LIS 651 Observation: Interference Archive

By ekobert

This weekend, I observed and participated in a cataloging party at Interference Archive in Park Slope. According to their website (2018):

The mission of Interference Archive is to explore the relationship between cultural production and social movements. This work manifests in an open stacks archival collection, publications, a study center, and public programs including exhibitions, workshops, talks, and screenings, all of which encourage critical and creative engagement with the rich history of social movements.

Interference Archive (IA) is a fully volunteer-run and non-hierarchical organization, getting things done by way of working groups and effective communication, mainly via Basecamp and a Google listserv. The cataloging working group, for example, organizes semi-regular ‘parties’ where volunteers meet for several hours to create catalog records accessible through the organization’s public website. Most volunteers are local to New York City, though some commute from out of town to staff the archive or participate in events, and they include library and information professionals, artists, activists, and folks who are generally fascinated by social movements and believe that these materials can be used to inspire further social transformation. I count myself among this last category.

Folding sign in front of the archive

One thing that makes IA unusual as an archive is the open stacks structure. Any person who enters the archive during open hours is free to browse any materials on their own and to take pictures. The only instructions, highlighted on useful signs throughout the archive in both English and Spanish, are to handle the items with care (e.g., wash your hands first, lay larger items like posters on flat surfaces) and to avoid taking pictures of other visitors without their consent. Based on my own experience in staffing as well as reading the volunteer logs posted on Basecamp after each shift, visitors range from curious passersby to scholars looking for specific materials to college classes visiting with their professors. Volunteers are on hand to help point visitors in the right direction, and those who have been volunteering for years may have deep knowledge of the archive’s holdings, but this is really an archive without an archivist.

These signs are posted throughout the archive.

My own participation in cataloging on Saturday is a testament to this fact. When I arrived, I learned that we would be cataloging newspapers from a large donation. These objects had already been accessioned – assigned an ID with the year of the donation and a unique lot number, and listed on a shared spreadsheet with the item’s location and group-level descriptions – and our task was to record them using the cataloging program Collective Access. After creating a new account for me on Collective Access, two volunteers patiently walked me through the next steps. Because we were dealing with newspapers, the catalog records were series-level, so we created one entry for each newspaper title and then listed the volume or issue number and date of publication for each individual newspaper held in the collection. We used WorldCat and Wikipedia to research background information on the series like the run of publication, former or alternate names, and creators and contributors. We also used online information to create a general, text-searchable description field in the catalog record, and we took low-resolution photos to attach to each record. In the three hours that I was at the archive, I cataloged about a dozen newspapers under three different titles.

Objects at IA are sorted by format, and then further organized either alphabetically (in the case of serials, newspapers, and zines) or by subject (in the case of ephemera, posters, books, pamphlets, and vinyl records). One of the volunteers explained that a reason we prioritized cataloging newspapers over some other formats is that it’s harder to find what one is looking for alphabetically, so cataloging with subject terms and cross-references is much more helpful. For example, if a researcher is interested in the Black Panther Party, it would be simple enough to browse through pamphlets and posters under the Black Panther subject heading, but they might not know to look through the newspapers alphabetically for Space City!, a Houston-based underground newspaper that I cataloged which extensively covered the Black Panther movement.


Space City!, an underground newspaper, published in Houston, TX in the early 1970s

On the topic of subject terms, I was encouraged to use WorldCat subject headings as suggestions or jumping-off points, but one volunteer explained that the organization has elected not to use Library of Congress Subject Headings as an authority source because of how problematic they can be, especially as they pertain to more radical subjects, and they may not be in line with how the objects’ creators or the people who donated these objects would want them described. While this type of work takes place outside of the critical cataloging movement, which alternately attempts to correct biased information or engage pedagogically with the existing biased terms of the LCSH (Drabinski, 2013), I think it is a useful principled stand that sympathizes with the goals of critical cataloging. Attempts are made to describe objects in a straightforward and respectful fashion that is not subject to review by any authority source, but it’s also important to remember that even if only subconsciously, “all archivists bring assumptions, identities, and experiences to the task of description” (Caswell, 2016, p.19). I believe IA’s nature as a collective of pseudo-archivists with varying perspectives provides a powerful check to this issue, but it should not be ignored.

Another key theoretical concept in archives that plays out in an interesting way at IA is provenance. As noted above, information about donors is recorded and enshrined in cataloging records, but there is not really a concern for original order. An individual’s collection can be reconstructed digitally once it is fully cataloged, but it does not inform the way objects are physically organized. I think that Caswell’s (2016) proposed re-conception of provenance as “an ever-changing, infinitely evolving process of recontextualization” that takes into account creators, archivists, and users (p. 13) is particularly apt. That a person chose to donate their objects to a community archive, instead of a museum or more traditional archive, certainly says something about the object itself.

Cataloging at Interference Archive was a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon and to learn more about some of the objects in this collection. In the few months since I’ve gotten involved at IA, it has truly surprised me how productive and organized a group of volunteers can be, especially when they are not motivated by a time-sensitive or political goal (such as an election campaign). In its task of collecting of radical materials, IA takes a unconventional approach to the task of archiving, which suits its purposes and provides a useful model for organizations with similar goals.

