it’s been 2 wks since my last confession

Amandla! A Luta Continua!

It’s been a busy two weeks. Making significant headway into the collection I am processing and my boss reminded me much more of it awaits me in the warehouse, so my work is cut out for me. The big boss (Library Director) nominated me to a campus-wide group evaluating priorities in various departments so that should be exciting. After making a cameo appearance in a small meeting which included an old friend, the big boss and I had an exchange about the wealth and richness of material in the collection related to my former profession, for which, of course, by practice and by academic training, I have a unique eye. We’ll see where/how that conversation materializes. A Posse Ad Esse.

I questioned in an e-mail exchange and later on, in a meeting, why we are so fragmented and divided being as small a staff as we are, the big division being between University Archives and Manuscripts/Prints/Photographs. I guess when we were much larger, the division of labor was necessary. But that was then. Now we are 1/5 the size. Territorialism dies hard. Build that wall!

Two afternoons a week (and the occaisional Saturday) I staff the reference desk of the reading room. It’s a great opportunity to interact with researchers and to physically (sometimes very physically) engage with the collections. I am becoming intimately acquainted with the various tripartate divisions of the collection, that is, the manuscripts, the library, and the historic vertical files, and from a cataloging and shelving perspective, those items in the Dewey system, those items in the decolonized Dewey system, and those items in the Library of Congress system. There is a reference assistant who knows the place like the back of his hand, so to speak, and he has been very helpful in my various navigational efforts. As previously mentioned, the “stuff” here, the collections are amazing and it is no small wonder that researchers come here from near and far (and some cases, very far) to examine our resources.

My colleagues are a joy to work with. We hang out in a small break room where we meet for breakfast and lunch and where we compare notes and discuss the latest events on campus and in the archives world. There is also a Keurig coffee machine there, discussed in an earlier post, for which I have a reusable, eco-friendly filter. Coffee is all about the ritual of making it, the actual drinking of it is secondary, as well it should be.

Well, in other, unrelated areas, we are halfway through the August Wilson American Century Cycle and one week into NaPoWriMo. I’m driving home to Greensboro for Easter weekend.

Until the next time, Peace Out!

Advertisements

spring break broke my pattern – new post

Spring break came up so quickly after my start that it slightly altered my attention span. But the beat goes on.

Have already mentioned in previous posts, though one of which bears re-mentioning here. Because black doctors in the South weren’t allowed by law and custom to join state medical societies, they also couldn’t join the national American Medical Association (AMA, nor could they practice in white hospitals, but that is another story). Then, when the AMA wanted to register their organizational opposition to President Truman’s healthcare plan, of course they sought to solicit the support of black doctors, ultimately admitting one black doctor into membership in an attempt to sway the rest. Though it wasn’t successful, their opposition to the Truman program won out once it was weaponized., i.e.,

National healthcare = socialized medicine = collusion with Russian communism.

The Russian collusion song is indeed an old one.

Ultimately, in the 50’s and 60’s racial barriers to AMA membership for practicing physicians began to dissolve.

This collection I am working on is amazing. First of all, this guy must have had several secretaries to keep all this correspondence buzzing back and forth. I mean he was in relentless contact with fellow faculty members, with members of Congress, with leaders of civil rights organizations, with sports and movie celebrities, with his old high school, with his old undergrad. And they with him. And he was an avid newspaper clippings collector. But wait! You know what happens to newsprint after 70 years, and the paste, and the cellophane tape? Ughh, the cellophane tape. So I am very carefully photocopying each article for preservation. All hundreds of them. I can only imagine if they had email and social media in the 40’s . . .

Adventures on the reference desk continue. Of course, I bring my experiences as a reference and instruction librarian to the table (or to the desk). But so far there seems less emphasis institutionally on actually teaching students the process of accessing archival material, and more of just “bringing them the boxes.” I get it that the level of intermediation is slightly different but because of the difference, I would expect researchers to have (or to want to acquire) a greater knowledge of their subject and of the research process, not a lesser one. Additionally, students seem to want to be able to reduce everything in their research to a mobile phone screenshot and there’s not much patience to be had with anything outside of that. I don’t want to sound like a luddite or anything, but I don’t think effective research can be “optimized” to an iPhone or Galaxy screenshot. If you are coming to my research center, bring a laptop (and pencil and paper) or face my wrath!

