SAA recap part II: Archives * Records in Washington, DC

Anastasia outside the all-attendee reception at the Library of Congress

Contributed by DVAG Travel Grant winner Anastasia Matijkiw. Part II of II. See Part I here to read about Anastasia’s experiences at sessions about archival education and new professionals.

In addition to focusing on archival education, I attended several sessions that addressed digital media, specifically handling obsolete media. Session 410: Beyond the Floppy Disk: Rescuing Electronic Records from Complex Systems was a popular session, with attendees sitting on every inch of available space. Speakers from government organizations, corporations, and academia covered projects involving a variety of complex systems, including Lotus Notes, magnetic reel and floppy disks, proprietary systems, and MySQL databases. In their presentations, the speakers spoke on how they dealt with their specific projects and what problems they encountered. Common issues included dealing with migration versus emulation, issues of access, the value of the data, the resources available, fidelity of the representation, access to different versions, and handling the metadata. Two major takeaways from this session were to be open to working with partners – whether it is the IT department or an outside vendor – and to plan for the eventual demise of any complex system you may be working with. Session 601: Born Digital Content on Obsolete Physical Media: Challenges and Solutions was a lightning talk session that addressed similar projects as Beyond the Floppy, but focused more on what to do when you have something you cannot access in house, and how to create scalable solutions to deal with it in- and out- of house. Each speaker provided insight into a unique situation, and even more unique solutions. Most importantly, the speakers shared experiences that can be used to inform other institutions as they address obsolete file formats, storage media, and technology. Each speaker embraced that with these projects, where there may be several attempts with no solution, that one must accept that there are certain levels of ambiguity and uncertainty, and working with outside vendors is often an ideal solution – from a historical computing hobby society to a museum of computer culture. I left this session feeling even more passionate about dealing with obsolete media, and would advise those who find this topic relevant to read the work published by Ricky Erway of the OCLC, which was shared at the conclusion of the session.

I walked away from SAA14 feeling educated and wanting to take the archival world by storm. Although this euphoria may not last me until the next SAA meeting, it was an inspiring experience to attend my first national meeting. Not only did I learn a great deal, but was able to reconnect with old friends and make new connections. The All-Attendee Reception at the Library of Congress was the highlight of the social events, and the exhibition hall was overwhelming. I am extremely grateful to DVAG for giving me the opportunity to attend the conference, an experience that I am sure will stick with me throughout my archival career. I would strongly advise those who have not yet attended a conference to attend one in the future; you’ll find yourself feeling refreshed about the profession, ready to take on any challenge to change the archival world.

SAA recap part I: Archives * Records in Washington, DC

Anastasia outside the all-attendee reception at the Library of Congress

Contributed by DVAG Travel Grant winner Anastasia Matijkiw. Part I of II

Earlier this fall, I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 Society of American Archivist Conference, Archives * Records: Ensuring Access in Washington, D.C. Through attending sessions, panels, and talks, I learned a great deal while making new connections and reconnecting with old friends. The experiences I had at SAA14 had a significant impact on me, providing me with valuable insights and information to bring back to the DVAG community. None of this would have been possible without the generous financial contributions of DVAG.

While at SAA, I made an effort to attend sessions that focused on two themes: archival education and the early professional, and working with obsolete digital media. I started the conference by attending my first roundtable, the SNAP Roundtable. A joint meeting between SNAP and the lone arrangers, the roundtable was an ideal first interaction with SAA. Surrounded by both new and seasoned professionals, the program had two panels; the first focused on working as an archival consultant, and the second on internships and mentoring. As a new professional, both of these panels were eye opening. Thinking about becoming an archival consultant can be intimidating, but the speakers, Rachel Binnington, Elizabeth Keathly, and Danielle Cuniff Plumer, all had encouraging words and practical advice for those seeking this route, from how to handle finances as an independent consultant to marketing yourself. The second panel, focusing on internships and mentoring, was enlightening. Consisting of professionals and educators who supervise archival interns, the panel gave an interesting perspective of the supervisor.