Interference Archive’s collection of newspapers




Caswell, Michelle (2016). ‘The Archive’ Is Not an Archive: On Acknowledging the Intellectual Contributions of Archival Studies. Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture, 16(1). Retrieved from

Drabinski, Emily (2013). Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 83(2), 94-111.

Interference Archive (2018). Our Mission [web page]. Retrieved from



Preserving Counter-Narratives and The Racial Imaginary Institute

By EmmaKarin

The Racial Imaginary Institute speaking at the Schomburg Center

The Racial Imaginary Institute speaking at the Schomburg Center

The lights dim in the Langston Hughes Auditorium within the Schomburg Center located on Malcolm X Boulevard. A short video entitled, “What is the Schomburg Center?” begins to roll and the voice of Shola Lynch, curator of the center’s Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division, booms, “it is the place where we come to see who we are. Not just some body’s reflection of who we are.” This is the true theme of center as well as of the evening. We are here to celebrate the launch of The Racial Imaginary Institute (TRII) website, a new type of art archive founded by poet and MacArthur fellow Claudia Rankine. Rankine and Dr. LeRonn P. Brooks are moderating a discussion between two artists featured in the archive, Alexandra Bell and Hank Willis Thomas. The website is one of the first steps for the institute, which will collaborate with organizations, collectives and spaces to confront the concept of race through, the activation of interdisciplinary work and a democratized exploration” (The Racial Imaginary Institute).

The first web issue focuses on “constructions, deconstructions, and visualizations of/around whiteness, white identity, white rage/fragility/violence, and white dominant structures” (The Racial Imaginary Institute). Whiteness as the first theme was ­­­­­deliberate, investigating white dominance and “America’s commitment to whiteness” says Rankine, is the first step in dismantling racism and the concept of race. The website will collect submissions throughout the year and is capable of hosting all types of media. This will allow for a variety of voices to be heard across artistic disciplines to show different manifestations of lived experience within the dominant structures of whiteness.

'Tulsa Man' by Alexandra Bell

‘Tulsa Man’ by Alexandra Bell

“I don’t think I will ever live in a post-racial society,” says Alexandra Bell. A graduate of Columbia’s Journalism school Bell professes that it mostly, “made [her] a very snobby reader.” She critiques the latent racism within journalism through creating counter-narratives by editing articles from The New York Times, enlarging them tenfold and wheat pasting them in public spaces throughout New York City, predominantly Brooklyn. Her most well-known work is “A Teenager with Promise” a commentary of the inept coverage by the paper over Michael Brown’s murder. Her pieces are diptychs with one panel featuring a redacted and edited copy of the original article noting the language choices that sustain the dominant white narrative; the second panel is her visual representation of the more accurate counter-narrative.

'Absolut Power' by Hank Willis Thomas

‘Absolut Power’ by Hank Willis Thomas

“Race is the most successful advertising campaign of all time,” Hank Willis Thomas tells the audience. Thomas is a conceptual artist whose body of work intersects on ideas of identity, commodity, and pop culture. He believes that “black identity” is fabricated, co-opted and capitalized upon by whiteness. Most known for his series B®anded consisting of manipulated photographs to explore themes of the black body as a commodity from the time of slavery to the present day. One of his most striking pieces is Absolut Power, a play on the Absolut vodka ad campaigns, filling the iconic bottle’s silhouette with the diagram of the Brooke’s slave ship.

“Through archives, the past is controlled[,]” Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook remind us, “[c]ertain stories are privileged and others marginalized” (1). The institution of the archive “represents enormous power over memory and identity, over the fundamental ways in which society seeks evidence of what its core values are and have been, where it has come from, and where it is going” (Schwartz and Cook 1). These are the exact issues the institute sets out to tackle. Racism is a social construct, it is built upon privilege and power that is either overt or subconcious. When a police officer shoots a black man his defense most often that he was afraid. But afraid of what? White dominance has controlled the narrative surrounding black bodies since we kidnapped them from their homes and enslaved them here on our soil. We have allowed this narrative to continue unchecked actively and passively in all corners of society. In archives specifically, it can be seen in the collection process. It is not uncommon to search records under the “Black History” heading only to find files filled with solely caricature advertising, gruesome accounts of lynching, or similar narratives that place people of color as the victimized other. These narrow collections focus on “Black History” from a controlled white perspective.

As a writer and scholar of African history and diaspora, Arturo Schomburg, for whom the center is dedicated, came up against many who were quick to say that people of color had no history. He went on to amass the largest collection of artifacts and records of black history to preserve the history and culture which society deemed illegitimate. He strove to preserve the range of black experiences, from excellence to exploitation, rather than focusing on the suffering and stereotypes. That to him was not African history it was the history of white dominance and oppression. Because of his legacy ­­­­we have the records that are the literal actual narrative of black experience and not just what white archivist and society have deemed the acceptable history.

The Racial Imaginary Institute seeks to expound upon the ideas of Shomburg by collecting and creating a “deep memory archive” (Brooks) of artistic manifestations of lived experience. It will serve to capture not just our history past, but also our history current. This is a pointed effort to start the conversation now rather than wait for our future historians to interpret the evidence. This is a new way of collecting and disseminating information through active community participation that will circumvent the power still held in the institution of the archive.

