Frick Library Archiving Presentation

By hwilli13

On October 21, I went to a workshop at the Frick Library called “Save Your Scholarship: Web Archiving and Tools for Preserving Research Resources”’ The audience was composed of art historians, artists and librarians. The presenters were both archivists. Their lecture was presented by the Digital Art History Lab, which is part of the Frick Art Reference Library. The Digital Art History Lab, created in 2014 has a mission to “provide researchers with the digital tools and data necessary to explore new methodologies.” And to promote the conservation of things digital. www.nyarc.org/content.digital-art-history-comes-frick. The Frick Museum is also in a consortium with the Brooklyn Museum Library, and the MOMA Library: the NYARC. This has a complimentary mission to “facilitate collaboration that results in enhanced resources to research communities.” www.nyarc.org/content/about.

                The workshop I attended was part of outreach efforts by both the DAHL and the NYARC. The initial message presented, was that today we are in a time of crisis, not unlike the climate crisis (their metaphor). How to store and retrieve born-digital materials? The presenters talked about why it was important to save born-digital materials and talked about how link rot and content shift can undermine scholarship and how quickly links disappear. After having been told how little was actually being archived, we were shown pie charts of which organizations were archiving. Universities and colleges were doing the most, at 52%, archives handle another 15%, state government 13%, the federal government a mere and scary 5%. Museums handle 1%. We then were given information about what NYARC is archiving. All three museums are archiving their own collections, their websites, and related websites. They move outside their walls to archive the websites of auction houses, catalogues raissonnes, artists’ websites, NYC gallery websites, restitution scholarship and art resources.

                Because so little is being archived, the HAHL and NYAARC are providing  many trainings and resources to organizations and individuals to promote archiving at all levels. The presenters did this by giving us a set of links to websites for online archives. We discussed the Internet Archive, the International Internet Preservation Consortium.  We then had a series of exercises: looking up URLs to see if they still existed, and then archived some links.  We were also shown how to cite links that had been found in web archives. The presenters encouraged the audience to reach out to DAHL or NYARC if , in the future they have difficulties archiving their websites.

                Some thoughts about this workshop. The overarching feel at the workshop was one of anxiety, so much to preserve, so few resources, and we are in crisis. That anxiety is certainly mirrored in Cloonan’s article “W(h)ither Away”. “ The responsibility for the preservation of cultural heritage is more complex and pressing today than at any other time in history”. And repeated in Rosenzweig’s article “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in the Digital Era” where he notes “even traditional historians should worry about what the digital era might mean for the historical record. US government records for example are being lost on a daily basis” Therefore great anxiety, hence NYARC and DAHL reaching out to the community and individuals to encourage everyone to preserve. At the end of the day, however the bulk of archiving and preserving will be done by institutions, as has always been done in the past.

                So we are anxious about the pressing need to preserve, which will mostly be done on an institutional level and or a commercial level (the Internet Archive has a commercial aspect) and at the same time there is a growing consciousness of how biased or non neutral these institutions are in their practices of preserving “ Archives, ever since the mnemons of ancient Greece, have been about power, about maintaining power, about the power of the present to control what is, and will be known about the past, about the power of remembering over forgetting.”

Bias is unavoidable, and not surprisingly in this “crisis” time institutions are focusing first on preserving what they value. Each institution making up NYARC starts by preserving its own materials. This is not to be faulted, but just noted. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that whoever is doing the archiving is self-conscious “objectivity” has been increasingly understood in terms of “situated knowledge” or “partial perspective” (Cook) In our rush to preserve at least we can hope the preservers know they are biased.

https://lms.pratt.edu/pluginfile.php/623264/mod_resource/content/1/Cloonan%20-%20W%28h%29ither%20Preservation.pdf

https://lms.pratt.edu/pluginfile.php/623263/mod_resource/content/1/rosenzweig-Scarcity%20or%20Abundance-preserving%20the%20past%20in%20the%20digital%20era.pdf

https://lms.pratt.edu/pluginfile.php/623262/mod_resource/content/1/schwartz%2C%20cook-archives%2C%20records%2C%20power.pdf

Lesbian Herstory Archive Experience

By dlachenm

For my observation I went to the Lesbian Herstory Archives (LHA) in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where they have been since 1992. The archive itself is a product of the Women’s movement, the sexual revolution and the Gay Liberation movement of the 1960’s and 70’s. A group of women, including Joan Nestle and Deborah Edel, unhappy with sexism in the Gay Academic Union (GAU), branched out, forming a separate women’s consciousness-raising group, which became the basis of the LHA. For the first 15 years Nestle and Edel ran the archive out of Nestle’s apartment on 92nd st, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They relied on volunteers and women of like mind to help organize, catalog and educate people in the community. Their goal was, and still is, to “turn shame into a sense of cherished history, to change the meaning of history to include every woman who had the courage to touch another woman, whether for a night or a lifetime.” Their statement of purpose goes on to say that the archive “exists to gather and preserve records of Lesbian lives and activities so that future generations will have ready access to materials relevant to their lives,” which was and is important because these histories or stories had previously been denied “by patriarchal historians in the interests of the culture which they serve.” Originally they achieved community outreach through the creation of a newsletter and a slide show in the late 1970’s, today they achieve this through readings, workshops and women’s study classes that are free and open to the whole community. The principles the LHA are founded on are fundamentally different than more traditional archives, something that was made very apparent to me upon my visit. Principles like vowing to teach archival skills generationally to members of the lesbian community, making sure the archive is involved in the political struggle of being a lesbian, and ensuring that the archive itself resides physically in the community, as opposed to an academic setting.

