Settling into a new archives job – 6/30/2018

It’s been a while since the last entry. Three weeks of basically closing out the fiscal year and shopping for archives stuff! It has been a fun, though tedious and tiresome four and five-day work week. Not exactly what I signed up for, but there are those times when a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Next week I return to two days a week. More about that later.

Physical improvements.

We replaced the ugly and uncomfortable metal folding chairs and the wooden ones with better chairs for our researchers and volunteers. We replaced old folding leg tables with nice ones from IKEA. We replaced my falling apart desk with a nice IKEA corner unit. Two new laptops, new Hollinger boxes, at least two years worth, acid-free copy paper in all the right sizes, acid- free folders to last for years, digital recording equipment for oral history interviewing, toner for the printer for at least a year, a new metal 15-drawer cabinet for maps and posters, and last but not least, a sliding storage unit for our collection! I tweeted it a couple of weeks ago here! (more photos to follow next week)

I need this X5 Storage Solutions Steel Sliding Storage System from Gaylord for my archives! pic.twitter.com/M6rHj4fode

— Garrett Park MD Archives (@garrettparkarch) June 15, 2018

All this new stuff sets several things in motion and begins the strategic planning we really need to do.

Networking.

Meanwhile, during the same period I drafted a new collection policy and made contact with Maryland records management folks about revising our retention schedules. I also met some cool archivists at a MARAC Virginia and Maryland Caucus get together in Leesburg, and more cool archivists at a Maryland Historical Trust – Preservation Maryland meeting in Hyattsville. Oh yeah, and I went to my first Town Council meeting (no one could have prepared me for the contentiousness I witnessed there) and I hosted a meeting of the Archives Advisory Committee in the archives (that was not well attended, though we convinced ourselves we had a quorum and I missed the final meeting of an oral history workshop to attend and host it).

And I completed a rudimentary inventory of all our collections, primarily to identify junk and stuff that need to go somewhere to storage. But now I know what we have. Along the way, I peeped into most of the boxes, especially the oblong and odd-shaped boxes, weeding more junk and artifacts that need a different type of home. And I spent a couple of days just cleaning and sweeping, almost like a Navy field day!

Upcoming projects.

  • The new map and poster case needs to be assembled and installed. That won’t be able to happen until after the 4th of July because I’ll need the maintenance guys to help me and they are tied up until after the 4th. Hopefully we can get that done week after next.
  • The new sliding storage unit arrives July 18. In anticipation of its arrival, the old shelving needs to be removed and their contents organized in a way to make it ready to go into the new storage system, Also, before the new storage system arrives, I’d like to paint out the space against the back wall that it will fill, since painting there will be more difficult once the new system is installed. (This is the stuff an archivist does in between archiving tasks!)
  • I’ll need to figure out where we can put the seven shelves that will be replaced by the new storage unit. Can we sell them? Can we get permission to store them somewhere to hold all the artifacts and junk previously mentioned? The second is the best option.
  • I did a preliminary inventory of the oral history collection. The majority are transcribed and catalogued, but many are still on cassette tapes that were never converted to digital audio files, and a few were converted to digital files but never transcribed. The best option is going to be to get volunteers involved in all the phases of the oral history production but close supervision will be required.

BHAG (Big, hairy, audacious goals).

  • It may have to happen on my off days, but I am fascinated by the prospect of producing oral histories from a neighboring community, Kengar. Kengar is a small all black community (well, increasingly less all black as gentrification of a minor kind occurs) wedged between Garrett Park and Kensington. How did we never include them in our archiving? How did Kensington never include them? A clear case of segregation in the archives. Nothing insurmountable, of course, it happened throughout the south and the mid-Atlantic states during America’s experience with apartheid. It may even present some grants funding opportunities. I’ll get it started on my own dime, visiting the community’s two churches, seeing if there is interest among the community for such a project.
  • On that subject, but not related to Garrett Park at all, I’ve been corresponding with a history professor who specializes in the history of religious movements, especially Muslim groups in the U.S. Folks from my youth know of my teenage interest (more like fascination) in historical figures Marcus Garvey, Noble Drew Ali, Elijah Muhammad, and that whole era. Turns out the Nation of Islam and its members are one of the few groups that has never been “radicalized” in the present era of radicalization of Islamic groups. Why is that? And does this inquiry lend itself to some oral history opportunities?
  • Boxes are in need of replacement, folders need to be converted to acid-free ones, and related or similar collections may require consolidation and re-cataloging.
  • By the end of the calendar year, I hope to have completed a draft plan to begin converting sub-collections from PastPerfect to ArchivesSpace. By the end of FY 2019, I’d like to be well on the way to completing the conversion. PastPerfect has lots of issues. Will go into more details in subsequent postings, but suffice it to say here that PastPerfect was not originally intended for archives, and the back fit was awkward at best.
  • There are a ton of office records in the attic, going back at least 14 years. But God is it hot up there! We may need to postpone until the weather is cooler, but we need to go through those files in place, pull out what’s archivable, pull out what’s required to retain by law and the retention schedule, and toss the rest.

