Archivy etc.

opinions, occasional rants, and sometimes things that have nothing to do with archives at all. Nothing here should be assumed to be reflective of my employer's opinion(s) nor should it be assumed that at anytime afterward, this is what I still think.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Let go and let, well, go

Let me be clear here. I am not talking about my current gig here, as you'll discover shortly. In fact, I've been rather blessed in this regard.

Over the past few years there's been a lot of talk about succession plans and transfer of institutional memory and so forth. And the part that isn't about the potential for new hires and upward mobility is usually about how to preserve the institutional memory, how not to lose what was in that person's head when they leave a job they held for 30 years.

[delete rant about information professionals who don't document their institutional knowledge for those that follow here since it's not fair to a lot of them who make a point of doing this.]

But there's a flip side that I'm not sure is getting much discussion, or at least not in professional venues. Perhaps over drinks, late at night, in darkened bars where there's not much chance of being overheard...

What to do with the retiree that just won't let go?

I'm seeing this happen a lot in a lot of institutions around me of late. And since I don't know what to tell the people at those institutions, I've instead I'm writing my future self a letter of advice as to what I will do when I leave this institution. I think I've been pretty successful at following this advice when leaving other jobs, but the memory is going, so getting it documented as a personal reminder isn't such a bad thing.

Dear Attila of Retirement Age:

Let. Go. 

The times, they are a-changing. It's not necessarily a personal attack on your career if your successor mixes things up, can't continue things the same way. Your career and achievements exist whether or not the product of them still does.

You may not be privy to the discussions where their boss tells them that "hey, guess what, the mission of the institution just changed and you need to spend more time doing this thing over there." It's arrogant of you to assume that things can never change, that the way you did it was perfect and not to be improved upon. Remember that time when, well, no details necessary... Remember how long it took to fix that mistake? What a pain that was? Yeah, you didn't do everything perfect at every step. Everybody should be allowed to make their own mistakes: it might have sucked fixing it, but wasn't that about the best learning experience ever?

You may not be aware that their budget just got cut by a huge percentage and in order to survive at all, they're having to rethink absolutely every process in the place. 

And guess what? Maybe some of it is a personal attack on the way you did things. Maybe they weren't the right things to do, but you were blind to certain needs of your organization and now your successor has to do things very differently. Maybe that grandiose structure, that cadre of processes, that perfect program that you built wasn't really what anybody around you wanted and wasn't sustainable. If it is a rejection of your work, even more reason to walk away before your successor pulls out the staple gun and aims it your way.

Here's some quick affirmations you will repeat til they are engraved into your brain, Attila:
  • If I can't say anything nice publicly about my successor, I won't say anything at all. (Reserving, of course, the right to provide warnings directly to employees in case the building is about to explode and people are about to be physically injured.)
  • I will be available to anybody from the institution who needs whatever information I might be able to provide.
  • This institution allowed me to have the fun and fulfilling career I've had, to meet many of the friends I have, to develop whatever modicum of professional respect my career has engendered. Those wonderful consulting jobs I can take now that I'm retired? They're built on my employment at this institution. 
  • No matter how right I am about my predictions of doom and gloom, nobody around me really wants to hear them and maybe, just maybe, they might start wondering if I have a personal problem that behind this witchhunt, rather than a valid cause. Do I really want to be that jerk?  Nobody likes a Cassandra.
  • What if you are WRONG? How embarrassing would that be? 
  • And what if you are right? Why inflict the self-harm of watching the play-by-play? Is this good for your mental health? Your karma?
  • Rest on your laurels, Attila baby. If they really are going off the rails, think of it this way: your legacy will be the rose-colored glasses, good-old-days when things were actually done well and done right. Living well is the best revenge. (how many more cliches can I fit in a sentence?)

Best wishes on a fun-filled retirement: hope those plans to travel the world and write a few novels come true.

Attila of Not-Anywhere-Near-Retirement-Age

Back at the beginning when I said I was blessed in this regard? I wasn't kidding. My predecessor built this program from scratch. Against significant odds. For nearly 30 years he ran it, often with very limited assistance. And when he retired and I took over? He let go. He's available to me whenever I say "hey, do you remember this donor/collection/item/event and what can you tell me about it?" He's even called me a few times to get the off-the-record gossip about some event, just because he's curious.  And I can promise you, he really (really, really, really) doesn't agree with many of the decisions I've made, the changes I've made. But he isn't calling me up and complaining about them. He isn't calling my boss up and trying to do undercut me that way. He's NOT running around the community trying to drum up bad blood amongst our constituencies and trying to build resentment, anger, opposition.

I'm seeing other retirees do that. Badmouthing the institution, including their successors, at which they built a long and successful career.  Taking newbies out to lunch in an attempt to inculcate them into their way of thinking and if that doesn't work, making veiled or not-so-veiled threats about their own personal ability to bring things to a screeching halt. Deliberately seeking out stakeholders and trying to poison relationships. What is UP with that? Why don't people understand that basic fact of human nature that when the successors face that level of blatant opposition from their predecessors, it puts them on the defensive, makes them dismiss everything, even the good things, that came from before. It's so sad. So unnecessary. So unhelpful.

Want to be helpful? Do the best job you can while you still have the job. Keep current on professional changes and implement them smartly, with planning, as you go, leaving no undone legacy work for your successors to fix. Leave copious documentation of what you did and why you did it so if something needs to be undone, it can be. Make a point of learning the larger environment, the changing trends, the financial needs, and do what you can to participate, accommodate, and educate. And when you pack up the box(es) from your office that last day and eat all the brownies and chocolate chip cookies your co-workers were nice enough to bake for your retirement party, let people know you're there as a sounding board, provide contact info, and let them remember you as the person who threw themselves into their retirement with gusto and interest in the wider world about, all those things you didn't have time to do when you were working those 60-80 hour weeks at your job.

Good luck with that.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Carbo-loading in the melting pot

As long as I can remember, my family has a tradition of breakfast for dinner. And one of those standard breakfasts-disguised-as-dinner meals was something we all called pirogen. Essentially a thick crepe, Mom generally made them about 8-10" across. She and Dad would have them slathered with sweetened cottage cheese and rolled up, us kids would have them spread with jam and rolled up.

For a long time, it was just one of those things. As an adult, I periodically pull out the recipe and make them when I'm in the mood. But it wasn't til recently that I started pondering this dietary semi-staple.

My folks both grew up speaking German and our family is German quite a ways back. Didn't always live in Germany, but German-speakers anyhow. But we kids didn't learn the language so much. Sure we'd take the occasional school class, but mostly got just about enough to ask the way to the bus stop. As a kid, I just assumed pirogen was one of those weird German words that I just hadn't heard in any other context. My dad had a few of those, so I was accustomed to that concept.

When I was in my teens, our family moved to Winnipeg. And for the first time in my life I was exposed to--or perhaps just became aware of--a lot of other European cultures. Serbs, Croats, Ukrainians, Poles, etc. And somewhere along the way I was introduced to pierogies. Nom, nom, nom. Still a personal favorite though I do miss the homemade ones I used to get there. On some level I was aware of the similarity in the words, but I never really processed it.

Until recently. I've had a friend staying with me as she commutes long distance between her home in Utah and her job in Alaska. And one night not too long ago I was in pirogen mode. And made them for her and she loved them and she asked the origin of the name.

Stumped, I was. I knew enough by now to know it wasn't German, but none of the cultures I'd come across that used the word pierogi (or variants) had anything like this for the product. I knew the recipe had come from Mom's side of the family and got to wondering: was it just that somebody in the family had gotten really lazy about making pierogies that they didn't even bother to seal them off and boil them, but just fried the dough like pancakes? Grandma did all the cooking even though from all reports she wasn't the supremely gifted cook that some of her daughters became, but she was from far western Germany, so that didn't seem like something that would have come from her side, given the linguistic connect of the name to eastern Europe. Grandpa had come from eastern Europe--what is now Poland but he was from a family/group of German speaking residents in what had technically been the border areas of Russia at the beginning of World War 1 (Poland after). But it's not like he cooked, he'd lost much of his family when he was a teen during World War 1, and he emigrated in the early 20s to the US, so he probably carried very little in the way of cultural heritage with him. And even if the linguistic connect was there, the food product didn't bear any resemblance. So where did this family tradition come from?

I pondered this semi-publicly on Facebook. And one of my cousins came to the rescue. Apparently she'd asked her mom about it. And my aunt's story was that Grandpa had remembered pierogies fondly from his very young years with Polish neighbors, tried to describe them to Grandma, who set about trying to invent the recipe from scratch based on what I'm sure was by then a pretty vague memory of the actual food. I don't know if she got this far and said "that's it, no more experiments" or Grandpa got tired of eating all the variants and finally said "that's good" or if he honestly thought this was close to his memory. That piece of the story, at least, I've not heard.

