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.


Archives and the Quest for Quality Education

pictured above: a representation of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Courtesy of the Vanderbelt University Center for Teaching).

In the education world, goals of student learning are well-depicted by Bloom’s Taxonomy, a hierachal model used to classify learning objectives  . At the top of the pyramid are the highest skills educators are encouraged to utilize: having their students be able to logically and empirically appraise material (evaluation) or ultimately, being able to create something original based on the content (creation or synthesis). These goals are known to educators and layman alike: the ability for students to think critically and originally. The drive for critical and orginal thought in the classroom appears in educational theory and standards nationwide. Many students simply aren’t doing this in their classrooms. This lack of critical thinking is leaving public officials, as well as regular commentators, clamoring for a solution. Critical thinking is as important as ever in an era of alternative facts, cultivated doubt, and a polarizing media. In this vacuum enters the archivist and the archives.

The opportunity for archivists to enter our schools is best addressed in Anne J. Gilliland-Swetland’s “ Am Exploration of K-12 User Needs for Digital Primary Source Materials” , published in The American Archivist in Spring of 1998. While this article is dated, it tackles important issues: the incorrect idea that the archives requires skills and maturity that is reserved for the highest grades, the  incorporation of technology and need for digitalization, and equal access. I would argue that the problem has grown more dire, following the passage of the standardized-testing obsessed No Child Left Behind Act  and its related-replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015. Students are over-tested and teachers are teaching to tests that rate student mastery and teacher effectiveness poorly. Worst of all, and arguably related, teachers are tethered to lessons that utilize low-level taxonomy skills.  The archives and archivists are resources that can be used to teach students how to conduct research and most importantly, develop the skills to evaluate arguments and  form unique viewpoints.

The archive is not out of reach of many students; it just requires various levels of scaffolding by the teacher to meet the student’s levels. In some cases, as seen in the “We Connect” program referred to in Swetland’s article, educators can use the archive to create high-level taxonomy exercises that meet student’s developmental ages and skill sets. In other cases, the archive is simply a place that allows egalitarian access to quality materials under the guidance of a local expert; teachers often don’t have the time, skill or resources to vet the sources students utilize or to provide students source material. The local archive is a valuable resource that can serve the needs of many educators and students. While my experience relates to Social Studies, and effective educator can bring critical thinking and creativity into any subject classroom.

Laura Schmidt’s “Using Archives: A Guide to Effective Research” is an excellent example of the archive entering the classroom. The well-crafted resource has likely brought classrooms into local archives. It defines what an archive is, an archivist’s terminology, and how to use the archives in a format familiar to high school students and teachers. Bolded terminology, images, and a lack of unnecessary jargon communicate to a layperson how to approach an archive. Social studies teachers in Pennsylvania (and most likely across the nation whether by coincidence or Common Core) are required to include primary source work in their lessons. Also, many other subjects are required to meet literacy objectives during the year or motivated to more actively engage students . Teachers benefit from resources that enhance their classroom at no cost to the district, teachers, or students.

Many educational institutions and archives actively seek to engage  educators with seminars, lesson plans, and resources geared towards pre-prepared research topics. In this way, archives entice teachers to bring the local archive into the classroom and ensure a future group of archives users. Engaging students doesn’t mean just digitalizing content nor does the archivist have to attempt to wear the teacher’s hat. The best an archivist can do is know their community and actively be engaged with the needs of quality educators; a collaborative relationship is essential between experts of the education of archival world. One area which could increase participation among archives and classrooms is to work towards STEM-related (science,technology, engineering and math) materials housed in archives.

As a future educator, working with local archives is a natural choice when aiming for higher level activities or when supplementing my curriculum. Students who can evaluate arguments are more capable of critical thought and given a tool that develops empathy—whether it’s an elementary school class being scaffolded to argue the choices of fairy tale characters amongst each other or the high school level debate over the trial of Thomas Preston following the Boston Massacre. lessons utilizing primary source evaluation and personal engagement lead to the valuable instances of learning. These students, who receive such instruction, often possess the analytical and emotional ability to handle debates many adults shy away from; I would not be afraid to ask these students, trained over many years of schooling before they reach my high school class, to debate for the 2016 presidential candidate opposite to their own personal beliefs.  After completing this level of evaluation, students who create something new show the ultimate mastery of material applied in a more real-world context. But the higher the taxonomy, the more planning and skill is required, these educational goals are best achieved when they aren’t done alone.To meet these goals best, it truly takes a village–the educator, the archivist, and the community at large.


Week 3: Opportunity Cost and Productivity: Two Concepts Every Archive Should Consider

“Archivists are not savers of records for their own sake; rather they save so that archival records can be made available and used.”[1] However, according to “More Product, Less Process” by Mark Green and Dennis Meissner, a 2003-2004 study revealed that at least 60% of repositories had at least a third of their collection unprocessed.[2] Roughly 33% of data in these reported archives is therefore, unavailable to the public. Since the publishing date of this article is 2005, one can only imagine the issue has grown exponentially. If methodology for processing archives has yet to widely break from tradition, it must do so soon.