(http://www.lesbianherstoryarchives.org/history.html)

So there I found myself on November 17th, walking up the steps of a very unassuming brownstone on the outskirts of Prospect Park, with only a small gay flag in the window, not really sure what to expect upon entering. I was greeted by a woman named Red, an English and Women’s Studies teacher at Hunter College, and a member of the LHA. Straight away I was given a very warm welcome and a tour. The archive encompasses both floors of the brownstone, intermingling areas of living with areas of books, files and organization. Most documents, journals, and records are kept on the 2nd floor, along with their t-shirt collection, button collection, audio tapes and other miscellaneous memorabilia. Downstairs there is a library of sorts, with lesbian pulp fiction, a wonderful collection of literature written by women, reference materials, and even a small children’s book collection. After the tour I was basically left to my own devices, told I could go through and look at whatever I wanted, and to come ask for assistance if I needed it. I have to admit, this was a little overwhelming at first. A feeling akin to being a kid in a candy store, frozen with anticipation, and thoughts of where to begin. So I headed upstairs and started with their Special Collections area. This area was organized by topic, and each topic was kept in a small filing box on a standing bookshelf and on shelves built into a walk-in closet. There were categories like “Dinah Shore and the History of Women’s Golf,” “Lilith Fair,” “Coming Out Stories,” “Places to Love,” “Gay and Lesbian Association of Students (GLASS),” and of course, one of the founder, Joan Nestle. In this same area were cabinet files, broken down into Biographical Files, Geographic Files, Conference Files and Unpublished Files. There were bins of documents, news clippings and ephemera to still be filed, simply resting on top of the cabinet files. The arrangement of everything felt very organic and grassroots. With living lesbians and histories coexisting with those of the past in a figurative sense, but also physically, given that people who run the archive actually live in the same residence. It lends a specific type of energy to the space. On our tour, Red pointed out that the archives had unpublished papers by Gertrude Stein, Alice Walker and Adrienne Rich, an area she frequently accessed for her own research. This area peaked my interest as well and the next thing I know I am sitting on the ground reading an unpublished lecture that Adrienne Rich, a favorite poet of mine, wrote and gave in 1983 at Scripps College in Claremont, California. After, I moved on to look at their small exhibition area, with a small exhibit of clothing and one of pins. Red had said that a lot of people come to look at these exhibits. The clothing exhibit contained a military jacket, some t-shirts and a famous black slip that belonged to Joan Nestle. The pin collection was set up over an area that was once a sink, with lots of pins spread out for viewing, while others were contained in receptacles with small drawers. The pins were a lovely visual timeline of lesbian and female struggle, with sayings such as, “Women Make Policy, Not Coffee,” “We Won’t Go Back. Keep Abortion Legal, April 5, 1995, rally in Washington, D.C.” and “The New Right Preaches The Old Wrongs.” The t-shirt collection was also in this area, although not really on view. It is archived in long garment boxes on the floor and in sliding closet areas built into the wall. After looking at the exhibits, I made my way over to another section of the upstairs that contained the archives of the archives (very meta), boxes of audio tapes containing oral histories (which they have labeled, “love tapes”) and an area of mostly cataloged magazines and scholarly journals. After perusing, I made my way back downstairs, where Red and I listened to 2 oral histories on audio tape, while simultaneously looking at photographs that Morgan Greenwald had taken of Sagaris. Sagaris was a Vermont based, collectively run, feminist institution created in 1975. The goal was to have a place of feminist education, without hierarchy, patriarchy, and a strict structure, where the foremost feminist thinkers could gather, to communicate with and teach other women. Some of the original members and faces found in Greenwald’s photographs include, Rita Mae Brown, Charlotte Bunch, Mary Daly, Dorothy Allison and Susan Sherman. However, listening to the oral histories was the real prize for me. The history we listened to first belonged to Mabel Hampton, one of the original organizers of LHA. Hampton was an African-American woman living on 131st st. in Harlem at the time and she spoke of her coming out story. As she tells it, she walked into a sandwich shop in Jersey City, was so fascinated by a woman that she went home with her and didn’t leave for 40 years. She lived and had a relationship with this woman from 1932 until 1978, when she died. As she saw it, she was “already half in the light, may as well step all the way in,” a lighthearted but courageous move at the time. The second oral history we listened to belonged to a woman named Gerry, who spoke of being born for the first time, at age 39, in a sleazy, secret gay bar in Greenwich Village called The Els Bar, sometime in the late 1940’s. This woman was a real firecracker, she described herself as always being gay, but was “just too stupid to know it.” Until, that is, a woman bought her a beer, kissed her on the palm and told her to come back soon. And even though she lived in Woodstock, she went back the very next night and was never the same. She described bars like The Els Bar and the Pony Stable as being the only places where gay people could mingle socially. The bar was kept in complete darkness, except for a single light on the area where the bartender made drinks and received money. And the dance floor was so small, it was the “size of a postage stamp.” Stories like this deserve to be preserved and shared. They have the power to enlighten and to comfort. It is stories and histories such as these that led me towards the field of library science. My experience that day at the Lesbian Herstory Archives was both priceless and an affirmation of my chosen path.

Observation: The Center for Book Arts

By Carissa

This observation was undertaken in three parts: a visit to the working studio and gallery space, a meeting with their Collections Manager, Theo Roth, and an exploration of their online catalogue. Continue reading

“Archives, Advocacy and Change” at the New York Academy of Medicine

By theo_walther

“The archivist, even more than the historian and the political scientist, tends to be scrupulous about his neutrality, and to see his job as a technical job, free from the nasty world of political interest: a job of collecting, sorting, preserving, making available, the records of the society. But I will stick by what I have said about other scholars, and argue that the archivist, in subtle ways, tends to perpetuate the political and economic status quo simply by going about his ordinary business. His supposed neutrality is, in other words, a fake.”[1]

It was with this quote from historian Howard Zinn that Anne Garner, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts in the Library at the New York Academy of Medicine began the recent panel discussion there entitled “Archives, Advocacy and Change: Tales from Four New York City Collections.”