So much for my childhood assumption that this was some sort of traditional German food and that when I was making it, I was carrying on a long cultural tradition. At least it wasn't the other option: that we'd just managed to come up with really lazy cooks who couldn't be bothered to make pierogies correctly. Want to add to the strangeness? When I want them but am too lazy to make them, I hit IHOP and order their Swedish pancakes which are pretty close in texture and flavor.

I'm okay with the knowledge that this piece of my cultural heritage isn't so authentic. Especially now that my friend has fallen in love with pirogen. It seems strangely appropriate that my family's faux German/Polish recipe should be adopted by an Anglo/Slovak who I know will be carrying on the tradition of the recipe, since her husband, a Mexican/American, loves them too. If you'd like to try them, here's the recipe.  It's a half-recipe, since the batter amount Mom used to make for 2 adults and three growing children could feed me for better than a week. The batter will keep in the refrigerator for a day or so. If it separates, just stir it back together.

Heat oil in a frypan to medium high. Mix:
3 c flour
4 eggs
Milk--enough to make a thin batter

The batter should be thin enough that it spreads out to about 1/8" thick when it hits the hot pan. Make them about 8-10 inches in diameter. Cook til the bottom is browned and the top no longer has wet batter on it. Flip and cook the other side. If you have a larger crowd, go ahead and layer the cooked pirogen between paper towels and keep on a plate in a warm oven. If you want to try the cheese variant, sweeten small-curd cottage cheese to taste, spread on the pirogen, roll up, and place in warm oven until cheese is heated through. For those of you who, like me, can't bear the thought of the cottage cheese variant, just spread the pirogen with your favorite jam, roll up, and eat. (Using a knife and fork. These are just a little too big and flimsy to try and eat with your hands. Not to mention they should be served at a temp that would be a bit hot for your fingertips.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Learning a little in loss

I've been thinking a lot lately about donor relations.

Back in grad school on my five-month-long internship, I had the good fortune to be working for a rockstar archivist, Karyl Winn. Karyl did a lot to make sure I had as broad exposure to the field as she could possibly fit in five months. On a few occasions, she took me out on donor visits. On one of those trips, we had a drive of a little over an hour to get to the donor's house. Karyl, mindful of her role, took the opportunity to take a long drive and turn it into a teachable moment, and started musing about donor relations and archival training.

The gist of what she said was this: that most formal archival education doesn't really prepare you for some of the specifics of donor relations. She carefully spelled it out for me (I paraphrase since this was 20 or so years ago and my memory isn't that specific): when we work with donors, we're often working with people who are undergoing or who have just undergone a massive life change. Death, retirement, relocation, job endings or startings, all those things that shoot up your score on the list of stressors. Even when working with institutional records, we often are still working with people who are going through similar losses in a work setting. Karyl said she sometimes wished that graduate archival training could include some sort of counseling education to better prepare archivists to work with people going through these events.

Let's face it. Sometimes the records you're taking away in these situations may be some of the sole reminders of a person's life or career. And whether the individual you're working with is the source of those records or the child or spouse or friend of the creator, the records have a larger meaning than just boxes of paper: they become the physical representation of that individual and or that person's career. And that watching it walk out the door can be like reliving that retirement day, or that decision to move, or even a funeral service. And we need to be cognizant of this and respectful and hopefully convey our understanding and respect to our donors.

Now how you train for this? I don't know. I don't suppose we can all undergo additional degree programs in grief counseling and maybe for some archivists, that level of training isn't so necessary. I'd had a strong foundation in working with people in emotional distress as a child (no, this isn't the obvious family joke) since my father was a minister before he retired and one of his ministry strengths had always been in counseling. And I'd observed him using those skills with people not just in his churches, but also in a part-time volunteer gig as a chaplain for a local fire/emergency services department when I was a little girl. In fact a lot of my family just seems to "get it" when it comes to working with the bereaved or those who are caught up in other types of stressful and emotional situations. I won't say I'm perfect or that I couldn't be improved by some formal training, but I know that the informal training I've had has helped me negotiate some situations. Mostly, for me, I find it comes down to listening and listening well enough so you truly hear and understand the story and can reflect back your empathy for the person's grief and loss and show your respect for them and their needs.

So all of that was kind of mulling around in my head when last Friday night at about 9:30 I got a phone call. And was told that an elderly man I'd been talking to off and on for a couple of years about his photographs--he had been a professional wildlife and landscape photographer--had passed away earlier that evening. And it hit me, the grief. I didn't know him all that well--we'd had maybe three or four conversations in total--but I'd visited his house a few times and he'd shown me some of his beautiful photographs and talked about some of the stories behind how he'd taken them. I don't know all that much about what kind of person he was throughout his life but I'd been charmed by him during our interactions and I liked him and very much respected his work.  Certainly not the level of grief that those closest to him would be feeling, but still, that sense of loss that somebody I'd known a little and liked was no longer around.

And what I realized was this: that all that knowledge and empathy and sympathy and respect and the professional ability to bring those into play when working with others? That catch-all phrase about how the collections will serve as an ongoing tribute to and memory of the creator? I know that can be a soothing concept, though it's always struck me as a bit too, well, polished and smooth and without much depth, really. I prefer my sympathy and empathy be expressed in more specific ways. At any rate, all those things? Don't so much work when you're grieving too. I guess that's not all that profound--we all know that our abilities to deal can't always be turned inward--but I wondered: how do others deal with this grief when they're not just an impartial outsider with no emotional connect to the creator of the collection? Do they bury it in professional duties? Close it off and shut it away? Does it inform their interactions with the survivors, and if so, how? Do they grieve in private? Do they let the others engaged in the donor relationship know of their grief? Do the answers to those questions even really matter?

I'm not sure how I'd respond if another archivist told me that to be a good professional, I couldn't grieve for the loss of a donor. I've always viewed the relationships--the friendships, even the casual ones--I develop with donors to be a strength. I don't want to be the impartial, unbiased, distant archivist. If that's even possible, and I suppose for some it is, but it wouldn't be for me. So the result is occasionally I have to grieve. And occasionally, even though I know that I'm preserving a portion of the person's life and I can do a lot to show my respect for them through the work that I do, I know the loss is still greater than the part that remains. Papers are never more important than people, we learned that in preservation class in the section on disaster recovery, didn't we? The lesson just may have been a little more universal than we thought at the time.

What I do know is that this isn't going to change. As I told a colleague earlier this week, if one of the great joys of the donor relations portion of my job is getting to know incredibly interesting people? The downside is that sometimes I have to deal with the loss of those people too. And in the end, I think that's okay. I'm still a better person for having met them, known them, heard their stories. And for all those collections in our holdings for which we didn't know the creators? I like to think that the respect we've learned for those creators we did know can spill over into our caretaking of the records of those we never got to meet. The knowledge perhaps, that those stories existed for them too, we just weren't graced with the hearing of them. And perhaps, after all, there is some solace in the thought that as we make these materials accessible to others, the researchers who work with the materials can discover some of those stories for themselves. And learn from them and share them too.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Epic birding

I'm not a very good birder. I'll call myself a birder, unlike so many of my birding friends, but the reality is, I'm pretty bad at it. LBJs? Yeah, right. Does anybody know what a juvenile rock dove (i.e. pigeon aka sky rat) actually looks like? And don't ask me to tell the difference between a greater and a lesser scaup without both of the sitting dead ahead of me without moving for a minimum of 20 minutes.

This past couple of weeks, I had a couple of birder friends come visit. In 9 days total, we put over 1000 miles on my car plus some additional miles on my Alaska Airlines account. Our route went something like this:
Tuesday: drive around Anchorage
Wednesday: drive to Seward, visit the SeaLife Center, take a 6 hour boat cruise out to Aialik Bay and the Chiswell Islands, drive back to Anchorage
Thursday: drive to Whittier, take the ferry to Valdez, drive around Valdez
Friday: drive from Valdez to Anchorage
Saturday: drive around Anchorage
Sunday: get up at Stupid O'Clock and fly to Barrow (with a brief stop at Prudhoe Bay) and drive around Barrow all day
Monday: drive around Barrow all day, return to Anchorage late night
Tuesday: drive from Anchorage to Homer, drive around Homer
Wednesday: drive around Homer, drive back to Anchorage
Thursday morning: take my friends back out to the airport, crash, and sleep for approximately 32 hours (I got sick round about the time we came back from Valdez. It's not quite over yet.)