The Racial Imaginary Institute

The Racial Imaginary Institute

Works Referenced:“About the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.”, New York Public Library ,

Charlton, Lauretta. “Claudia Rankine’s Home for the Racial Imaginary.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 19 June 2017,

Félix, Doreen St. “The.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 31 July 2017,

“HANK WILLIS THOMAS, BRANDED.” Jack Shainman Gallery, Jack Shainman Gallery, Artist page.

Rankine, Claudia, Dr. LeRonn P. Brooks, Alexandra Bell, and Hank Willis Thomas. “Artist and the Archive: Deconstructing Racial Imagination at the Schomburg” New York Public Library Schomburg Center. 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York. 26 Sept. 2017. Artist Panel Discussion.

Schwartz, Joan M, and Terry Cook. “Archives, Records and Power: The Making of Modern Memory.” Archival Science : International Journal on Recorded Information. (2002). Print.

“The Racial Imaginary Institute.” The Racial Imaginary Institute, The Racial Imaginary Institute,


The Internet Archive is Moving to Canada: Publicity Stunt or Reasonable Decision

By adifigl2

On December 7, 2015, Donald Trump spoke to a crowd at the U.S.S. Yorktown in South Carolina, “We’re losing a lot of people because of the internet, and we have to do something. We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different people…about, maybe in certain areas, closing the internet up in some way. Somebody will say, ‘Oh, freedom of speech! Freedom of speech! These are foolish people…We’ve got to do something with the internet.” He insisted that ISIS recruitment of “impressionable youth” through the internet was severe enough to warrant limitations in access and availability (Vicens, 2016)

While his statements were not necessarily based on extensive research or even a rudimentary understanding of how the internet works, his flippant response towards the limitation and restricted access of information struck many information freedom activists and professionals as worrisome.

Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, was one of the first to speak out after Trump’s election in November. On November 29th he issued a statement on the Internet Archive blog stating that Trump’s election “was a firm reminder that institutions like ours, built for the long-term, need to design for change…[I]t means preparing for a Web that may face greater restrictions.” Kahle explained that the Internet Archive had been working to create a partial backup in Canada (they currently have additional backups in Alexandria and Amsterdam), but after the election made the decision to make the Canadian archive a full backup of their database, essentially creating a second hub for the archive. This duplicate is often called a “mirror” and is a platform that many websites use to ensure a backup and evade censorship (Johnson, 2016).

Kahle’s response to the election and announcement of their move elicited responses from Rachel Maddow¹, MSNBC, Huffington Post, and nearly every major news outlet. A once obscure website became a hot button topic of discussion seemingly overnight.

I wanted to understand their reasoning behind the move, obviously it makes sense to continue the work that they had already been doing in Canada by advancing the project further, but why Canada?

Canadian laws regarding access to online information and access to the web are very similar to those in the United States. The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) was passed in 2001 under certain limitations, and more comprehensively in 2004 (Wilson). This act implements certain restrictions on the storing of personal information by large corporations and was originally developed to encourage consumer online shopping.

In 2015, Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, was passed in Canada which gave government greater access to citizens’ web based data, and allowed for that information to be used to target potential terrorists (Mendhelson, 2016). While the new president, Justin Trudeau, has promised to repeal a large portion of the more problematic elements of the bill, the restrictions and allowance for government access is very similar to the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 which was passed in the United States (NIST).

While Canada does offer fewer restrictions than the United States in some areas, it has greater limitations on content, and as recently as 2005 internet providers had the ability to block certain IP addresses without any legal ramifications or modifications to laws to prevent it happening again (CBC News, 2005).

The Freedom House non-profit published “Freedom on the Net 2016”, which discusses various countries’ current laws and standings on internet accessibility and freedom of web based information. It rates countries based on three attributes; obstacles to access, limitations on content, and violations of user rights. Canada rates 16 out of 100, and the United States rates 18 out of 100. Canada rated lower than the United States in “violation of user rights”, but higher on their “limitations of content”. Meaning that they are more apt to protect their citizens rights and information on the internet than the US, but that they in turn restrict more information than the US. Ultimately, both countries rate relatively low and similar. The countries that rate best (lowest) on their scale include Estonia and Iceland, both 6 out of 100 significantly lower than both the US and Canada(Mendhelson, 2016).

Ultimately, the regulations and laws surrounding internet and information accessibility do not differ greatly between the United States and Canada. Each have positives and negatives, each are constantly being modified and circumnavigated to appease whoever needs whatever information. The similarities still beg the question, why are they creating an additional copy there? Although it is reasonable to be cautious of storing information in the United States considering our current political climate, it is important to recognize that the same restriction and obliteration of information could rapidly occur in Canada if their political climate were to change. While I do agree that “lots of copies keep stuff safe”, I think it is important to consider where those copies are being stored, especially when taking into account the amount of time and funding that it takes to create those additional copies. It might be paying off for the Internet Archive to draw attention to work that they are currently doing by using it as a means t0 take a stand against the administration, but to praise their decision might be hasty. As purveyors of a world of digital born content, the Internet Archive now holds the weight of responsibility for that information, and in the long run it makes more sense to focus efforts on the creation of more stable copies in countries that are better known for their unrestrictive information laws.


