This is the latest post in our series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of archivists in society. In this installment, COPA member Kristi Chanda interviews Julie Rockwell, archivist and “lone arranger” from Pennsylvania’s East Broad Top Railroad.
KC: What are your responsibilities at East Broad Top Railroad?
JR: First, I’m a Lone Arranger. I was hired in April of last year to herald the East Broad Top Railroad’s new Archives and Special Collections program, and I’m pretty much heralding everything from the beginning – from scratch. I’m actually building the program. The East Broadtop Railroad National Historic landmark was in operation during its Common Carrier Era, as we call it, from its developments in 1856 to its closing in 1956. There was a little lag time in operations where it then went into tourist railroad operations, which basically stopped in 2011. The actual historic site was dormant until a new foundation, the EBT Foundation, purchased the railroad. There’s 33 miles of property that encompasses the National Historic Landmark, and they hired an archivist to tackle the inestimable amount of paper materials. bound volumes, ephemera, physical objects that encompass what we would call, either museum collections or typical organizational records and archives. I basically walked into a passenger station, which was built in 1906. In the station are 3 fireproof brick vaults, each between 950 and 1,400 cubic feet, and all of them 12 to 14 feet high. The vaults are filled with materials that have basically never been touched since the Common Carrier Era. Also, the headquarters of East Broad Top was in Philadelphia so all of those materials, when the railroad closed down, came to the Orbisonia passenger station. All of what we call the tourist excursion era, all of those documentation and recordings of office and records management stayed in the vault. We’re also starting to collect this new revitalization and restoration documentation of the railroad, which is to become a steam excursion railroad once again. I came in with an overwhelming, daunting task. I can’t thank the Johns Hopkins dual Museum Studies and Digital Curation Program, from which I graduated in December of 2020, for offering, and really preparing me for these foundational skills. I was able to take the courses in the foundations of archives, digital preservation and curation, and collections and catalog management, and really see archives from a bigger picture lens of what preservation means, and how much it takes to advocate for preservation purposes. For the EBT, I started to understand what materials we have, the conditions they are in, and what I can do to better secure and better environmentally protect the materials that are basically in a station that was built in the early twentieth century, considerations that have never been addressed before. I knew I had to build a mission statement, a scope of collections, a collections management policy, access and use policy, and all of the policies that are under that umbrella of preservation.
I also knew I needed help. I reached out to the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia. I was familiar with the Conservation Center. I had attended many online seminars and was also able to meet contacts there through PA Museums and the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH).
I called my contact up, and I said guess what i’m doing, and I know that we need a third party assessment. This was the only way that we could leverage big picture funding, and to have that deeper lens into what exactly we need from a conservation and preservation professional viewpoint and perspective. The Conservation Center experts were able to meet me and various advocates on the Foundation Board, as well as their sister organization, an all volunteer organization (and both of these are non-profit), the Friends of the East Broad Top. I had these particular constituents come together, meet with Dyani Feige and her preservation team, along with the director of the Conservation Center. After a couple of months, we were able to set up the ability to have an archival preservation needs assessment conducted. The greatest thing about this is that we have incredible donors who were able to fund this assessment.
Our mission, protecting, preserving, and providing access, not only to the historic site and to the railroad, could now address this deeper lens and the beauty of what we can find in the contextual layers of all of these archival materials. This mission is something that keeps me thinking about the archives every day, every night, and gets me up every morning.
KC: How did you prioritize your collections?
JR: It was first to really get an idea of the scope of what we have. I was fortunate last summer to have an intern from one of the local colleges, and the first priority was to do a spot inventory. We were able to go into every area that we could find,what we would call archival materials,identify them by giving a general title, location, and noting the condition of the materials. Some items that need triaging would definitely be maps and drawings that the railroad operations actually need to help restore: track engines, box cars, different rolling stock, etc. Inventory pretty much took all summer and I’m actually still in the process of doing it. Almost every day I find something, and or someone has texted me that has another box of stuff on my desk. So it’s really an inestimable amount of linear feet but I’ve estimated between 3500 and 5000 ft of linear materials. The other triage that I focused on were the bound volumes. I do have bound volumes that are pretty depreciating, regarding conditions in terms of the bindings. However, all of the material inside, the documentation, is quite intact, which is fabulous. But just to make sure that they’re not handled, we have stored them separately. I did store them in bins. Unfortunately they’re not acid-free. I’m doing everything on a shoestring budget. I am doing the “good enough” practices that I know that when I reach the next level, once I get a line item, funding, and a storage facility/repository, then I will be able to go to the next levels of preservation and conservation and have the materials reviewed by a conservator. For now they’re wrapped in acid-free paper, and they’re put away.
KC: What projects are you in the process of working on and what ones have you completed?
JR: Most important for me, I think as a Lone Arranger, is to know that there can be someone there to assist. I have 2 volunteers from the Friends, one is Scarlett Wirt. She worked with collections with the National Park Service, and she has organizational record experience. We also have, who we call the primary EBT scholar and historian, Dr. Lee Rainey, who knows everything you could imagine about the East Broad Top Railroad. They have been what we call our worker bees. The new archives task force appointed the 3 of us to work together closely. We have met almost every Tuesday on Zoom since last August, after I completed my initial report. We are building the program together. We are still developing policy and procedures. We know we can’t move forward unless we have many policies and procedures in place. Having the mission statement, having our goals and a strategic plan for at least the first 2 years, and then moving into the access and use policy, the scope of collections and all of those that will fall under environmental conditions is a priority. The second component of that is my experience with digital curation and what I learned in school and applying this knowledge for the born digital records that are coming out of the Foundation, which is very important. We’re understanding that many grants will really want you to already have a collection online and public access in place. We don’t have an accessible reading room and we haven’t formally processed collections yet. Also, looking at the next step of digitization is making sure we have the right hardware and digital storage. We just purchased our computer workstation. So, making sure that all of my digital content is going to be safe, secure, and that the integrity of the digital objects and data are going to be in long-term, sustainable condition is a priority. Then there’s the digitization policy and making sure that the selected collections are doable, and that there’s a balance between that selection and also of what the public would like to see. For example, I just documented the workflow of how to protect a map with mylar and that might seem very simple to many of us who are experienced in archives, but when I’m bringing on volunteers and interns, I want them to learn the right way. So it’s building all of these different layers, so we can actually, yes, scan our first small collection, which was a donation that we received last year and actually take it through the entire archival processing methodology, from the appraisal, the arrangement, the description, and then finally producing a finding aid, plus having the collections digitized and then accessible online. I’m kind of doing everything, well, all at once.
KC: What are some of the obstacles you have encountered and how did you overcome them?
JR: Last summer, Sammy, my intern, and I mostly worked on the second floor of the passenger station, and we would have a designated space for one day, but maybe that space would have to change. So we’d have to move our work for the day to another area.