It appears we are on the verge of both acquiring an important collection and losing a long standing one. Collections are like money in the bank, literally. And money, I learned as an econ undergrad, is a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and a store of value. So there.

One last, silly thing. The breakroom has a Keurig machine. But I have an ecological problem with the disposable cups that accumulate in the garbage. So I went online and discovered the reusable Keurig cup. I grind my beans, put a scoop or two in the reusable cup, and pack it with my lunch. Works like a charm!

On Spring Break (and jury duty) – reflections on week 3 at Moorland-Spingarn

A classmate and friend warned me about these week-long breaks. I confess they are quite nice for catching up on projects. We are locked out from the Library for spring break but there is plenty to think about.

I spent last week medicating and recuperating from allergies, internal and external I think. I made it to work each day, with my Flonase and antihistamine gel tabs in tow, packed in my lunch box, along with foil wrapped tumeric ginger tea bags that are expressly not to be sold outside of India. How’s that for authenticity?

Early in the week I went with one of the technicians to the on-campus warehouse to retrieve some boxes. He gave me the grand tour. And what a tour it was. We have a lot of stuff.I peeked through some of the boxes and saw some familiar names from my former career, personal papers of diplomats and members of Congress involved with efforts to increase minority foreign service participation. No comment. But amazing find.

I spent two afternoons on the reference desk. That’s where you actually get a feel for the place, the flow of researchers, the materials in demand. And the phone calls. The phone calls! From an alum, “Do you have my MA thesis from 1978?” And from a local newspaper company, “How many issues do you have of an obscure scholarly journal we published in the early 80’s?” Fun stuff.

Worked with volunteers and student workers on a collection we are all jointly processing. Papers, correspondence, publications by a medical school scholar/professor/activist. Amazing content slows down my processing speed, especially when I start seeing connections to my hometown.

The place is so fascinating. There are moments walking through the stacks when I feel filled up with the spirit of the place and sense that i am able to tap into the energies and the efforts poured into it over the years. Now I am a part of that process, of a great work for my people. Can you believe all those psychic and spiritual benefits, and they pay me?

This week, awaiting jury assignment, I am browsing through “Black Bibliophiles and Collectors: Preservers of Black History.” Finally, I am one of them. I know I have died and gone to heaven.

postscript. Starting an online course this week at the Library Juice Academy. Introduction to Special Collections Librarianship. Great so far. Oh, and entering week 2 of my August Wilson study group. Check out our discussions here: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2019/03/13/sosme-notes-on-joe-turners-come-and-gone-and-wilsons-4-bs/

2nd week on the new job

Founders Library, which houses the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, was named for the 17 founders of Howard University, one of two universities chartered by the U.S. Congress (the other Congressionally chartered university is Galludet University, also in Washington, DC.).  

The founders include Oliver O. Howard, Charles B. Boynton, Samuel C. Pomeroy, Charles H. Howard, Henry A. Brewster, Benjamin F. Morris, Danforth B. Nichols, William G. Finney, Roswell H. Stevens, Burton C. Cook, E. W. Cushman, James B. Hutchinson, Hiram Barber, E. W. Robinson, W.F. Bascom, J.B. Johnson, and Silas L Loomis.  Additional officers included General George W. Balloch, Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, Rev. Byron Sunderland, Rev. D. W. Anderson, Judge Hugh L. Bond, and Rev. J. W. Alvord.  

Quite a distinguished group. Army generals, members of Congress, prominent members of clergy, abolitionists, educators of note.

There was some dispute over whether to create a “normal” school, a theology school or a school of medicine. The charter ultimately specified a “University for the education of youth in the liberal arts and sciences.”   

Here is a photo of the iconic building (OK, I took this one myself!):

Founders Library – Howard University

Early in the week I worked on a very dusty collection that I had started the previous week. Somewhere along the way I developed a bad cold with a wicked cough, forcing me home early in the day. Twice. My boss had sympathy and transferred me to a cleaner, but denser collection until I recuperated. Flonase, antihistimine, and Nyquil helped.

