Federal Funding Impact Story #11

Project: Archives, Astoria Public Library

This post is the 11th in the series “Federal Funding Impact Stories,” as published on the ArchivesAWARE blog. As archivists, librarians, and museum professionals, we know how our collections, institutions, and local communities have benefited from grant funding from federal agencies, such as: Institute of Museum and Library Services, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Personal impact is powerful. Submitted stories will be posted to the ArchivesAWARE blog by the SAA Committee on Public Awareness, and promoted by the Society of American Archivists through their website and social media channels. All posts will be tagged #ImpactStories, along with tags for the funding agency and the state where the home institution is located. We hope to gather stories representing all types of archival repositories, and in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, so please consider sharing your story–no impact is too small when it comes to advocating for federal support for the arts and humanities!

This Federal Funding Impact Story comes to us from Astoria Public Library, located in Astoria, Oregon. Astoria is a port city situated at the junction of the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean. It was named after John Jacob Astor, an investor from New York City whose American Fur Company founded Fort Astoria in 1811. Astoria holds the distinction of being the first, permanent, non-Native American settlement on the Pacific coast. The collection holds nearly 70,500 physical items, including historical materials unique to Astoria and the Pacific Northwest region. The City of Astoria’s earliest records are general ledgers, lien documents, general warrants, planning maps, and settler-era cemetery records. In addition, there are materials documenting Astoria’s growth specific to logging, salmon, cannery industries, and additional port-related activities.

Federal Funding Information

Background

This archive initiative began when Jimmy Pearson became the Library Director at Astoria Public Library in October 2016. For decades, archive materials dated from the present to before the founding of Astoria (1811) collected in the library basement. A previous lack of interest and resources meant the collections remained dormant and unidentified until recently: 2018. With an Oregon Heritage grant ($21,700), Director Pearson engaged a consulting historian and archivist, and put together a plan for approximately 1200 linear feet of historical materials. Under Pearson’s leadership, a team of experts and library volunteers worked to complete a collection assessment that identified needs and recommendations.  Training for handling and processing archival collections was delivered and an amazing cadre of volunteers have since processed approximately half of the collection. With an assessment performed and actionable activities identified, the next phase for the library was to find a sustainable yet effective method of publishing collections online for the community to access freely.

A note on the critical role local grants play.

It’s important to note that the Oregon Heritage grant was the first grant the library received for work on the basement archives, and it allowed the library to bring in additional expertise to help guide necessary foundation work. Upon successfully completing the grant, Director Pearson was able to seek out and secure both an Oregon Cultural Trust and an Institute for Museum and Library Services grants for FY2020 and FY2021. The work completed during the Oregon Heritage grant provided an essential underpinning to the application requests. Information gathered during the collection assessment, the adoption of a clear collection plan, and an existing base of trained volunteers helped create a compelling case for further funding. For organizations that are just starting out or are newer to grant writing, applying for local grants is a necessary first step and should be included in their funding strategy.

In March 2022, APL received a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant to digitize The Astoria Toveri. The Toveri was a newspaper produced by the Finnish community in Astoria in the early-20th century. The grant will be used to support a partnership with the University of Oregon Libraries’ Oregon Digital Newspaper Program. Digitization efforts will begin between July 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023

Specific to the IMLS grant, what was the need for the grant?

The archive collection was locked in the basement, unprocessed, and forgotten—for decades. No one knew what was down there, the community couldn’t access the materials, and the items remained largely unused in any regional history work. Two previous grants helped to facilitate assessment, identification, and description of the collections, but nothing was online. It was impossible to find the treasure trove of historical materials unless you knew about the basement in Astoria’s public library. The next step for the library was to shift to digital, but digitization, description creation, and cataloging projects are a massive undertaking—especially for a small, rural library. Additionally, a platform needed to be selected to facilitate the storage and presentation of the digitized collection.

What did the IMLS-funded project do to help meet this need?

With the IMLS grant, the library was able to thoughtfully research and select a platform that incorporates the following:

  • Digital preservation best practices
  • Archival descriptive standards
  • Easy to use for all user types
  • Financially sustainable
  • Facilitates online collection access  

Once a platform was in place, the team was able to move forward with describing, cataloging, and publishing 500 collection items to be available online.  

Where we found best practices meets sustainability.

Permanent.org meets a majority of the library’s identified needs for an online collection platform. In choosing Permanent.org, the library was able to use the IMLS award to cover the 1x cost for joining. (There is no annual cost). This fiscal advantage means Director Pearson doesn’t have to worry about finding money annually to cover the cost. Additionally, as Permanent.org is cloud-based with a supportive team and community, the library can benefit from Permanent.org-provided support—keeping the cost of outside technical support down.  For the library, Permanent.org offered the best balance of: easy to use, meets digital preservation best practices, and is financially sustainable. In other words, it’s permanent.

To offer a balanced perspective, it is important to note that Permanent.org wasn’t originally created for archives, and doesn’t host the usual data fields we’ve come to expect. Currently, to meet basic requirements for Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS), missing data fields like “Creator” or “Identifier” have to use the tag field to capture the information. For example: “Creator:John Smith”. On a technical level this appears to meet DACS, though not in the traditional way we are used to.