CBC News. (2005, July 24). Telus cuts subscriber access to pro-union website. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from

Johnson, A. (2016, November 29). Internet Archive, web’s warehouse, creating Trump-era copy in Canada. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from

Kahle, B. (2016, November 29). Help Us Keep the Archive Free, Accessible, and Reader Private. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from

Mendehlson, A., & Reed, L. (2016). Freedom on the Net 2016. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from

NIST. FISMA Background. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from

Vicens, A. (2016, December 10). The coolest thing on the internet is moving to Canada. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from

Wilson, P., & Fekete, M. (2011). Privacy Law in Canada. Doing Business in Canada. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from

Observation at the NY Federal Reserve’s Archives

By kraines

On Friday, December 9th, I joined associate archivist, Julie Sager, and observed her work at the New York Federal Reserve’s. I spent a few hours in the afternoon with Miss Sager, observing the work she does and discussing current issues in archiving. The day was as exciting, as it was interesting. Simply entering the building was awe-inspiring as you can’t help but imagine you’re walking into a castle. A tower adorns one corner of the stone structure and huge arched ceilings mark an era of grandeur in New York construction.

First we stopped up in the library, a bustling room of cubicles and chatty voices. Miss Sager described the work she does on most days, starting with email and research in the mornings. Some afternoons consist of status meetings or a recent committee to re-establish the access and retention policies for records stored on-site. However, most afternoons are spent researching in the archives for queries and FOIA requests.

Most information requested through FOIA is already available through public record but many people think a FOIA request is required. When information is sealed, a FOIA request does not guarantee access. Access is determined by the law department. Other times, the requester want to see the steps taken during research by the archivist, as required by FOIA requests. Miss Sager helped to develop the reporting system used to track the workflow of research using a program called sharepoint. The library and archivist team is able to track all research because the program allows for reproducible searches and reduces research time for similar or multiple inquiries on the same info.

Next, we walked through the archives and records rooms as she discussed a recent problem. We pulled a few boxes in archives to search through later. The archives and records are stored in old cash and coin vaults. They are sealed behind huge metal doors with complex locking mechanisms (picture gringotts in Harry Potter.) Recently, Miss Sager has been following the trail of some missing records. Lending to banks was typically recorded in the meeting minutes by members of the federal reserve; however, during WWI lending practices reported through a different method. Miss Sager was able to determine why the records are missing from archived meeting minutes but has not been able to find the missing information. Interestly, Miss Sager is now responding to the 3rd of 4th request from different parties in the last year for the same missing info.

Records are created by outside parties, such as banks and businesses, and are stored on-site for a predetermined amount of time. Miss Sager has recently been involved in the research and decision to change the time a record is kept in storage at the federal reserve. Based on information she has found at other institutions, she suggests they keep records for 20 years before removing or archiving them. When a record is removed, it is either returned to the creator or destroyed. I asked how Miss Sager feels her career may be affected by the move toward digitization in archives and libraries. She says that her career will be secure for at least the 10-20 years left in current records. She and her boss also plan to find classes based on archiving born-digital documents. She says, “There aren’t as many solutions to born-digital [records] yet… I have records now that are printed emails because they didn’t know how to save them at the time.”

The idea of printing emails to save them is laughable but during a time when servers couldn’t host, save, or archive important emails, printing was the best solution. Digital preservation comes with the challenge of fragility. Born-digital objects do not fade in sections or lose only portions of information as a book or printed object would. Rather, they become unusable with time due to file corruption and most often because hardware has upgraded. (1) Most often in preserving born-digital materials, we rely on printed emails, screenshots, and other second hand methods of retention. The original will never be captured fully, although snapshots may convey the intention. This method of preservation may be the only solutions we have currently but in the overwhelming amount of information created in today’s digital age, new options will need to be explored.

(1) Rosenzweig, R. (2003, June). Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era. The American Historical Review, 108(3), 735-762.

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 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

Visiting the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection and Archive

By alchomet


“He just went right over to that picture of him and Diane and smiled.” Eileen Chapman, Associate Director of the Arts at Monmouth University, explained to me what it was like when Bruce Springsteen himself came to visit the archive of his fan materials at the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection at Monmouth University. “He mostly wanted to just look around, but he didn’t request anything.” Still, she seemed pleased with the memory. “I can’t believe I forgot to ask him to sign the guest book!”  Eileen acts as director of the archive, assisted by Alana, a social work student at Monmouth. Together with another student assistant, they have tackled the work of tracking, arranging, and housing the collection, corresponding with patrons, providing reference, and serving the reading room.

There are no professional archivists on the staff, and none have ever worked there, but the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection is not a typical archive in a lot of ways. Most notably, the collection has nothing to do with Monmouth University’s library system, although it is housed on the Monmouth campus–the collection is not in the library, the librarians do not work on it, and the library system, for now, is not in the process of acquiring it. The archive is a single house located on Monmouth’s campus across the street from the student center, and adjacent to the performing arts building. It still looks a lot like a house–until the Springsteen collection moved in, it had been a living space for Monmouth students.

Eileen explained that the collection had been kept at the Asbury Park Public Library until 2011, when she suggested that the Friends of the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection (the group of fans who support and act as a kind of Board of Directors for the collection) move it to Monmouth University, only a few miles north of Asbury Park. She said that the public library really didn’t have space to house the quickly-growing collection, nor did they especially have the tools to provide access to its wide range of audio-visual formats. Various parts of the collection were being in stored closets and other strange spaces in the library, she explained, and library staff and directors began to disagree with the Friends over the treatment of the collection. Eileen was eventually able to convince Monmouth to take it on, although it took years. She told me that it had been a hard sell to the University to agree to house the collection–the library director did not agree that it would be relevant to the school’s library, and it remains apart from it today. The archive house only gets a few visitors a week–maybe 4 or 5, according to Eileen, and none of the University faculty have incorporated the collection into their coursework.