The second collection was the papers of William Montague Cobb, a famous medical educator and the first black PhD in anthropology, one box of photographs and one box of his papers to start. Amazing documents, especially those on the interrelationship between physicians and the first national healthcare program proposed and supported by President Truman. Without going into too much detail, Truman was quite gung ho about a national health plan for all Americans just after his predecessor had ironed out the Social Security plan. But somewhere in the governmental process, a collusion was made between national medicine, socialized medicine, and the Cold War and the plan was stopped dead in its tracks.

I do wonder if the Clintons consulted with Truman’s work when they tried in the 90’s. And I wonder if the Obama folks studied it when they tried it 14 years later. Or are folks just making the same mistakes over and over again, creating the same wobbly wheel at each instance.

Unfortunately, but certainly a part of the process, I also came across medical papers and ghastly photographs of the Tuskegee experiment, also known as the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” Not in retrospect but while it was going on. And after, mind you, the discovery of antibiotics and their prevalent use during WW2. Really foul stuff.

The contents of the two boxes are all foldered and sorted. I hope we can create a nucleus of organization around which the remaining scores of boxes of material can be arranged and described.

Next week we’ll include a few words about the building’s architecture.

1st week on the new job

If you keep up with me on social media you know I started a new job this week: manuscripts librarian at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center of Howard University. I opened my window back in September and a wind blew this opportunity into my field of vision. I went to their HR site and posted a resume and cover letter, and, long and short of it, got called for an interview in January shortly after returning from our Christmas vacation in Bissau. A week or two later, I got the offer call from HR, but I was in my car driving back from a trip to Woodberry Forest School and reception was spotty. We connected the following day and I asked for a couple of days before deciding to get my affairs in order. I reported in this week for a day of orientation, but of course Monday was a federal holiday and Wednesday was a snow day. So my first week was a short one.

The walk to Founders Library is uphill. That is a metaphor and a reality. My legs take it better than my heart, but each day gets easier. More in a post next week on Howard’s very unique history and just who these founders were.

My boss is the head librarian and curator. She’s been showing me the ropes, taking me to all the secret places where collections are stored. Let me tell you, the place is awesome, the staff is awesome, I am awe-struck by it all. Might be a standard response for week 1. There is a lot of dirty work to be done, sorting through and processsing collections, relocating pallets of boxes, and exploring campus and commercial storage sheds. Next week I’ve been advised to come in with jeans and steel-toed shoes! It goes with the territory, ossos do oficio as my Portuguese-speaking friends would say.

The highlight of week #1 was most certainly the viewing of the Daniel Payne Murray collection. By all appearances, it’s just a wall full of books in a room that has been repurposed several times. But for those who know, Daniel Murray was the leading bibliographer of books written by and about African Americans at the turn of the century (early 1900’s). He began his life in the 1870’s as a waiter in the capital dining room but reached the height of his career as the primary assistant to the Librarian of Congress. Woodrow Wilson, in repayment of a political debt that helped him get elected, pushed through legislation that reversed many of the gains made during Reconstruction, and more specifically to Murray’s career, passed a federal law which said, in effect, no African American would be allowed to supervise a white worker. Murray was demoted, but continued working at the Library of Congress for a total of 52 years. Read more about Murray in an interview I preserved on my LoC Docent blog here.

Here’s an iconic photo from my first week:

And here are some shots from the MSRC reading room:

The Significance of Special Collections


The title of this presentation, “The Significance of Special Collections,” is a statement of fact. But is it also a question? As a declaration it reaches a dead end: either special collections are significant or they are not. But as a question, it opens several lines of inquiry. For example, significant to whom or to what? And significant in the past, in the present or in the future? Or for all time?

Garrett Park Archives, where I work, is a type of special collection. We have a small library, a stock of town records dating back to the incorporation of the town in 1898, some artifacts, and some donated private collections which include residential files, records of various civic groups, and oral histories. Our nearby  neighbors in Kensington, Rockville and Chevy Chase call their collections historical societies, and that, in essence, is what we are, a historical society, a memory institution.

A special collection is significant as a memory institution to the community it covers and represents. In the case of Moorland Spingarn, that community is Howard University students, faculty and researchers, in particular, and the community of people of African descent in general.

I read in the Libguide that Moorland Spingarn Research Center is comprised of four content units: the university archives, a library division, a print and photo unit, and a manuscript division. And a fifth unit consists of digital collections, both born digital assets and items digitized on site. This brings us to an additional significance of a special collection.

