Sunday, 2 December 2012

The Singing Hypnotist

An intriguing title you might think...and you'd be right.  I attended an event of this title at the British Library delivered by their current Leverhulme Artist in Residence Christopher Green.  You can read a bit about his residency on the BBC or from his own blog.

I admit that I had absolutely no idea what to expect - what could an artist and performer be doing in the BL?  How did his work relate to the Library and how could it be seen to be of mutual benefit?  Well, I haven't passed a more bizarre and intriguing evening in a long time and it really left me with food for thought.

Hypnosis by malavoda, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  malavoda 

Christopher Green is a writer and performer as well as being an accredited hypnotherapist.  He has been researching the history of hypnosis in the Library collections including early mesmerists, hypnotising machine patents and stage hypnotism.  He is interested in where the show-biz meets the scholarly and to what extent hypnosis affects self-help.

The evening was sprinkled liberally with amusing songs touching on mesmerists of the past such as Annie de Montford, who hosted mesmeric tea parties and also about the human refusal to heal.  Research was also presented into these characters and the history of hypnotism on stage.  Green had hoped, with his background, to come across 'The Singing Hypnotist' but has, to date, failed to do so.  In the wake of this he has created this persona himself and claims to be able to hypnotise with his singing (and lovely it is too).  As a bit of a hypnosis skeptic, I had my guard up but still ended up singing along and clapping with everyone else in the BL Conference Centre.

Kaa says - ©r9M by quicheisinsane, on Flickr
Jungle Book's KaaCreative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License
  by  quicheisinsane 

But, I hear you say, why am I blogging about this and what does it have to do with archives?  On a recent trip to the Theatre Archives at the University of Bristol I was interested to hear that they run a programme for drama students to use the archive in order to create new work.  The students are encouraged to get to know the archive and use it as inspiration to create something new - one girl was studying the physical memory of the body such as broken bones or scars.  For her project she laid out naked in the archive and invited people to write their scar story on the relevant part of her body.  This was then blotted and these pieces of paper make into a book.  Some were shredded since not all information is kept.  She then archived her work and placed it in the archive.

There is a place for artists in our archives and the question is to what sort of artist to appeal.  The NT Archive is already a reference resource for actors, playwrights, theatre practitioners, musicians etc. etc. so who could be get in that would be different?  It is possible that a visual artist could use our collections to come up with new work, which could be displayed in the National.  It is an area which I know little about but the success of both the Bristol and British Library schemes is impressive and shows the archives growing in an organic and different direction and it would be wonderful to bring this new dimension to the National.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Archivists: you are not toxic!

It takes guts to present on communication and charisma but Marie Owens, ARA Head of Public Affairs did just that and it was jolly interesting. The basics of communication are pretty basic: think through what your message is; appeal to people's interests; don't sound boring; be clear etc.etc. Moira raised some interesting points, such as that the Queen is one of the best communicators around (how good is her public persona?!) and yet she never actually speaks in public other than to say 'Hello...that's did you do that...' Communication is a lot more than words, it also depends on the message, the audience and the atmosphere.

When it comes to communication and advertising, the audience will be selfish and want to know what they can get for themselves.  (Harsh, but true).  Marie also commented that we should assume low levels of knowledge when advertising or communicating information about archives.  I always forget that not everyone has used or knows what an archive is (to be discussed below).

The Essentials of good communication:
  • thought through (and preferably written down)
  • clear call to action
  • consistency in brand (not as in logos but consistency through the ranks of the institution)

The Desirables of good communication:
  • more than one medium of communication
  • memorable words or pictures
  • charismatic communicators
  • receptive audience
  • favourable news day

Is advocacy different?

The term 'advocacy' is bandied about fairly freely nowadays but I never really questioned what it meant.  From advocare, to call,  it really sits on top of communication.  Once you have set up the channels of communication you can work on advocacy.  It is a programme of work based on great communication that will, ultimately, change people's minds.

Communicative heads at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery

Why don't archivists communicate well?

A wise member of the audience asked why archivists are not good at communication.  Archivists used to be collection-centered and, as John Chambers, Chief Exec of ARA, says, 'loving a bit of vellum'.  Librarians and curators are more front of house and more visible to the public with the result that their jobs, or at least their services, are slightly better understood than archivists'.  I did disagree with the comment that libraries are all about 'stamp, stamp, shush, shush' but I do get the point that, in general, people are more familiar with libraries.  Many folk don't even know what an archive is never mind why it should be funded and what it could do for them.  Archivists are not politicians or bankers, we have done nothing to make people dislike us; we are not, as Marie put it, toxic.  It is not that we are unpopular, it is just that people don't understand what we do.  I do see how people's eyes light up when I explain what the NT Archive does or when I tell friends what programmes or digitisation projects I can get involved in so it really is just a matter of converting.  People care so deeply about the culture, heritage and history of our country and we can provide them with the means to safeguard it.

Something that I had never considered:

Archivists demonstrate their use and pursuit of the truth through events in the news such as the recent Hillsbrough Disaster revelations and the Jimmy Savile enquiry.  If our funding gets cut much more, we won't be able to bring the truth to the surface - we need to capitalise on these opportunities to tell people about the skills of our sector and to campaign for continued transparency of record keeping.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Hollywood Costume Extravaganza

As part of the SIBMAS conference we were given a talk by the curator, Keith Lodwick, and complimentary tickets to the Hollywood Costume Exhibition.  Now, I have a limited knowledge of museums and what goes into exhibitions so found his introduction very enlightening - everything was on loan from other institutions and the V&A was facilitating the bringing together of costumes and props, which normally languish in private collections all around the world.  Real focus was put on the costume designers themselves and what role they have in the film industry.  As a poster presentation at the conference showed,* costume designers can often be lost in the process and not receive the attention or recognition they deserve.