The discussion featured four panelists: Jenna Freedman, founder, curator, and cataloger of the Barnard Zine Library; Steven Fullwood, founder of the “In the Life Archive,” an initiative to collect, preserve, catalog, and make available materials produced by and about LGBTQ people of African descent at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library; Timothy Johnson, director of New York University’s Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, as well as co-director of Tamiment’s Center for the United States and the Cold War; and Rich Wandel, Center Archivist and Historian at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center National History Archive.

While the first three panelists provided brief presentations on the histories of their collections, the materials they contain, and their individual collection practices, surprisingly, it wasn’t until the final panelist, Rich Wandel, that someone spoke directly to Zinn’s criticism of archivists. And Wandel wasted no time, starting off by declaring that “the archival profession is inherently an activist profession.” It was only after this declaration that the discussion of the archives as a location for advocacy and change (reflected in the title of the program and presumably the reason for Garner’s provocative quotation of Zinn) began in earnest.

However, Zinn’s characterization of the supposed neutrality of archivists as “fake” was in no way a dismissal of the archivist. Rather it was an attempt to convince the archivist of their power, a power Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook describe in their article “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory” as the power “to shape our notions of history, identity, and memory.”[2] Indeed, Zinn went on to urge archivists to use that power “to compile a whole new world of documentary material, about the lives, desires, needs, of ordinary people.” Doing so would ensure “that the condition, the grievances, the will of the underclasses become a force in the nation.”[3] It is therefore in the material they choose to collect, highlight, and disseminate that these four panelists exert their power as archivists.

As a gay man in New York City involved in the gay rights movement since the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March in June 1970, Wandel said it’s often easy to take for granted and forget just how far the LGBTQ movement has come. At the same time, he said it’s also easy to forget how there are still many places in America where LGBTQ youth are repeatedly told by their communities and even their families that they’re different, that there’s something wrong or even immoral about them. The archives are important to the entire LGBTQ community, but they are especially important to these LGBTQ youth. It lets them know they’re not alone, not the only ones who feel as they do, and most importantly, it “lets them know they’re worth something.”

Just as Emily Drabinski stressed the importance of librarians being “ethically and politically engaged on behalf of marginal knowledge formations and identities who quite reasonably expect to be able to locate themselves in the library”[4] with regard to classification and cataloging, Wandel stressed the importance of the archives as a way for people, especially LGBTQ people, to “find themselves in history.” In this case, it’s not only important that the material is archived for history, but that it’s made available to the LGBTQ community and the public.

Through the lens of Wandel’s passionate advocacy of the archivist as an activist, it was possible to go back to the presentations of the first three panelists and see where that activism was present, even if it wasn’t at first readily apparent. Steven Fullwood grew up in Toledo, Ohio as one of those LGBTQ youth Wandel described; being told that he was different (as both gay and black), that there was something wrong with him, and feeling he was the only one who felt as he did. He eventually made his way to New York and a job at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library in 1998. Having noticed a lack of materials being collected about black gays and lesbians, Fullwood founded the “In the Life Archive” in 1999 at Schomburg. It was the first archive of its kind and later expanded to include materials by and about all LGBTQ people of African descent. As it stands, it is the largest black LGBTQ archive at a public institution.

While Schwartz and Cook mention the “variety of subaltern groups desiring to construct a viable, authentic, and cohesive identity,” Fullwood spoke about his initial difficulties in convincing people to donate their materials to the “In the Life Archive.”[5] He said he was often met with surprise (“Why would you even want that?”) as people didn’t realize that what they had was both important and historic. However, as Fullwood became increasingly active and well known within the black LGBTQ community in Harlem, he was able to develop personal relationships with individuals and groups, eventually serving as a kind of “conduit” for the community into the archives. Those who were initially surprised or even suspicious have now seen their identity “confirmed and justified as historical documents validate with all their authority as ‘evidence’ the identity stories so built.”[6]

Jenna Freedman also spoke to involving the community in developing the archives but from a slightly different perspective than that of Steven Fullwood. Although Freedman was a zinester (a person who creates zines, or self-published works of appropriated texts and images reproduced by photocopier and originating in the do-it-yourself ethos of the punk rock subculture) before arriving at the Barnard College Library, she “surveyed” the Barnard community in an attempt to discover what they felt they needed in order to “serve the community.” The result of this survey was the creation of a library focused on zines produced by cis- and transgender women (Barnard admitted transgender women for the first time in 2015), with an emphasis on those created by women of color.

However, Friedman quickly found herself running afoul of what Schwartz and Cook describe as one of the sources of “power over the documentary record, and by extension over the collective memory of marginalized members of society.” That is the institution and by extension “the ways in which institutional resources are allotted.”[7] As zines often contain explicit or sexual material, Freedman often found her Zine Library questioned or even threatened by the administration of the college. However, she emphasized that it was essential for her to privilege the subject and not what was considered acceptable, either socially or to the institution. Fortunately, despite some early conflicts, Freedman and the Zine Library have not only survived but grown into a collection of over 7,000 zines.

At first, Timothy Johnson seemed a bit of an outlier in this particular panel discussion as the Tamiment Library doesn’t have any obvious connections to groups marginalized based on sexual orientation. However, the Tamiment and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives give voice to those marginalized due to their involvement in radical politics, labor movements, civil rights, and civil liberties.