There are other subtle downsides to the archive’s move: unlike the public library, the house is open from 9 AM to 5 PM on weekdays only, rendering it inaccessible to most with a full time job. Its location–set back from an arterial street of the campus–is not exactly easy to find, even with a GPS. I had in fact taken a cab from a New Jersey transit station in order to get there, but then had to wander a bit before I saw the little unmarked house. Further, moving it even a little way outside Asbury Park makes it a harder stop for Springsteen tourists to make (although all visitors need to make an appointment with Eileen before coming in).

The archive house still retains some of the cozy feeling of a home, although much of the actual living spaces are occupied by steel shelving and Hollinger boxes, housing around 20,000 items of Springsteen fan material. The front living room of the house operates as the collection’s reading room. There is a large circular table for researchers to review material, and a reference desk across from the front door. There is a TV equipped with VHS and DVD players, as well as stereo equipment for playing records, CDs and cassettes. The kitchen has a few PCs, a microfilm reader, a flatbed scanner, a copy machine, and some arranging space on the counters. The rest of the house is the collection: the downstairs bedroom-like space holds newspapers and printed out internet-published articles, while bedroom spaces upstairs house academic papers, A/V materials, fan ‘zines, printed books, posters, t-shirts, and more. Decorating the living/reading room are beautiful, rare photos by Barry Schiener, a rock photographer, of Bruce in the ’70s and ’80s.

I love the idea of the archive house. Springsteen himself writes frequently of houses in his songs–the bedroom as personal space, the threshold, the porch, the yard, all hold immense weight in the universe of his lyrics. Only cars get more airplay in his lyrics than houses. It should go without saying, too, that his work glorifies the lives of working class Americans perhaps better than any other artist’s does–what better space to honor that vision than a simple home? Still, the collection might be even slightly more accessible if there were some signage by the road.

Eileen spends most of her time at the University working at the arts center, so when I visited on a Friday in November, a student assistant, Alana, worked with me. She has been working at the collection for four years, and is now in the middle of getting her Masters degree in social work from Monmouth. She seemed excited that I was studying to be an archivist, but hadn’t decided to go that route herself, although she loves working with the Springsteen collection; for one, Monmouth doesn’t offer a library or archives program.

Unfortunately, the collection barely has an online presence. The archive’s site has inventories of the collection by format, but no functioning OPAC (it remains un-integrated into the University library’s OPAC). Alana uses an excel spreadsheet to manage the archive’s inventory. For now, however, the collection is small enough that with some assistance, it’s not too difficult to assess and retrieve items of interest. When I requested to browse some of the ‘zines, Alana seemed unsurprised, and brought down a few boxes that she knew were popular. I mentioned that I was looking for a ‘zine a friend had made, and she worked with me in the inventory to find it, although there were no author names associated with ‘zine titles. My friend’s ‘zine (probably) wasn’t there–I should mention that almost all of the material in the collection has been donated.


While there are a myriad of examples I could make of what professional archivists would do differently in the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection, there’s a whole lot that they get right. Would a University library even be the appropriate space to house the fan collections of the man who sings, “We learned more from a three-minute record, baby/than we ever learned in school”? Indeed, professionals are trained to provide better far better access to materials like these, and I am dreaming of the day that the collection gets a detailed online catalog, but absorption into a more sterile academic environment would likely mean losing the comfortable feeling of the archive house. It was a pleasure to talk to Eileen and Alana (Alana and I talked a lot, actually), and our feeling of camradarie was facilitated by the homey environment. It’s harder to just hang out with librarians in a library or archive, not in the least because of . In this sense, I think Alana and Eileen have beaten the burnout blues that plague a lot of University librarians. I felt that I could walk away knowing that the archive was conceived of and run with the rabid love of fans–this seems especially important given Springsteen’s powerful interpretations of alienated work in America.

When it was time to close up, Alana gave me a ride back to the train station (the archive house is located about 2 miles from the Long Branch New Jersey Transit stop on the Shoreline route). I had suggested that I could walk, but she seemed to expect that she would drive me, without us talking about it first. She said she frequently drove visitors to and from the collection. We drove past her old dorms on the way and she pointed them out–brick and square and overlooking the Jersey shore, but we were listening to pop radio in her car, and not The Boss. She assured me that she did indeed love Bruce, but, you know, some of her friends were bigger fans.


Institutional Memory

By belantara

In their article, “Archives, Records and Power: The Making of Modern Memory” Schwartz and Cook discuss the important impact archives have on social memory and the often overlooked power held by information professionals. They write:

“archives…wield power over the administrative, legal and fiscal accountability of governments, corporations and individuals…[they] wield power over the shape and direction of historical scholarship, collective memory and national identity, over how we know ourselves as individuals, groups and societies.”

