Tag Archives: Archives

The Most Important Collection

IMG_6788Geoglyphs, or ancient earthen art, are rare expressions of human interaction with the landscape. One of the most recognized examples are the Nasca Lines of Peru. Imperial County is home to the largest collection of documented humaniod geoglyphs in the world. The oldest dated geoglyph is estimated at 6,000 years old.

The head of Imperial Valley College’s Archeology Department, Jay von Werlhof, lead a team of local researchers in documenting these internationally significant sites for over 30 years.

Harry Casey was a key member of the team, lending his private plane, piloting experience, and photography skills … often at the same time (taking photos through a custom cut hole in the floor of the plane).

The Imperial County Geoglyphs are still a mystery to the research community, and until recently, there was no accessible research on the subject.

IMG_6985In 2014, the IVDM began receiving Harry Casey’s full body of research – over 3,000 images of geoglyphs and rock art sites from the region and around comparative collections from across the world. From June – Decemeber, myself and the IVDM archivist conducted oral interviews and took detailed notes to build an accessible reference guide to the collection and creating context. As Mr. Casey pointed out what he considered to be the most important aspects, I created notated images to reference what he discussed. Meant to be viewed along with the audio interview, Harry Casey’s “lessons” are now a permanent part of the IVDM collections.


New England Archivists Conference

Two really great sessions amidst a flurry of networking:

1) International colleagues representing the International Conference on Archives and their respective countries. Switzerland just passed a law that will help support “dangerous records” from being destroyed in their country of origin. All of Germany’s archivists study at the same school. Canada’s national archives associations are advocating for archives to be treated as not just important for future generations, but for building identity today. Israel’s official documents are processed into the archive within 3 years, decreasing the chance of losing important context information. The Netherlands are working on a national electronic depository. Norway is championing the combination of records management and archival techniques to smooth the transition of active records to archives.

2) College and High School Outreach programs: Colby-Sawyer and MYTOWN
both projects had student presenters participate in the session

A) COLBY-SAWYER COURSES, Kelli Bogan archivist
1) Rebuild college history (last history researched in 1937 for centennial)
2) Train researchers (current students) in using archival material

Class structure: Two seminar classes Junior then Senior year.
Year one
“History Detectives 101” Prof Randy Hanson: Process a small collection, intro to archives/information literacy
Year two
Research projects: 1) Create Virtual Exhibit 2) Simultaneous Oral History project Includes: in-class practice with a former CS college professor (80 years old and encouraging kids to ask follow-up questions); Group projects developing 15 min oral history interviews, used on Alumni weekend to gather information (called “guerilla interviews”)

Student Evaluation:

  • The Student presenters stressed they gained
  • Connection to college (even students not interested in archives)
  • Practical Research skills
  • Student expectations and interest is low at the start of the course, but grows with “touching” archives (in experiencing firsthand sources and in developing historical narratives)

NOTE: Alumni weekend materials contained information about project with a note that they should expect to be approached by students with buttons; permissions signed before interviews

a 501(c)3 with the mission to connect students to Boston’s contemporary history: Hires high school students to learn about Boston, their hometown, and give history tours to public (paid tours). In 15 years of operation they amassed an archive of youth-authored materials. Future organizational goals – Current students teach next generation

NOTE: people interested in taking the tours from students generally already have some knowledge or interest in the subjects, forcing students to have deep knowledge

Student job description:
1) review, research, and share MYTOWN archives
2) develop a research question/ revive tours
3) document your family history
4) keep a daily blog of your research, tours, and photos

Example Subjects: bussing in boston (ending school segregation), Mel King (former major); Puerto Rican neighborhood Villa Victoria (resisted urban expansion)

Student evaluations: I learned the…
– ability to master a subject
– confidence, speaking skills, communication
– patience/flexibility in working with existing historical information
– empathy with other points of view
– “never stop asking questions”/love of learning
– develop your own opinion and be an advocate for that point of view (critical thinking/story development)
– glad to have an opportunity to learn local history