The following is the list of birds I saw and felt I could reasonably identify. Locale helped a little: if it's a big gull with pink legs in Barrow? It's a glaucous. There's really no other option. Don't ask me to identify a glaucous in Seward. Though for some strange reason I'm pretty confident with the dowitchers these days. Not so much with the other sandpipers and variants, but dowitchers, I got 'em. And after seeing what seemed like billions of greater white-fronted geese in Barrow, having one strafe the car on the Spit out in Homer a day later allowed me to identify it immediately. I may not be able to do that next summer.

Here's my list:

American dipper American golden plover American pipit American robin American wigeon Arctic tern Bald eagle Barrow's Goldeneye Belted kingfisher Black bellied plover Black scoter Black-billed magpie Blackcapped chickadee Blacklegged kittiwake Bonaparte's gull Canada goose Cliff swallow Common merganser Common raven Common redpoll Dark eyed junco Double crested cormorant Eurasian wigeon Gadwall Glaucous gull Gray jay Greater scaup Greater white fronted goose Greater yellowlegs Green winged teal Harlequin duck Herring gull Horned grebe Ivory gull Lapland longspur Lesser scaup Lesser yellowlegs Mallard Marbled murrelet Merlin Mew gull Northern harrier Northern pintail Northern shoveler Northwestern crow Pacific loon Pectoral sandpiper Pelagic cormorant Pigeon guillemot Red necked grebe Red necked phalarope Ring necked duck Ring-necked pheasant Rock dove Sandhill crane Savannah sparrow Semi-palmated sandpiper Short billed dowitcher Snow bunting Snow geese Snowy owl Song sparrow Surf scoter Tree swallow Trumpeter swan Tundra swan Varied thrush Violet green swallow Whimbrel White crowned sparrow White winged scoter Yellow rumped warbler Peregrine falcon

That would be 73 species, total. Yes, the falcon is out of alpha order, but I just remembered it and didn't want to reformat the last third of that list. My friends got a few more--some birds I caught glimpses of, but not enough for me to take a shot at identifying, like a hoary redpoll up in Barrow and one of the woodpecker types at Westchester Lagoon here in Anchorage. And of course, all those gulls that I'm no good at picking up the tells on, like glaucous winged gulls in Seward. Or the thrush up on Hillside that was tentatively identified as either a Swainson's or a Hermit, and I really have no hope of further identification on that one.

Since I'm relatively new to birding, I ended up with 20 species for my life list. Many of which I've probably seen in the wild before, just that I wasn't counting them--or even paying much attention--at the time, so this is a first.

But I'm not all about the checking off the list thing, though I do that too. Some of these were far more fascinating for what was going on with them. The pectoral sandpipers? Okay, those were a new one for my life list, but we were parked at an overlook by a slough area in Valdez when we spotted the flock. And suddenly whoosh: most of the flock took wing. Why? A merlin (which I have seen before) was hunting them. The American dipper? That's a fairly new one to my list (saw it just two weeks before this trip) but while observing a pair of them near Valdez, one put on a great show for us by swimming underwater where we could see him/her, catching a small fish, feeding it to the other, and then going out and fishing some more.

If I'd have read the guide and what it said about dippers I'd have known they can swim underwater, but how cool was it to actually see the behavior? And the 100 or so bald eagles and bald eagle juveniles just hanging out in this grassy field near the mouth of Deep Creek north of Homer. I took a picture of one section of the field.

I can count about 22 eagles in it, but I know there are more. And what the heck was the American Robin--one of the most ubiquitous harbingers of spring--doing in Barrow, Alaska, in mid-May anyway? (Global warming, anybody?)

We had a pretty funny travel guide up in Barrow the first day. He's the one who spotted the first snowy owl for us. (You look for high points on the tundra and look for the owl-shaped silhouette to see them. Really. This one was still in full winter plumage so spotting a white bird against white ground against a light grey sky?) Our guide was a little bemused by the whole birder thing. Accustomed to birders, yes, he sees lots of them, but he doesn't entirely get why people do this and often pay lots of money to do it. I made him laugh out loud when he asked if we were all birders and I answered yes, but I was the Ringo Starr of the group.

Honestly? I don't entirely get why people pay lots of money to do this, either. The Barrow trip wasn't as costly as could be--another friend donated use of her place to house my friends while in Anchorage so that saved them several nights worth of hotel costs which in turn helped pay for the flight to Barrow (I didn't have any plans for that AkAir companion fare anyhow and I have a goodly amount of air miles stocked up. 3 full fares to Barrow? Not so much. 1 full, 1 companion fare, and 1 air miles fare? That's doable).  I really started paying attention to the birds partly once I moved to Alaska because at some point while traveling around the state I realized that I was seeing birds, regularly, that other people took once-in-a-lifetime trips to see. Like the Kittlitz's Murrelet. Or Thick-Billed Murres. Or Northwestern Crows (don't ask, I don't understand that one either.)

And honestly, I still get way more excited by some of the charismatic megafauna in Alaska than I do by the birds. On that boat trip out of Seward? We saw a fin whale. What a fin whale was doing in the entrance to Resurrection Bay, nobody quite knows, but that was very cool. And orcas. And northern sea otters. And stellar sea lions. And harbor seals. And a muskrat. And Dall sheep. And Dall porpoise. And a humpbacked whale. And mountain goats. And a black bear. And a snowshoe hare.  And caribou along the Glenn Highway just outside of Glennallen. And the mother moose with her gangly babies that were probably no more than 3 days old in Homer.

How cute are they? You don't even want to know how many photos I took of them. (Less than 20).

But, okay. I saw a snowy owl. A real, live, snowy owl. Not in a zoo. On a snowdrift on the tundra (and later on a utility pole). Still in winter plumage. A snowy owl. That was cool. No eiders yet, but this totally makes up for that. Besides, this was my third trip to Barrow. One of these days, I'll get up there and I'll get to see eiders. I SAW A SNOWY OWL.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Travel crankies

[for those of you who are wondering... American Airlines does have a complaint form on their website. It has a limit of 1500 characters. I had way too much to explain.]

Dear American Airlines:

 I think you have a severe morale problem. Actually, I think you have more than that, but I’ll start there.

 Last Tuesday, May 8, I was on flight 1448: ORD-DCA departing 10:35 am CDT along with a number of elderly Japanese tourists. As the gate attendant began calling sections, the tourists lined up behind their guide who was able to board early, presumably because of his priority status with the airline. When the first two of this group attempted to board prior to their group number being called, they were turned away with what I can only describe as extreme surliness on the part of the attendant. He actually yelled at them: “Go away” a couple of times with shooing hand motions. Frankly, if anybody deserved to be yelled at, it was their American guide who hadn’t provided sufficient instructions to them regarding the boarding process and who did not stay with his group. I was appalled at the rudeness displayed to these tourists in our country, I was shocked that the gate attendant made no effort whatsoever to communicate with them regarding when they could board. A simple pointing at the group number on their boarding passes and a “wait” probably would have been sufficient, despite the language barrier.

Added to this the fact that all but two of the flight attendants on this flight appeared to be monosyllabic, and it all shouts to me that American Airlines staff are exceedingly unhappy. Nobody would be as actively or passively rude—especially people in positions like these who presumably undergo regular customer service training—unless something was seriously wrong in the workplace. Do these personnel need a reminder of how to treat customers in order to sustain their continued use of the airline? Yes, but perhaps American should also investigate what is happening that causes their workers not to live up to their customer service promise.

 And then there was the return flight, 507, on Saturday, May 12. The flight and gate attendants were perfectly courteous and kind, no complaints there (one wonders what would cause such a difference in behavior). However, I’m still trying to figure out why American Airlines would not have fueled the plane with sufficient fuel to survive a few times circling (or in this case, traveling to the west and turning around) O’Hare when O’Hare is notorious for landing delays. Instead, we were diverted to Indianapolis to refuel so we could land safely at O’Hare. I understand in these days of high fuel costs and the relationship of fuel weight to fuel consumption issues with an airplane that it must be tempting to load just enough fuel for any given flight. But diverting could not have been inexpensive for the airline, and it was a significant pain for me.

Because of the diversion, I missed my direct flight to Anchorage by just a few minutes, when I had deliberately scheduled sufficient time for the transfer at O’Hare. I was re-routed to Seattle and then to Anchorage, and what should have been an 11-hour travel day ended up be a 15.5 hour travel day. Then there was the extreme crowding on the ORD-SEA flight: I would have thought some attempt would have been made to accommodate those of use who had been subjects of the diverted flight with slightly more comfortable seats. No, I had a middle seat in such crowded conditions that I couldn’t work on my laptop, work on my needlework, or, in fact, even work on my smartphone—there simply wasn’t elbow room for me to move at all. I’m not a particularly small woman, I’ll admit, but I’ve never had a 4+ hour flight where I could do nothing but sleep or stare at the head of the person in front of me. Under the circumstances, i.e. traveler already significantly discommoded by the airline, an aisle or window seat was the least you could have done. Really, I expect better treatment of your clientele who have had their travel plans disrupted through issues well within the airline’s control. The pilot of the DCA-ORD flight was very communicative and apologized for the diversion, the flight attendants expressed their dismay, but frankly, the airline needed to do more.