Green and Meissner offer the following logical guidelines: process faster, arrange materials in an “adequate” way to meet user needs with “sufficient” description, and take minimal steps to preserve collection materials. In the eyes of the authors of this article, archives suffer from a lack of productivity. More specifically, a drive towards quality at the price of productivity. Just as standardization and time management increased productivity in the economic sector, it will and must in the archival world.

I agree that archives need to adopt practices and more importantly, the mentality, of productivity. Metrics are important. As a graduate student, I am and continue to learn the importance of my time as I find less of it available. I have learned to roughly gauge my time and the amount of work I can do in a set time frame. Even before grad school, I had to learn the necessity of productivity. My inbox overflowed with time-sensitive e-mails during student teaching; parents demanded instantaneous responses, as did students, advisors, and professors. It seemed unreal and I realized I could no longer craft every email meticulously. I read somewhere to set a timer, to set a maximum time for an email response, then move on. You pull out the important information in an email and respond professionally and to the point. While I attest I never perfected this method and currently revert to my pre-professional days, the lesson was clear. Time is important and quality is decided by the volume of work. An archivist should put volume over quality if the basic purpose of an archive is met: people being able to find items and use them.  What may be most damning comes forth in Jennifer Schaffner’s “The Metadata is the Interface.” “We understand archival standards for description and cataloguing, but our users by and large don’t.”[3] Not only may the current traditions be too time consuming, but they seem to also work against the ease at which archival material can be accessed. We know we must change how we process archival holdings, but the open-ended question is: how do we standardize practices that increase productivity in a cost-effective and adequate manner across all archives?


[1] James O’Toole and Richard Cox, Understanding Archives & Manuscripts (Archival Fundamentals Series), Chicago:  Society of American Archivists, 2006, 124.

[2] Mark Greene and Dennis Meissner. “More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing.” American Archivist 68, no. 2 (2005). http://www.archivists.org/prof-education/pre-readings/IMPLP/AA68.2.MeissnerGreene.pdf, 3.

[3] Jennifer Schaffner. “The Metadata Is the Interface: Better Description for Better Discovery of Archives and Special Collections, Synthesized from User Studies.” OCLC Programs and Research, 2009. http://library.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p267701coll27/id/444, 4.

Week 2: We Can’t Save it All: My Thoughts on What makes an Archivist

Living in Bucks County, I’ve heard of many places that claim to have been used, traveled through, or inhabited by George Washington and his men during the American Revolution—in fact, the farmhouse I spent my early childhood in was one such place. Growing up, it appeared many of these places tapped into America’s “founder’s chique’” in order to fight for survival. These places, of doubtful importance, seem to captivate passersby who view the various locations with unquestioned reverence; as though they are the Stations of the National Cross. Some of these places, if they have museums, even contain artifacts one would expect to find of a local saint in remote monastery; a piece of Washington’s wig, a signature, or part of a tent. We, who admire, study, and preserve history, at times have a blindly-strong bond to tangible things related to revered individuals. “But of course, you must save Washington’s correspondence, this has value. His locket of hair, it’s Washington’s after all! And don’t forget a tent he may have used once, it has a  great story behind it.” We venerate objects and attach importance to them, following some deep cultural tradition, without asking why. Does this happen in some archives as well?

The archivist, in professional principle, seems different; he or she acts with logic. The need to preserve history and the strong connection to objects/data are met with the realities of an archive’s purpose. The archivist isn’t a relic holder and every item taken must represent a logical choice. The space and the resources of an institution are finite. Opportunity cost is as important as assuring the items you invest in have utility. In such an environment, you could not save Washington’s signature, or one would even ask “Does this archive need Washington? Or does this archive benefit from an acquisition policy that collects the writings of the Martha Ballards in history (a long overlooked diary of regular events from a midwife that helped Laurel Thatcher Ulrich write her famous book on Frontier Women’s’ lives entitled A Midwife’s Tale).” As Mark Green said in “The Power of Archives: Archivists Values and Value in the Postmodern Age”, Archivists have power. What they save dictates what historians can write and therein by the stories of the past we create.

I am embarrassed to say I’ve always thought of archives as though they were attics of objects and data; a place to store things of “value” for the life of the archives. Instead, I see the archives as a living institution that should change with the times and should work around the evolving interest of researchers. The value of the items within a properly-functioning archive not only have quantifiable value, but that value can shift as administrations or the public’s use changes. A good archive has a deacquisition and reappraisal policy. Just as we cannot save every place every historical “rock-star” was, we cannot save everything a creator creates. Or, in that case, even anything from a famous individual at all. An archivist is not an amateur collector and an archive is not a memorabilia warehouse.

Here is a valuable hypothetical: the archive is a place where the unusually-meticulous records of a historically-forgotten innkeeper — and who may have even housed Washington—becomes more important to history than any possession from the great Washington himself.


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