I continued to attend sessions that I found relevant to archival education and new archivists throughout the conference. Two sessions that were of note in exploring issues that are relevant to the new archival professional included Session 106: Archival Education: Outcomes and Opportunities (and the following brown bag lunch Continuing the Conversation: Archival Education – And Beyond) and Session 501: Taken for Grant’ed: How Term Positions Affect New Professional and the Repositories That Employ Them. Archival Education: Outcomes and Opportunities, a panel discussion that included a recent graduate, an archival professor, a program director, and a hiring manager, aimed to explore what archival programs should be focusing on and what skills we are expected to graduate with. How we view the future of archival education, and what we expect from it is important and needs to be clarified for all parties involved; the student, the professor, and the hiring manager. The panel started and continues to motivate a conversation that is relevant to not only students and new professionals, but also the seasoned archivist. However, I found that there were several significant details omitted from the discussion, including the lack of a traditional student on the panel (the student representative provided the perspective of an all-online course of study) and the efforts of programs such as the Archival Education and Research Institutes (AERI), a collaboration between the leading archival education programs that address the future of archival education. As a profession, we direly need to define how we will educate future generations of archivists, and what we expect from them not only before entering programs, but also the tangible skills they should have developed when they leave. The conversation continued after the session during a brown bag lunch- a conversation that highlighted as a profession how much we lack an understanding of what we want from education. Like many previous conversations, it reflected a continual desire to talk, but a lack of conviction to act on our words. The attitude that some of our profession has of new archivists is shocking. However, I left still hopeful that those of us who feel strongly about preparing a future generation of archivists can continue the conversation, and incite action for change.

Taken for Grant’ed did not focus so much on education, but rather the challenges of the project archivist. Although I am not employed in a project position, I found this program eye-opening, as this is a topic many archivists, not just the new, encounter. The panel, consisting of project archivists, managers, and granting organizations, explored project positions from their different perspectives. In a field where jobs that could be done by permanent staff are often done by project archivists, where project archivists are often moving on to their next position by the time they are comfortable in their repository, the panel provided insights into what repositories can do for their project positions, as well as how to handle being a project position. Helpful advice from the panel included always being advocate for yourself (being “pleasantly persistent”), always be looking for a position, and, in the words of Mark Greene of the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, “Ask not what you can do for our repository, but what your repository can do for you.”

Stay tuned for upcoming Part II to hear about the rest of Anastasia’s SAA experiences, focusing on digital preservation and handling obsolete media.

Archives Month Philly: Curtis Institute of Music Historical Tour

Exterior of the Curtis Institute of Music

Exterior of the Curtis Institute of Music

Submitted by Ken Cleary 

On October 23, the Curtis Institute of Music welcomed Archives Month Philly enthusiasts for a tour of their historic conservancy and archives. Located adjacent to Rittenhouse Square at 1726 Locust Street and situated within three former mansion homes, the Curtis Institute of Music is as much a sight to behold, as it is a place to hear exemplary music and song. Founded in 1924 by Mary Louise Curtis Bok, the institute was created to fulfill her vision to provide the finest education and training to the most promising music students, regardless of their financial means.

Our group was led by Curtis archivist Helene van Rossum, who led us on a tour that encompassed art, architecture, music, and history. Our tour began with an overview of Curtis, pointing out classrooms, art, exhibits and other significant details. The tour concluded with a walkthrough of the library and archives spaces, where we had the opportunity to see some of their unique recordings, objects, and documents.

Several online exhibits and additional information can be found at the Curtis Archives.

 

Archives Month Philly: Fallen of the Great War

HSP_10152014

On October 15th, representatives from the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania and Heritage Reports gathered at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to present on a new digital history project about the First World War. Inspired by a list of names and addresses uncovered in the Pennsylvania State Archives, “The Fallen of the Great War: The Philadelphia Project” aims to identify and document over 2,500 service people from Philadelphia who lost their lives in the war. The project is part of Home Before the Leaves Falla collaborative digital initiative led by the Villanova University Special Collections Department designed to showcase World War I-era archival collections and primary source materials from institutions across the Delaware Valley.

Over the course of the evening, Ruth Martin (Heritage Reports) described the origins of the project and the initial intention to use the simple typewritten list of names and addresses to create an interactive map showing where the service people lived in Philadelphia and where they died. From there, she detailed how the project grew into an online database of biographical information and data of potential use to genealogists, scholars, social scientists, and the like. Joyce Horman and Kathryn Manz (Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania) discussed their efforts to mobilize volunteers from the academic and genealogical communities to gather information about each individual from censuses, city directories, draft registration cards, vital records, and newspapers. They also related some of the notable stories uncovered in their initial research, including the experience of Guiseppe Bellarosa, a recent Italian immigrant to the United States killed in action just four days before the 1918 Armistice.

For more information on “The Fallen of the Great War: The Philadelphia Project” or to join the team of research volunteers, check out the project page.