Does the fact that an object is in an archive make it more a more valuable object or reliable as a source?  Who decides?  What are the possible futures of the past and how can the past be found? Whose memory gets stored and whose gets lost? Author Alberto Manguel calls libraries “preservers of memory of our society” and as such as libraries and archives play an essential role in deciding the fate of the past and as such have a power that is rarely associated with them by the general public.

To preserve knowledge and history seems to be a human need. Is it related to our biological instinct for survival?  Perhaps we feel that even though our lives are ephemeral, memory of our lives should be everlasting?  NASA’s golden record was launched into space in 1977 with the hope of reaching other living beings or perhaps human descendants. The record contains sounds of nature along with languages and music from around the world.   Undoubtedly however, one record can not capture every aspect of human diversity, indeed, not even a large archive can contain a history or memory of everything.  Who then, will tell the stories that are not told by archives, and who will listen?

As Rodney G.S. Carter points out in the article, “Of Things Said and Unsaid: Power, Archival Silences and Power in Silence:”

“A universal archive, one that preserves the memory of a culture is an impossibility as memory is necessarily an individual thing: there are many memories that often are conflicting and contradictory. Even if archivists are willing to allow multiple voices into the archives, it will never be complete. There is simply no way of capturing the multitude of stories, although archivists must try. ”

Even if archivists and librarians aim to create an all-inclusive archive, decisions about what to collect and what not to collect must be made. Not everything can be kept.  As Schwarz and Cook point out, these decisions heavily impact memory of the past and materials given precious archival space are often used to validate ideas of how things happened or are assigned a higher value than items that are not part of an official archival collection. Yet, as Schwarz and Cook write, “what goes on in the archives remains remarkably unknown.” Schwarz and Cook mainly address the content of libraries and archives, but their mission to raise discussion about the power held by archivists is reminiscent of radical catalogers’ calls to draw attention to and change biases in cataloging practices.  The organization and classifying methods used in public collections adds yet another layer to the complex power relations embedded in archives and libraries.   How do archivists and librarians make decisions and how can these decisions be made more visible to the people who use them?

Perhaps one solution may be to raise public dialogue on these issues and to begin to raise awareness about the curatorial aspects of library and archival work.   It seems that weeding is one of aspect of collection management that draws wide public attention. News articles describe the public’s dismay at seeing large quantities of books and other materials being removed from a library’s collection. Articles from library professionals list up ways libraries can help diffuse upset over weeding and how to talk about the deaccessioning process in a way that is more acceptable to the public. Perhaps these are times when the public’s attention could also be drawn to the complex task librarians and archivists face when trying to create diverse and useful collections. Libraries and archives could create a public forum to openly discuss these issues and gather input from community members about the stories they want their libraries and archives to tell.

Another strategy that could be useful would be to offer small public tours of behind the scenes archival and library spaces. Such tours could help shed some light on important issues regarding collection development and cataloging practices. People can see what goes into making all the resources available to them. People often have a greater appreciation for work once they have a better idea of what goes into it. People attending the tour can respond to some of the practices they see.  This type of activity can help libraries and archives make their activities more transparent and open to public input.

Another way to increase public involvement in and awareness of important library/archival issues is through art.  Art has the capacity to reach wide audiences and inspire them to see and hear things they encounter everyday in a new way. A number of interesting artworks that explore human interaction with library and archival systems have been on exhibition around New York in recent years, and some of them have been successful in generating much needed public dialogue about some of the issues Schwarz and Cook raise.  Interactive artworks, such as an audiovisual artwork called Kinokologue invite audiences to participate in cataloging tasks encourage them to engage with collections in a new and playful way.

One other interesting option may be to use beacon technology to help tell alternative narratives about the collections. Beacons are small transmitters that can be placed almost anywhere to send out information to smart devices within a certain range.   Perhaps users could learn about the b-side of library collections, such as the story of where a particular item came from or why it was chosen to be part of a collection. Or maybe the beacons could be used to indicate what’s missing from a collection and invite input on this from patrons.

While each of these solutions may not be possible in every context, they do offer ways of increasing public awareness about the important yet often invisible power issues Schwarz and Cook raise. When people have the opportunity to gain insight into how collections are produced and maintained and the decisions librarians and archivists are faced with, they may begin to see these places as less neutral objective spaces and recognize them for the socio-cultural-historic constructed places that they are. While libraries, archives and museums are sometimes known as memory institutions, perhaps such activities may help people realize that these institutional memories, just like each of ours are inherently biased, faulty and incomplete.  Every object and every memory changes with time and context.  What does not change is the human desire to preserve memories as best as possible with the hope that future generations can learn from and find something of themselves within them.

Works Cited:

Schwartz, J. & Cook, T. (2002). “Archives, records, and power: the making of modern memory,” Archival Science 2: 1–19.

CARTER, Rodney G.S.. Of Things Said and Unsaid: Power, Archival Silences, and Power in Silence. Archivaria, [S.l.], sep. 2006.

Preserving Dissent: Labor Archives and Archivists’ Labor

By alisonmacdonald

The directory of labor archives in the United States and Canada compiled by the Labor Archives Roundtable at the Society of American Archivists makes it clear that preservation of, and access to, records concerning labor movements is a priority for North American institutions of status and power. The Labor Archives Roundtable aims to connect archivists, labor organizations, researchers, and institutions with an interest in records concerning labor to ensure preservation of and access to such records. In its directory the Roundtable lists archives in the field of labor in 30 U.S. states, among which New York is particularly well-represented by the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at the Tamiment Library at New York University, and the archives and library at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. This article will review some of the roles, contradictions, challenges and opportunities faced by archives that deal explicitly with the records of organizations like those in labor movements who challenge established social power relations.