– formed institutional loyalty (future MYTOWN employees and advocates)
– forms socially responsible, thoughtful citizens with a life-long love of learning

Program structure:
– found an interesting item in the collections
– developed a research question
– archive research was followed with visits to locations relevant to the work
– researched subject outside archive by partnering with three university archives/libraries
– developed an online exhibit
– including an audio file where the student “speaks” as an inanimate object present at the event ie. A pen: “Mel King gripped the pen with frustration” (a school building in Bussing Boston, the ground at the Villa)

Intern Program Begins

We picked up our new staff member and our board member insisted we make a small pit stop so that I could see La Jolla Cove. We stopped at the Children’s Pool, a protected cove where the kids and the seals play together on the beach.




Anne has arrived to complete a project to survey the museum archive and establish system by which the papers are digitally linked to the artifact collection through the Past Perfect database. Anne is a recent graduate of Simmons and was at the SAA conference looking for the next step. You can’t get work like this many other places, I told her, you’d better come on out.

One of my goals here is to give professional opportunities that interns can’t receive anywhere else. I want to help them develop programs that showcase their skills. I want them to be able to package themselves so that when they move on to the next place, they can excel. I want them to interact with the youth of the Valley and provide examples for what can be accomplished if you are willing to take a risk.

Anne is the first of 3 interns we plan on hosting in the next few months. Soon we will travel around the region collecting artists’ work as stock for the giftshop and begin creating displays to promote their local galleries and art. Our programming is kicking off again starting with a continuation of the Sundance Festival’s Film Forward program and a massive curation day in celebration of National Museum Day. October will see an art opening and a photography class. We are working to make the museum a place people are comfortable to visit. We are working to make people feel what we do – that this is the most fun museum ever.



Saul Hertz Honored

Dr. Saul Hertz, who discovered radioactive iodine as a tracer/diagnostic tool, as the cure for Graves disease, and its use in the treatment of thyroid cancer, was mentioned in Katie Couric’s interview with Pulitizer Prize winner and physician Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee. Dr. Mukherjee is the author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. 

I consulted on Dr. Hertz’s archives and worked with Dr. Hertz’s daughter, Barbara Hertz, as she worked to develop exhibits and a research focused website. Ms. Hertz is dedicated to to making sure her father’s brilliant work is recognized in the cancer industry. In his own time his work was minimized or ignored because of his Jewish heritage. Dr. Hertz’s recognition by such noted cancer experts as Dr. Mukherjee feels like a very big win and I applaud Barbara for her tireless efforts to raise awareness of her father’s important contributions.

@ 48:42 minutes: As part of Ms. Hertz’s ingenious methods, she attended the Couric interview at the Aspen Institute.


1930’s Eastman Lantern Slides

1930’s Lantern Slides

This week I began to focus in earnest on the conservation of a collection of Lantern slides from the 1930’s. The countertops for the conservation lab cabinets are ordered and their delivery and install are taking the wind out of a lot of other sails, including the conservation project. We order supplies as we run out. We focus on information gathering and surveying the collections and planning how we are going to run the volunteer days when the lab is complete. There will be much rejoicing when the lab is done.


In the meantime, last week the information paper trail thinned, PastPerfect arrived, and the user’s manual was developed. I felt justified in doing a little actual conservation work. Then the countertops were back ordered until the 5th of March. It’s always something. But no matter, we pressed on with the conservation under the excuse of piloting the system we’d set up for the  volunteers.


It’s imperative that artifacts like delicate lantern slides get priority care, anyway. The outside temperature is heating up as “spring” approaches the desert. Getting the glass slides into the building while the inside and outside temperature are similar was a big priority. That accomplished, the ideal environment for slides minimizes direct light and provides a cool environment to counteract the chemical break down of the image. For the archeology collections, I’m encouraging a swift processing time except for extraordinary artifacts, but I’m demanding that each slide get full processing attention. They are wiped clean with an ultra soft non-lint cloth, any conservation needs met where possible and noted where not, a detailed description of the image is recorded, and they are placed in 4-flap non-acidic enclosures.