I think I will stop here.

Postscript. WooHoo! A new business card!

Screen Shot 2018-06-30 at 11.55.53 PM

International Archives Day

International Archives Day

Posted on June 8, 2018 from AOTUS

On Saturday, June 9, the National Archives joins with archives around the world to celebrate International Archives Day, a commemoration of the day the International Council on Archives (ICA) was created in 1948. This day is dedicated to promoting the great work of archives and archivists in preserving and providing public access to our communities’ historical records and promoting access to government records for transparency and accountability.

End of Week Four (4) at the Archives

Never a dull moment at the archives.

Last week I began circulating the draft collection policy I’ve been working on. I think is it pretty good, pretty comprehensive, but we’ll see what comments come back. I may have mentioned in an earlier post my realization that we are simultaneously an archives and a records center, as are many town and city repositories like us, so that requires a broader view of our collections. The records center is not up to date on a lot of records, and I suspect this results from (1) not having an archivist for a number of months, (2) decisions by records creators to just keep stuff on their computers or in the cloud without any formal structure, and (3) not having a formal and agreed upon retention schedule in place. So my next big project is going to be to tackle getting the retention schedule drafted, approved and instituted.

Since my last post, I visited the Montgomery County Historical Association and the Kensington Historical Association and had detailed chats with the archivist/librarian in both. Picked up some good ideas and shared some of my own thoughts. Always good to know your neighbors. It was good to see the web-based PastPerfect software in operation as well as the creative use of historical card catalog cabinets to catalog and make collections available to the public. Also impressed with the use of volunteers and the emphasis on genealogical research resources for folks coming in. Got some good ideas on processing and cataloging obits and other life events of the local citizenry. And don’t we all have too many superfluous photographs in our collections? Weeding them based on duplication and photos whose subjects can no longer be identified is required. But weeding then becomes such an exercise in sentimentality.

Figured out last week that PastPerfect can download to an Excel file and already knew that Excel files can be uploaded to ArchivesSpace. Not that it’s as easy as I stated, and not that there won’t be glitches since it’s likely not a 1:1 conversion. But PastPerfect, your days may be numbered, baby. The conversion, or even the potential conversion will be the subject of its own extensive study and blog post.

Another idea from the visits. Are we (Garrett Park, that is) evolving towards a historical association and not just an archives? We have several boxes of 3-D artifacts taking up valuable shelf space and not enough shelf space for document boxes which are our actual stock in trade. Does the whole idea of GLAM convergence mean that for small operations we become all things to all people? And we converge as we all become more digital and less non-digital in our holdings? So much of the research on this phenomenon is being done by the Canadians and the Australians. Americans are behind but we need to catch up.  I was thinking the other day about how records collections not maintained current become artifacts, museum pieces, time capsules that are useful in their own right, but that fall short when it comes to legal and historical reasons for keeping records in the first place. Also thinking we need to physically segregate town records we are obliged to keep from other archival collections. We might need more space one day soon. OK. That’s that for now.

Because the position was gapped for so long, we decided to use the money in the budget to spruce up the place a bit. New workstations, better lighting, new tables for volunteers and for processing of collections, new chairs (OMG, the folding chairs we have are so uncomfortable!), archival and office supplies for the next year, oral history equipment (headphones, recorders, etc.). Nothing is as fun as shopping! We’ll take photos when it all arrives, is assembled and in place.

Finally, next week I’m driving to Leesburg for the annual meeting VA/MD Caucus of MARAC (Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference). Will be fun and enlightening hanging out with archivists throughout the immediate region.

our collections

I did this short blurb for a draft collections policy I am working on. The whole thing is still in draft but if you are interested, I will share it with you. Here is the short version:

Garrett Park Archives doubles as a records center for the Town of Garrett Park and as the town’s archival repository. Official town records include records of town ordinances and charter revisions, zoning decisions, voter registration records, actual election records, town council meeting minutes (from 1898), residential property records (of every residence) including lot and block records, limited records of Garrett Park Elementary School, town events calendars, town historical events, town office records, crime and police records, etc.