It was in talking about the Tamiment’s collection of materials related to the Occupy Wall Street movement that Johnson provided a candid example of the power of the archivist. The Tamiment currently houses the largest collection of such material in the world; over 80 linear feet worth. It is a result of a serendipitous situation in which two library science students working at the Tamiment and involved in the protests realized the opportunity as well as the need to collect and preserve as much material as possible. When Anne Garner asked Johnson whether the Tamiment had also collected material from Chase Bank to present the opposing view to the Occupy movement, Johnson responded that the Tamiment’s mission is to give ay voice to the oppressed, not the ones doing the oppressing. With his brief rejoinder, Johnson reminded the audience of the archives origin as being “established by the powerful to protect or enhance their position in society” and that the goal of the activist archivist goal is to subvert that power.[8]

While Schwartz and Cook echo Howard Zinn’s criticism of archivists in citing the “professional myth of impartiality, neutrality, and objectivity,” they also echo Zinn’s challenge in stating that “the point is for archivists to (re)search thoroughly for the missing voices…so that archives can acquire and reflect multiple voices, and not, by default, only the voices of the powerful.”[9] If Zinn, Schwartz, and Cook were present at the recent panel discussion at the New York Academy of Medicine, I think they would find that both their criticisms of and challenges to archivists continue to be taken seriously.

 

[1] Zinn, Howard. “Secrecy, Archives, and the Public Interest.” The Midwestern Archivist 2, no. 2 (1977): 14-26. Accessed November 3, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41101382.

[2] Schwartz, Joan M., and Terry Cook. “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory.” Archival Science 2, no. 1 (March 2002): 1-19.

[3] Zinn, Howard. “Secrecy, Archives, and the Public Interest.” The Midwestern Archivist 2, no. 2 (1977): 14-26. Accessed November 3, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41101382.

[4] Drabinski, Emily. “Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction.” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy 83, no. 2 (April 2013): 94-111. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/669547.

[5] Schwartz, Joan M., and Terry Cook. “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory.” Archival Science 2, no. 1 (March 2002): 1-19.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

Desperately Seeking Resources for Teens and Big Data

By JHELyon

As I mentioned briefly in our final class, perhaps big data’s greatest victims are our youngest internet browsers. My own teen years in the aughts saw social media evolve from Xanga(!) to LiveJournal to MySpace to Facebook (allegedly Friendster was in there somewhere too). Nowadays the platforms are too many to list—although Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter merit mentioning—and the modern American teen’s life is drenched in the internet in a way no other generation, mine included, has experienced: according go a 2015 Pew study, a whopping 92% of teens go online daily, aided by these growing platforms and the ubiquity of smartphones.

The difference between adopting social media and living in a world where it has always been the norm cannot be overstated. There’s a not-unfounded assumption that younger generations are inherently savvier with new tech, but without proper education, it would take an unusually paranoid teen to realize just how much information they’re giving away in what’s always been their everyday life. While educating parents and teachers is crucial, especially because big data is gathering information on their children from birth, teens as independent agents must be taught to be safe in ways beyond the easily ignored “because we’re adults and we say so” method.

This is why I appreciate Michael Keller and Josh Neufeld’s Terms of Service: it informs the reader about the dangers of big data through a narrative, and a visual narrative no less, to spread the message beyond the classroom. It may be wordy and dry at times—after all, this is a comic entirely about two men explaining things to themselves and getting things explained by others—but Neufeld’s stylish art design and the character arcs of Keller’s cynic and Neufeld’s optimist makes Terms of Service accessible to a far wider audience than the typical news article or academic paper.

Terms of Service charts the correlation between new internet technology and loss of privacy, beginning with the birth of Gmail in 2004. Former California state senator Liz Figueroa discusses what was then a fear and is now a reality: that Gmail not only mines data from its users, but from non-users communicating with Gmail users. While Google claimed to delete the data after collecting it, Figueroa’s attempt to codify this practice into law failed, largely thanks to the efforts of “good guys” like Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Al Gore. A telling panel sees Figueroa obscuring a crucial word in Google’s bygone motto “Don’t be evil.”

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-1-52-18-pm

This theme of feared future outcomes coming to pass resonates throughout the text, and Cassandras like Figueroa are positioned as scrappy underdogs against an unstoppable force. While this narrative’s appeal is universal, it’s particularly potent for the teen audience: the slew of dystopian young adult bestsellers, for instance, relies on an identical power dynamic. Technology is new and exciting, so condemning it is generally seen as an act of the old and out of touch, but positioning big data as a corrupt institution to distrust makes it instantly relatable to the Hunger Games generation.

In an interview with danah boyd, Terms of Service explicitly discusses teens in terms of their use of social media to control their public image. For instance, a teen who wants to be seen as happy-go-lucky may exclusively write humorous posts, while one seeking support might write in a way that elicits sympathy from Facebook friends. Boyd* also notes that teens are as apathetic about privacy as their older counterparts: her research shows that youths will “give up WHATEVER to be able to hang out with their friends.” Facebook and its ilk have become seemingly non-negotiable elements of their lives.

This section accomplishes two important goals for teen readers. First, rather than isolate teens as problematic, Keller and Neufeld connect them with adults to show that apathy is a universal problem. In doing so, the teen reader won’t feel singled out or talked down to, and is more likely to pay attention. Second, after boyd explains the image-maintaining rationale behind many teens’ social media practices, Keller and Neufeld deconstruct the notion by pointing out how corporations can use a teen’s data to construct their own narrative about the user. Social media may appear to give power to teens, but it actually takes it away. While the text as a whole is an excellent primer for young readers, this message in particular is bound to resonate.

