Tag Archives: Archives

Boxing Complete!

I was offered a job today. One of the bus drivers who guides people through the historic homes tour that stops at the museum asked me why he hadn’t seen me for a while. We chatted for a while about how the tourism industry is back on the rise and about his soon-to-be business. He’s got big plans. He told me I should come back and help manage his Grand Turk business. What a sweet compliment. It’s nice to know that I might have something to fall back on. I’m feeling pretty good about the current plan though, I must say.

The archive collections are all in boxes.

In series.

In labeled folders.

I cannot express how awesome that is. Progress is a beautiful thing.

The next step is to make the box labels and create the database records. Since this is a survey project with the aim of making the records accessible, I’m going to accession the series and create a folder/box list of the contents. I’m using the adult/child relationship of the database to create my finding aid. First, accession the collection: Government Records. Add (as accessioned items) to that collection the series: Commissioner’s Office, Colonial Secretary, Legislative Council, etc. In the “item level” accession record will be a list of the contents of the series. Not quite item level description, but close enough to the ground to get the jist of this spread out collection. The government records cover the years from 1979 – 1992, but only contain 30 linear feet of material. I’ll be relying mostly on key word search ability, but hope to go back and put in some controlled vocabulary.

It’s not the ideal way to use a museum database, but it will keep the records flexible. Some of the items are listed as 5 year loans and some are slated to go to the National Archives, should one ever be created. Accessioning series instead of items will keep the contents flexible – instead of deleting 40 records, the contents of the series can be simply edited – cut and paste the removed records into the “notes” box with a tag: deaccessioned. Boom. Done.

With a staff of 2 or 3, this type of system seems easiest to keep the work-flow down. When the next archivist comes along with a mandate geared more toward research, they can add in the details. At least when I leave there will be an idea of what’s in the collection: creating entities, dates of creation, box and folder lists.

I think I can get most of the records into the database by the end next week. That’ll leave time for me to tackle that hodge-podge corner of the office that has been collecting government reports, uncatalogued library books, and low priority museum projects. Oh and that other Astrolab article. And whatever else Neal can come up with.

* * *

I also have some new helpers in the office. The library shelves are getting labelled – in one afternoon the job is half done. I’ve been chipping away at that project since the beginning of February!

The McCullom scanning – the project that started it all – will be finished next Tuesday. Over 200 man-hours have gone into processing and scanning the collection of 2,100 slides.

The youngest of the boys is practicing his typing skills. He’s diligently typing a pathfinder list for the reference files in the office.

Other projects? Well let’s see… still working on contacting the Special Collections department at the National Library of Jamaica. I started to track down the publisher of our self-published museum publications. I finally have a name, now I just need to place the call. The semester is wrapping up so there are more and more students using the after school program. If today is any indication, it’s safe to say that the Museum has become a part of the community here.

Students walking in and out our door – from elementary to college level, the Red Cross is using the Science Building for a meeting tomorrow, the Tourism Board called yesterday to say that a group of international young pilots are touring the island – included in this group are writers for National Geographic Australia. They wanted us to give them a good show. No problem – one behind the scenes tour coming up. They canceled today, but want to come tomorrow morning.

This means we’ll be juggling a cruise ship and tours, the Red Cross, and the young pilot group with the writers. Did I mention that I have family coming in on the ship who I’ve promised to tour around? They will also be getting the behind the scenes tour.

Tuvol of the Archives

It started simple: finish putting the binders in order and we’ll head down to the cruise center. I’ve created an archives monster. We had to take pictures of his work. Then he got the opportunity to show off to one of the students who stopped by to reserve computer time.

It seems he’s changed his opinion that archives are just old junk. Well, maybe it hasn’t gone that far, but he has decided that it’s fun old junk. It makes me laugh that he enjoys labeling folders. He’s a natural at what is possibly the most hated job in archives internships (after removing staples). It’s also slightly aggravating that a 13-year-old volunteer is executing with precision a job I had to pay tuition to get a shot at (but that’s another story). Let’s just say that Tuvol gets mad at me if I label folders without him – that’s his “department”, as he says when he explains the archives process.