The exhibition was, I have to say, amazing.  You really get a feel for the theatrical, from the welcoming big screen trailer to the captions on clip boards, backlit lettering and music.  There were costumes everywhere and it was hard to control my greedy gaze.  Particular highlights for me were, predictably, Indiana Jones’ costume with accompanying Spielberg drawing of what he wanted Indie to look like (it smacked of Woody from Toy Story) and the plinth of royalty including Judi Dench’s Queen Elizabeth costume from Shakespeare in Love.

One thing that struck me was something that Keith had discussed: the desire to put the actors back into the costumes.  This is obviously very difficult to do but screens bearing videos of the stars’ faces were hovered above the costumes or images of them in the costume provided behind to give a theatrical feeling.  As Keith said, the costumes are often less exciting when taken out of context and put in a museum.  Excerpts from the script, images and props, and interviews from stars and designers, however, have brought the costumes to life.

Bond's tux was a highlight

The only part of the exhibition that seemed a tad out of place was the last room, Act 3, in which various ‘characters’ are engaging with each other.  Here the ladies are mostly taking part in a cocktail evening while the men are fighting.  So, William Wallace is fighting Jack Sparrow and Don Juan while Leo from the Matrix is attacking Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill, Bond is backing up Hans Solo and John McClane is having fisticuffs with Rocky.  This is all very amusing and I had never considered this use of characters - I wonder if anyone is distressed by the unreality of these scenes, when such efforts have been made to make the costumes as close to the original as possible.

* Nancy Friedland, Columbia University presenting on ‘Patterning costume research design’.

Monday, 29 October 2012

A trip to the V&A...for work, of course

For a few days last week I was at the SIMBAS (International Association of Libraries and Museums of the Performing Arts) conference hosted at the beautiful V&A museum in leafy South Kensington.  It is certainly a time of firsts: first time at the V&A; first time in South Ken (and, as my Mum commented, it gives me something to aspire to); and my first time at an international performing arts library, archive and museum event.

The lovely V&A on a less than lovely London morning

The conference was truly international with delegates from as far flung as Canada and Japan and most places in between.  As a chap from the National Arts Centre in Ottawa commented, our institutions are in very different settings, cultures and locations but the problems we face are all very similar and actually hinge more on from where funding comes than the language they speak or in which country they happen to be.  There were papers delivered by representatives at a vast range of institutions and, at times, the gap between state funded bodies and private funded ones was clear to see.

Even though this was only a day and a half conference, there was way too much interesting stuff to write about here but I just wanted to touch on some things that I found appealing and themes that came across.

Kenneth Schlesinger, the Theatre Library Association President, and Barry Houlihan, from the NUI Galway Archive, touched on the cross-disciplinary aspects of theatre archives.  Not only are archives, libraries and museums converging (as the Syracuse University course run by Prof. Lavender studies) but the users of theatre records are coming from an ever-broadening background.  Theatre scholars are perceiving theatre performance history in broader social and cross-cultural context and using collections in ways that were not envisaged years before.  This is another reason for careful thought being given to ensuring non-bias in cataloguing material - you never know who is going to want to access it and for what reason.  A poster designed by Dr. Amy Staniforth from Aberystwyth complimented this: she had interviewed staff as they used the archive catalogue and she studied how they went about their research in an effort to understand their usage and how to improve the service.  We need to comprehend how each researcher works in order to ensure that the service we provide meets their needs - communication is key and this can often be an issue with the ever increasing access to collections being online and often hundreds of miles away from the archivist themselves.

I have no relevant photographs so am just including pretty pictures of London

One of the projects that was pretty exciting was the new 100 Plays 1945-2010 app being designed by the V&A.  This app is not focused on the best 100 or top 100 plays but rather on plays that have affected theatre in post-war Britain and have made their mark.  There will be essays on each play, production photographs, interviews, cast, press reviews and comments.  This is meant to appeal to all kinds of users from school children studying plays to directors and producers looking for ideas.  The focus was on broadening the appeal of the V&A and encouraging communication between people who would not otherwise engage with the V&A’s collections.  The app will be £7.99 when it is released and it will be interesting to see how it is received and who will be willing to fork out that amount to read about plays on a mobile application.  

Some other thoughts:
  • Barry Houlihan also mentioned that he has the support of the president of the university, an engineer, since he views an archive as ‘the laboratory for the humanities’ - what a lovely thought!  If only more people in positions of authority had such a view.
  • we should not digitise for digitisation’s sake - there needs to be a purpose and eventual use for these images.
  • Flickr can be used to release images and it is interesting to follow where these images are reposted and what happens to them - can this be used to gain extra meta-data?  Nena Couch from Ohio State University has experimented with this and had interesting ideas about 
The lovely new King's Cross

An overarching message, and something that is not new but is of note for a new member of this community, is the necessity for the performing arts information professional to be part of the theatre, to know the workings of the technicians, the role of the designers, the importance of various recordings etc.  The theatre archive is part of the machine well-oiled by communication and understanding of the various departments.  I think that this is more true in the performing arts archives than in the other settings in which I have worked, primarily academic, since theatre archivists have to understand where the material has come from and how it effects and fits with other records from the same production etc.