For more on Permanent.org, please check out this webinar.

For more information on how Astoria Public Library is using Permanent.org, check out the Family Archiving with Permanent.org and Rachael Woody webinar that originally aired on September 20, 2021.

Abstract: Amberly Russell, Preservation Services Manager at Permanent hosts this informative talk about Preservation Services and what it is like working to create lasting legacies online. In this webinar we speak to Professional Archivist Consultant Rachael Cristine Woody about her experiences creating digital archives online for family and organizations.

Link: https://youtu.be/_hySRr2KWTg

Without volunteers, this project would not have been possible. No, seriously.

The COVID-19 pandemic altered our ability to do the project as originally envisioned. A squad of the library’s volunteers had received updated training and were meant to facilitate digitization and description work. This was no longer possible due to pandemic-related closures and limitations. Fortunately, the IMLS grant included budget lines for a consulting archivist and historian who now needed to perform the bulk of the descriptive work. But even this work wouldn’t have been possible without the thousands of volunteer hours invested prior to this project. For example, digital archivist volunteer, Eric Williams spent more than five years scanning items in the collection. When it was clear the IMLS project would need to be altered and mostly remote, the project was able to pull from the hundreds of items that had already been digitized, helpfully labeled, and available via Dropbox—thanks to Mr. Williams. Additionally, prior to the pandemic, Clatsop Community College students contributed to collection care, management, and identification while under John Goodenberger’s supervision. Their work provided insight into multiple facets of the collection and were the basis for descriptive work. Director Pearson notes that 1200 volunteer hours were contributed during this project thanks to Ove and Barbara Rasmussen, and Eric Williams.

In April 2022, Eric Williams was named an Oregon Heritage Commission Standout Heritage Volunteer as part of the Oregon Heritage Excellence Awards. Please join us in congratulation Eric on this well-deserved acknowledgement!

COVID-19 forced a reimagining of community outreach.

Available federal funding has a natural focus on how the award will benefit the community. Originally, the outreach the library intended to do involved onsite collection tours and a traveling lecture series. Neither of these were possible during 2020 and 2021. However, Director Pearson and the consultants were able to reimagine the in-person events into virtual events and recordings. There is now a YouTube playlist of collection features, an Ask Me Anything event, and showcasing the collections online. Below is a link to the playlist and a few example videos.

The Astoria Public Library playlist on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLRbHqbP8MyF0bNamQW-_RcKnjiG1RJVgW

The Astoria Public Library Archive Collections are Online, published October 28, 2021.

Abstract: This video announces the completion of an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant to digitize, describe, and publish 500 historical artifacts online via Permanent.org. Jimmy Pearson (Library Director) introduces the recorded announcement followed by Rachael Woody (archivist) and John Goodenberger (historian) who discuss the IMLS project, explain how they adapted their work due to COVID-19, and showcase the final product with Goodenberger highlighting several of the items and their interconnection. The collections can be viewed on Permanent.org here: https://https://www.permanent.org/p/archive/03pw-0000.

Link: https://youtu.be/r8cSsEO73FI

Ask Me Anything: Astoria Public Library’s Historical Collections, published December 17, 2020.

Abstract: This is an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session where City of Astoria historian John Goodenberger and consulting archivist Rachael Woody team up to answer questions related to the history of Astoria and the treasure trove of historical artifacts found in the basement of the Astoria Public Library. This webinar was made possible thanks to the Astor Library Friends Association and the Oregon Cultural Trust.

Link: https://youtu.be/wzM9bstOPcc

Featuring the August Hildebrand Collection from Astoria Public Library, published November 14, 2020.

Abstract: This video features items from the August Hildebrand collection. Listen in as city historian John Goodenberger shares highlights from the collection with consulting archivist, Rachael Woody. This project was made possible thanks to the Oregon Cultural Trust.

Link: https://youtu.be/wPnEUeAF2K4

What was the primary impact of this project?

The historical collections at Astoria Public Library are now online via Permanent.org! The immediate and obvious impact is the library was able to acquire a critically necessary tool for broader access to the historical materials. The IMLS award made it possible for the library to implement Permanent.org and upload more than 500 digitized and described collection items. Thanks to the IMLS award and previous volunteer work, the library could continue making progress on the archive in an adjusted form. Finally, reimagined outreach in the form of videos has already attracted attention and use by Astorians, historians, the Preservation Artisans Guild of Portland (OR), and the great-granddaughter of August Hildebrand (the creator of one of our featured collections)!

APL would like to thank John Goodenberger and Eric Williams for their extensive contributions toward chronicling the history of Astoria, Oregon. This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services Grant: LG-27-19-0187-19.

About the Author: Rachael Cristine Woody is the owner of Rachael Cristine Consulting, a firm that provides services to archives, museums, and cultural heritage organizations. Rachael holds an MSLIS with a concentration in archives management, and more than 15 years of experience in history organizations — including the Smithsonian Institution and the Oregon Wine History Archive.

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