We would have maps splayed out to try to conduct our inventory on these small little tables.
We didn’t have a space to call ours. I basically said that I don’t know what else I can do unless I have a designated space, that is, for the archives. I need tables to lay out materials, and I need shelves to at least start putting bins of materials on so they’re kept off the floor, and also to create my computer workstation. Having that space and advocating for that space was really critical, and having the necessary, organizational support from the management.
The other challenge to overcome is having people believe in the archives. Unfortunately, creating a formal archive was not, at first, a priority. I imagine the conversation starting with, “Oh, by the way, what are we going to do with all of these paper materials?” Many inherently understood the value of them, but they didn’t necessarily see the bigger picture of hiring someone to actually do that type of work. So I think that the biggest challenge right now is that I’m funded by donations, and I’m only funded part-time. Advocating for my role as the archivist is kind of like singing for my supper, and that can be very exhausting. There’s a balance between showing them what we can do, and I say “we,” because I think that we have a community of passionate people that are working for the EBT and I’m the leader heralding the archives work, but also helping the public understand that they need to support the archives. Together, through the organization and the public, there’s more advocacy coming from all points of the spectrum. The public desires to see the materials. The Foundation and the Friends need to make sure that the archives continue with their organizational legacies and with their mission statements, which align with ours – to protect, preserve, and provide this access, and also allows for me to continue doing this work. Or, it just falls apart. So it’s a balance of doing the work and advocating for the work.
KC: What goals do you have moving forward?
JR: My goal is to just keep doing the work strategically and carefully. I’ve been really mindful and open to understanding my limitations. I think the Foundation knows my general manager has been really happy to find someone who is adaptable and flexible, and not perhaps expected in a more established archives. I guess you could say that I understand that there’s limited resources. When you see where we started from last April to what we see now, we’ve done a heck of a lot to have a formal preservation needs assessment report in our hands, to have a great space where I can work, a designated space assigned in January specifically for the archives, to have the funding to keep me going for at least this year, having Sammy return after he graduates this spring as an assistant, and also to have another college intern work on a specific project funded by a grant. We applied for a grant from the National Railroad Historical Society for our maps and drawings project so we can purchase a wide format scanner, and actually start processing the inestimable amount of these materials. With hopefully getting this first grant, we hope we can garner more funding. We can advocate for more permanent funding also make sure that we have our T’s crossed and our I’s dotted to to leverage grant funding and become more prepared to be competitive. I think that the goal is just to keep doing the work and know that it’s time-consuming, it’s tedious, but I can’t imagine doing anything else right now,
KC: What lessons have you learned and what tools/skills have you developed as a result of your experience?
JR: More leadership skills in the archives and trusting that it’s not what I’m always physically doing, but mentally knowing what work needs to be done. I credit a lot of this understanding from the Society of American Archivists (SAA). This will be my third year that I’ve been a member, and I feel that the organization’s inclusivity to archivists at all stages of the field is encouraging. I don’t necessarily like using the word ‘emerging’ because I think we all start from somewhere, and we build upon all of the different experiences that we have at different times in our careers. We’re always ‘emerging’. This is my fourth career, so I come from a long history of project management, being a director in the theater, teaching culinary arts and teaching American history. I come to this work from different perspectives and different career sets and skill sets, which makes me believe that archivists can have many talents and many different roadmaps to lead them to this point. I think that SAA has really connected me with amazing archivists that are mentors. I can even learn something from them just by following them on Twitter. Also really understanding that resources are out there. Especially for all archivists is to understand that we’re all in this together. There are different SAA section groups such as Preservation, Lone Arrangers, Collections Management, and Museum Archives, and you know somebody is gonna be in that group who will be very willing to talk to you and answer a question and provide you with additional resources. So I think that it’s knowing how to network, knowing how to ask the right questions, and not being afraid to ask those questions. For example, reaching out to the Conservation Center was an epiphany that I had in the middle of the night. I’m so glad that I trusted my instincts to know that I can’t do this alone, and if I have to be a Lone Arranger, then at least I’m gonna have a posse behind me to help lead me on.
This is the latest post in our series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of archivists in society. In this installment, COPA member Claudia Willett interviews four members of SAA’s newest committee, the Committee on Research, Data and Assessment (CORDA), who provide an update on the Committee and one of its newest initiatives, the Facts+Figures website. Jennifer King and Erin Passehl Stoddart are co-chairs of CORDA and Dennis Meissner and Chris Marino serve on the Facts+Figures team that led the redesign of the website.
What is CORDA?
The mission of the Committee on Research, Data and Assessment (CORDA) is to elevate awareness of archives by making central the role that research, data and assessment play in our ability as archivists to tell the story and show the impact of archives. There are many ways to increase awareness of archives – and one of the most powerful ways is to reveal trends and increase awareness through understanding data. How does CORDA elevate the importance of research and innovation, you might ask? CORDA provides access to significant and useful data and research about SAA, American archives, and their users that evidence the value of archives for society and help us improve our services to SAA members and to our consumers. The Committee supports research and creates, gathers, and preserves data by directing and engaging in these areas of activity:
● Providing SAA members with standardized tools for gathering and analyzing data;
● Providing a repository or portal for data and other research outputs;
● Providing training on gathering, analyzing, interpreting, and using data; and
● Providing up-to-date and reliable basic facts and figures about archives and archivists
Rounding out our charge is the task of asserting a research agenda to help guide research, assessment and data going forward.
Since establishment in 2019, CORDA has established and manages the SAA Dataverse; the SAA Facts and Figures website; training for archivists to conduct research; and an inclusively developed research and innovation roadmap to frame the profession’s work going forward. Accomplishing the above in a fairly short period of time has been made possible through the exceptional work of our committee.
Tell us about the Facts+Figures [F+F] microsite.
Facts+Figures (F&F) is designed to provide users with quick and simple access to information resources important to archivists or their constituencies. The resources on the site share the common quality of being derived from data – data compiled or created by archivists as a result of their research, data about archivists and archives from external agencies, and tools to enhance archival practice resulting from research data.
The newly redesigned F+F site is divided into three content channels: SAA Data Repository (SAA Dataverse), Evaluation + Assessment, and Tools + Resources. The Data Repository supports the deposit and reuse of datasets for purposes of fostering knowledge, insights, and a deeper understanding of archives and archivists. The page contains a search bar that enables users to search across the Dataverse and learn about the submission procedures and collection development policy. The Evaluation + Assessment channel may include at-a-glance dashboards, charts, graphs, reports, fact sheets and quick guides that support advocacy, explain archives and archivists to external entities, and provide insight into the functions of archivists and their repositories. The Tools + Resources channel may include software recommendations to perform tasks, how-to instructions and guidelines, checklists, best-practice guides, and self-assessment tools to employ data in support of advocacy efforts and in assessing archival impact.