In short, this conference has really opened my eyes to the issues facing all information professionals in this field and made me appreciate the work being done and fascinating projects being undertaken.*

Please stay tuned for a post on NT Live and another on the Hollywood Costume Exhibition at the V&A.

* I haven’t had space to touch on the 3D modelling of objects at the V&A or UK Web Archive or the Virtual Shakespeare Theatre Archive etc. etc.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The New Life

Since my last post, a lot has changed for me: country, job and flat!  It has been a busy and stressful month or so but I am pleased to say that I am settling in well to my new role as the National Theatre Archive Assistant in London.

The NT runs an annual post for those wishing to pursue the Masters in Archives and Records Management and I can truthfully say, after a week and a half in the job, that it is a thorough and hands-on approach to the archive world!

Royal National Theatre
The National Theatre on the South Bank

The NT Archive is an institutional archive for all productions and administrative materials of the theatre, which was founded in 1963.  Our most commonly consulted materials are production recordings, press reviews, programmes, production and rehearsal photographs, technical materials, prompt scripts and costume bibles.  There are also architectural materials, the odd prop (including very exciting (and a bit freaky) puppets from 'His Dark Materials' (2004)) and theatre posters etc.  It really is a very diverse collection and I am beginning to see the variety of researchers that the archive attracts: from Cumberbatch fans wanting to watch 'Frankenstein' (2011) since the NT Archive is the only place in the world with the recording, to researchers studying the changing shape of the actress at the National Theatre from 1963 to the modern day.

As a completely non-theatre buff, it is a steep learning curve but the incredibly welcoming staff and bustling building make for a wonderful work environment.  Theatre archives are pretty different to the academic archives of my previous experience, not least since LC is pretty much irrelevant, most of the popular material is digitised and the researchers are a lot more diverse.  I am getting to grips with CALM for once (and am pretty pleased since most job descriptions want experience of it) and taking on a lot of the administrative roles of an archive.

I now live near Richmond Park...of the famous Fenton video

But the past few weeks haven't just been about the job.  I have also moved to London for the first time and that has been a massive shock to the system.  I believed that when I went to the US I would see a culture shock and, to an extent, I did, but it was nothing compared to the shock of returning.  London can be a rather anonymous and uncrackable city - I suppose that it will just take time to get to terms with the different methods of communication and forging relationships.  I had just gotten used to rocking up to BBQs or campfires where you barely knew a soul and introducing yourself and your Scottish accent carrying you through conversations until you had made some new friends...I am not sure how well that would fly in London.  I could always give it a go on the train commute in the least I might clear enough of the carriage to get myself a seat...

A wrap-up post that got a bit lost in the move...

*I only just found this draft and thought that I might as well post it...though about 6 weeks late*

This time last year I was putting the finishing touches to my packing and, to be honest, freaking out about moving 4,500 miles away from my comfort zone to attend Library School at Syarcuse.  I can now, one year, one degree, one job and countless unhealthy meals later, declare that this was the best decision I have ever made.

Don't get me wrong, there have been tough times and I maintain that you should never underestimate the amount of red tape that can surround an international student but I have learned how to overcome these problems and thrive in a foreign city.  I have to admit, the accent has been a massive help in breaking the ice and being remembered by people and I am a bit apprehensive about returning to the UK where I will be back to being 'normal.'

The whole Library School experience was pretty different over here with the focus on libraries of the future and technology.  In every library I have visited and at the conferences which I have attended I have been shocked by the positivity among information professionals.  Even in my local library, there is a hustle and bustle that I do not experience in my branch at home. 

Really, the best professional preparation I have received has been through my work. I have had a position in the Syracuse University Archives all year, originally as a graduate assistant and now as the graduate intern.  The staff have really taken me under their wing and always gone the extra mile to explain what was going on in the department and in the wider library so that I could understand how this sort of institution works over here.  (They have also been very forthcoming with hints and tips about what I should see, eat and do while in the States).

I will, truthfully, be very sad to leave Syracuse, I settled in more than I thought possible and I send a huge thank you to everyone who has helped make this year so successful - I can't express what it has meant to me.

My leaving camp fire...a very American end to a delightfully American year

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The end is nigh

This week is my last as the Graduate Intern at the SU Archives and I am busy bringing my project to a close.  While manically scanning the last few catalogues, which are a rich resource for genealogical research, I am also putting the finishing touches to the EAD (Encoded Archival Description) finding aids.

The whole process of writing the EAD finding aids has been pretty straightforward and creating the inventories has not been as arduous as I had expected.  The Genesee Wesleyan Seminary finding aid is impressively mammoth and I really feel that I got my teeth into the collections with cross references, related material and attached digitised images.  I hope that researchers find the information useful and enjoy browsing what we have.

Part of the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary collection

I am so glad that I had the opportunity to digitise images and items since it really brings the collections to life.  It is all fine and well seeing a 'Photo Album' listed in an inventory but having a list of the students featured and their image only a click away adds another dimension to the finding aid and allows readers to relate to the material.

We also decided to digitise sample correspondence and account books to give an idea of the sort of thing held in the collections.  Hopefully this is of help to researchers and will give them an idea of what they can expect to see if they come in to look over the collections in person.