When making decisions about preservation of, and access to, archival records, archivists face significant conceptual, technical, and social hurdles. One conceptual challenge concerns the natures of archives and archival work themselves. In 2002 archivists Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook made an argument for the creative social and historical powers of archives and for the resulting responsibilities of archivists. Their article, titled “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory,” asserted that traditional archival practice had clung to the conjoined myths of professional and archival neutrality. By refusing to recognize the role archives play as sites for the negotiation of social power and the creation of social memory, and the resultant influence of archivists upon that negotiation and creation, archivists refused accountability for their own roles in the perpetuance of existing social power relations. As Schwartz and Cook note, archives originate in the information needs and social values of the powerful; they are not spontaneously-occurring historical repositories but reflect instead the concerns of a society’s privileged classes. Without continual questioning by archivists, the records chosen for inclusion in an archive may well document and justify only the powerful.

This lack of questioning is dangerous because it implicitly supports the archival myth of neutrality and objectivity, and thus sanctions the already strong predilection of archives and archivists to document primarily mainstream culture and powerful records creators (Schwartz and Cook, 18).

The challenges faced by archivists include technical and social obstacles. As the article “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era,” by historian Roy Rosenzweig, underlines, “preservation of the past is, in the end, often a matter of allocating adequate resources” (Rosenzweig, 761). Writing in 2003, Rosenzweig focused on the new challenges of preservation and access posed by records in digital formats. He concluded that although the technical hurdles involved in archiving born-digital materials are substantial, “the problems are much more than technical and involve difficult social, political, and organizational questions of authenticity, ownership, and responsibility” (Rosenzweig, 748). Allocation of resources to preserve historical records is complicated when, as with born-digital materials, ownership of, and thus responsibility for, those records is diffuse and/or ambiguous.

Of course archivists focused on records pertaining to organizations, such as labor organizations, who challenge existing power relations are not immune to the reassuring inclination to view their profession as a neutral endeavor committed to safeguarding an uncontroversial historicity. Neither are they free of the technical, social, and political challenges facing archival work in general and the archiving of born-digital materials in particular. In fact, it could be argued that such archives face those hurdles to a greater extent than do less politicized archives as they document the more diffuse and less well-funded efforts made and media used by those who oppose the interests of society’s powerful. Nor does the existence of specialized archives that treat labor movements, such as the Kheel Center, the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, and the archives at the YIVO Institute, obviate the necessity for sensitive consideration of the ways in which such archives’ records should be preserved for future access. As political scientist Michael Lipsky noted in his 1969 paper, “Toward a Theory of Street-level Bureaucracy,” the existence of such specialized units may only reinforce omission of less powerful groups from consideration and responsible treatment by mainstream organizational efforts.

These units permit Street-level Bureaucrats to allege that problems are being handled and provide a “place” in the bureaucracy where particularly vociferous and persistent complainants can be referred. At the same time, the existence of the units deflects pressures for general reorientation (Lipsky, 19).

Archivists at Cornell, New York University, and the YIVO Institute are privileged and supported in their work by their affiliation with high-status institutions who enjoy substantial funding and influence. Similarly, the Progressive Librarians Guild, an organization committed to hosting discussion of radical and labor-related issues in libraries and library work, locates its archives at the American Library Association Archives. The American Library Association is a well-connected and funded organization whose stability and status will help to ensure the continued preservation of, and access to, those archives (housed currently at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). It can thus be seen that archivists who work with records that explicitly challenge existing power relations, and in archives that prioritize those records, do not enjoy a simplified approach to their material, but rather face a heightened need for sensitivity to the conceptual, technical, and social challenges faced by the archival profession in general. Specialized archives that prioritize the less powerful will need to ensure their own survival, likely by alliance with more powerful organizations. Archivists will need to include consideration of such relationships in their archival work if they are to achieve, as Schwartz and Cook enjoined, an opening of archives’ and archivists’ power “to vital debate and transparent accountability” (Schwartz and Cook, 1).


Works Cited

Lipsky, M. (1969). “Toward a theory of street-level bureaucracy.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, NYC.

Rosenzweig, R. (2003). “Scarcity or abundance? Preserving the past in a digital era,” The American Historical Review 108(3): 735–763.

Schwartz, J. & Cook, T. (2002). “Archives, records, and power: the making of modern memory,” Archival Science 2: 1–19.

Bringing (Un)dead Books Back to Life at Reanimation Library

By SrrhHamerman

Reanimation Library's Reading Room, via

Reanimation Library’s Reading Room, via

The shelves of Brooklyn’s Reanimation Library are lined with bowling manuals, guides to Gregg shorthand, outdated biology textbooks, a tech-savvy fitness book called “computercise,” and even a thick tome containing nothing but random series of numbers. Browsing the collection feels more like inhabiting a vaguely retro-futurist cabinet of curiosities than a library in the traditional sense. But through this hybrid library and conceptual artwork, Reanimation Library founder Andrew Beccone challenges us to rethink systems of knowledge and cultural value.