If these kinds of events are the result of an airline in serious financial trouble, I’m here to tell you that improving your customer relations can assist in improving the bottom line. I’ve been traveling a fair amount the last year—not weekly or daily, but on average a flight a month—and no other trip has been as bad as this. This experience certainly ensured that I will do my utmost to avoid any either directly booked or code-share flights that involve American in future. It had been years since I’ve traveled on American Airlines. Based on this experience, I’m hoping it will again be years before I need to do so again. I suspect a few of my fellow passengers—in both directions—are making similar comments.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Archives and the future

There's this battle, see. It's a battle over scarce resources. And it's a battle that a lot of archivists have entered kind of late. And it's the whole justifying our existence thing. Not us as people, per se, but why an institution should have archivists and archival collections. I'm going to narrow that focus to academic institutions.

What I realized a few years ago was that while it was self-evident to me why archives are important in an academic institution, it wasn't self-evident to a lot of people at my institution. Because we weren't really serving our students, our faculty. And while the program was supported, some thought was being given to pulling it. That the service we were providing outside the academy wasn't sufficient to justify our cost.

NOT what any archivist wants to hear, but the correct response, of course, is a combination of outreach to those user groups and education for those around us to understand how we can support teaching and research at our institutions.

So when I was asked recently to do a presentation for an academic group on where the future of  archives/special collections lay and what such collections can offer teaching and learning, I had to put into words everything I've been trying to achieve for the last several years and that for which I continue to aim. I've redacted and modified the following considerably to anonymize it, but I think there's broader applicability here anyhow.

The first topic of the day is my vision for [Archives and Special Collections (A&SC)]. This is almost always a dangerous thing. If I say, A&SC can and should be the shining jewel of the Library, I’m probably going to offend everybody in the room that isn’t within A&SC. If I say anything that doesn’t completely correlate with your consultancy report, I take the risk of that getting back to the author and since he’s a good friend and writes support letters when I need them, I need to keep on his good side there. And if I present an image too at odds with the existing status of A&SC, it could be perceived that I’m failing to recognize the incredible work being done currently. I could solve that all by being too vague, but that’s not good for any of us.

So here it goes, that dangerous thing.

There’s a theme in the Library world and in writing about libraries these days. It’s popped up in a number of discussions about the future of academic libraries. As more and more library resources go electronic and more and more can be accessed at a distance, does the library really need to remain a physical place?  I think the answer to that is already shaking itself out in academia and clearly as libraries reposition themselves. The physical library collections will never go away entirely, but more and more space will be devoted to the library as the knowledge commons, the place to study, the place to get work done.

But I don’t know if you’ve spotted one of the undercurrents to that theme. I’ve been aware of it for some time but I missed seeing the significance to it until just recently. Last year some time, one of my Facebook librarian friends posted a link to a blog entry on Library Journal’s site.  It was about the greying of the profession and how all these library jobs would be opening up soon, except it wasn't happening. I keep hearing the bit about the greying. I’ve been hearing it since I started looking for an archives job in 1993. It goes something like: the profession is filled with all these older people who are going to retire and everybody will move up a step and there will be tons of jobs suddenly open at entry level. It’s like trickle-down economics for the job market. So I was responding with my usual internal monologue of “those people never retire. And even if they do, those positions aren’t necessarily getting filled”--which, to be fair, was the exact argument the author was making--when I spotted the line of advice to new librarians that made me flare. The posting advised grad students and new librarians to go after one of the “hot specialties like archives.” And that was enough to get a written response out of me—partly because I wasn’t thinking of the size of the audience that Library Journal might command. And shortly one of the editors called up and asked if they could reprint an excerpt from my response.  Which was, in short, that it was ridiculous to suggest to librarians that they seek employment in an allied profession that has approximately 10%, if that, of the population base of their own profession and already has specialized degree programs of its own.

But what I missed was what this portends. Perhaps this groundswell, this push toward entering the profession that at the moment means one of the most dismal job markets I’ve seen in the 20 years since I began looking for my first archives position, is an indicator of things to come. That perhaps the future does lie in A&SC. Specialized content, unique to the institution, often at little or no cost to the acquisition budget, these departments can continue to provide a role for the library collections in the library’s future as a location, but they also can be a focus for the library, the materials we can hold up to prove that we’re special, we’re different, we’re not just the same as any other academic library.

And what might that future hold? In looking at that, I’d like to switch focus to the second portion of the question. What makes an academic library an academic library? Support for teaching, learning, and research. Else why would the university administration dedicate any of the budget to the library? I’d like to start by focusing on research, though those three are tightly interwoven from my perspective. What is the qualities that make research that matters? Originality. Uniqueness. The ability to bring in grant funds, or barring that, not being overly expensive. The marketability and perhaps patentability of the end product. The publishability of the end product. Primary and unique resources held in A&SC afford academic researchers access to raw data, unique data, very often specialized data very often in non-synthesized form and you don’t have to go through the Institutional Review Board to read those documents and books.

It’s not just historians and literature professors. The users of archives—if they ever were primarily those two groups—are more diverse now than they ever have been. Vulcanologists seeking images of Aleutian volcanoes—usually taken by servicemen—to document the growth of those mountains and what might possibly happen with them in future. Climatologists using tourist photos of popular glaciers to create a composite and animated view of climate change on a micro-scale. Anthropologists tracing provenance of cultural materials in order to return museum-held objects of significance back to the groups that so desperately want them back—and those anthropologists are providing more than just the documentation of the items themselves, but replacing lost memories of how those materials were used within the culture. Digital humanities specialists using historical maps, photographs, published diaries, and objects to create visual and interactive displays of a place and time . Biologists using anthropological field notes, trading post, and cannery records to track the harvesting of wildlife to establish historical population estimates.  Economists using the same to estimate possible future harvests in order to establish industry quotas. 

A few weeks ago I was in a room with two professors, one a civil engineer, one a climatologist, waiting for a meeting to start. We were discussing the weather. It’s been a rough winter in SouthCentral Alaska and Valdez, which commonly gets 220+ inches of snow in winter, had already hit that level in December, with at least three months of snowfall yet to come. The civil engineer mentioned that in a heavy snowfall winter a few years back, he’d consulted for a commercial facility there because they were in danger of the roofs on the buildings collapsing because of snow load. That when those facilities were built in the 1970s, they didn’t have more than a few years worth of climatological data to estimate what the load capacity needed to be. As it turned out, the load bearing ability was lower than it needed to be. And the climatologist was nodding along, agreeing, when I said “What? Of course they had those numbers!” A bit of discussion ensued. And my argument was that just because it wasn’t in the official files of NOAA, that didn't mean the information didn't exist. In diaries. In correspondence from miners home to family in the lower 48. In tourist photographs showing city streets buried in snow.

In the holdings of your A&SC, in the decisions made every day about what to collect, what to bring in, what to preserve, what and how to make it accessible, is the raw material that can allow researchers—whether faculty or students—to shine. To discover and analyze and synthesize information that can be found nowhere else. That can have lasting impact in every field of research at this institution.

The same holds true for teaching and learning here. What better way to get a student in an ethics class to fundamentally understand—to have it made real to them—the importance of what they’re studying than to have them sit down with a legislator’s bill files and read the behind-the-scenes memos on redistricting that never make it into the official record? How better to get a history or communications student to understand how the format and delivery method of a document can define the message than by looking at the carbon copies out of a reading file system showing the dates elapsed between communication? You end up having to explain what a carbon copy is, but it’s a visceral understanding of the transfer of information and communication that can be obtained in no other way—not even by looking at a digital surrogate. The importance of pedagogical methods becomes far more clear to the education student when they watch video from the early telecomm distance delivery courses. Why not test the skills of advanced language students by handing them a handwritten diary—bad spelling, uneven cursive, and all—to see if they can still translate it? Or an old and rare book in that language that may have archaic forms and fonts? The journalism or public policy students: how about using university records to document the history of a topic of daily interest to them, like, say, the constant complaints about parking on campus.

And don't forget about plagiarism. Want to reduce the amount of plagiarism happening on campus? Assign research in materials from the unique or rare materials in A&SC—the chances that the student will be able to find something existing written about that exact document or topic is unlikely.