For promoting access, for preservation considerations, for space and cost constraints, digitization is by all accounts the path forward. Digitization of records and actual items across content types, like books, photographs, manuscripts, archive and museum artifacts presents a great opportunity to apply common cataloguing standards and common taxonomies that will serve as a multiplying effect for additional access opportunities for students, faculty, researchers, and community users, both on site, and in an online environment.

Additionally, it could provide avenues for cooperation and collaboration across institutions in the future that may or may not exist in the present. I am thinking here about the Library of Congress and the massive universe of Smithsonian museums. But this also could include smaller institutions and learning centers as well.

Of course, digitization is not a panacea. We are already seeing digital decay in degradations in the quality of storage media (try playing that CD you bought twenty years ago). File glut, bit corruption, hardware failure, and obsolescence of formats over time are all examples. Document formatting changes over time. In general, entropy rules – things gradually decline from order to disorder.

Even the internet is not a cure all, though from where we sit it looks like it may last forever. One internet guru says, “If it doesn’t exist on the Internet, it doesn’t exist.” He points out the obvious, that access to special collections on the internet can promote greater access to that collection. But he makes a more significant point – when the collection is also connected to a learning institution, there are added benefits: the institution gives added credibility to the online resource, and the online resource brings a much larger audience of students, scholars and researchers to the learning institution. Without going into too much detail, a center like Moorland-Spingarn connected to Howard University has built-in advantages that a larger center like Schomburg lacks.

Finally, much of my MSLIS course work revolved around a growing trend of convergence across cultural heritage institutions, galleries, libraries, archives and museums. I am including a list of readings from various courses at the end of this presentation. Convergence ultimately results in the creation of a networked information society with online access to all facets of information in the social and informational space. The opportunity to approach and take part in this convergence movement may be the greatest significance offered by special collection, a significance shared equally by staff, students, faculty, scholars and the community at large.

Thank you for this opportunity to have this conversation.

References and additional reading

Bray, David (2007) ‘Knowledge Ecosystems: A Theoretical Lens for Organizations Confronting Hypertubulent Environments,’ in IFIP International Federation for Information Processing, Volume 235, Organizational Dynamics of Technology-Based Innovation: Diversifying the Research Agenda, eds. McMaster, T., Wastell, D., Ferneley, E., and DeGross, J. (Boston: Springer), pp. 457-462. Accessed January 14, 2019 at http://dl.ifip.org/db/conf/ifip8-6/ifip8-6-2007/Bray07.pdf

Erway, Ricky, and Jennifer Schaffner (2017) ‘Shifting Gears: Gearing Up to Get into the Flow’. 2nd Ed. Dublin, OH: OCLC Research. doi:10.25333/C3159X. Accessed January 14, 2019 at https://www.oclc.org/content/dam/research/publications/2017/oclcresearch-shifting-gears-second-edition-2017.pdf

Fox. Robert (2011) “Forensics of digital librarianship”, OCLC Systems & Services: International digital library perspectives, Vol. 27 Issue: 4, pp.264-271, https://doi.org/10.1108/10650751111182560

Goldsmith, Kenneth (2007) ‘If it doesn’t exist on the internet, it doesn’t exist.’ Poetry Foundation, March, 2007, Accessed on January 14, 2019 at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2007/03/if-it-doesnt-exist-on-the-internet-it-doesnt-exist.

Gorzalski, Matt (2016) ‘Archivists and Thespians: A Case Study and Reflections on Context and Authenticity in a Digitization Project,’ The American Archivist Vol. 79, No. 1 Spring/Summer 2016 161–185, Accessed January 14, 2019 at http://americanarchivist.org/doi/10.17723/0360-9081.79.1.161

Marty, Paul F. (2009) ‘An introduction to digital convergence: libraries, archives, and museums in the information age.’ Museum Management and Curatorship Vol. 24, No. 4, December 2009, 295-298. Accessed January 14, 2019 at https://marty.cci.fsu.edu/preprints/marty_mmc2009.pdf .

Trant, Jennifer (2009) ‘Emerging convergence? Thoughts on museums, archives, libraries, and professional training’, Museum Management and Curatorship, 24: 4, 369 — 387. Accessed January 14, 2019 at https://courses.ischool.berkeley.edu/i290-ppos/reading/EmergingConvergence.pdf