The archives repository contains the following documents and artifacts: oral history tapes and transcripts (over 150, about half awaiting transcription); archived print and digital copies of The Bugle, the town bulletin (back to 1953); a small collection of reminiscences by prominent citizens; a collection of documents on civic institutions such as the Town Arboretum, designation as a Nuclear-Free Zone, the Citizens Association, the Women’s Committee, and to a lesser extent, park gardening, hiking and walking trails, and the local swimming pool; records of the historical preservation committee, the archives committee, and the Garrett Park Players; a large number of digitized and print photos, several individual collections of prominent citizens, and a number of boxes of museum-quality artifacts.

Postscript. The advisory committee chair asked me in a meeting about a deaccessioning policy. My first inclination was to respond that we deaccession on the front end, through the collection policy and appraisal. But then I thought about it. Because we are part record center and part archives, a deaccessioning policy on the back end might be appropriate. Now deaccessioning can be a sensitive thing – people become attached to “stuff” in sentimental and personal ways. So, in the draft policy, deaccessioning requires (1) recommendation by the archivist and (2) approval by simple majority of the advisory board with (3) the town manager casting the tie-breaking vote in the event of a tie on the advisory committee.

a new blog, a new job

Two weeks in (four working days) and I am ready to make a blog post about my new, part-time gig as town archivist at Garrett Park, Maryland Archives.

Garrett Park is a lovely community in the Washington, DC suburbs. The first day I visited for my interview I remember thinking it reminded me of a cross between the prep school I attended in central Virginia and a couple of embassies I worked at in West Africa – peaceful, placid, well-manicured. I said to myself after the interview, ‘If they offer me this job, I’m gonna take it, the long commute notwithstanding.” Well, they offered, and I accepted!

About Garrett Park. The passing of the Civil Service Act of 1883 resulted in the springing up of several local communities in Washington, DC and on its periphery. Employees could depend on a steady career path, not subject to the vagaries of political favors and election spoils. Garrett Park, incorporated in 1898, was one of these communities. A Maryland.gov website says it was named for John W. Garrett, a B&O Railroad president.  Land was originally purchased by Henry W. Copp who formed the Metropolitan Investment and Building Company in 1886 to acquire 500 acres of land on which to develop a commuter summer home suburb for artists and professionals along the Metropolitan Branch of the B&O Railroad.  In 1975, Garrett Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It passed local legislation to declare itself an arboretum in 1977. It declared itself a nuclear free zone in 1982.

The archives itself is a repository of historically significant collections covering the history and governance of the town. Collections include detailed records of all its residences, historical records of the town council and other civic activities, and oral histories of many of its residents. The archives shares the basement of Town Hall with the post office, frequently visited by the public as Garrett Park does not have residential mail delivery.

The work of former town clerks Betsy White and Sibyl Griffin and librarian Norah Payne laid an excellent foundation for the archives by preserving and organizing town records and many of the collections we now have. The town’s first archivist was Elizabeth Shidler, who can be credited with tremendous work and keen insight in pulling the archives together. Since 2009, an active and very capable archives advisory committee has worked with the town manager and a series of part-time archivists and volunteers to build on the valuable work of White, Griffin, Payne and Shidler. Here are some photos:

In the first week I updated the Montgomery County Volunteer Center website and already we have received a respectable response from interested potential volunteers, whom I’ll be able to orientate as soon as I have finished my own orientation! This week coming I hope to make courtesy calls on other archivists in Montgomery County.

It is a tight space, but I lived on submarines for four years back during the Cold War and I believe I can make this space work for volunteers, for researchers, and for collection processing and preservation.

My aim is to make this a biweekly post, at least, maybe a weekly one if there is stuff to post. In the next post we will look at individual collections and software applications used to organize and preserve the collections and make them accessible to researchers and the public at large.

Some prehistory links:

  1. Life at Work – Dec 17, 2017
  2. New job, new projects – Oct 28, 2017
  3. Another gear shift – July 17, 2017
  4. My first library job – May 24, 2016
  5. Random thoughts on user experience – Nov 19, 2015
  6. The agile librarian recuperates – Nov 10, 2015
  7. Between library jobs – Sept 2, 2015
  8. And the job search continues – Aug 26, 2015
  9. The “agile” in agile librarianship – Aug 25, 2015
  10. Blogging 101 – Day 1: Introduction – Aug 2, 2015