Terms of Service is hardly perfect teen reading: beyond the aforementioned bouts with dryness, a major story element is Neufeld’s frequent use of the already-outdated FourSquare, and the app-specific terminology can be confusing to the unfamiliar. All of its principal characters are understandably adults, who aren’t totally foreign to teens, but obviously aren’t as identifiable as their peers. This is forgivable given Keller and Neufeld didn’t create the text specifically for a teen audience, but whatever the reason, this text is not in and of itself the solution to undereducated teens.

The issue of web privacy and security has certainly been addressed in young adult literature before. The most notable example is Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, a near-future dystopia pitting a teen hacker and his friends against a drastic upswing in government surveillance. Doctorow fills the story with real-life tips on safe browsing and primers on peaceful resistance methods (mostly surveillance jamming), and despite being written in 2008 it remains a timely read.

However, corporate invasion of privacy is rarely written about for the audience most vulnerable to it; in fact, I’ve yet to find anything remotely close to Terms of Service in my usual search (using internet, library, and former bookstore sources). So, despite its flaws, the comic remains the best resource I’ve found to introduce teens to big data. We can only hope, for the future’s sake, that others will take Keller and Neufeld’s lead.

 

*While danah boyd doesn’t capitalize her name or personal pronouns midsentence, she does follow capitalization rules for sentence openers.

 

References:

Michael Keller and Josh Neufeld, “Terms of Service”

Amanda Lenhart, “Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015”

Stephanie Simon, “The big biz of spying on little kids”

“Archives, Advocacy, and Change” at the New York Academy of Medicine

By Carissa

“The archival profession is inherently an activist profession.” -Rich Wandel

Last night, the New York Academy of Medicine hosted a panel called “Archives, Advocacy, and Change” as part of their Changemakers series. The panelists were Jenna Freedman, founder of the Barnard Zine Library; Steven Fullwood, founder of In the Life Archive; Timothy Johnson, director of NYU’s Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives and co-director of Tamiment’s Cold War Center; and Rich Wandel (quoted above), founder of  The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center National History Archive.  Continue reading

Issues and Concerns in Conserving and Digitizing Archival Collections

By tim gann

As a part of Archives Week 2016, NYU hosted an event focusing on a digitization project currently underway. The presentation, titled “What’s on the Back? Updating the Definition of Complete for Digitization Projects,” was given by Alex Bero and Maggie Schreiner, the conservator and archivist (respectively) working on the project. They detailed their work in conserving and digitizing materials from two collections: the Richard Maass collection, which contains materials related to the American Revolution, and the Sylvester Manor collection, which documented early settlers of Shelter Island in Eastern Long Island. As they explained the plans and decisions they made working on this project, they elucidated the many issues one must consider when engaging in such a project.
Bero and Schreiner began by discussing the Richard Maass collection, a portion of which had been digitized in the early 2000s. These items had also undergone a conservation process at that time, but when reexamining the materials to be digitized for this project, it became clear that the previous conservation efforts had in some ways damaged the materials through the use of “archival tape.” The previous project had used tape to hold materials together, but Bero went into detail on problems of using tape, “the evils of which are not to be underestimated,” as one slide warned. Bero explained that tape of all kinds, even those designated as “archival” (which he asserted was a relative term), can dry, embrittle, flake off, stain documents, adhere pages together, cover up or discolor images and words, and is often stronger than the document itself, which can cause tearing. As tape was used liberally in the earlier effort, Bero had to remove it all, which went at a rate of roughly one inch per hour.
Many of the documents were also sealed, but the seals were original, not remnants from the previous project. In order to get clear images of the materials, it was necessary to unseal them, and Bero acknowledged that this in effect changed the original nature of the document. Bero argued, though, that “digitization is a form of preservation,” and unsealed the documents through moisture. However, changing the nature of the document alters its representation of history, and as Michèle Cloonan points out in their essay “W(h)ither Preservation?” “to digitize a collection does not necessary lessen the demand for the original material.” In this case, Bero decided that a clean digital image was more important, but something has been lost for researchers looking into manuscripts from this era. It points to a preference of digital preservation over physical conservation.
Turning to the digitization side of the project, Schreiner discussed the previous digitization project, which, even though it was carried out roughly 15 years ago, still adhered to standards considered appropriate today, and were scanned as 600 dpi TIFF files. However, the backs of many documents were not digitized, and the digital surrogates were only made available as an online exhibit, not linked to the finding aid for the collection. The file names were also very unstructured, with no clear identifiers. This, of course, hinders the ability to find and identify these images, and had they been dissociated from their metadata, it could have created serious problems for access. Schreiner rectified this by renaming the old files, giving them a persistent ID, and integrating the new files while maintaining the same structure. Schreiner also made sure to mention the surrogates will be published through the finding aid as well once the project is complete.
From here, the presentation turned to issues surrounding the Sylvester Manor collection. This was a much larger collection, and the materials were in worse shape, in part due to the use of iron-gall ink in the documents, which can embrittle and speed up decay in paper, and the ink itself can become damaged and even fall off the paper. The papers needed to be moisturized delicately in order to unfold them, as too much moisture would damage the paper. Bero detailed how it was necessary to flatten documents through wetting them along creases, to clean them using vulcanized rubber sponges, and to mend them with paper and adhesives that blend in to the original document and do not obstruct anything. However, he also noted that this process is done only for handling the documents one more time – for the purpose of digitizing them for this project. Their conservation effort is only a very short-term solution, and the documents will not be handled after this project. Again, this demonstrates their belief that digitization is preservation, but it does not clash as much with Cloonan’s suggestion cited above in regard to the other collection. Here, Bero made clear that these materials were badly deteriorated, and the idea that even with these efforts they could only be handled once means that without digitization, these would be inaccessible. It was a more clear-cut decision, and is a better example of when digitization may be the only way to preserve documents properly.
Schreiner noted that these fragile documents were just a small portion of the collection, and had been set aside because they were too fragile to travel. Much of the material was marked for digitization through a vendor, which they employed especially because of their inability to digitize oversized items in-house. Though digitizing oversized items was expensive, they were able to do so because they found room in their budget after calculating all other expenses. This provided an example of how financial issues can potentially restrict an institution’s ability to complete the projects it wants. It certainly gave some insight into why these collections were being revisited. Had they not found the money in the budget, they may have been forced to revisit the collections again in the future to capture the oversized items.
In a Q&A session after the main presentation, they explained that NYU has committed to maintaining and migrating the digital files as necessary, putting to rest common concerns about the stability of preserving digital media. They also explained that the process was facilitated by the existing finding aid and metadata standards, which they update as needed.
One thought I had (which I thought would be rude to vocalize, though perhaps I should have) was that this project was yet another effort to preserve the historical records of white patriarchal society. The fact that these collections had previously been digitized in part made me wonder if perhaps there were other collections that had been passed over which could have offered more diverse perspectives. As this was also a conservation effort, and the materials being as old as they are, it is understandable that these were prioritized. Another factor could have been their source of funding, which came from the Gardiner Foundation, representing a family some of whose members had openly endorsed slavery. This might possibly point to the amount of influence donors have on an archive’s ability to pursue projects; however, I regret to have not explored this topic with the presenters.