Boxes of all shapes and sizes

I have just uploaded the EAD information into Archivists' Toolkit and I was shocked at how easy the process was!  The XML file required some 'data massaging' i.e the removal of all of the links and pointers to items on the net but that only took about ten minutes then the upload was done in seconds (the only slight difficulty is that you have to deal with the code itself, and not use the 'Author' mode since there is no associated style sheet).  All of the information, abstracts, notes, and cross references were uploaded along with LC subject headings and genre forms.  I must say, I was stoked to see it all so neatly arranged - I dread to think how long it would have taken me to type in every entry by hand!

For the rest of this week I will be writing publicity material for the collections, which will be printed in several archives magazines across the country.  This is pretty daunting since these are widely-read pieces but it is exciting to be able to showcase the collections and really sell them to others in the profession.

Some of the Genesee College collection

While I have been working on the collections, I have been gathering quotations that I found particularly amusing and I thought that I would include some below...they may only have been funny to me in my processing stupor though.

- "There is only one serious fault with Mr. Grenwood and that is that he is inclined to be what the boys would call a "sissy."  This fault, I feel, could be corrected with careful treatment." -1917

- "John L. Porter, Grower and Shipper of Celery, Lettuce and Onions" -1920 headed note paper (my personal favourite - it is lovely to see someone take such pride in his work)

- "I just wish to say how happy it makes me to know that my daughter has found your sheep fold to be one of contentment and brotherly love.  She is so happy and contented never homesick you must be indeed a good shepherd who knows how to handle the flock." 1924 letter to E.D. Shepard

- "Became "Mrs." August 3, 1920, and recommends the same course to anyone in doubt.  Her husband sells the universal car - Ford." - 1921 report on class of 1916, domestic arts and science student

- "Has been living at home and with her parents and enjoying life in general" -1921 report on class of 1916, shorthand student

- “The facts of the matter are briefly these: The driver of a car from a local garage and a married man picked up a group of fellows on the street corner on Sunday night, including six of our Seminary boys, and they followed up a girl with shady reputation and were more or less familiar with her on the outskirts of town.  While it seems that the girl is a notorious character, though I had never heard of her, she is not eighteen years of age.  Rogers seems to have done nothing more than to have sat on the buggy seat beside her for two or three minutes.  At least there is no proof or evidence that he did more.” -1920
- "There was not one ordinary-looking person among them; and twenty such foreheaeds I never beheld "all in a row."" - 1852, gentleman shocked by appearance of women in Genesee College
- "Manly Sylvester Hard" student at Genesee College, later became a Rev
- "I never knew I did love old U.S.A. so much until I faced the fact that there is a possibility of being left on European soil." 1917, George Heath to Shepard during war

That last one really hit home last week and I too feel a love for America that I never thought possible.  I have 15 days left in this country and I intend to make the most of it.  I think I'll write a refelctive post on my experiences this year - it will barely scratch the surface of the things that I have learned but it might be able to serve as encouragement for others thinking of taking the leap for grad school abroad.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Data and the Open Road

'Open Data' is a term that is frequently bandied about Library School and has begun to pop up pretty regularly on the news and in my professional magazines (Library Journal very kindly send me their publications completely unprompted, unrequested and unpaid).  It is one of those terms that sounds really simple but you are not entirely sure what it involves.  (If you want some clarification have a gander at the Open Data Handbook).

For the final project for my information policy class (IST 618 for the Syracuse iSchool initiated) I decided to go completely off syllabus and, instead of writing a paper on lobbying or institutional repositories, I researched the Open Bibliographic branch of the UK-based Open Knowledge Foundation (OKFN).  This turned into one of those projects that you pursue through personal interest rather than for the grade and I am sure that my paper does not represent the vast amount that I learned and now appreciate in this sector of non-profit work.

Open Knowledge Foundation

Some quick background on the OKFN - they "seek a world in which open knowledge is ubiquitous and routine – both online and offline. We promote open knowledge because of its potential to transform the world for the better."*  They are split up into working groups, which focus on different topics or geographical regions and under each of these there are various projects and tools.

I focused on the Open Bibliography working group and the work that they are pursuing using their own invention, BibServer, to open up data within the library and information profession.  This primarily involves JISC-funded projects in conjunction with the British Library and Cambridge University Library.  BibServer is an open-source bibliographic data server, which makes it easy to create and manage collections of bibliographic records such as reading lists, publication lists and even complete library catalogs.

Main features:
  • Create and manage bibliographic collections simply and easily
  • Import (and export) your collection from bibtex, MARC, RIS, BibJSON, RDF or other bibliogrpaphic formats in a matter of seconds
  • Browse collection via an elegant faceted interface
  • Embed the collection browser in other websites
  • Full RESTful API
  • Open-source and free to use
  • Hosted service available at**
If an institution or individual wishes to select what to make public from their collection then they can use the tool, BibSoup (some wonderful introdcutory videos here especially the one with Owl and Penguin).  This is a public-facing instance of the BibServer and allows you to find, manage and share bibliographies.  There is no attempt to normalise entries and so this is a different sort of bibliographical database to, say, RLUK or WorldCat.  BibSoup is the OKFN's "metaphor for an ocean of bibliographic records represented in BibJSON, and freely available in bulk for reuse."*** 

While the BibServer can be used by individuals for their own research work etc., I concentrated my research on the larger institution projects.  The JISC-funded open bibliography projects have focussed on the opening of bibliographic data (or data dumps) at the BL and CUL.  This means that collections of MARC records have been uploaded to the BibServer and made publicly available.