I’d like to give you an actual example of how you can bring A&SC materials into the classroom in unique and creative ways, expanding the learning opportunities for students. In September of 2008, I mentioned to one of my archivists that we should really consider doing something for Archives month in October. She said: an exhibit! I said, no. Exhibits are a huge amount of work, doing the selection, writing the interpretation, we simply didn’t have the time to do that nor did we have the funding to create the photographic surrogates of the original material. But I got to thinking about how we might do an exhibit without doing all the work. And the answer to that, of course, is to get somebody else or more than one somebody else to do the work for you.

About the same time, I’d been staring at one of the older photographs in our holdings. It was a family portrait of some early inhabitants of Juneau. The man in the photograph is Richard Tighe Harris who in partnership with Joe Juneau, are considered the founders of Juneau. The photo is, and as near as I can tell always has been, labeled “Richard Tighe Harris and family.” And this caption does, and always has, irritated me. The group consists of Richard and his wife Kitty, who happened to be a Tlingit from Hoonah, two of their sons, and Kitty’s sister. This is not Richard Harris’s family as not every one in the photograph is directly related to him, this is Kitty Harris’s family. (Yes, I did my undergraduate history senior thesis on a women’s history topic.) And as I sat and looked at this image, I thought about all the things that could be read from it and decided it was perfect for an exhibit.

I tend to come up with titles first, and the obvious one for an exhibit asking different individuals to interpret a photograph from their own disciplinary background was, of course, Eye of the Beholder. So we had a title, we had an image, and we sent out the call. We sent out several calls, in fact. We targeted a number of faculty in disciplines we thought might add to the conversation. I took handouts advertising the exhibit—with the deadline for submissions—to the committees on which I was serving along with many promises to write wonderful thank yous for review files. I forced my employees, even the temps, to write something. I strongarmed one of my best friends, a history professor specializing in Native history, to write something. While not a faculty member, our Risk Manager’s response was one of my favorite submissions and judging by the response of viewers, was one of the ones to really get them thinking about how they could really put a subject angle on what seemed such an simple request to tell us what they saw in the image.

We’ve continued to do this once a year for October. It’s not growing terribly fast, but we are getting some repeats from several professors. The three regulars are the history professor, a public health professor, and a photography professor. The photography professor is a particularly interesting sample of what can happen: her submission to the original exhibit was a collage. Every year she’s encouraged her students to take part in it and has managed to convince a few to do so. This past year, one of her former students who is out of college now dropped by in September just to find out if we were doing it again and he created an entry for it again. But our photography prof is not only encouraging working with historic photographs in the classroom, she’s used other images from us for other collages which have been accepted into juried photography exhibits and count toward the creative component of her tripartite workload.

But back to the history professor. This fall she was scheduled to teach the historiography and methods course. It’s been more historiography and less methods, but she wanted to balance that more evenly. One of the learning outcomes she wanted for the students in this class was for them to have a better understanding of how images can be used for historical research. So among other archival projects, she decided to do a classroom variant of the Eye of the Beholder exhibit. I picked a few photographs, she selected one, and she assigned it to her students for interpretation. I brought some of the previous exhibits to the class and we went through them in one session.

In the assignment, the professor took it a step further and incorporated it not only into the research portion of the class, but also made the students demonstrate their understanding of the historiography curriculum. She didn’t ask them to interpret the image from their own perspective, but as major individual historians or groups representing major trends in historiographic perspective might have interpreted it. They had to choose at least three. In general, the students approached the project with a level of interest much above that of the other assignments they had. Through this research interpretation project, the professor was able to tell if the students really understood the historiographic trends. One of the most common interpretations used, of course, was cliometrics, the intersection of math, statistics, and history. The students who didn’t really understand cliometrics, just counted the number of people in the image. The students who did understand provided an interpretation or context for those numbers.

This one little project—the one that takes about 40-60 hours of my time a year and was born out of frustration and need and nearly no time—has had a cumulative and progressive effect upon the teaching, learning, and research missions of my institution. This is exactly how unique and rare materials, the materials held by A&SC, relate to the teaching, learning, and research mission of the university. The resources can be brought into all levels of that mission, from undergrad to faculty work. And not just the collections, but the people working in these units. The teaching expertise and potential of the individuals working in these units is significant for research methodologies. As hard as it can be for students and faculty to find what they’re looking for in the library collections? There’s often even a greater division between those people and the unique collections.

But A&SC now—and hopefully always will—have a greater mandate, a larger audience than just the academy. The people working reference in those departments are working with the community users who can include k-12 students doing History Day projects. Or somebody who googled into a finding aid and discovered some reference to a distant family member. Or explaining to a journalist as to why they may not have access to that collection or those records due to HIPAA or FERPA. This user experience, of working with quite possibly the most diverse audience that any information professional might, translates well into the classroom and into the teaching of research methodologies. They’ve already learned instruction is always more effective when tailored to the topic. They understand how foreign this kind of research is to most students and often faculty as well. They can present solutions, research methods that can get people over the worst of that hump. And even more, because they’re so attuned to working with non-synthesized information, they often come up with creative approaches to research.

In the perfect world of the future, the information about A&SC materials is fully and seamlessly accessible through all of the library search engines, meaning that those seeking information resources in the library don’t have to go to several pages or into several databases or catalogs to find that information, even assuming they know to do so. At my institution, our finding aids are being indexed by Serials Solution so that any student using the QuickSearch—the library google—on the main library webpage is not only accessing the library catalog and a significant number of our subscription databases, they’re also accessing our full-text finding aids. And this was at no added cost to our Summon subscription, since those subscriptions usually allow for a number of local information databanks to be added to the system.

In a perfect world, there’s not only no question that A&SC resources are necessary to the functioning of the academy, there’s shock at the thought that someone once might have thought any other way. In a perfect world, perhaps all library materials, databases, monographs, gov docs, A&SC resources are all seamlessly integrated in reference. In a perfect world, the Institutional Repository includes not just the publications and datasets of faculty, graduate theses, but the university publications, finding aids, and digital materials provided by A&SC.

This is the vision, encapsulated (and I should point out, much of this is already happening at many institutions): The collections of A&SC are incorporated widely in curriculum. The expertise provided by the librarians and archivists working in A&SC is regularly called upon. A&SC is a magnet for donors both fiscal and for collections. Where the track record of A&SC in meeting and exceeding the goals of their grant applications expedites the ability to bring in more grant funding. Where grant funding is coming from a wide array of granting agencies, both public and private. Where decisions are access driven. Where collaboration is happening with other institutions' A&SC units with collection overlap. Where it’s a safe place to take chances, just to see what the results will be. Where the community—academic and non-academic alike--feels an investment in the collections and provides support.

But here’s the thing. Visions are nice. But the theoretical only goes so far with me, especially since it’s often hard to tell what will work and what won’t, what is needed and what isn’t, until you are at the institution for a while. The vision is only as good as the steps you take to get there, if there’s a commitment of resources, the support, the time, personnel, funding, to get there. If you have a path designed. But a flexible one: that recognizes that roadblocks and emergencies happen and occasionally detours are a good thing. Where you’re attending to the daily work but making sure that feeds into the progress.

Here's what I think are some of the considerations that we need to have in both designing a vision and designing the strategic plan that allows you to reach the goals of the vision.