The slides are in pretty good shape for being through a devastating earthquake. That said, approximately 400 are missing and we don’t know yet if they were destroyed in the quake or simply loaned out. There are several truly compelling images of the Imperial Valley, and a few surprises like photos of the Taft inauguration procession. We also had a shock when an image of a ceramic pipe that I’d held in my hands only a few days previously surfaced among the slides. The pipe wasn’t marked with an accession number so that slide image saved us one heck of a headache. Scanning the slide collection accession records revealed a description of the pipe – right next to the rabbit sticks, which similarly had a slide image, but had the wrong accession number affixed to the artifact. I feel vindicated in my chosen profession as we are beginning to realize that the secret to this collection inventory lies in the archives.

A rabbit stick used for killing small game.

Gone Shootin’

I’ve been back in Ocotillo for 4 days.


Day 1: Catch up day. We had a monday meeting to go over the priorities. It was a bit of a walk to get to the meeting room:


But worth the amenities:

Monday Meeting

Monday Meeting 2

Coffee Anyone?

Day 2: IMLS funded California Connecting to Collections (C3) preservation grant funding workshop. Consensus view: our 6 week workshop holds it’s own against C3’s nationally funded state program.


Group Photo

Balboa Park, San Diego

Day 3: Surveyed and processed the Museum Society’s records. Discovered that updated copy of the By Laws. And a mouse skeleton.


You don’t need to see that picture.


Today, Saturday, I went shooting for the first time, even though it was high winds. I was nervous about this, but told that we wouldn’t be shooting at any distance where bullets could stray, it would just be a challenge aiming at the target.

I was fine holding the empty gun, but once that baby had bullets in it I treated it with kid gloves. Loaded guns are scary. We shot a .22 and a .537. I liked the .537. It kicked.

Unloaded .22

We did target practice with the .22 and I managed to hit where I aimed a few times… at 10 feet. I backed up to give myself more of a challenge (15ft) and shot a bit wide, but come on… 25-35mph winds. I was getting blown around like a tumble weed.

Two perfect bulls-eyes, three slightly less so.

As Day 5 approaches you can’t help but wonder what’s next. Actually, I know what’s next because we’ve reviewed the priorities, it’s just a matter of getting it done.

MLK, Jr. 2012

MLK memorial“Martin Luther King JUNIOR, like ME mom!” says my little cousin, Ryan, Jr. It’s nice to see continued impact of the man.


It’s a big year for the MLK memory. The memorial is finally dedicated (“What memorial?” says my sister as I make her watch the dedication posted on Facebook… have I taught you nothing, child?!) King is in the news as more of his papers are digitized – adding to the Boston U/Morehouse digital finding aid project that I worked on and was opened last year… or was it two years ago? Time flies these days, I can’t keep track.


But more than all that is this Tuskegee movie, Red Tails, and the popular spotlight it shines on the men who only recognized for their part in the war in 2007. 2000 and 7! The movie has been 24 years in the making – since 1988 – reportedly stalled because the major studios balked at an “all-black” cast. The majority of funders to the movie industry are from overseas. They decided there wasn’t a market for these types of stories. Although Lucas absorbed all the production costs himself, it’s sure to get a positive response in the market, and hopefully loosen the purse strings for similar projects in the future. For it to be finally released seems like a national victory.


I guess that’s what I’m excited about this MLK day – the hope for change. And I’m very happy to celebrate a new memorial to one of our most important modern founding fathers.


And I’m going to buy a copy of Red Tails when it comes out. I don’t generally buy movies, but if they need me to vote with my dollar I will. It’s the American way.

BBQ and Birds

This week I’ve seen enough rainbows for a life time. Heywood is part of what is called the Green Triangle – the part of Victoria that didn’t suffer from the recent droughts.