Unlike the Facts and Figures page that preceded it, the reimagined F+F will be actively curated by CORDA and is a dynamic resource that will be augmented with new content items on a continuing basis. It will be a resource for archivists to turn to for quick information to aid them in advocacy efforts, to help them benchmark their performance against peers, and to adopt or adapt tools to make their work easier or conform better to best practices.
Do you see a role for data as an archival advocacy and awareness tool?
Yes! It is hard to imagine a more powerful storytelling tool than data. In fact, it is that desire that drove the creation of CORDA. In his SAA presidential address, “Bare Necessities,” Dennis Meissner argued that SAA must “concentrate on gathering, evaluating, and presenting the real quantitative and qualitative evidence that supports all the compelling narratives and theoretical arguments about the value of archives. We need this evidence because we have struggled for many years with the challenge of demonstrating the ‘value’ of archives via anything resembling objective measures.” He proposed that SAA form a Committee on Research and Evaluation (CORE), with a goal “to provide access to compelling data about American archives and their users that speak to the value of archives for society and that also help us improve our services to our consumers.”
In addition to archivists, who might benefit from these resources?
Funding, policies, and cultural heritage priorities are better informed when decision-makers have access to regular and reliable research, data and assessment. Future-thinking, forecasting and change initiatives grounded in facts and figures will best ensure that society values archives, and plans for the ongoing protections required to promote archival stewardship.
Research, data and assessment is also critical for auditing our efforts as repositories. Efforts like A*CENSUS I and II, and RepoData are more meaningful when data is gathered regularly and enables longitudinal analysis. Social reform is often made possible when decision-makers are confronted with incontrovertible data. As archivists, collections and records serve an evidentiary role and can impact decision making and analysis.
Management of archival resources requires short-term and long-range planning, and both always benefit from access to data. The need for data to underpin short-term and long-range planning is intensified during times of political instability, climate change, and interrogation of the racialization of memory work. Archivists, along with other professions in the cultural heritage fields, need centralized infrastructure for their assessment, data and research efforts, as well as an idea of how those efforts might be complementary efforts in a broader research framework. CORDA hopes that archivists will be inspired to see resources aggregated into a more coherent whole and inspired to help address gaps and all demand factual accounting of archival efforts.
What are the next steps for F+F?
Continue to build out and organize content for quick and simple access! Every archivist has their “go-to” resources that aid them in explaining their value, promoting themselves and their missions, and understanding their impacts and potential. We want to harness that knowledge and share it with the wider community. To contribute content to F+F, visit our microsite and click “suggest new content.”
 CORDA committee members, past and present: Nancy Beaumont (SAA Executive Director) Mary Biddle, Sarah Buchanan, Paul Conway (Chair), Julia Corrin (Education Committee Liaison), Courtney Dean, Jasmine Jones (Council Liaison), Jennifer King (Chair), Amanda Hawk, Cristina Horak, Gwendolyn Higgins, Carli Lowe, Chris Marino, Sarah Pratt Martin, Dennis Meissner, Nance McGovern (Ex Officio), Jacqualine Price Osafo (SAA Executive Director), Ricky Punzalan (Council Liaison), Erin Passehl Stoddart (Chair), Jennifer Wachtel (Education Committee Liaison).
This is the latest post in our series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of archivists in society. In this installment, COPA member Angie Piccolo interviews Julia Rosenzweig, Minda Matz and Nora Waters about their work on the Lesbian Elders Oral Herstory Project (LEOHP), a project of the the Lesbian Herstory Archives.
AP: Please describe the Lesbian Elders Oral Herstory Project.
Julia, Minda and Nora: The Lesbian Elders Oral Herstory Project is a project of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, a repository committed to collecting and sharing Lesbian stories. Through instructional workshops and interview guides, LEOHP facilitates intergenerational conversations that illuminate the experiences of the interviewees—their joys, challenges, and daily lives—resulting in vibrant oral history interviews. We hope that these Lesbian Elder Oral Herstories will offer experiential insight into the history of Lesbian culture and activism; complementing LHA’s already rich collection. For the purposes of our project Elders includes those 60 and up and, in addition to their life histories, we ask our interviewees to share their experiences or connection with the Lesbian Herstory Archives. This connection to LHA is the unifying theme of the Project, and could mean that they have material in the collection, have visited the space, have volunteered at LHA, they are a part of the herstory, or have used LHA materials in research, art, or writing.
The Project launched in January 2021 and is supported by a Mellon Foundation Community Archives Grant. As of the end of March 2022 we have had around 100 folks join in conversation with our Informational Sessions and there have been 25 interviews recorded so far.
AP: Where did the Lesbian Herstory Archives get the idea and what inspired them?
Julia, Minda and Nora: The Lesbian Herstory Archives was founded in the early 1970’s with the mission of preserving the records and activities of lesbian lives, and the goal of providing community access. Since its inception the Archives has been supported by a vibrant community of volunteers. With the support of donations the Archives was able to open its current home in a Brooklyn brownstone in 1994.
During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in June 2020, the doors to the brownstone were closed to volunteers and visitors. The idea of an oral history project that could continue the Archives’ mission of collecting the experiences of lesbians while weathering the pandemic—especially the stories of our Elders, who were and continue to be at risk—was a driving force. With the support of the Mellon Grant we were able to focus the concept and goals of the project beyond the tangible outcomes (an oral history interview and transcript) to what we were seeking; which was to replicate the intangible outcomes that LHA supports: community, connections, and knowledge sharing. Through facilitating informational sessions that bring together both prospective volunteer interviewees and interviewers, we create the space to foster these intangible outcomes right at the start of the interview process.
AP: What challenges or obstacles has your team faced putting this project together?
Julia, Minda and Nora: The LEOHP was originally conceived as facilitating both remote and, eventually, in-person interviews. We have pivoted to fully remote due to the ongoing nature of the COVID pandemic. However, this has been a positive as it has allowed us to expand beyond traditional geographic limitations when scheduling interviews. We have had interviewers and interviewees connect and share stories from Mexico, Canada, the UK, and across the United States!
Thanks to a large number of enthusiastic volunteers we do currently have more interviewers than interviewees signed up, which limits participation and we are still seeking more Lesbian Elders to join the Project.
AP: A few of the interviews have been posted on the website. Can you describe what the initial reaction has been so far from both the public and those involved in the project?
Julia, Minda and Nora: The initial reaction from the volunteers has been positive! We are honored to be providing the space for Elders to share their herstories, and to be facilitating the intergenerational relationships that have been formed during the interview process.