Cloonan, Michele Valerie. “W(H)ITHER Preservation?” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy. Vol. 71, No. 2 (Apr., 2001), pp. 231-242

Gardiner’s Island: A Rich History. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.rdlgfoundation.org/history.ph

Preserving Your Digital Life

By aguzmanb

In class we mention Facebook, Twitter or any of the other – what feels like – million social media platforms and how it is information, or does creating a post make you an information laborer, etc. This got me thinking about how when we grew up, or when our parents grew up, we had photo or music albums or videos, maybe letters from our friends or families, and those are safe somewhere in your home. But nowadays most of our lives are online, in the million of social media platforms. So i decided to look for a webinar in preserving these precious memories we save online. I found one in the American Library Association website! It is literally called Preserving Your Digital Life, first aired on April 28 of this year – they have an archive of their webinars, link is below.

The webinar is described as “Our stories as individuals and as members of a community are preserved in each of our homes … —not just in libraries, archives, and museums. … The ability to easily create audio and video recordings leads to deep and rich documentation of events that may be personally important … Preserving these narratives for our families and for future generations means considering how we create the files and how we store them.” It sounded perfect to me! I’ll get to learn how to preserve my memories, and it’ll be simple enough where I can share with my parents and they can do it at home. Once I started watching, I realize this is more for someone who wants to preserve their memories because they may be important in a local or national significance, not for the average person. I’ll comment more on this as I go through the webinar.

The speakers of the webinar were Krista White – Digital Humanities Librarian – and Isaiah Beard – Digital Data Curator – both from Rutgers University. The intention of the lecture is to preserve audio and video files that document our personal and community’s “digital lives.” One of the first things they went over that I didn’t expect – though why didn’t I? – was that we should digitize the photographs, films or other objects that are forgotten but important to us. It is important for us to remember, while digitizing our lives, that certain electronics and softwares become outdated. Hence, the files you are trying to preserve may be lost forever. [This is one of the biggest problems New Media conservation in the art world has to daily deal with.] The best way to figure out which files or works you may want to preserve is to think: how will I feel if this picture, movie or sound recording goes away and I can never get it back? This is something they brought up that I never really thought about – again, why didn’t I? It is something we should keep in mind as you weave through your collection.

I really appreciated the speakers sharing the preservation terminology for those who are not familiar since they may encounter them when going through the settings of the app or software you end up using. Other than sampling rate, I was familiar with all of the terms, whether through art preservation or just life. The continued to break things down by explaining metadata, what it is and how we can use it. As someone new to library science, I appreciated the explanation – it was like Metadata for Dummies. They mainly focused on descriptive metadata – it connects objects to each other, i.e. a birthday video with the birthday photos, – technical metadata – the how and when we create something, – and rights metadata – who has the copyright, and who can do what with the object. For personal use we don’t need to worry too much about copyright but people in cultural institutions do. Then the webinar went into the different file formats and the preservation standards of sound and video. The speakers also shared where to find the guides for such standards, i.e. the Library of Congress, and the National Recording Preservation Board, etc. Storage devices were also gone over. They encouraged for everybody to have three copies of your data, two different storage formats and one backup copy offsite. This I found very extreme for someone just trying to preserve your memories. I personally save my files – photos, videos and documents – on a hard drive or the cloud and on the computer, which seems to be more than enough.

The speakers went into the steps you should take if you are considering preserving and digitizing your files: inventory, device and app evaluation, file formats, create metadata, and data integrity. An important thing to remember – which they stressed multiple times – is to keep the files as unedited and unmodified as possible. Also, to make sure the object is not connected to only one software, i.e. only works on a Mac or on a PC, or an old software on a PC, etc., because it’ll be really hard, if not impossible, to access the content.

The lecture was presented as “primarily intended for individuals, but will also be of interest to local historical societies and other cultural heritage groups.” I believe it should’ve been presented the other way. Although, this was an interesting webinar that will definitely come in handy in the future in terms of my career – if I decided to get into digital humanities or digitization of rare books – however, I believe the steps shown are a bit extreme for personal use. This is of course, unless you believe your family will be – or is – very important locally or nationally and this information may be subject to a study or these files will be donated to a cultural institution. This webinar can be seen as an introduction into a career in library science, information science or preservation since it does go into enough depth to wet your whistle.