One of my main issues with this whole thing is the lack of advertising that takes place.  Had I not actively researched this organisation (a friend of mine works for them and so I knew enough to know that their work was relevant to mine) I would have had no idea not only about the Open Bibliography projects but also about gems such as Where Does My Money Go, Europe's Energy, Open Text Book and the Public Domain Review (currently having maintenance done, annoyingly).  The OKFN use their own website and social media presence to advertise these projects but if you are not already in their loop, you will find it hard to discover these projects.

I have not gone into all of the ins and outs of my research due to lack of space and the unwillingness to baffle you with tech to the extent that none of you return to my blog but I hope that this has whetted some appetites for the sterling work being done by libraries and information institutions to open their data.

wide open road
The Open Road

My time in the US is rapidly coming to an end.  I only have one more week in Syracuse before heading out onto the open road for a 10 day road trip taking in Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, Atlanta, Richmond, and Philadelphia.  I'm going to embrace the freedom, cramped driving conditions and stifling heat as I end my American adventure in style!


* Open Knowledge Foundation, Our vision.
** GitHub, okfn/bibserver.
*** BibServer, BibSoup, undated.  Retrieved from

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Never-Ending Quest for Knowledge

I have taken the leap into free online courses in the hope of learning something new and pursuing my interests in ways that Library School has not provided.  Coursera was recommended to me by a friend and, after a quick perusal of their course list, I was hooked.

There are classes covering many subject areas such as biology and life sciences, computer science, education, humanities, mathematics etc. etc.  Currently they have 116 online courses and anyone can sign up free of charge.  The host universities include Edinburgh, Toronto, University of Michigan, Princeton and Duke.

I started the 'Internet History, Technology and Security' class yesterday, hosted by the U of M's School of Information Science.  There are over 33,000 students enrolled in the class and so I am not expecting personal service from the professor but he is available on Twitter and surfs the forums daily as well as having office hours.  The forums are a central part to these classes and students are encouraged to help each other answer questions and solve problems.  So far, we have had around an hour and a half of lectures on the origins of the internet and have learned all about the Bomba and Enigma machines in WWII.  The calibre of the lectures is far better than I was expecting and I was engaged with the material - something that cannot be said of most online classes I have experienced!

ENIGMA machine
Courtesy of Erik Pitti

As far as assessment goes, there are non-graded in-lecture quizzes as well as weekly graded quizzes (worth 60% of the overall grade).  There will also be a final exam, making up the remaining 40% of the grade.  Hopefully those who complete the course will receive a certificate but there are no credits available.  I am not doing this for the certificate though, I just wanted to broaden my knowledge and a free online class taught by a different institution seemed like an excellent way to do so.

In the next few months I am signed up for some more classes: 'Securing Digital Democracy' with the U of M; 'Learn to Program: The Fundamentals' with the University of Toronto; and 'E-Learing and Digital Cultures' with the University of Edinburgh.  While this is extra work with not a lot of documentation to show for it, I think that I will still enjoy learning about subjects related to my field and continuing to add to my academic experiences.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

A different side to J.P. Morgan

This past weekend, I took a trip down to NYC to say farewell to a couple of friends, who are making the move back to the UK after a year in the city.  A trip to the Morgan Library was on my friend's bucket list so we arrived at 36th and Madison ready for some culture.

This is the private library of financier Pierpoint Morgan (1837-1913), who began collecting rare books, illuminated, literary and historical manuscripts and old master drawings and prints as early as 1890.  Morgan's library was built between 1902 and 1906 and his son transformed the library into a public institution in 1924 as his father had wished.

The Morgan library is a beauty to behold with three tiers of shelving and two hidden staircases.  One thing that really caught my eye were the book boxes, which are not the run of the mill beige board but were covered in marbled papers with every box different yet in keeping with the overall decor of the room.  I was very impressed, it makes my bound volume boxes look decidely frumpish.

There was an audio tour of the library, something that I have never done before but really enjoyed since you could dip in and out of sections you found interesting.  The librarian, who began work in 1906, was a young inexperienced girl by the name of Bella da Costa Greene, who ended up working for the Morgan until 1948.  She became the "soul of the library" and guided its collection policy.  It appears, however, that all was not as it seemed.  Bella's name was actually Bella Greene, and she was the daughter of the first black man to graduate from Princeton.  Her white mother, however, separated from Bella's father, adopted the da Costa name and encouraged her children to live the life of 'white' people.  Bella, therefore, never revealed her ancestry to Morgan and the library guide suggests that she may not have been allowed to remain had her origins been discovered.  She was a feisty young lady though and I envy her her wonderful job!

In the Morgan Museum, there was an exhibiton on Churchill, which is drawn from the Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge.  It really did feel like a small world!

The exhibition benefited from items from Cambridge as well as a film created by the Morgan.  It was interesting to see how two institutions could work together and in harmony to create an exhibition not possible without the collaboration. has also been launched in tandem with the exhibiton as a means of drawing in a younger generation of learners and educators.