Both interviewers and interviewees have expressed gratitude at the opportunity to share their stories and contribute to the collective memory of Lesbians. These interviews can become quite intimate, and the emotional labor required to share these stories have been expressed as both cathartic and taxing. We are thankful for the openness, time, and emotional energy that this requires. It is an aspect that we consider of great importance, and is the genesis of our ethos of an on-going consent approach to the interviews, as well as the participatory transcript reviews.
Despite our public-facing website showcasing the interviews, we have not yet had any direct feedback from the public.
We are implementing a strategy to promote awareness and more wide-spread dissemination of the interviews. We plan to hold a Community Listening event at the close of the project (the end of 2022). Depending on the mandates and health advisories, we would love to host a hybrid in-person/remote event at the Archives. This event would neatly close out the project by continuing our ethos of encouraging intergenerational dialogue and fostering community, as well as to celebrate the voices that have generously dedicated their time and Herstories to this project.
AP: Are there any plans to continue the project?
Julia, Minda and Nora: As of now the interview portion of the project is currently scheduled to wind down at the end of the two year grant period in 2022, but we are hopeful that the grant will be extended so that more voices can be included. Any interviews that are collected will become a permanent part of the LHA collection allowing the Project to live on. In addition to the interviews available on the website there will be a viewing/listening station at the Archives where visitors can immerse themselves in the interviews while being surrounded by the books, ephemera, images, and voices of those that have come before.
This interview is part of the Archival Innovators series on the ArchivesAWARE blog. The Archival Innovator series aims to raise awareness of individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of archivists in society.
The ArchivesAWARE blog is ran by the Committee on Public Awareness (COPA), under the auspices of the Society of American Archivists. In this installment, Archivist and COPA Member, Rachael Cristine Woody, interviews Brian Pope, Founder and Executive Director of Arc/k Project. Arc/k Project is a nonprofit organization focused on a citizen-science approach to digital cultural heritage preservation.
Rachael: Okay, thank you for joining us. I am Rachel Woody, and I work with Society of American Archivists Committee on Public Awareness, and for today we are doing an Archival Innovator interview, and I am joined by a founder of an organization that is just amazing and I’m really excited to have a conversation with him, Brian, would you please introduce yourself and your organization.
Brain: Hi, sure. A pleasure. Thank you for having us Rachel. I’m Brian Pope, I’m the founder and executive director of Arc/k Project, which is a 501C3, a nonprofit that I started to generate a citizen science approach to digital cultural heritage preservation, specifically using techniques like LiDARr and photogrammetry.
Rachael: So, for Arc/k Project and and I know you got into just a little bit of this, but I would love for you to describe specifically the role that Arc/k project plays in preserving cultural heritage, at, how do you do it, I know there’s a lot to it and so, I mean, please feel free to share and describe as you see fit.
Brian: I think that our primary role, as we’ve defined it since the founding of the organization is disrupter, just difficult obnoxious unorthodox. We try to be literally deliberately, all kidding aside, a kind of disruptor in the sense that at the time that I founded Arc/k Project, I got very much a sense that there are inadvertent gatekeeper paradigms at play in how cultural heritage is archived, how it’s accessed and who gets to be a player in, in, in, archiving, in deciding what gets archived. and I, that hit me on a personal level because I guess I’m a person who tends not to really accept any barrier or boundary that I come across, and I myself have, you know, monolithic tastes I love monolithic architecture and so on, but I cannot, and never have accepted the idea that, that is all of heritage. Heritage is the intimate, heritage is how you personally define it, and I saw a niche that needed to be filled there in terms of how we define cultural heritage, how we archive it, who gets to decide how that heritage is archived and what resources can be brought to bear for it. And whether that is considered valid science and so that’’s actually one of the things that my organization uses as its rallying call, which is the ability to generate what is, you know, casually referred to as citizen science. We absolutely believe that archiving cultural heritage can be democratized and that citizens, the average person is completely capable of both deciding and executing a cultural archive for themselves and for their culture.
Rachael: I love that you described yourself as a disrupter, and, and I very much view it as like a badge of honor that you have definitely earned, and, and just wanted to note that, you know, the series is called Archival Innovators, and I have found in my experiences that you don’t have innovation, unless you are disrupting the status quo.
Brian: Agreed, agreed. You know, we actually employ a full time archivist, Michael Conyers, I think you’re acquainted with him, and he actually inadvertently gave me one of the greatest compliments I’ve been given since we’ve been engaging in our project, he called me and you may want to bleep this, I don’t know, shit disturber. I wear that badge with honor and pride. I think we all do at Arc/k Project. And it’s not that the archival community is in any way, lacking cultural heritage community there are some fantastic people that have given their life’s work for this right, but any organization, any institution, any workflow can almost always benefit, I think, from somebody from the outside, saying, wait a minute, let’s shake this up a little bit, let’s let’s rethink this you know, for better or worse,
Rachael: Mostly for better is what I’m seeing on this.
Brian: Thank you, very gracious Thank you.
Rachael: So, while we’re still on your origin story so to speak, yes, was there a particular catalyst event that the idea came to you to create our project, what inspired it?
Brian: There was, there were a few moments that were sort of offset in time but they played off one another. I was sitting in a cafe in Paris, struggling through the print version of Le Monde, if I recall, when I came across a story about ISIS project and it was one of the earlier reports of how they were basically doing an either cash and carry or destroying strategy toward cultural heritage. Anything that they couldn’t pick up and sell for illicit trafficking on gray and black arts markets, they would blow up. And at that point, the ancient city of Palmyra was being targeted. And the reason I say two parts, then for that catalytic moment was because it reminded me of, I must have been in my early 20s then, when I remember reading about what the Taliban had perpetrated against the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, and of course obviously as this interview is being recorded that’s incredibly timely. Once again, the Taliban has just within the last week, assumed full control at a staggering speed, that apparently nobody foresaw. No comment. And I remembered an extreme sense of hopelessness. When I had been you know, as a young man, seeing what was done against the Bamiyan Buddhas and then seeing something similar happening with ISIS and Syria, and Palmyra. And I remember simply rejecting that sense of helplessness, that sense of personal hopelessness and. And I also I will credit that moment with the realization that, look, these, these artifacts, whether they are monolithic heritage, or something much more intimate, say the recognition of the way a section of a city might change from one ethnic or demographic background to another. If we don’t track these things, we lose a sense of ourselves, and we lose a sense of both, where we come from yes, but then that makes us more vulnerable to manipulations about ideas of where we are going, and who we are. And because I was, I am a former visual effects artist who had very intimate knowledge of certain technologies that are casually used now in visual effects, I realized before I even found out that there were other organizations who had already begun doing things like this and that, in fact, there were techniques that were part of the cultural heritage community to scan heritage in 3d I realized that this was completely something in my wheelhouse, something that I could engage in, and as I began learning about other organizations that were out there doing it already, I found that there was a badly needed element that was missing, which was democratized activation of people, of citizen scientists of of heritage being recorded at every scale, not just the monolithic, not just the archeological, of, of, arguably dead cultures, but rather, living cultures, equally important, at least as important. And I determined that I would do something about it, I just didn’t want to feel helpless the way I had back when the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas. I didn’t want that feeling again. And in fact, the inaugural project of our project, of Arc/k Project, our very first full scale project was a crowdsourced photogrammetric digital recreation, that’s a mouthful I know, of Palmyra. And so, several of my staff of the newly formed organization, learned how to search in what I call the shutterbug cultures. The Japanese and German of websites. They’re tremendous they’re fabulous for being global tourists– shutter bugging, everything, everything, and of course also searching in Arabic and a few other languages, we cobbled together over 13,000 images of Palmyra, that had been taken over a span of, I think, eight years was the largest time period that our earliest to latest photographs, accessed, and we were able to generate a photogrammetric recreation of Palmyra, that even a scholar at the Metropolitan Museum, specialist in Near Eastern antiquities said, You know, and she had been there herself multiple times, said, this is actually the best restoration I’ve ever seen. And so we took that as our cue that we were doing something right. And, and then figured out later tried to figure out later, how that could fit into the cultural heritage community, and whether it could. And that’s something we’re actually still figuring out today.