Any quotations within the text were taken from the website or from one of the speakers.

http://www.ala.org/alcts/confevents/upcoming/webinar/042816

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mA5E1Ng6Qg&feature=youtu.be

 

The Gatekeepers of the NYPL Photography Collection

By nfesta

Although I am a native New Yorker, I haven’t owned a New York Public Library card since I was about 10 years old when my elementary school class visited our local library branch. Since returning to the city in a more official capacity and attending Pratt, I felt it was necessary to register for a New York Public Library card. Signing up for a library card was simple. I completed part of my application online and then visit a local branch to provide a suitable form of identification and be issued a card. With this universal all-encompassing library card, I expected that any materials within the various collections of the library would be easily accessible. Yet, I discovered that it is not as simple of a process as one might assume.

 

Before visiting the NYPL’s main branch, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, I searched through the library’s online catalog of collections to identify what I wanted to view at the library. I found a few nineteenth century photographically illustrated books that were being held on-site in Photography Collection of the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs and were labeled as “Available”. However, within the online catalogue system I was unable to place these items on hold as the item record stated that although it was available it was accessible “By Appointment Only”. While you can access almost all of the resources available within the NYPL, you must gain special permissions and admissions by “the keepers” of those collections. As Barbara Case and Ying Xu argue about the resources within public libraries, archives and museums, in Access to Special Collections in the Humanities: Who’s Guarding the Gates and Why?, “…access to research materials under each institution’s protection may be granted in accordance with a variety of restrictions and practices” (134). The procedures and permissions required for gaining access to special materials within libraries is important as it ensures that collections are well-preserved over time and that the patron requesting access genuinely needs access to the materials. However, during my observation trying to gain access to a nineteenth century photographically illustrated book, I experienced the blatant hegemonic restrictions and practices within the NYPL.

 

As the materials I wanted to examine were available and stored on-site in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, I had to simply make an appointment to gain permission to view these nineteenth century photobooks. The NYPL website is confusing of how to best go about making an appointment and gaining access to the materials you want. It suggests calling or emailing the Photography Collection librarian reference desk in regards to your inquiry, while also proposes that you can come in-person to make an appointment. The website also mentioned a form that may have to be filled out in-person to acquire a “Card of Admission”, which would require one to provide a traceable identification and supply the name and address of a non-relative for the library to verify. As I was unsure what was the easiest and quickest method to make an appointment and issued a “card of admission”, I traveled to the NYPL’s main branch to inquire.

 

Upon arriving at the Schwarzman building I had no idea of where to go to make appointment to gain access to the Photography Collection. The Photographs Study Room did not open until 1:00 p.m. so thought that any of the staff within NYPL would be knowledgeable about this “standard” procedure. I approached to the first Information Desk on the Third Floor and asked how I could make an appointment. I was directed to the Reference Desk in Bill Blass Public Catalog Room, in which I asked the same question to this Reference Librarian. The Librarian was not familiar of how to make appointments with this specific collection and referred me to the information on the website, which of course was not helpful as it was the same information I had consulted earlier. I was then referred to ask the Information Librarian in the Rose Main Reading Room, who then referred me to ask a Librarian in the Art & Architecture Wallach Division Room 300, as these Librarians had more connection and access to the Photography Collection. The Librarians in the Art & Architecture Wallach Division were also not sure how I could make an appointment, and were conflicted with instructing me to send a general email or call the Photography Collection. They decided that since I was here in the library it would be better if I called them as they should pick up the phone even though the study room wasn’t open to the public before 1:00 p.m. So, I walked out of the Wallach Division doors, through the Rose Main Reading Room, and then the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room and out into the large hallway of the third floor to make a phone call, as all of the rooms on the Third Floor are quiet areas.

 

As soon as I called the Photography Collection, a librarian immediately picked up and was able to help with my request for an appointment and pull the books I wanted to consult so I could access them when the doors opened at 1:00 p.m. When I gave the name of the book I wanted to view and was informed that it was available and would be ready for me that afternoon. I didn’t have to give the Librarian my name or library card number, but was informed that I would have to fill out a form and provide information when I arrived at the study room. In order to gain entrance into the Photography Collection study room I had to buzz a doorbell. The door is locked from the inside and one of the Librarians had to get up and unlock the door for me to enter. I then had to sign into the daily register book, as well as fill out an admission form to acquire a special collection library card. The admission form asked for my name, contact information, address, affiliations, reason for accessing specific resources and requested the name of a non-relative to verify my request to gain access. Though I was immediately issued a Special Collection Library card valid for 6 months and given access to the resources I had requested, this process and procedure implemented by the Photography Collection staff exemplified the authority librarians have over their selected domains.

 

The “keepers” of these collections have control and power in determining whether or not you are allowed and given access to consult specific materials. Moreover, this example also demonstrates the librarians have authority in determining which materials require special permission to be accessed and which can be called by anyone at anytime. Certain resources within the NYPL have been determined as “valuable” by those that control the ways in which information is structured and accessed. These issues of accessibility and control with determining the “value” of resources, address concerns pertaining to “Information Literacy” and the power and bias formed through the ways in which archives and records are classified, organized, preserved, and actively managed by librarians and archivists as well as the institutions. These hegemonic library knowledge organizations and structures directly affect the accessibility of information by consumers. The control and power gatekeepers have over these records can be used to aide or prevent users from finding and accessing collections.