The weekend was not completely library related - I managed a walk along the High Line Park, which has to be my favourite way to spend a Saturday afternoon in the city!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Random Number Generator (a.k.a. EAD and BVs)

This week the internship has reached the final straight – the EAD finding aids!  I decided to conquer the smaller collection first and so tackled the Genesee College.  Even though it is the smaller collection, it is still 22 boxes and 7.9 linear feet of records, processed pretty much to item level.
All went swimmingly until I had to deal with the bound volumes, which are all now individually boxed (and looking splendid).  While I knew that I would have to add in <physdesc> and <genreform> tags and keep my spreadsheet of bound volume numbers tied to box number (in case, heaven fobid, I loose track of my volumes and I have to re-open all 200 boxes and fish around in the red rot), I had not considered how I would actually organize and number the boxes.   There are a couple of ways we can go about solving these issues:
1.       Currently, all of the bound volume boxes are arranged in height order in order that we can house them more efficiently in the shelving in the warehouse.  I can, therefore, number them in height order so that they are in number order on the shelf and easy to retrieve for staff.  The negative of this, however, is that the bound volumes are not in any sort of order on the finding aid.  Also, Archivists’ Toolkit, which we are now using instead of Versatile, allows you to allot an aisle, bay and shelf number to every box and so a box can be located easily without the whole collection having to be stored in numerical order.

2.       Conversely, I can number the bound volumes according to where they appear in the finding aid i.e. the collection.  This seems a little arbitrary for me since, really, it won’t make much difference to the researcher looking at the finding aid whether Box 1 comes after Box 16.  As my supervisor and boss pointed out, however, our funding body will be looking at the finding aids at the end of the project and may be confused by random box numbers – it could look haphazard.  A member of staff from Special Collections did stop by and look at my bound volumes in height order and ask if I realized that they were out of number order (I will comment no further on this exchange).  So, as you can see, those uneducated in the processing of these collections do not appreciate the thought behind the organization of space versus numerical order. 

Really this is not a big deal but it is interesting to take into account the users, staff and funders when making decisions!  We are going with the second arrangement so that the finding aids look more logical.  All that this means is that when staff go to retrieve the boxes from a shelf, they will have around 20 randomly numbered boxes to look through to find the one they want.  Alas I’ll be long gone by then…I might leave a ‘sorry’ note.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Internship hits Mid-point

Regular readers (if there are any) will know that I am interning at the Syracuse University Archives for the summer as I end my graduate program.  I am processing two institution collections and creating EAD finding aids for uploading to the Archives website.  I am also identifying items for digitisation and conservation where appropriate.  (I feel like I know this paragraph off by heart due to the job applications and the many online class discussions I have).

So, mid-way is now here and I am fairly getting through my materials.  I have been through all of the boxed items and refoldered and reorganised according to what I believe to be a logical structure.  My supervisor and I on occasion discuss whether something belongs in one place or another such as whether items should go in Financial Materials or Administrative Materials.  Mostly, however, I am left to my own devices and good judgement as to their location, which is a lot of responsibility but also quite fun.  It is interesting to take on the role of the patron and consider for what they might be using the collection and how they would find it useful to have the information organised.  Apparently an intern before me organised a collection in terms of the materials' proximity to the creator i.e. his autobiography was first, then photographs of him, then work he had written, then letters he had sent, then letters he had received, then items he had collected etc.  I suppose that there are numerous ways to organise a collection but I am focusing on what the patrons will need and appreciate - a tad more useful I feel!

My custom-made four-flap phase boxes arrived last week and, much to my despair, they were the wrong style but, due to our time constraint (I leave the country in a few months) and the fact that they weren't useless, we have used them.  It just meant that I had to become an even bigger fan of velcro-dots and I don't think that my thumb finger prints will ever be the same again.

Ah the neatness sends shivers down my spine - some clarification as to why the volumes are not in the right order - we are grouping the volumes by height so that we know on which shelves they will fit and which ones we need to shift - this way we will make much more efficient use of space

For the past week, therefore, I have been rehousing the 200 bound volumes in their pretty new boxes and marveling over what now looks like a small boxy skyline on the central desk rather than a sea of red rot.  Now I am trying to slot all of the bound volumes into my collection structure and hoping that it will hold up.  It is mostly looking hopeful.  There are, however, many many 'account books' which need to be identified in greater detail to be of any use to future researchers...copperplate writing and arithmetic scribbles here I come.

A before and after
I am really enjoying this experience and think that it will be invaluable to my career as I progress, especially due to the freedom I am being afforded.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A couple more cities ticked off

The past few weeks have been pretty hectic for me as I try to fit in my internship, class and travel.  Firstly, the internship is going spiffingly well and I am currently elbow deep in daguerreotypes, archival envelopes and velcro.

My desk last week

Class I am finding a tad more challenging but, on reflection, in a good way.  For once, the online class format is being well done by the tutor and he even provided us with a space to negotiate the syllabus - it is refreshing to be treated like an adult by a professor and to alter the course to be of maximum benefit to us.

Two weekends ago, I and a couple of friends drove to Toronto, now affectionately referred to as T-to.  It was a wonderful city full of interesting architecture and public art, that didn't make you want to bulldoze several blocks of buildings.

The weekend we chose happened to be 'Doors Open Toronto', which is basically Open Cambridge, but in Toronto.  We visited the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library at the University of Toronto, with its beautiful shelving and central elevated exhibition area.  This was attached to their main University Library, which also houses the iSchool!  All-in-all a pretty sensible place to put the iSchool.

Last weekend I flew down to DC to stay with a friend and her sister (in Vienna...).  I think that I saw every memorial the city had to offer (The Korean War Memorial closely followed by Martin Luther King Jr. were my favourites in case you were wondering).