Located in the Proteus Gowanus complex since 2006, Reanimation Library serves primarily as a visual resource to inspire artists and individuals to create new work. Though the collection does not circulate, visitors are encouraged to scan and reuse images that they find – in Beccone’s words, to “pan for gold in the sediment of visual culture.” Among Reanimation Library’s audience are book artists, animators, collectors, writers and students. Beyond Brooklyn, Reanimation installs “branch libraries,” which are temporary, site-sourced versions of the library, at art and cultural spaces as far afield as Lebanon. Additionally, the library invites writers to critically respond to works from the collection on its Word Processor blog.

Reanimation Library started out as an extension of Beccone’s personal interests. A practicing visual artist, he worked in libraries for years and studied library science at Pratt. The collection’s scope reflects his interest in the print and visual culture of the era spanning from the ‘40s to the ‘70s, eschewing high-art texts for vernacular subjects. He delights in the “popular modernism” of this atomic-age visual culture, which seems to promise everyone the possibility of transforming his or her world, even through mundane pursuits. The books function more as artifacts than as texts, giving us insight into the era’s mode of visual/textual reproduction and embodying its cultural mindset. Reanimation Library allows visitors to perform their own “archaeology of knowledge,” gleaning understanding of the past’s (failed) promises through its detritus – and reclaiming its visual potential for the future.

Owing to the project’s focus on generating new work, I asked Beccone how he tracked and displayed the art created in response to the collection. While he originally attempted to include the works in his digital catalog and link them to the books they referenced, this proved to be too much of an administrative burden, even with occasional volunteer help. Also, attempting to meticulously track and record every artwork felt a bit authoritarian – patrons actively share in the project, and once the images enter their hands, they are theirs to transform. The library negotiates an interesting space between private and public collection – in some sense, it’s a portrait of Beccone’s own interests, but he’s offering it up to everyone.

Reanimation Library has drawn an ambivalent reaction from library professionals, perhaps because it calls attention to the materials libraries eliminate through weeding. Collection development policies prioritize currently relevant textual information, often assigning little weight to the visual dimension of the work. In our conversation, Beccone noted that there’s something conservative to the way libraries consider useful information, often de-privileging visual information that’s not easily classified and pushing it away from access. His perspective on the library’s power in determining culturally useful knowledge resonates with Foucault’s definition of the archive:

“[The archive is not] that which collects the dust of statements that have become inert once more, and which may make possible the miracle of their resurrection; it is that which defines the mode of occurrence of the statement-thing, it is the system of its functioning,” (Foucault 129).

While Reanimation Library may aim to make this “miracle” possible once more, it is still, resolutely, a library, with books cataloged according to the Library of Congress system. For Beccone, the choice of Library of Congress was a bit arbitrary – it suited his purposes, and was the classification system he was most familiar with. Still, many librarians have refused to see Reanimation Library as something more than an art project, despite the fact that Beccone embraces the library’s spirit of providing free, democratic access to information.

From Reanimation Library's digital image collection

From Reanimation Library’s digital image collection

The project has received a more enthusiastic response in the art world, where it resonates with recent interests in social practice and relational art. Particularly since the 1960s, the art world has showed a continued interest in questioning hierarchies and breaking down disciplinary boundaries. Artworks such as Marcel Broodthaers’ “Department of Eagles” have emphasized the strangeness of the archive, its gaps and its visual repetitions. Artistically, Reanimation Library has found a community at Proteus Gowanus, a gallery and reading room that hosts residents interested in cross-disciplinary inquiry and collaboration. Its neighbors at the space have included Morbid Anatomy Museum, focusing on art, science, and death, and Observatory, a group of “oddball para-academics” who present lectures and events.

Marcel Broodthaers' fictitious museum, Department of Eagles, 1968

Marcel Broodthaers’ fictitious museum, Department of Eagles, 1968

While Reanimation Library encourages engagement with books as physical and material objects, it also offers a full digital catalog and online collection of thousands of images. For Beccone, print and digital are not mutually exclusive – rather, they offer different modes of understanding and searching for information that can support and mutually reinforce one another. The digital archive allows people outside of New York to access part of the collection, as well as offering a browsing experience that’s distinct from the physical space. However, he has no intent of fully digitizing the collection – because of resource limitations, conceptual intentions, and because this may infringe on fair use.

Beccone finds that many people of the younger generation that has grown up with the Internet have taken a strong interest in the collection, and in book arts more generally. Citing the success of the New York Art Book Fair, he notes that there has been an embrace of print objects and analog technologies, in reaction to the ephemerality and intangibility of the digital. Books have a medium-specific way of conveying information, speaking as much through the feel of their pages and the visual quality of color, ink and image reproduction as they do through their content. While techniques of collage, remix and juxtaposition are nothing new, they are the dominant modes of cultural production in the digital environment.

From 1985 B-horror classic,  Reanimator, which you should all watch

From 1985 B-horror classic, Reanimator, which you should all watch

Reanimation Library’s books may be “dead” in one sense, bearers of bunk knowledge and outmoded cultural trends – but they encourage the mad scientist in all of us to give them life, to make their zombie-like moans reverberate through the cracks in the “official” archive’s walls.

Interested in Reanimation Library? Check out these other alternative library projects:

Work Cited:

Foucault, M. (1972). The archaeology of knowledge. New York: Pantheon Books.

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