  • Flexibility. Sometimes things just don’t work they way they’re supposed to work. Sometimes the vision and goals change. Sometimes the support resources disappear. Usually things take longer than you want them to take. You have to deal with all of that. It’s not only strategic planning, it’s contingency planning.
  • Change. I know the phrase “change is inevitable” is trite, but it’s true. If there’s no difference between where we are and where we want to be, than we can stop working on all of this. Sometimes you have to let go of functions and duties that may seem central to the work now to make room for the new work.
  • Commitment to the vision and goals from existing stakeholders. There’s nothing more impossible to do than effect change in an institution without the support of those involved.
  • Assessment. It doesn’t always have to be formal, but it needs to be done. And it needs to be done constantly and it can be worked into the daily workload—it doesn’t always have to require a huge commitment of time. Who are your users? How do they use your materials? If I had to pick the single best library quote for the last decade, my choice would be the one about if you’re having to train people to use your tools, your tools are broken. If nothing else, assessment allows you to demonstrate the effects of the work you’re doing by providing use data.
  • Daydreaming. You need to plan for who your users and stakeholders might be as well as who they are. An occasional brainstorming session, or a troll through the university catalog or faculty directory can create some wonderful results. I’ve been able to build new user relationships through my membership as one of the faculty on the graduate curriculum review board. I hear what people are proposing for curriculum and I can figure out how we fit into it.
  • Transparency. Let people know what you’re doing and why. Don’t cover up the failures. Learn from them and move on. And share the lessons learned. Related to that:
  • Document, document, document. Write down the processes. Write down the procedures. That’s true for everything from reference requests to shelving procedures to descriptive standards to collection policies to outreach methods. And to save you even more time, put that information up on your site on a wiki so others who want can see it for themselves or that if it needs to be amended, it can be done easily.
  • The boss wins. If the people in charge don't like it, it doesn’t happen. That’s not to say that I don’t advocate for my position, that I don’t try to change their mind, but I learn when no means no. And I figure out a substitute or an alternative path.
  • Remember the why. Sometimes when you’re knee-deep in legacy finding aids that need to be transformed into a standardized form or in a basement full of old boxes covered with spiderwebs and bat droppings and you’d rather be out having cocktail parties with potential donors, you need to remember that it’s only 10:00 am and it would be unseemly. The drudgery is not always fun but you can’t always fob it off on students and volunteers. Yet the work still needs to be done and you need to dedicate some of your time to doing it so you can finish that piece of it eventually. Doing that work can also help inform the process: the easiest way to find the quickest method of doing a repetitive task is to hate what you’re doing: often the solutions and shortcuts become more obvious more quickly.
  • Balance tact with necessity. One of my donors came in a few months ago prior to cleaning out her office and asked me if I wanted all her plaques. The answer to that, of course, is no. We don’t. Nobody wants plaques. They’re heavy and take up tons of space and create preservation concerns and nobody ever asks to see them. (I generalize, of course). And we have some serious space concerns. But this is a very important donor who has brought in many other collections and some serious funding to our library and to our university. She’s also a wickedly smart woman and as she asked the question was watching me quite closely to read some of the thoughts that I thought I’d been hiding behind a fairly well-developed poker face. And before I could even open my mouth, she started laughing and said: “I know what the answer is going to be, I just want to hear how you phrase it.” And tactfully, carefully, I explained that since we are an archives within a research institution, one of the things we have to be very aware of while collecting is how those collections support the mission of the university. And while plaques do indeed provide some evidence of who she is, how important she is, and how she is regarded, they were of limited research utility. She turned to one of my archivists who was standing right next to her, elbowed her, and said “And that’s how you do it.” I also told her I’d be happy to photograph the plaques and keep those digital images with the collection. And it turns out that she's all right with that.
  • Advocacy. Support can come from the most unexpected places. Researchers can become donors. Donors can become researchers. Former colleagues may become volunteers in retirement. Stay attuned to the needs of your stakeholder groups and meet those needs when it’s appropriate. Keep advocacy toward the top of whatever you may be juggling at the time, and try and look at things through the lens of advocacy.
  • Staying open. You never know. This is true for anything from discovering talents and skills in your colleagues to donor work. I’d like to give you a very recent for example, donor specific. Last night, I went down to the hotel lobby a little early because I wanted to be sure I’d be there when my ride arrived. And the very personable hotel clerk asked me what I was doing, why I was in town, what I did, and among other things, turns out he grew up in Alaska. And when I came back through the lobby door later in the evening, we continued the conversation. Well that conversation wound around again to what I do and as I was describing to him the types of collections found in an archives he suddenly got really interested and said, you know, we have a bunch of those big plastic tubs just full of my dad’s log books from the time when he was a captain in the commercial fishing fleet. Would that be something you want? And I said yes, we would very much like to provide a research home for your dad’s papers.
  • Focus. You can’t be all things to all people. Remain open, but when something won’t work, don’t take it on. I get regular requests for subject or event-focused exhibits.  I often say no because of time and financial constraints, but in the spirit of tactfulness and advocacy, I often suggest that if they’d like to take it on themselves, here’s an estimate of the time and funding it would take for them to complete it. Occasionally they’re willing to take that on and do, and we end up with yet another exhibit or resource to share. The work that went into developing and populating our picturingUAA database of historic images was almost completely funded by an offshoot of our development office that wanted us to provide them with historic images for the university.
  • Stay user-centric. Why collect if it’s not going to be used? Why spend time reorganizing or writing description that end-users don’t care about or won’t see? If you almost always see researchers at 4 pm on Friday and never at 10 am on Tuesday, maybe it’s time to reconsider the desk hours. Tracking user statistics can be really useful when you’re about out of space and have to consider what may need to be moved into offsite storage or even what could be weeded as outside the collection scope.
And that, I think, is how you begin to craft the future of archives and special collections and of academic libraries, together.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

ADR-4a: Live homework help

Oops, make that 4b as well.

1. Using Student Center, get real time help from a tutor with one question from one of these articles...

Mostly this made me curious about and how they deal with pretty basic factual questions--do they walk you through finding the answer? Or how do they approach this? I'm procrastinating working on this project because I really don't want to download the software to my laptop (does this bug anybody else?--this isn't specific to this particular project, just anything web-based that makes me download something I don't immediately recognize or know who wrote it...) So this will wait for the Anchorage gathering on Saturday.

2. Using the Job Center, upload your resume or a recent cover letter for review and feedback. Remember to remove personal info from your document. (You should not share any personal information with your tutors, including your email address, full name, phone number, or anything else that could be used to identify you.) Or: Using the Proof Point Writing Center upload a recent report or essay for proofreading and feedback. Remember to remove personal info from your document. (You should not share any personal information with your tutors, including your email address, full name, phone number, or anything else that could be used to identify you.)

I'm waiting on this one, too. My current curriculum vitae is about 13 pages and since I haven't applied for any jobs that request resumes of late, I don't have a shorter version of it. Plus to remove info that would identify me would be an extended process. Same too for anything I've written over the past few years--it would impossible to redact identifying information out of it. So I'm hoping for Saturday on this one, too. I have to admit, I was tempted--for all of a half-second--to upload a cover letter submitted to a recent search committee on which I served, but ethics preclude.

So on to 4b, instead.
1. Conduct an advanced search in the Teacher Reference Center to find articles about “Technology Education” and “Alaska”. How many results were returned? From the results limit your search to full text and published after 2008. Look the list (it should be less than 10 articles).Select and article from the results, using the EBSCO citation feature, copy and paste the APA citation from the article you chose into your blog post for this lesson.

46 returned. 7 results for full text and 2009-2011. (it wouldn't give me 2012 as an option.)
Manzo, K. (2009). Former Apple Executive to Lead U.S. Ed-Tech Office. Education Week, 29(11), 15-20. [by the way, I didn't copy/paste that because of the 200 lines of html coding it brought with. I retyped it because I forgot that I could copy the text into the html view of Blogger and it wouldn't carry all that code with. Also, I'm too lazy to look, but is the 29 for the volume of the journal really supposed to be italicized in APA?)

TRC looked really fun, especially after I discovered I could have articles read to me in an American accent, a Brit accent, or an Aussie accent. Turns out the Aussie accent was a woman's voice so maybe not quite as fun as I'd hoped. And apparently the reading is a computer generated amalgam of individual words and letters so all three accents sounded a bit not-too-bright, readers who were reading via phonics and no comprehension. I'd been having some vision issues today so listening to the article appeared to be a great option, but I soon tired of the lack of vocal inflection and got to wondering how desperate I'd have to be to listen to this. I'd much rather pay Sadie with her New Zealand accent to read it to me. (You reading this Sadie? You up for it? I'll buy you a pastry on Saturday in exchange.)

2. Next search ERIC for “Technology Education” and “Alaska”, how many results were returned? Refine your results to full text and published after 2008. How many results are returned? Look for a title in the results list that does not have a PDF or HTML full text link.

297 returned. 10 for 2009-2011. Clicked on the title to one that didn't have the PDF/HTML full text links. Perused on down the record til I found the link to the ERIC-hosted instance. Waited about 2 minutes for that pdf to fully load.

Since I was in a meeting today where we were talking a lot about full text and citation matchers and discovery tools and databases and such, I had to wonder. Why didn't the item have a pdf link if, in fact, it had a pdf link? Very bizarre. Sometimes I wonder about the unnecessary persistence we (global we, or possibly not we at all, but the smart guys who program these databases) expect of our users...

3. Now search Professional Development to find articles about “Technology Education” and “Alaska”. How many results were returned? From the results limit your search to full text and published after 2008. Looking at the results list are some of the titles familiar? Was there overlap from your earlier searches?

57 results, 8 for 2009-2011. I'll have to confess to not reading most of the titles in the ERIC list, but the TRC and PD database results had a lot of the same results.

4. From the EBSCO interface, click New Search (in the upper left corner) and click on choose databases, check ERIC, Professional Development and Teacher Reference Center. Conduct one last search for “Technology Education” and “Alaska”, how many results were returned? Refine your results to full text and published after 2008. How many results are returned? On your blog post for this lesson, share your thoughts about the value of searching an individual educational resource compared to searching all three databases simultaneously.