We also made a trip to the Library of Congress (obviously) and had a peek at the main reading room, which was jolly nice and full of people on a Saturday morning.  The entrance way was decorated with famous quotations about books, which I thought was a nice touch but probably overlooked by many.  It was a bit like an old version of what Cambridge Central Library has tried with the quotations painted high above the shoppers in Lion Yard.

After a 2 hour wait and 100 obnoxious 8th Grade students crawling through the security gate, I arrived at my professional Medina, the National Archives.  It was all very nice to see the 'special' documents but I was actually more enthralled by the Public Vaults and the exhibition therein.  Of particular interest was a wall with rotating parts answering patrons' questions as to whether the archives held information concerning certain subjects.  So, there was information regarding where you could find information about relatives in Titanic, or relatives who had immigrated to the US or someone who had applied for a passport in the eighteenth century.  This wall pointed patrons towards the various sources that they could use and gave the probability of the answers being held in the Archives.  I thought that this was a great idea to cut down on the number of enquiries that they receive but, in reality, how many people would make the trip to the exhibition before enquiring?

National Archives of the US

The next interesting part that surprised me was a whole corner dedicated to digital archiving.  Questions such as 'How do we archive emails?' etc. were bandied about freely and there was an interactive quiz, part of which I failed.  Now, I am not being big headed, but if I, as an archives intern, can't understand the quiz well enough to pass then there is something a bit wrong with the quiz!  Apart from the rather weird ways of explaining stuff, the quiz did tell you all about metadata and keywords as well as how to tell what to scan and what sort of format to save it in.  I was heartened to see this in the exhibition and, overall, very impressed with the attempts made to get the public to appreciate what archives are for.

Also: we found this gem in the Library of Congress shop - I wish someone had told me before I forked out for a Masters!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Good Old-Fashioned Letters

I have now completed two weeks of the internship and it is going pretty well.  I have spent most of the time getting my head round the two collections and how the two institutions, Genesee Wesleyan Seminary and Genesee College, relate to each other and to Syracuse University.  I sat down with some University history books on my first day and got some background, which has proved invaluable when leafing through the collections and so I will be sure to write good historical notes for the EAD finding aids to ensure that researchers have a good background before delving into the collections proper!

I started with the correpsondence, which is in the most interesting order I have ever encountered.  Besides the expected correspondence we have a series of financial records in alphabetical order with folders such as Dormitory Lists, Life Annuities etc. (all very nice) but interleaved with these are folders entitled "A", "B" etc. with correspondence with individuals or insitutions regarding financial matters.  Since I am trying to organise the collections with researchers and a logical approach in mind, this made NO sense.  So, I have been elbow-deep in letters, postcards (several with charming children on them smoking toy pipes), photographs (apparently if you applied for a teaching position in the 1920s you had to send a photograph of yourself since a detailed physical description of yourself (and, on occasion, spouse) just didn't cut it) and class lists.

Letters I catalogued in a previous life

It has been such fun to read the letters between the Seminary principal and parents of students, who have been caught smoking or visiting the girls' dorms after lights out or driving off to Rochester before breakfast on, heaven forbid, a motorcycle.  There is a whole set of letters between the principal and a rather ticked off parent, who is distressed by the lack of milk available to pupils - I do believe individual cows were actually discussed - priceless.

One of the things that has really stood out to me is the art of letter-writing.  Sean, a new addition to the Archives staff, pointed this out yesterday and it really hit home last night when I started my new book at the suggestion of my book club: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  This book completely comprises letters written to and from the Society and I am already hooked.  I write more letters now that I am over here and there is nothing like the thrill of opening a letter - so much more thought and care is tied up in a hand written epistle than an e-mail or text.  I sincerely hope that this mode of communication does not die out.

My archival supplies all arrived this week and, after some tense miscommunication, it turns out that I ordered the right things and all is well with the budget.  All I need to wait for now are my custom-made boxes and I pray that they arrive labelled since I have 200 bound volumes with different dimensions and cannot imagine the process of matching them to their boxes if they aren't labelled!  Let's not think about it, I stay saner that way.

Plastiklips...possibly the most exciting piece of stationery EVER.
Indeed the box does boasts '13 exciting colours' and I was not disappointed, let me tell you

Plastiklips are my new friends but a word of warning: bear in mind that staples take up much less space than plastiklips and so, when you calculate how many boxes you need, take into account that folders can be up to three times as large when you exchange staples for plastiklips.  That is something that never occurred to me and is a handy tip to know!

In other news, I bought myself a biciclette and although really, if I am 100% honest with myself, it is a tad too wee, the freedom is has afforded me is exhilarating!

Spike, in honour of Spike the bike man

And since no library blog would be complete without at least one picture of a cat, here is Rita, my summer roommate and distraction.

Don't worry, the plant is not poisonous apparently -
this had never occurred to me and I am, therefore, a neglectful foster Mummy

Sunday, 13 May 2012

And so summer begins

I have been banging on about how weird summer will be for oh, about 4 months, and now it is well and truly upon us (school-wise, not necessarily weather-wise).  What will I be up to over the next 3 months?


On Monday, I started my internship in the Syracuse University Archives and have spent the week getting my grounding in the history of the collections, which I will be processing.  The Genesee Wesleyan Seminary and Genesee College were two predecessor institutions to Syracuse University but SU was not founded from them, as many believe.  These collections are mixed together and need to be separated, processed fully, conserved in the appropriate manner and an EAD finding aid created and posted online.  I will also be identifying suitbale items for digitisation, which will be linked to the finding aid so that researchers can get isntant results on the Archives website.