Rachael: I still appreciate just not only the natural curiosity and the desire to problem solve, but also knowing that it was not a straight path, and, you know, trial and error and learning how to search in Arabic, like, I mean just the amount of problem solving that you did in order to find a solution that works. I think this leads nicely into my next question which is, when thinking about our project, launching it and continuing to do the work you do today, what are the barriers and challenges that you experienced initially, and maybe some that may still continue?
Brian: There are significant barriers in what we’re doing. There’s no question. Initially, I will admit that I was naive, going into what we are doing, because as a potential disruptor, of course, that means you’re going to ruffle feathers and we’ve ruffled quite a few of them. But I was surprised and and initially I was disheartened by the fact that I think a lot of our work was either sometimes it felt almost as if we had been deliberately misunderstood. There were, there are established professionals, and there are established institutions that had been engaging in cultural heritage preservation for longer than I’ve been alive. And so, here we walk in being technologically empowered, and maybe with a slight sense of naivete and and entitlement, maybe just a little. And, we weren’t always greeted with the kind of open arms that I had hoped. And, as I said naively expected. And so, that that was one barrier, but there is also the simple barrier that these technologies that we are using: LIDAR, photogrammetry, citizen science enabled consumer driven recording technologies you know because a lot of what we teach is that with the right training, even a bloody iPhone can be a recorder of heritage, and in the lack of a 100 megapixel Hasselblad. It’s perfectly it’s so much better to have any archive than none at all, particularly if you have responsible metadata reporting practices, right, so, so we came at this utilizing technologies that had previously been either unavailable to the masses or strictly used in strict ways by professionals who had been trained lifelong in certain forms of institutionally oriented heritage archiving inherited heritage preservation and heritage access which I think is also crucial right. So it’s quite right, that some of these technologies should be created with suspicion because with some data, that’s the genie out of the bottle moment. Once that data is out in the real world, well, you’re never getting that back. And so, I, I, grudgingly acknowledged that some of the suspicion and and reticence that these technologies have been greeted with is in fact appropriate, and we’ve always tried to take the position that while anyone might be engaged in data acquisition in helping to archive their, their heritage, that doesn’t necessarily mean that that data should itself then be freely accessible to anyone. Because these technologies are powerful. And data is powerful. And so we’ve, we’ve wrestled with that a little bit, we’ve wrestled with trying to gain the respect and acceptance of established heritage institutions, while at the same time, having no problem with walking right into the same conferences, right into those same same professional moments and saying, well, we’re here, get used to it, and, and, and trying to engage them in such a way that they, I think over time have grudgingly begun to accept what we do more, and I do credit our organization with being one of those, one of those very few that has pushed the envelope in getting a democratized citizen science concept of cultural heritage archiving to be more accepted, and in fact there are some stodgy organizations that I will not name that have been part of the scene for a long time that had begun sort of altering how they speak about cultural heritage about how they speak of how it can be archived, and where those data sources can originate from and I don’t mind crediting my organization with being the one to have been part of that.
Rachael: So I’m gonna go off topic for a minute here Brian and I hope you’ll indulge me. I am familiar with our projects work I have been lucky enough to be able to work with you on some projects and I know on the back end the commitment that Arc/k Project has to the standards in the field, digital preservation standards, I mean, you guys are using cutting edge technology and you’re, you’re sometimes helping people write the standards on using those technologies. But then I also want to acknowledge it and share with the larger audience here that Arc/k Project, compared to some of the other players in the field, places, I think such a great emphasis in giving agency to the culture whose heritage you’re helping to document and that whole question of who owns digital culture I think the Arc/k Project’s been a leader in that I would love to hear your thoughts on that and why you took on that mantle as important for Arc/k Project to do.