Archives Event – Spring 2 Collections

On the heels of all the wonderful Spring 2 Collection events at the museum came the Archives Event.

This was a great moment for me. Finally, I would get to show people what I was here to do! I’m always introduced as the Visiting Archivist at the Museum, but I’m sure that people don’t know what that means. Or how significant it is in the Turks and Caicos.

I have the same speech for everyone: The holdings of the museum are the only secured and publicly accessible archives in the country. And we’ve just applied for a grant from the British Library for Endangered Archives to collect pre-1900 records. (that always gets an eyebrow raise). When pressed, I’ll add a bit about archives as living memory.

So at the event that night I was able to show people exactly what I’ve been talking about. I showed them a “before” (unorganized piles) and “after” (pristine boxes with labels). We talked about the importance of acid-free containers, the ink/paper reaction of 1800’s records, the benefits of saving the originals vs. placing materials in a database.

I think this last point hit home when we looked up one of the participant’s family names in the 1888 hurricane relief report. The report listed the occupation of the head of household (carpenter), the number of family members (6), and the damage (kitchen totally destroyed). Of all the documents I’ve come across in the collections, this report is the most powerful. It tells a story all on it’s own and demonstrates how archives can tell a story long after living memory has forgotten. Which is what I told my listeners and watched with satisfaction as they nodded in agreement (success!!).

All in all, I think the Archives Event was a great way to end the Spring 2 Collections Series at the museum. I was happy at the response we got, and we had a rather large crowd and some new faces. We finished the night at the Bohio (Italian night) with some new friends and some old. For my first lecture I think it went very well.

Word on the Tweet

Crazy things are happening on the web. Participants are struggling to keep things new and fresh, and to stay relevant – a constant theme in any x.0 phase. Since I’m on a personal mission to enjoy the city I’m living in (and fearing addiction and possible overload) I’m not following many people right now. I rely on a few, well-informed professionals to keep me updated on new trends.


Steve Rubel (@steverubel) is who strikes my thoughts today. He’s currently working on a “lifestream” experiment that “abandons” blogging as the new slow media. Rubel is using faster and mobile-device friendly applications to share with his readers. iPhones and Blackberries have changed the way people interact with the web and increased the “I want it now” factor. In the comments of a blog entry, readers exchanged thoughts on Rubel’s tactics. One person stated,
“I don’t know that doing something that results in more streaming, instead of more organized streaming, is the best way to go.” (http://www.steverubel.com/blogs-are-out-of-beta-but-bloggers-are-always accessed on July 1, 2009.)
It’s a valid point, but surprising from a tech-savvy blogger. Once upon a time this was considered the argument of old fuddy duddies, no? Could it be that the value of organization is becoming more important?


Personally, I try not to add to the cloud unless I feel it brings specific value to my online community. On the other hand, I’m not out to make my brand or product known and adding only a little content means I don’t get much exposure. The web is a battlefield for attention and the only weapon is evaluation; which takes time. It’s an interesting conundrum. The object of the game is to find information quickly, but as soon as you find a reliable source you realize there are 25 others you are missing. To follow or not to follow? That is the question.


This brings to mind a question raised in the podcast What’s New at the Media Lab? by the MIT Media Labs’ Frank Moss: Has technology really impacted our lives in a positive manner? Certainly there is value on some level. Some of us get up-to-the-second news and are more connected to our geographically spread relatives, but it’s still only impacting a fraction of the world’s population – and provides more convenience than actual value. When Frank Moss speaks of the impact of technology he’s referring to projects like the Music Painter program that was adapted for a nearly paralyzed person. A laser pointer allowed the person to interact with the screen and, for the first time, express himself freely through music. Can you image the extraordinary impact this program might have on his life?