Some of my boxes

These collections hold records of students, faculty and staff of the two institutions as well as a small number of daguerrotypes and photographs and will be a valuable source to researchers and genaologists when processed fully.  This week I have got my head round most of the correspondence and figured out what there is in prepraration for starting to plan how I will organise the collection in the most accessible and logical manner.

I have also been buying supplies...the Gaylord catalogue is a wonder to behold.  My only qualm is with a map they have for a children's library, which has labels to be stuck on such as the Eiffel Tower, Pyramids and regional animals etc.  There are country labels for the USA, Saudi Arabia, China, Argentina, England...England?  Not the UK?  Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised that I have met many individuals here who think that Scotland is in England or indeed have never heard of it at all (yes, I have met someone who didn't know what it was).  A sad state of affairs.

Shakespeare plays

Anyway, back on topic.

Independent Study

I decided to undertake an independent study in order that I could achieve the correct number of credits and because the manner in which it is taught more closely resembles what I was used to in Oxford.  Prof. Lavender is my faculty supervisor and I have been lucky enough to wangle my way into a very exciting and important project for the Karen Community in the North of Syracuse.  Over the past 8 years, around 3,000 members of this community, having fled Burma, have arrived in the city and there is now a concerted effort to document their culture before the younger generations become 'Americanised.'  I will be writing a documentation strategy for collecting oral histories of members of this community concerning their journey from Burma to Syracuse and what they think in their culture has helped them to survive their ordeals.

This documentation strategy will form a large part of a grant application being made on the behalf of the Karen Community from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  As you can tell, this is a very important project and I am excited to be part of something that will hopefully create a lasting legacy for this community.

Firstly though, I need to find out about documentation strategies and grant writing!


I am also taking my last class online, Policy.  So, it looks to be a busy summer but hopefully I will find time to fit in plenty of fun.  I intend to post frequently about my internship and interesting things I discover.  To give you a snippet, here is a quote from a reference letter from 1917 for a young man applying to the Seminary to be a teacher:

"There is only one serious fault with [him] and that is that he is inclined to be what the boys would call a "sissy."  This fault, I feel, could be corrected with careful treatment."

Poor chap.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Term Two Tackled

As my second semester as a grad student comes to a close, I think it is time for some reflection on the past few months.  This term has definitely been busier and more taxing but that has been no surprise and a welcome challenge. 


613 - Planning, Managing and Assessing a Library Project

This class promised to offer some hands-on experience of working with a library on an actual, tanglible, project.  I must say that this was a challenging class but not in the ways I was hoping.  The difficulties lay more in tailoring our project to the syllabus and the teachers' ideas rather than in the actual project itself.  In the end, instead of having to choose between good grades and being helpful to the library, we decided to provide the host library with extra work that we had completed, which was more what they were looking for in the hope that they would gain something useful out of our project.

Project poster at the poster session with host libraries
(please note the matching vine)

614 - Management Principles for Information Professionals

There has been much discussion about this class this term and how it is taught and whether it should be more tailored for the library kids.  I did not feel the benefit of being in a class with students from other programs but I did find the course interesting since management is so far removed from anything I have studied before.  It would have helped, however, to have more dicussion of library and archive specific examples.  I enjoyed researching the final case study since I chose to compare UPS and FedEx and I just love all things mail (not male) related.

Not me!

624 - Preservation of Library and Archival Collections

This was a fantastic class with brilliant hands-on experience of book repair.  We all had to buy a toolkit and I have used several tools around the house and archives!  We also had a look at disaster planning, preservation planning and the role of conservators in libraries and archives.  There were also trips to Belfer Audio Archive and Bird.  If anyone hasn't had a look at the Belfer website then I advise that you do since they are involved in some great projects such as SoundBeats.  This also gave me an excuse to knock out a paper and presentation on the request for the repatriation of the Elgin Marbles.

Toolkit and 'repaired' book
(fair to say that it is in worse condition than when I started but it is a learning curve, right?!)

677 - Creating Digital Assets

This was the other online course that I took and it was quite thought-provoking.  It was interesting how much this class overlapped with 624 since one is digital libraries and the other cultural heritage.  We studied copyright, outsouring, metadata and many other topics related to digitisation.


It has been another term chockablock with fun outings and events with my friends and visiting family including trips to Ithaca, Michigan, Niagra Falls, York, Heid's, snow tubing, skiing and much much more.  A couple of important people will be leaving this term and Syracuse will be a very different place without them.


A look ahead

I have about three and a half months left in the US and will be filling it with a full-time internship at the Syracuse University Archives.  I will be working on a grant-funded project to process the records of the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary, create an EAD finding aid and identify items for conservation and digitisation.  I have already measured all of the bound volumes ready for their specially made enclosures (I just hope the boxes fit!). This will hopefully become a well-used geneaological resource and I am looking forward to getting my teeth into the project.

Bonafide Genesee Wesleyan Seminary books - you saw them here first!

I will also be undertaking one more core class and an independent study on archival documentation strategy (keep your eyes peeled for an update).  As ever, job applications will continue.  But, never fear, I have some trips up my sleeve to ensure that my time in the US is lived to the max (or as much as it can be for a full-time student, who is working full-time!).