Brian: Thank you, thank you for, for seeing that Rachel, I think you’ve always been gracious about your awareness of what we’re trying to do, and you know oftentimes that means asking the hard questions, not necessarily having the answers. We hope to have the answers we hope to evolve them, but we don’t claim to, I think the questions that we’re asking are at least as important as the answers that will ultimately be derived. And, yeah, to that end, democratization was crucial, because, again, as much as I love monolithic architecture and and archeology, it’s a fact that at this point, cultural evolution and cultural change has in fact become far far more rapid and often destructive, and you might think that because we are a digital society, a digital civilization that these things are being archived. As part of that, because we communicate digitally, but that’s not necessarily the case. A tremendous amount of crucial data about how we express ourselves, how we think of ourselves, is in fact considered digital flotsam. t’s not being archived because there’s simply too much of it right. So, when we began engaging in in generating Arc/k Project and trying to figure out how we should position the organization and where we were needed the most, it became clear that there was no place yet for citizen science in digital archiving and in fact it’s still considered a little bit of a gray area. But also, it occurred to me that as much as I adore going to a huge institution, museum or a university collection, these do not represent necessarily the standards and the and the priorities, and the, the sort of most dearly held tenets of cultures, especially cultures that are impoverished, or in states of extremis. And so, two things had to happen: one was, I felt an extreme need to sort of legitimize our practices, which meant that we studied. We already knew photogrammetry from a visual effects standpoint, many of my staff members are actually former visual effects artists who, like myself, wanted to turn our craft towards something a little bit more important than Star Wars Episode One opening weekend, right, and so we, of course took those techniques that I think are some of the best in the entire field. But then we wanted to legitimize them by. So, for example, I made sure that my staff was trained by the absolute best in the academic and archival field of photogrammetry. CHI- cultural heritage imaging in San Francisco and I adore those people, even to this day we credit them all the time with teaching us the very best techniques in photogrammetry. And I think because of where we were coming from, and taught them a few things and so there’s been a beautiful exchange of knowledge there, but that also meant hiring a professional archivist, full time staff member, so that he could advise us on archival techniques that’s Michael Conyers, I don’t know if you know this. He’s the world’s most famous archivist, as he calls himself it’s it’s a running joke. I adore it.So that so that we would be coming from a position of legitimacy, but then it also meant changing things up and that’s where the disruptive part came in, which meant specifically engaging cultures that are in states of extremis. So one of the first examples of that and actually to this day, the most successful example of that, if you can talk a little bit about the Venezuelan campaign. We used to call it Viva Venezuela, and so so we partnered with a fantastic organization called IAM Venezuela, that is largely an expat organization, mostly in and around Miami for Venezuelans who’ve emigrated. And yet they maintain a really really healthy volunteer base in Venezuela, and we developed a round tripping technique and a program by which we trained them on how to shoot for photogrammetry, and how to archive the kind of metadata that we need for an authentic archive. And rather than dictate to them, except in one or two specific cases where there were specific artifacts or sites that we knew were either endangered or have been specifically requested from say museum curators, that they be archived. We allowed our volunteer base themselves to determine what they were interested in recording, and we’re so proud of that because we now, at this point, maintain for what we call the Venezuelan people we maintain for them an archive of over 400 I think we may be close to 500 sites and objects, some of which, due to their intrinsic value in materials– bronze, copper, tin, aluminum, steel– have actually been destroyed. Well, because of our volunteer base, because of the techniques that we perfected in training remotely on how to shoot for photogrammetry, while we continue to do most of the software heavy lifting on our side, we have archived these things to such a high degree of technological acuity and fidelity that at some point, when hopefully there is a more stable period in Venezuela, we will round trip that data back to them and those objects and sites, artifacts, sculptures in some cases that have been destroyed, we will actually be able to repatriate that data back to them. And, please understand, you know it’s not the belief that digital heritage replaces in any way the physical heritage and this has been one of those odd moments when we get these sort of sniping remarks, occasionally from heritage organizations or heritage professionals who seem to think that we are trying to supplant what they do when nothing is further from from the truth. These are overlapping mutually beneficial techniques. But the point in what we do is that the digital helps preserve the memory and the symbolism of an object which then makes it immortal, whereas the physical existence of an object continues its vulnerability. The two together, though, can form an impenetrable shield by which the symbolism and the importance and the cultural memory seeded into an object, whether that’s a physical object now, or a digital object or both. Over time, those things remain intact and that’s what we care about, that’s what’s important. And that’s what we’re trying to teach.So sorry I’m not even entirely sure that answers your question but I get excited about the mission.
Rachael: You know as a fellow business owner and obviously you, you run your organization it’s, you know, it can be tough, and, and it’s a bit of a hustle, sometimes, etc. And so I just want to point out that it is remarkable, I think, and laudable, you know Arc/k Project’s been around for a while now and you are passionate. It’s just, I think it’s a testament to like you’re doing what you were meant to do, because you still have so much passion and, you know, it’s just it is so palatable so like I really appreciated that answer and thank you for letting me sort of go off topic with that question.
Brian: No, not at all. Thank you. Can I also mention that, you know some of this work continues to be very difficult and heartbreaking, in the sense that we’re trying to reach communities that in some cases, let’s talk about Indigenous Indigenous cultures, let’s talk about Native American, Native Canadian cultures First Nations peoples. For example, we believe that within certain constraints, a lot of the work we do can be immensely valuable, but you’re when we try to reach out to Native American bands or tribes. Look, there is a tremendous culture there a tremendous history of trauma of deceit of betrayal and we fully recognize that we have a lot of work to do there, in understanding in not preaching to but rather learning from and we, we are absolutely dedicated regardless of whether we personally do work with these with these tribes and these, these entities that the standards that are developing in the cultural heritage community about how to work with these people is something we absolutely believe we have a clear vision toward. And we want to make sure that as 3d standards and practices and protocols and workflows and industry sometimes entire fields, developing around heritage, are developing, that they are done so with Native American voices as part of that. And with their priorities, their standards held far above anyone else’s. And we think there’s a tremendous amount of work to be done there, but it’s also heartbreaking work. There’s a lot of distrust, there’s but and our young, still young, in some ways, organization, you know has had missteps there too and we continue to, to be just absolutely dedicated to the idea that we can be of assistance in this, and you know we’re, but it’s a, it’s a long path. And we absolutely want to make sure that the digital. I call it a cultural Gold Rush, that’s taking place in some ways, right now in our society and multiple societies, not run over Native Voices, this time. And so anyway, just to say there’s a lot of work to be done there, and we don’t pretend by any means to have all the answers. But, again, I will credit us with being one of the few voices who are asking the questions that need to be asked and I will continue, we will continue that work.
Rachael: Thank you for sharing that. Sure. I know that you shared a bit about the Venezuelan project, and one of my questions was to ask about some of your example partnerships with organizations and cultural communities. Do you have any other projects that you would like to share with us?
