Showing posts from October, 2010

So what is an archivist anyway?: the perpetual question from non-archivists

No, an archivist is not an anarchist nor a builder of arches, although I have been accused of being both. We work with information of permanent historical research value. We are trained professionals with a degree in library or information studies (or both) with graduate history classes and specific classes and training on archival collections in all formats. Instead of published materials which librarians work with, we work with diaries, travel journals, presidential papers,  letters, emails, treaties, videos, home movies, speeches, drawings, drawn maps, music, verse, photographic materials, and negatives. Some archival collections are composed of  metal, rock, linen, animal skins, glass, film, or wampum. Archivists organized archival collections, rehouse them in acid-free containers, inventory and describe them, catalog and encode them so they can be searched online, house and protect them, and make them available to researchers. Archivists may create exhibits, conduct workshops and…

Your Friendly Archivist

While talking to an esteemed colleague, who is also the prof of a graduate history class I'm currently taking, he told me that he loves talking to the archivist when he conducts research in an archival collections.  The archivist has in-depth knowledge of the collection from processing it, as well as the ability to recommend other relevant collections, having processed them as well.  It warms my heart and is so gratifying when someone understands and recognizes what I do and what I'm there for. Your friendly neighborhood archivist is in fact one of your best research tools. He sent one of his undergrad. students to me and together we came up with a plan for his research paper, and a quality list of primary and secondary sources. I will say that this colleague has an attachment to microfilm, which is not shared by all, but which I can appreciate since I worked before digitization. As more collections are digitized, he'll be able to enjoy collections online as he once viewed…

Repatriation- In honor and respect Nov. 3-5 Mt. Pleasant, MI

The public is invited to attend repatriation of ancestral remains events on Nov. 3-5  co-sponsored by CMU and the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe. A roundtable discussion of repatriation will occur 5-6:30pm in the Park Library Aud. led by Dennis Banks, co-founder of AIM, the American Indian Movement. On Thrs, I will participate in the Walk Them Home event from CMU's Special Olympics building to the Tribe's Nibokaan Ancestral Cemetery. Lunch and shuttle service back to CMU is provided. On Fri at noon there will be a Returning to the Earth ceremony officiated by Curtis Hopkins and other Anishinabe spiritual leaders. On Fri Nov. 5th at 6pm there will be a spirit feast. For more info you can call 989-774-2508 or email  This is such an important event. These remains and funerary objects have been kept in boxes in an office for years. It is time for them to be buried with honors and prayers. This is part of the many acts of repatriation of remains from museums and excavat…

Student Processors

Today I have a new student processor student! This is the first one assigned specifically to me in several years. Students are such an important part of the Clarke. This term we will have 12 student employees. They help process new and old published and archival material, sort, photocopy, inventory, label, shelve, reshelve, assist patrons, put up and take down exhibits, staff the reading room, help scan materials, enter data and metadata,  microfilm and sort newspapers, and recycle, among other duties. I have been very fortunate to have wonderful students work for and with me over the years. I will be highlighting some of them soon. My experience is if you train and supervise students well, and have high expectations for them, they can do a lot well. Is anyone else successfully using students for a myriad of purposes?

Dead Sea Scrolls to be published online by Google

Yesterday the BBCNews announced that the 2,000-year old Dead Sea Scrolls will be scanned by researchers at the Israel Antiquities Authority, assisted by Google scientists, and become available online in a searchable database. Every fragment, and most of them are small fragments, will be scanned. I am so excited to read this! The scrolls were found in the mid-1940s above the Qumran caves by a Bedouin shepherd. They are written in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, and include some of the earliest texts from the Bible and Ten Commandments. Thus far, only a small number of scholars have had access to the scrolls, which is an ongoing point of contention in academia.  I am fascinated by the Scrolls, their age, survival, importance in historical and biblical research as well as spirituality, and I wonder about the ancient scribes who copied them and the courageous people who hid them. What a treasure trove! What an archives! This will increase scholarly research access and hopefully result in many …

October is American Archives Month

SAA has declared Oct. to be American Archives Month. If you would like more information about it, SAA's website is a good place to begin. Here's the url: We have never officially celebrated American Archives month.  I wonder how many MI archives really celebrate American Archives month. I hope others are doing something. I did locate my Archives month poster, which is quite nice of the Lincoln Memorial, including  images of Lincolnalia and Marian Anderson singing in front of the Memorial with all the big microphones. If you are a MI archivist and you are celebrating in a real way, please let me know how. Give the rest of us some ideas to implement next year! Thank you!