 

This observation study case of the NYPL also demonstrated that each of their collections and divisions are very separate entities from one other. None of them know the specific procedures or information of the other. As the NYPL is a huge library with vast collections and numerously staffed, this is understandable. However, each individual division holds extraordinary power over their specific collections. While it is important that individual divisions control and are specialized in the knowledge and organization of there collections, for such a large institution with numerous collections under the same umbrella of the NYPL, information and access to those materials can be confusing, difficult and determined solely by one entity. Furthermore, if access were to be granted to anyone for whatever reason, why make patrons go through the entire ordeal of making an appointment to request permission to access a select group of materials? Does this process properly ensure that a patron truly wants and needs to access that information? Regardless, this process and procedure demonstrates that access to specific materials within a public domain is controlled by various individual hegemonic systems.

 

Case, Barbara, and Ying Xu, “Access to Special Collections in the Humanities: Who’s Guarding the Gates and Why?,” Reference Services in the Humanities, ed. by Judy Reynolds, CRC Press1994

Pawley, Christine, “Information Literacy: A Contradictory Coupling,” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, Vol. 73, No. 4 (Oct., 2003), pp. 422-452

Drabinski, Emily, “Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction,” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, Vol. 83, No. 2 (April 2013), pp. 944-111

Schwartz, Joan M., and Terry Cook, “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory,” Archival Science 2: 1-19, 2002

Caswell, Michael, “”The Archive” is Not an Archives: Acknowleding the Intellectual Contributions of Archival Studies,” Reconstruction, Vol. 16, No. 1 http://reconstruction.eserver.org/Issues/161/Caswell.shtml

 

A Reflection on “Mining the Archive: A Conversation on Anti-Arab and Islamaphobia in Visual Culture”

By amarti68

“Certain stories are privileged and others are marginalized.”[1]
The archive is a powerhouse of memory and identity through materials and framing. If marginalized voices are not heard, then the world cannot remember them. Whether materials are created and/or valued is due to the social structure surrounding it. “Mining the Archive: A Conversation on Anti-Arab and Islamophobia in Visual Culture” was held on October 20th 2016 at NYU. It reflected on how acknowledgement of difference in treatment is the first step in reflecting on these issues within the United States. If marginalized groups can be acknowledged, and made important today, it will reflect in the archive of the future. The first step in understanding which direction the archive will remember this moment, is to look at how it is acknowledged now.

One example of a marginalized group in the United States is that of Arab and Islamic Americans. The “Conversation” was led by Salah D. Hassan, and Marina Budhos. Salah D. Hassan, is a professor at the University of Michigan where he does academic work on the representation of Anti-Arab and Islamophobic feelings in the United States. Marina Budhos is an award winning author who writes fiction and non-fiction work through her own lens, as an Arab immigrant herself who grew up in New York City. They both represent different lenses while looking at the same material. Hassan pointed out the political facts and statistics surrounding the Anti-Arab and Islamaphobic feelings within the United States, and the racial feelings of the average American about Arabs and Islamic Americans. He mentioned the agreement of 2014 that 60% of Americans believe that Arab peoples cannot perform their jobs if they held political office and other misconceptions that are results of visual representation. Budhos really looked at these issues from inside, she reads into this perspective, giving a voice to the victims of the visual culture reflected in the talk. Her perspective enhanced the “Conversation” by using her literary voice to depict the situations of discrimination Arabs and Islamic American communities face.

Television and mainstream visual representation was the focus of this discussion. Hassan had drawn the conclusion that the reason for such negative representation of Arabs and Islamic peoples is consistently based in specific political motives. Organized anti-Muslim feelings are tools for a political purpose, just as hate speech always has been. His research has found that historical events have little to do with the anti-Muslim feelings present in today’s America. He also found that the threat of anti-Muslim groups is higher to the general public than Muslim groups targeted for their expression. These are facts that are not accurately represented in American mainstream visual representation. In terms of the Archive, television is a medium that can be preserved easily. Framing is the issue. Through just representation in American television of Islamic peoples and Arabs, there is a different narrative than what actually occurred. Unless the Archive is sensitive to the marginalized voices, it will not accurately capture this moment in time. The Archive must frame it’s materials in a way that showcases this misconception and then the materials available, rather than feeding into this false representation.

As the discussion went on the topic of identity and the idea of “coming out” as Muslim became an idea that described the process of coming to terms with an ostracized identity. They are only their label without any humanizing traits assigned to them by the mainstream visual culture. For example, Arab and Islamic people are seen on TV as entering and building mosques on the news in order to create a sense of fear in people, without any knowledge of what mosques mean as social centers. The fact that Arab and Islamic people are regularly a topic of discussion but are not seen as people is something that does not only reflect political agendas, but also what stereotypes are active in American society. Watched, Marina Budhos’ book, investigates how identity changes in an inner city Iranian boy as he is intimidated by the police and integrates in American life. Her book reflects on how he is labeled, how he attempts to combat that, as well as how he reclaims his identity. Budhos read excerpts from her book that exemplified the boy’s relationship with his community and those outside it. The book reflected a narrative of someone that is connected to his community but is turned against it by an altered view of his reality. Stories like this one are why the archive is important. A well rounded archive can take a narrative like Budhos to frame a collection of visual media resources that contain Anti-Arab or Islamaphobic feelings, making it a positive representation of this historical moment.

The archive has enough power that it does not need to choose a side of the mainstream or the marginalized. The archive can remember everything that society deems important. Acknowledging these issues today is key in making them important for tomorrow. The power of the archive acts as a memory bank. But a hidden power of the archive, is its ability to choose the frame to which the nation remembers something. “Mining the Archive: A Conversation on Anti-Arab and Islamaphobic Visual Culture” created a dialogue about identity and memory which led to larger questions about how these themes effect the archive, and how the archive will use its power to represent or ignore the marginalized.

[1] Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook, “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory,” Archival Science 2 (2002): 1-19.

 

Adrianna Martinez

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