Brian: Sure. Oh gosh, so many, but given a limited amount of time. Let’s talk about first, I mean, we’re working with a fantastic group of people, ARTIVE and the work is sort of behind the scenes with them right now. t’s largely about generating more compatible overlapping databases, because there are a lot of different organizations out there that have data which can be immensely important in curtailing illicit trafficking, especially out of the Middle East right now. And I think we’re probably about to see a huge influx of illicit trafficking of antiquities from Afghanistan as well, for reasons that that should be obvious to everyone right now. And so getting databases to be more open, more compatible. And then once compatibility is established, to then get those databases into the hands of not just import export authorities, organizations like that, but rather to generate destruction of plausible deniability right so we’re talking about auction houses, antiques dealers, private collectors. We want to absolutely end plausible deniability in ignorance, that when you are trafficking in an object, don’t know exactly what you’re doing right so the first step of that we believe and ARTIVE has been amazing working with them so far we want to generate that that overlapping database. But at the same time it’s been a long time with COVID, and we’ve just been dying to get back in the field, and, at long last, I think we have an interim project that we can execute outdoors, which we’re very excited about in Miami. And so, a partnership with some of the people who originally were part of IAM Venezuela. Actually, we’re working with them to generate the kind of living map of the murals which are now this incredible journal of the cultural life of Miami. Miami has become one of those cities that has a world culture, people coming from so many places, especially in the Latin world, of course, and murals are one of the beautiful, beautiful canvases by which this culture is literally painted, but because these canvases are the sides of buildings, buildings, the sides of privately owned businesses, there is no framework by which these are necessarily perpetually kept and held dear, and without warning, a given mural can disappear overnight as an, as a new artist paints atop, you know this, given an incredible public canvas. And so the idea is we’ll actually be executing this in the in the next several months, a volunteer base campaign so we will be training once again just like the IAM Venezuela campaign, we will be training people on the ground, how to take the photographic and drone based images, gathering data about the cultural importance of a given mural at a given location, the names of the artists, why they why they painted, hopefully even including interviews of those artists. But accepting the fact that these murals are non permanent, we will be constantly updating this living city map almost to kind of a living palimpsest of culture so that through a digital, let’s say maybe an iPhone or iPad based app or a mobile app, you’ll be able to access at any given moment, years of different murals, at a given location. So, even though the mural itself may cease to exist, the memory, the cultural importance and the lineage, because many of these murals actually bounce off one another right so you end up with a living memory of culture that is digitally held, but physically dispersed, and so it’s both in the physical and in the digital at once, and we just think that’s immensely exciting because culture, then stacks vertically over time and horizontally over over access, and neither destroys the other, I just think it’s going to be a fascinating model for heritage preservation that will actually transcend, just the format of murals. It’s super exciting and we’re using state of the art technology and volunteers and enthusiasts to engage in it and so it just hits all the buttons of what we care about. And so please stay tuned. I hope you’ll have me back actually when we, when we begin executing that project, and also I will mention that we’re not private about these things. Whenever we generate a model for interactivity and volunteer activation that works, we want to talk about that model so that other organizations can copy it as well. It would be nice if we get a credit here and there but yeah, hey, whatever you can do, whatever you can do. But the idea being that we want these models of heritage preservation to be proselytized.
Rachael: Yeah, I have to say and I know you touched on this in some of your answers, the, the way the Arc/k Project, how you created it and how you and your team have chosen to conduct yourselves and make those ethical decisions. I think we’re now sort of belatedly seeing in the historian and archives fields that that, that belated reckoning of the historical record being so incomplete and inaccessible to so many, so I think that’s all to say that, that you saw that early on, and the work that you’re doing, the practices you’re establishing are something that both the archives and historian fields could certainly use at this point.
Brian: Thank you. We actually like to think of our work as dissolving the boundaries between archives and exhibitions, so that they almost become undefinably together fused.
Rachael: Yes that’s my personal opinion, everything should be together. Yeah, no silos. Brian: Exactly, no silos, I love that. I love that. Rachael: Yeah. Wonderful. Well I think my next question for you, I know we’ve touched on a couple examples of this, but in your own words I would love to hear you describe the importance and urgency of capturing the you know the digital tapestry of these different cultural heritage sites.
Brian: I do believe there is. On some days it’s almost difficult not to have a sense of panic about how rapidly some cultures are changing, about how little is being done to archive them, particularly on the intimate, well, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s been a source of bitter irony, sometimes for me when I see how much academics of ancient arguably extinct cultures, will spend on understanding a piece of garbage from say Pompeii, and yet we do so little to archive the personal and the Internet and the small scale and the low brow, or, or simply low finance aspects of human existence. Now, in cultures that, particularly because they are say perhaps poverty stricken, or in states of political and social extremis are rapidly evolving, and those stresses that those cultures are going through, then generate a level of creativity and adaptability, and flexibility that is a real credit to human creativity and human adaptability, and those are the moments that are desperately in need of being archived, and of being valued. And, yeah, some days it’s hard not to have a sense of panic about it. You know, I, if we had the funding I’d be sending cameras and recorders, everywhere, particularly with languages right so due to an involvement with a very good friend of mine Lena Herzog and her fantastic work in what’s called The Last Whispers projects. I gained a new sort of sensitivity to what’s happening with language extinction. And, you know, Arc/k Project can only be spread so thin, but it was interesting to discover through the connections that Lena very graciously made available some fantastic people. A linguistic Institute, running out of, out of London for a while I think now out of Berlin. The idea that much language archiving is actually not done with a physical or visual aspect. And yet, if you’re talking about archiving a language in say a material culture, that is very much, say, a sustenance, culture, a developing culture right, the language and the material expression of that culture are so tightly bound, the idea that you would archive the language and the grammar without archiving the material expression of the culture seems insane to me. And so I don’t know that that’s maybe one of our next disrupter moments, you know, but, but, again, we want to make those tools available, and we’ve begun working with some in the field linguist archivist to try to help generate a material aspect to how they archive the grammar and vocabulary of languages, and there’s so much work to be done, it’s just where do you where do you begin, you know, yes.
Rachael: Yeah, I can, I can very much imagine and empathize with the, the feeling of urgency to the point of panic. And yet, I mean you only have so much time. We have yet to access at least for daily people cloning technology, for yourselves so, right. Yeah, I can only imagine it must be very difficult to have to prioritize.
Brian: It absolutely is. It’s, it’s painful, and it’s, it’s something that we almost refuse to do in the sense that we’re simply all about proselytizing the tools. We’re actually speaking, I think it’s okay to talk about this at a very early stage, an academic model, through which various grad student programs in various colleges might work with say the parks services to generate a data acquisition model to monitor, especially built heritage, out in the field. You know in in parks in areas that can always be policed against vandalism, let alone, natural wear and tear. We want to generate models by which citizens, volunteers, engaged local heritage organizations, even just children, they can be immensely powerful as data acquisition tools. And those are the models that we are working on so that we won’t have to prioritize, and I’ll keep you abreast on any successes.
Rachael: Yes, please do. Related to thinking about Arc/k Project and the evolution of the projects that you’ve done, and the partnerships and the standards and tools that you’re proselytizing, I would love to hear your perspective on when you were thinking about the process of creating Arc/k Project and, and the years since then, there some lessons learned that you could share with us or anything that was surprising to you that came up that, you know, when thinking of fellow innovators what could be helpful for them?