384, refined to 18. What I found fascinating was that of the 18 results, EBSCO listed them as being either from ERIC or PD. Not a one was listed as sourcing from TRC--though obviously many of the PD ones were available through that source, as well. I think for the advanced user, who knows a lot about what they want in their answers, drilling down to one database as a starting point might be helpful. It certainly reduces the number of hits you have to navigate. But for more generalized researchers, ones who might not even be sure of the search terms they're using, I'd tend to advise going with the more generalized searches. If nothing else, the volume of results may serve as a teaching moment to discover the importance of well-chosen search terms.

Oh, and by the way, I continue to have to log into all the EBSCO databases from my home connect (despite, yes, having an AK IP.) And I had to log into both TRC and ERIC and PD with the library-provided credentials despite there being a lag time of exactly 5 seconds between using TRC and going back out to the Digital Pipeline and clicking on the ERIC link and same for ERIC and PD. Why?

I wondered if it might have to do with cookies and my browser, so I conducted the same test on the Consortium Library site. I went through databases A-Z, pulled up TRC, logged in using my UAA credentials, then closed the window. Opened a new window, went back in and pulled up ERIC, and got taken right in to the EBSCO host database. So I'm beginning to think it's not entirely me.

Monday, March 26, 2012

ADR-3: Reader's advisory

This week it's NoveList and NoveList k-8.

I've been using NoveList regularly for a few years: mostly to find that title of the book where I remember the plot and a couple of the characters, but am blanking on author and title. The other significant use I've made of it is in relation to an ongoing research project: I did my MA thesis on archives and archivists and how they're portrayed in fiction. Unfortunately last time I checked they're not using that as a controlled vocabulary term (what's wrong with LCSH that they don't cater to me?) so I often have to use broader terms or just archiv* and that messes me up when the review is written by an archivist...

But I haven't used it--at all--to get suggestions for others I might like. So this use was new.

1: Use the Read-Alike features in NoveList or NoveList K-8 to find several new authors or titles that you might like to read based on your favorite books. How accurate do you think these recommendations are? How about the Series recommendations?

I started with Terry Pratchett, one of the finest writers today. And the first three read-alikes were Paul Di Filippo, Patricia Wrede, and Neil Gaiman. I've not read the first two, will admit, but I was taken aback by the Gaiman suggestion. He and Pratchett co-wrote one of the best fantasy novels I've ever read (my original introduction to Pratchett, in fact) but I wouldn't at all call him comparable. Much darker, a good writer, and I have tons of friends who love his work, but it really doesn't speak to me. I wouldn't consider them similar authors at all. Of the 9 authors suggested, I'd read Gaiman, Spider Robinson, Douglas Adams, Piers Anthony, and T. H. White. A few of whom I liked, a few I disliked, a few I went back and forth on, but none would be that comparable for me except in the broad category (for a few of them) as "humorous sf/f writer." I probably shouldn't have chosen an author that was so sui generis for me. 

So I switched over to a much more mainstream author: J. D. Robb (better known as Nora Roberts.) And mostly got a smattering of romance authors (including Julie Garwood? Really?) with Tami Hoag thrown into the mix who started as a romance author but quickly segued into the darker suspense novels. Weirdly enough, I like the Robb novels, not so much her Roberts novels (I can't explain but I'm convinced it's a different author) but that may be because I also like mystery novels and enjoy the touch of police procedurals and the more character-driven plots of the Robb books. I guess there's no more character-driven plot than a romance novel, but I was surprised not to find any of the lighter mystery authors not included. I also noted that the first book listed under Robb was listed as forthcoming though it's been out well over a month, so whatever is flipping that switch in the database is a little behind. 

I couldn't find anything that looked like a series recommendation, so I clicked off to the help screen, typed in series recommendations and a few clicks and new windows later, I found the EBSCO help instructions for finding series recommendations. In a Word doc though? Why wasn't this a webpage instead of a download? So back to the main screen with J D Robb, click the series button, and looked at what I got. First was Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake series which I would decidedly NOT consider comparable. Very different genre and significantly more NSFW status, that one. However some of the others in the remaining 9 leaned more toward the romantic suspense end of things, so might be considered somewhat comparable. 

2: Save several of those selections to your folder.
Did. Did so by clicking on the folder icon since I wasn't sure what the save icon would do. (I'm curious: the save icon is traditionally a 3.5 floppy. Anybody else wondering if that will change since hardly any of the youngsters know what a 3.5 floppy is anymore?)

3: Often librarians are asked about books in series order. Use NoveList or NoveList K-8 to find a series in series order. (hint: search on the author and use the Series tab at the top of the results list)
I switched over to Nalini Singh on this one, because I was curious as to how the results list would get ordered with the novellas published in anthologies, to see if they'd be in initial date publishing order. (Robb has those too, but with as many as there were in that series, it would take me forever to find them). As it turned out, 2 of the three were in the list in story-line-based chronological order. The third was listed at the end, decidedly in no order at all: neither story-based nor publication-based. So that confused me a little. But it wouldn't necessarily have affected the reader that much--there were only a few clues in one of the regular novels to indicate that this particular novella immediately preceded it. 

4: Check out the Resources section – Readers Advisory Toolbox – on NoveList or the How To Use NoveList support center. What parts of the NoveList website do you thing will be most useful to your patrons?
I'd already briefly looked at the How To Use in my attempt to figure out instructions for the series recommendations. I don't work with patrons in this realm, so it's a little hard to assess the rest of that question. What I'd say is that the suggested authors would probably prove useful as well as the general searching for a book when you can't remember the exact details. The other benefit over other book searches is the ability to sort in order without getting every single reprint and new cover messing up the list--one of Amazon's greatest failures/lacks, IMO, where they rely on users to provide those lists and only give searchers the sort by publication date option. 

Because I have to...

I worked at Waldenbooks many years ago while I was in college and for a few years after. One day this girl in her late teens/early 20s walks in and comes up to the desk. She says something to the effect of "I can't remember what the book is called but for some reason I think of rabbits." I said (with nary a pause): "The Necromonicon?" She says: "YES!" We walk back to the appropriate shelf, I pull it for her, I ring it up, she pays, she walks out, very happy. I look over at my boss who had watched this whole exchange and who is sitting there sputtering "what the, what the, what the... How did you DO that?" To which, even now, I still have no answer. Had never read the book in question, the girl was dressed preppy, and I have no idea how rabbits enter into the question. Now THAT'S reader's advisory. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Just realized: ADR

Those of you here to read my stuff for the Alaska's Digital Resources class probably don't want to wade through the off-topic postings since this is still my regular blog too and I don't want that to go on hiatus for 3 months. So if you look to the right-hand column part-way down you'll see the calendar of postings and can click on whichever ADR one you want. And you're welcome to read my other stuff, but you certainly don't have to do that.

The Strumpet Manifesto

A friend used the word strumpet the other day in reference to a "tea and strumpets" party which she usually attends. And it got me to thinking.

There's a lot being said right now about the word slut, which, no matter how you try to ennoble it, just doesn't seem to get there. I originally thought I'd like to do a call to arms: Strumpets Unite! I think, though, that part of the problem here is when people start thinking about other people as groups, instead of individuals, it becomes easier to place labels and stereotype and not to think about them as individuals. Words like slut become easier to throw around without thinking. Just like the classic and much more ubiquitous and insidious: What do women want? What do women want? Who knows? Who cares? The only reason to ask such a question would be in hopes that the answer will allow you to stop thinking about the woman in front of you as a individual with her own wishes, desires, interests. It's a shortcut. Is that such a good idea? (Hear the resounding and echoing NO! in the distance?)

I looked up strumpet in the Oxford Dictionary of English. Among other things, it defined strumpet as "a promiscuous woman." (1)  So I looked up promiscuous and the etymology of that word said it was based on miscere, which is the Latin for "to mix." I quote: "The early sense was 'consisting of elements mixed together'" (2) which for me, pretty much confirms it. Except the woman part. I think guys can and should be strumpets too.

So this is my Strumpet Manifesto. If it works for you? Great. If not? Write your own. Nobody said we had to be in lockstep. In fact, maybe we'll be doing the world an educational favor if we each--no matter our gender or whatever label is being applied--insist on being treated as a sole person, not to be stereotyped, not to have assumptions made about us. There may be strength in numbers, but sometimes, just sometimes, there's strength in one.