Not everyone has the resources and freedom of the Media Labs, but the web is an accessible and flexible tool limited only by the imagination of the user – that’s you! As people seek to improve the use of web tools, it’s important to remember that adjectives like “valuable” are as, if not more, important than ones like “fast” or “convenient”.

On the Challenges of Science and the Power of Archives

Today, (not for the first time) I heard someone say, “I wanted to go into science, but my math just isn’t that good”.


This caused me to ask myself, (not for the first time) who started the rumor that science is all about math? I have a piece of paper hanging on my wall that is equally as valid as the piece of paper on the walls of the whiz kids with which I had the pleasure of graduating. Theirs and mine congratulate us on achieving an engineering degree. This seems amazing given the fact that I still count on my fingers, but it’s true. I’m not exactly a prize winning mathematician and I never will be, so surely there are others who are “not so good” with numbers but can achieve the same goal. Especially the wonderfully talented and concept-minded people whom I hear constantly discounting their own skills.


SWE/Archives word cloudI’ll be the first one to admit that it’s hard work, but I can safely say that any setbacks were primarily a result of a difference of learning languages. My professors said tomat-toe and I heard tomat-ta. I was constantly making adjustments to help myself understand the material — which inevitably slowed me down, but I gained a solid understanding of the concepts despite it all.


Let’s not even talk about the fact that I mostly hear the “I wanted to… science… but didn’t…” story from women.


Or let’s:


As a nearly 10-year member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), I’ve been involved in many projects aimed at making math and science seem obtainable for girls – who at the ripe age of 4th – 6th grade get turned off the idea that math is fun and building things is cool. Building things IS cool. One of my favorite exercises is trying to build a Lego(C) rocket with a partner. While their backs are to each other, one person studies a completed model of a rocket and attempts to give verbal instructions to the other person, who tries to construct an identical model out of loose pieces. (I highly recommend it as an entertaining exercise… at least for the person(s) watching the ensuing chaos.)


Where, I’d like to know, is there math in that exercise? It demands communication, teamwork, and problem solving. Not math. Being involved in SWE taught me that engineering is a state of mind. It’s a way of thinking about problems and finding practical solutions. Of being aware of your limitations and your flexibilities. That is what science is about; not about LaPlace transformers… though admittedly, those do come in handy.


I have an inkling that many people believe that because I’ve changed professional environments I’ve stepped outside of the engineering world; but you can’t leave engineering. It gets into your blood and stays with you through life. Or maybe it’s with you from birth. Today, in my library work, I engineer systems constantly; just as I did in childhood. Only the object of my attention has changed. Now, instead of thinking about how to optimize a liquid’s flow through pipes, I’m designing systems to optimize the sharing of memories and, through memories, understanding.


SWE has been a blessing for me from the start. (Thanks mom, for introducing me into the community.) SWE is why I understand the importance of archives and why I (seemingly) stepped out of the engineering field and toward libraries; particularly archives. Archives contain the material deemed “important” by the creating entity. For SWE, it’s the evidence of the notable women who have provided role models for the next generations. We display their images, we collect their stories in oral histories, we remember them through scholarships that buoy up generation after generation of young women into fascinating and rewarding careers. All of this information is stored in the archives. A non-member flipping through our organization’s records would easily discover what is important to us. And so it will continue as long as the records’ format survives. In this way, our archives tell the story of our past AND our present; what has gone before us and what we value now. It’s how we share our identity with those outside the SWE community and how we tell our story to future generations. Our SWE family is relatively small, but what I’ve experienced through it has helped me to understand the importance of records to other communities. (Another unexpected benefit to my membership!)


As we share our histories and experiences through our personal or institutional archives, our knowledge of each other’s value system grows. With this knowledge we can share differences and similarities and begin to understand what it’s like to walk a mile in another person’s shoes. This, above all, is the power of the archives and why the attention to records and artifacts is so important. History lies in the interpretation, but story is shaped by the records in the archives.