National Cyber Security Awareness Month

No, this is not something invented by Hallmark, so you don't have to go out and buy a $4 card. I did not know there was such a month until I received a recent posting. This is the month to be cyber aware and safe. Especially with all the identity breaches in government records and online today, we should all try to be safer with our settings and careful when we respond to emails.  CMU is offering a presentation  on Weds Oct 20 on staying safe from online threats. I wonder how many institutions are offering such presentations? Does anyone else know this month exists?

Scholars Test Web Alternative to Peer Review Process

According to a recent New York Times article of this title by Patricia Cohen on Aug. 25, 2010, the humanities have lagged behind the sciences in using blogs and wikis to access, learn, and debate research. Who doesn't know that. Publish (in peer-reviewed journals) or perish has been the call at universities for generations.  I don't think it matters what the format is, if the forum is peer-reviewed. You have to have publications to earn tenure and promotion at universities. Scholarship in peer-reviewed journals versus information exchanged on the web is "the most pressing intellectual issue in the next decade.", according to Dan Cohen, Director of the center for History and New Media at George Mason University. Scholars maintain that only scholars in a particular field are capable of property evaluating originality and intellectual significance of research, not the general internet population. Yes, that makes sense. Just because it is on the web does not mean the inf…

Missing records turn up eventually sometimes

I'm always amazed at historic materials that turn up in the news. In this weeks news there is a story about a supposed Michelangelo painting "The Pieta with the Two Angels". The piece's authenticity is, at this point, debatable. In July 2010 documents from Hitler's time in prison in 1924 went to auction. His book Mein Kampf was written in prison. According to the newspaper article the documents were originally purchased at a Nuremberg flea market. I don't supposed Hitler would have appreciated that. Another example is a long-lost letter by Rene Descartes discovered in Haverford College in Feb. 2010. It was stolen  from Paris's Institut de France about 170 years ago and will be returned to France. I wonder if I will ever find anything in the Clarke that will need to be returned to Europe.

RDA Resource Description and Access Cataloging Standards coming

For decades AACR I or II have been used by catalogers of printed and  non-printed sources (books, manuscripts, maps, periodicals, records, tapes, websites, etc.). AACRII was in full effect when I was a mere library studies student at the UM. In 90 days, the RDA trial at the Library of Congress will end and RDA will become the national cataloging standard, and probably soon the international cataloging standard. Am I the only archivist nervous about the switch? It will be an adjustment for those of us who had spacing and punctuation standards drilled into us. One space off on homework, you receive a negative point on your homework. The new standards, designed to accommodate electronic materials no doubt, seem pretty loose and creative. I wonder if those who developed it actually catalog?

Ansel Adams photos found at garage sale worth $200 million

An article in cnn on July 27, 2010 noted 65 Adams photos (actually glass-plate negatives) were found at a garage sale. There is some debate as to if they are his or not, but it seems likely. There are so many archaic forms of images in archival collections. I have worked with most of them which is quite an education and an experience at the same time. Too bad more of them can't have a value attached. Images recording a way of life that is now lost to the past, or someone's perspective or life are hard to value. Some we can value for the name of the photographer or the beauty or searing quality of the image, but others are of value only to the creator. Meanwhile, archivists work with them all.

A person's entire life in a box

We archivists document a person's life. A recent collection I processed consisted of 1 cubic ft. and it was sufficient to document a person's life, marriage, higher education, family, career, and research interests. How many more lives can be documented in a mere folder? How many lives are never documented at all? And then, there are a few, whose lives generate gigantic collections. This doesn't mean they were more loved or lived longer, it simply means that their careers generated materials of permanent historic research value. I am also very interested in how some 19th century housewives were more astute observers of humanity than those who generate large collections today.

Excellent quote

"history should be more than just a documentation of dates and events; it should include the experience and personalities of those who lived it. " Marshall Tirimble Arizona's State Historian, 2004 How true and archives make that a possibility for historians, students, and decedents.

Renovated Vatican Library reopens

I love learning about libraries abroad. After 3 years, the Vatican library has new climate-controlled rooms for its historic materials, and security measures. There are so many wonderful items there that most of us do not know about, for Ex. King Henry VIII's love letters to Anne Boleyn. Manuscripts, books, drawings, engravings, coins, medals, statues, and paintings are among its treasures. I hope to visit someday soon. I envy its scholars.

Yoopers plan to raise $75K for museum

An article in notes that in the U.P., history buffs plan to raise $75K for a new museum to house a WWII glider and other memorabilia near Iron Mountain. Good for them! $ is tight everywhere in MI and many libraries have had to close or limit hours or fire staff. I hope this attempt works.  Is anyone out there trying to start a new museum? Mount Pleasant has a hands on museum for kids underway.