But hey, I'm an archivist. Unique is my raison d'ĂȘtre. I might borrow, adapt, refine, alter, and frequently do. The end result, though, is me.  And if this strumpet stands alone? So be it. As long as I'm recognized as an individual, that works for me. And this list is in progress. I just wanted to get what I could down while I was thinking about it. I may add to it at times. Twelve seemed a good starting point.
  • I will respect the knowledge and experience of people who have knowledge and experience I don't.
  • There's always something to learn.
  • I want to remain open to differing perspectives. That doesn't mean I have to approve of all of them.
  • I don't need to tell people absolutely everything I know.
  • I respect people's choices to be called what they wish to be called and to be defined by what they wish to be defined.
  • I do not respect those names and definitions when applied by anyone else without the consent of those who are being labeled.
  • Damage to people around me may be inevitable, but I can try and limit the amount of damage I do and apologize when I find out I've done it. 
  • Conversations and discussions are better than lectures, but occasionally lectures have their uses.
  • I have many friends who I cherish and no two of them are alike.
  • It's FUN to have diversity in my life.
  • My life is a work in progress.
  • The price of admission into my life? Is respect.
And now that I've been thinking about it? Please write your own. Share the link to it below. Steal from mine if you want, if it applies. Or don't. Whatever works for you.

1."strumpet;" noun. Oxford Dictionary of English. Edited by Angus Stevenson. Oxford University Press, 2010.Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Alaska Anchorage - State Wide. 14 March 2012;>

2."promiscuous;" adjective. Oxford Dictionary of English. Edited by Angus Stevenson. Oxford University Press, 2010. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Alaska Anchorage - State Wide. 14 March 2012;>

Sunday, March 11, 2012

ADR-2: Genealogical Resources.

Question 1: [summarized] using the various resources in HeritageQuest, search for a grandparent.
Okay, I did it, knowing darn well I wasn't going to get anywhere with my family. My mom's folks emigrated to the US in the early-mid 1920s and wound up in Detroit by 1930 but since that census year isn't indexed for MI yet, no such luck and I'm not about to read all of the Detroit returns to see if I can find them. My dad emigrated to the States in the 1950s, and so nothing in the US census for them, either. I did search on my dad's last name and found 2 people listed with it: Gottleib Schmuland in WI in the 1900 and 1920 (listed as 30 in 1900 and 55 in 1920 and not found in the 1910) and a Julia Schmuland in Spokane WA (curiously enough where my folks have retired to now) in 1910.

I spent 2 years of my undergrad working on encoding the 1900 ID census for computer processing for the Idaho Population Project (IPOP) back in the day when computers didn't crunch words so well, so I know for myself what a challenge it can be to read handwritten censuses and transcribe them well. I use the census--occasionally--to try and track down snippets of information on Alaskans in villages (usually easier to read through those short schedules) so this is one of the online resources I consider myself familiar with. So I skipped the second exercise, since I've done it a bunch of times in past, and even played with printouts a little.

Zero hits on my mother's or father's surnames on the rest of the resources, as anticipated. With the exception of the US Serials Set on which I got this response:
Which since you probably can't read that small, tells me that due to licensing restrictions, academic institutions do not have access to this area of HeritageQuest Online. So much for speeding things up by using my work connect.

As the ADR-Anchorage group was talking on Saturday, somebody, I don't recall who, mentioned that as an archivist I probably dealt with genealogists all the time. It surprised more than one of them when I said "not so much." Our archives has a lot of organizational records and materials created/collected by Alaskan individuals and families, but unless we have the papers of your family or friends of your family, chances are we won't have a lot of material of interest to most genealogists or family historians. Or maybe not that we don't have it, what we do have is scattered, our materials for the most part aren't item-level named indexed, and so somebody doing more general research is unlikely to find the time/result ratio in their favor--best chance is that they'll find scattered and occasional items after having had to go through box after box after box of material, even assuming they were to find collections in our holdings with some sort of connect to the individual for whom they were searching and get it narrowed that far, at least.  A lot of the types of documents of broad genealogical value: birth/death/marriage records are either governmental or church documented, and the governmental stuff is in governmental archives and church documents in church hands or similar. The Russian Orthodox Alaska Diocese vital records index is held by the Library of Congress and is available on microfilm in many large libraries in Alaska.

But when I worked for the Utah State Archives and taught sessions on the types of records that people interested in doing Utah-related genealogy might find at the state archives there, even then I didn't see a lot of genealogists. This was due to two things: the huge presence just down the street of the LDS main Family History Library which held microfilm copies of many of the records we had plus international ones as well, and that a lot of Utah genealogists were doing the research not so much for finding the stories of ancestors, but tracking the family trees. And a lot of the marriage/death/cemetery/birth/probate records we had were indexed with dates and names so that was about as far as many of the genealogists we saw got into our records: just confirming dates and names.

What I found interesting in the Alaska-specific documents shared in this week's material was the mention of how few court records were included. Or vital stats. A few years back I called up the state's Vital Records office and attempted to inquire as to when the state/territory started keeping birth/death certificates. And was basically told it was none of my business unless I was looking up an ancestor. Which shocked me! I still think maybe the receptionist I got didn't know the answer and didn't entirely understand why I was asking the question if I wasn't looking up a family member, but I'll admit to not having pursued it further. Does anybody know the answer to this? When did Alaska's government start tracking births & deaths?

Because in other states/territories, governmental tracking of births/deaths mostly started round about 1895-1905. I read a really fascinating book a few years back (title/author escapes me now) and one of the small side points to it was the explanation that it was really the Populist movement of that time frame that got governments to start doing birth/death certificates/registers. Because at the heart of it was public health. If you're interested in infant mortality rates (for example), you need to document the deaths of infants. And in order to document the deaths of infants, you kind of have to document the birth of infants. I realize this is a gross overgeneralization of the causal relationship here, but this is exactly why birth and death certificates--in most places--were handled by the state or local departments of health, and still are in many places. That's why the quantity of genealogical information in these documents may vary in quantity from place to place: the department of health wasn't necessarily thinking that someday these records would be useful to genealogists, but they were thinking in terms of immediate statistical and epidemiological needs. That they've ended up being so useful to genealogists is just serendipity.

Related to that (since I'm on my birth/death certificate soapbox now) I used to have to point out to researchers that you couldn't entirely trust the genealogical information appearing on death certificates, especially. Because generally it was filled out by a grieving family member who may or may not have been emotionally capable of dealing with the questions at the time. Or if it was filled out by a more distant relative or friend, would they necessarily know the accurate ancestry details? Speaking of family without a clue, my mom just found out in the last couple of years that her mother, Helen Ulm Milchner, who has been gone since the 1980s, wasn't named Helen (and that's probably one of the reasons I've never found her in the Ellis Island database) her birth name was Magdalena. We believe it was switched to Helena when she immigrated to the US and then eventually shortened to Helen which is what she went by most of her adult life. You can imagine the family confusion after my grandfather's death in 2005 when one of my aunts found an insurance policy made out to Magdalena Milchner. Everybody wondered who was this woman my grandfather had named a beneficiary in the 1930s! I'll note I haven't found her under Magdalena either in the Ellis Island database, but I did find my dad's dad & siblings who apparently on their way from Russia via Liverpool to Saskatchewan crossed Ellis Island and show up in one of the ship manifests there.

But back to court records, naturalization records are phenomenal for genealogical information, especially for those of us who are first, second, or third generation Americans!  You can often find the where/when in census and from there find the courts that would have handled the process. This is a guide we used when I worked at the Utah State Archives regarding the how-tos and whys of using naturalization records for genealogical purposes. It's Utah-based, of course, but since naturalizations were largely handled the same way nation-wide, there's a ton of excellent information in there on how these records were kept, when they were kept, and how you might go about finding them (Utah or otherwise) AND what types of information you might expect to see in them.

Toward the end of our ADR-Anchorage meeting on Saturday, we got to talking and foreseeing things about week 2's lesson. We all had a lot of fun comparing not so much our genealogies as all the stories of genealogy gone wrong. Like when somebody was interviewing my paternal grandfather and he somehow managed to add an extra son to his list of children including a date of birth, which is now in a print book somewhere. My grandmother, who knew darn well there was no extra John in the family on any date, just sat and didn't correct him while my grandfather misinformed the nice man doing all the hard interview work. One of the other librarians shared that in her family, all the women were named some variant of Sarah but never went by the variant by which they were named and used a different one, which could probably get a genealogist trying to track this down years later to tear out his or her hair! Or the fact that the banks all use our mother's maiden names and places of birth as their security questions except that whoever had the bright idea to use that apparently never thought about genealogists and the fact that they tend to share that information widely: does this make us more likely to get our accounts hacked?

But that's [more than] enough from me, once again. I'm going to go read the articles and call it done for this week. Elapsed time? A LOT less than last week! I'm really sorry I'm going to miss next Saturday's meet-up since I'll be out of town: I suspect the conversation will be really lively again! By the way, if you're going to be in Anchorage one of these Saturdays and want to join us, it's open to all. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for the group. We're not currently planning to move the date or time, but just in case.