It was another wet week and we carted boxes from the shed in between rain drops. I was worried we’d be trapped in the motel room again all week, but in fact this week flew by. This was helped by a number of factors:

For starters, I had a short week. It’s time for round one of fun-with-visas. First step: Find a lawyer.

Secondly, the archive work is progressing well and the shed is just about half cleared. Nothing raises the spirits like spring cleaning gone well.

And third and most tasty, the power went out on Monday. I missed this bit of excitement, but I was back to work in time to learn that the meat in the fridge had started to defrost. The field crew, it was explained, expects to be well fed during the firefighting season, and, that time of the year having just passed, there were about 50 choice cuts of beef in danger of ruin. We can’t let that go to waste can we? Wednesday we had lunch.

In a side note, it’s bird mating season. At home, this means waiting to see those cute little sparrows feeding their eager young. But folks, we are in Australia and there isn’t much cute around here. To compensate for the harsh environment certain birds nest in open fields so they can see predators coming. When agitated they swoop at the offender, targeting the eyes and using spurs on their wings to maim and send creators of all sizes running away whimpering.

One of these birds is nesting in the DSE office yard.

The first week we spend terrified that our eyes were going to get pecked out.

Last week we learned that this particular bird – the masked plover – doesn’t actually strike it’s targets; “its just trying to scare you” said the local newspaper article. I stopped fearing this species and became terrified of accidentally disturbing Magpie parents nesting on our route back to the hotel. Those guys are out to get you.

This week we were brave enough to take pictures. Well some of us – this is my colleague’s hand defending herself as she bravely makes a run for it (bird in background).

The poor birds spend so much time defending their young they are hardly on the nest. We don’t think the little ones will make it so we are just dealing with the swooping until they abandon it and try again at another spot. I feel badly that the parents are always so agitated, but the thought struck me at one point that this may be the only time that I can safely “we were here first. “


Active train tracks we walk over to get to work. 

One of the documents I ran across this week explained the best way to go when dealing with an invasive pine in a native forest: hand removal.

Weeding in a forest.

Puts 250 archive boxes into perspective, doesn’t it?

This week my archiving partner and I spent bonding with the inhabitants of the office. The field workers whose space we have invaded keep offering to take us on drives around the country. The people in the office have offered to set up security access so we can use the kitchen facilities after hours (there being none in the motel). It’s country hospitality at it’s best.

I’m just jumping at the chance to use that hospitality to experience some of the unique experiences available only in the Aussie bush.

One of my goals for this assignment is to get the field workers to take me for a ride in one of the big toys. There is no guarantee that they’ll have cause to use them while we’re out here, but as the 3 week project has been extended to at least 6 the odds are looking up.

Anyway, I’ve gotten close.

The big guns.

Heywood DSE

Familiar view: records in need of rescue.

I spend this week (excepting the 10 hours of round trip travel) appraising 20 years worth of office records for the Heywood branch of the Department of Environment and Sustainability.

Heywood is just north of Portland; some four hours down the coast from Geelong. It’s small and pretty remote. Mobile internet devices don’t work here. I spend most of the after work hours trying not to imagine all the spam mail choking my inbox and re-learning small town survival techniques like watching copious amounts of TV and pre-writing blogs to be posted later.

Heywood downtown at rush hour (3 cars).
The pizza place is also the video store.

My in-work hours aren’t terribly exciting. Record’s management isn’t something I’m passionate about, but I really like the idea that I’m contributing something more than cafe customer service.

This is my first assignment renting myself out to a temp agency that specializes in knowledge management. I’m told that most of the requests they receive are for government records management type assignments. This particular project is the result of extra funds as the end of fiscal year approaches. Since these records are on the more aged side my goal is to strike a balance between appraising the records according to strict records management rules and getting the job done. On our arrival I sensed tension from the field crew (whose crew room we have over taken for the project) towards the office dwellers. I suspect they may have missed out on some extras so they could clear the storage shed. I’m determined that the money be seen as well spent. The pile of boxes needs to be visibly improved to justify our presence and keep the office peace.