for Mixed Media Collections.” http://www.nyu.edu/tisch/preservation/research/disaster/06ala-talks/talk_vanmalssen.shtml.

[3] Ibid.

 

Week 7– Voices Lost: the 1973 Fire at the National Personnel Records Center and its Implications on Service Records

 

 

One night when I was young, my father brought home a stack of books entitled Soldiers of the Great War. We sat down at the kitchen table while he reverently opened one volume of the fragile book set to a dog-eared page. Tracing his finger across the yellowed paper, he stopped on an image fainted from years of touching. The caption read “Pvt. Luigi Caporusso, Trenton [New Jersey]” under a subsection “Died of Wounds”.

My great-grandmother never knew her uncle, but the unspoken loss had led her to occasionally open the book for my father.  She repeated a ritual her father had started. His trembling finger had been the first to touch the face of his dead son as my young great-grandmother looked on. The somber ritual had lost its strong connection over time, but it made its way down to my father and I. The faded photo we viewed offered nothing but a forgotten tragedy; the story of a foreign-born soldier who died far from home and whose abrupt death echoed over generations.

I felt compelled to understand who Luigi was and years later, I would request his service record from the National Personnel Center in St. Louis. The response I  received was a letter stating that nearly 80% of personnel records had been destroyed in a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center, including that of my relative. I was crushed; I had followed his trail using the limited information I could gather from the New Jersey State Archives and from reading about the 78th Lightning Division in World War One. What medals had my relative earned? What had happened when ,24 days before the war ended, Luigi had been wounded? Where did he finally die and how?

To remedy issues caused by this fire, the NPRC reconstructs these official files using alternative sources such as medical records, pay records, and VA claims. But I wonder how much was really lost. How many veterans have been affected when it comes to claiming their service or how many relatives may never know the stories of heroism that had been within the Official Military Personnel files of 75-80% of Army and Airforce personnel serving between 1912 to 1964. One can only hope the NPRC has learned and disaster planned to avoid a future calamity and also, that the sacrifices of these service members was documented elsewhere.

As for the story of Luigi Caporusso, my efforts continue. I’ve learned a great deal about my ancestor and in so doing, began to understand some family roots. But ultimately, I am left with more questions than answers. Sometimes, I find myself opening the book to a brittle page folded long ago. Continuing a ritual of loss that started nearly 100 years ago.

Week 6 Blog: The Ethical Archivist

After reading the ACRL Code of Ethics for Special Collections Librarians and the SAA Core Values Statement and Code of Ethics, it became apparent that the codes and ethics were most-likely a prescriptive measure. My initial impression was reaffirmed after reading The Ethics of Collecting. The archival world was and is prone to all the same human qualities that adversely affect ethics of the business world: actions motivated by personal gain, money, competition rather than ethics and institutional integrity.

The Ethics of Collecting, which appears to be written prior to a unified emphasis on archival professionalism, identifies problems within the profession that were ignored prior. Have any of these ethical issues within the archival field declined? And more importantly, is there any way to empirically assess (in any manner) whether the professional codes promoted by various associations have worked to curb unethical behavior?

Regardless, professionalism requires uniformity and a clear code of ethics. One can easy hypothesize that codes of ethics have indeed improved the professionalism within the archival field. Archival associations can not only attest to the professional character of their members, but they can also police the individuals who make up their organization. The fact that professional organizations exist and gain credibility in the field by promoting professional behaviors means that institutions will prefer members over non-members. An unethical archivist who loses their membership will be unattractive candidate for any position in a market dominated by associated professionals. In this way, archivists can exert control over their profession. You cannot stop many of the unethical practices that occur in archives, but you can teach and promote ethical behavior and punish poor behavior organizationally when it becomes apparent. What is most difficult is when the archivist is incentivized to act unethically by their institution. Some examples may include splitting groups of material at the cost of the researchers, acquisition practices which hurt or demean other archives, and collecting priorities pushed by institutions which do not benefit archive users (ex. memorabilia collecting over the collecting of research materials).  In these situations, it is ultimately up to the archivist to act ethically. One can only hope their training and connection to the larger professional community leads them to act for the common good.

 

Week 5 Blog: Jack Ruby’s Trial: the Soon-to-be Open Collection

On November 24th, 1963, the suspected assassin of President John F. Kennedy, Harvey Lee Oswald was shot at close range by a man named Jack Ruby. Little is taught about Jack Ruby, other than he was a night club operator and was the man who killed Oswald. Much of the story remains shrouded in mystery.

According to a local Dallas news station WFAA8’s online article, “14 Boxes of Jack Ruby Records Become Public Next Week” material from Jack Ruby’s trial will become public for the first time. The Sixth Floor Museum At Dealey Plaza is currently digitizing the collection for researcher and visitor review. Some of the material can be currently seen under the “Jack Ruby Collection” at https://www.jfk.org. Within the article, U.S. Federal Judge John R. Tunheim, who chaired the U.S. Assassination Records Review Board in the 1990s, suggests that the records truly belong in the national archives saying, “I think it’s a better bet that the National Archives will have everything in order. Give the originals to NARA where they will be kept in perfect condition for as long as we are a country.”[1]

Had I not enrolled in Archives and Manuscripts this semester, I may have agreed with Judge Tunheim’s conclusion. However, when evaluate with archival practice in mind, the Sixth Floor Museum is the better choice. The museum is not only a niche museum dedicated to President Kennedy’s assassination, but they have prioritized the digitalization of a collection which may not have been digitized at NARA. Their ownership of the documents is most-likely essential to their access and digitization. While preservation techniques and conditions may be superior at NARA, the volume of material there could easily mean these documents would not receive the preferential treatment they’re receiving at the Sixth Floor Museum. In the archival sense, these documents are not only accessible to a large non-archival audience, but the digitization of the collection may serve to preserve the usable data. Time will tell in regard to what is digitized and if the archival material is processed logically. While it is highly unlikely the material in this box will answer why Jack Ruby killed Oswald, it will certainly help researchers and the public understand more about the enigmatic man himself.

 

 

 

[1] Whitely, Jason. ““14 Boxes of Jack Ruby Records Become Public Next Week”.” WFAA. http://www.wfaa.com/features/14-boxes-of-jack-ruby-records-become-public-next-week/477719764.

 

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