Brian: Oh, so many lessons learned. Yeah, some positive some negative, not to take no for an answer, is a great one to begin with. Also, the use of tools, the choice of tools. I recall very, very clearly, that when the hurricane that decimated Puerto Rico happened, e found it very difficult to bridge between established heritage professionals, very well meaning, and the tools that would be on the ground in Puerto Rico at that time to do emergency heritage archiving, because even, even, actually, many of the museums and larger cultural institutions in Puerto Rico did survive the hurricane itself structurally, but then without power, in the humidity and heat, many structures became unfortunately biohazards due to black mold and things like that, right, and there was, it was shocking it was it was a real lesson learned that there was no immediate way to bridge between the tools that established cultural heritage institutions use and a place like Puerto Rico. There was no common bridge whatsoever, and especially as a young organization which does not have any clearance to be say a first responder or a second responder yet, it was immensely frustrating. We think that those are bridges that desperately still need to be built. And, and we’re always open to try to enter into discussions and so on. Another lesson learned is that in order to do what we do at the level that we insist on doing it, we had to accept that, unlike what many cultural heritage professionals would prefer, we use commercially available software. We have actually, we have zero loyalty to any software package, I will say that, and we migrated from one to the other to the other and finally settled on, we actually currently use Reality Capture, I do, absolutely I can absolutely attest that it is the best software available for photogrammetry. Now whether that will continue to be the case right now we’re, we’re sort of watching and waiting and listening for clues as to what the new owners of that software package plan on on doing with it, and it has been one of the points of criticism and argument between heritage organizations- should we be using open source software for this? And we, the lesson to be learned and the philosophy that we developed from that is simply based on actually some of the original philosophies that CHI helped teach us with, which is the idea that the 3D model that you can access, you can work with, you can directly experience, while incredibly valuable, is not the archive. The archive is the metadata, the archive is the photographic data and those are mature data collection channels, and that’s the archive, that’s what matters. The 3D model is simply how you access that archive right so that was a lesson learned, that frees us up to do to continue to do the work that we hold dear and to do it at a rate and a level of fidelity that nobody else can can equal, and it will continue to be something that we watch very closely, maybe a few years from now. Open source software will be of such a, such a level of fidelity, and speed because sorry but speed does matter, in this case because there’s so much to be done, and the ability to round trip to a given volunteer in a remote location what is missing what is was incorrect or insufficient or incorrectly done for a given 3D archive, that, that ability to rapidly round trip is crucial in developing volunteer techniques. So who knows maybe in a few years open source software will be the way to go but right now we continue to proselytize that commercially available software is the way to go. And in fact, that particular software package may in fact become free as part of the new owners Epic Games and, and what they want to do with it. We would love to hear from them, some, some pronouncements about their commitment to cultural heritage functions for that software and its, its rightful that it might make some heritage professionals, and heritage institutions nervous. The proximity between the software that archives the heritage and the software that puts it in a game. And so that’s a dangerous moment, and, and. So the lesson learned there is simply to be vigilant, and to keep, keep, keep keep watch. But I think we’ve also learned that there are so many overlapping organizations and interests out there that you can’t spend too much effort, you can’t spend too much effort, too much time building bridges with other organizations, because at one point I became impatient. I’ll admit it with cultural heritage gatekeepers who seemed more interested in deliberately misunderstanding and and taking issue with the digital as if the digital were trying to replace the physical, I became really really impatient with philosophies like that and with with knee jerk, frankly silly responses like that. And we had work to do. And I just said, You know what, enough, we’re busy, I don’t need your approval. And I don’t want it anymore, right. So, I think it’s time to start trying to, okay, come around, come full circle and let’s see if now we can speak a little bit less shrill than before about these about these issues and build bridges so that we can keep everybody responsible and accountable, and absolutely cutting edge.
Rachael: I would love to hear from you, why are archives important in your own words?
Brian: Archives are important because, ou know, regardless at how accessible they are, and access is important, it’s crucial, it’s the memory of who we were and I do not believe that if you forget who you were, that you can responsibly, and accountably and safely not who you want to become. I, I look at what’s happening in Venezuela right now and I look at how cultural memory is being erased, not because of, say, religious extremism, as will probably happen and has been happening in parts of the Middle East, with the takeover of Islam, the extremis, created by civil war in Syria and now the Taliban consumption of Afghanistan and what’s about to happen with Sharia law But it doesn’t have to be anything so deliberate, it can be simply the forces of modernity, or, or economy international financeshen I look at what’s happening in Venezuela, and I look at sculptures being cut up overnight statues like monolithic scale statues being vivisected a piece at a time, over a week, and melted down for their constituent medals. I don’t see it as a loss of history, I see it as a loss of direction. And when I look at Venezuela,I think about Chinese development loans, and American oil companies, and international fast foods, and all the things that will seed themselves and redirect Venezuelan culture, the moment that they have that capability, and that I think is what we’re fighting against and that’s why archives and especially making archives, not just having them but making them more accessible, making them more vivid and engaging. That’s not just entertainment. That’s, that’s, that’s getting them into the hearts and minds of people so that they maintain a sense of themselves that can be resistant, that is sufficient to resist the forces of fast foods and quick easy loans, and American oil interests, right. That’s right, that’s so crucial. If you forget who you were, I don’t think you have a chance of deciding who you will become. And, and that’s, that’s what we’re all about. That’s what, that’s what heritage preservation has to be about, as well as its purely scientific validity on, it has to it has to be strong enough to carry both missions at once, I believe.
Rachael: I have just one last question on my part Brian, and that’s what’s next for Arc/k Project.
Brian: Oh wow, okay. So, so many things, so many, so many irons in the fire at any given moment. I did describe the Miami Project, the murals archiving project so that’s in our immediate future. We’re also looking at engaging in some software development applications. It has long occurred to me that a, I don’t know if you’re familiar with, sort of distributed computational platforms, like the way I pronounce it is simply BOINC, B-O-I-N-C. It’s a, it’s a globalized distributed processing framework by which the average computer user can donate spare processor cycles to very worthy projects like SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, which spent decades, analyzing radio data from Arecibo and other radio antennas, as well as more modern functions very much present functions like folding proteins, pharmaceutical design, weather modeling, etc. I would love to see Arc/k’s efforts go toward a distributed software processing platform that would allow all of the world’s spare processor cycles to be engaged in computing 3d solves for endangered heritage. So that’s something we’re always looking at. One other thing that I’m really excited about we just inaugurated is an Advisors Council, within Arc/k Project and two of the first gentlemen to join our advisory council. are ur gentlemen who have been involved in cultural heritage scanning for decades actually, and one of them was even involved in developing the techniques by which the Dead Sea Scrolls were scanned and sort of unfolded digitally. And we’re incredibly proud to have Eric Doehne and Greg Bearman on our advisory council. As we again try to sort of deepen our scientific roots, even as we become more and more unorthodox about how we engage volunteers. And so that’s happening at both ends. Very, very excited about that. And, in fact they are helping us design a program by which we will engage various colleges and graduate programs with using volunteer accessed data from the field to do cultural heritage archiving and translation programs.
Rachael: So, just a couple projects.
Brian: Yeah, just a few things here and there, while still trying to figure out how to fund ourselves. Right now we continue to be entirely privately funded. We have gotten a few small grants. We’re continuing to reach out into the granting world, but we’re also doing that with a certain amount of skepticism. We’ve been well trained by granting professionals, you yourself actually early on in our organization’s genesis, helped us learn how to navigate the kind of landmine minefield of what’s out there so that one can access grants but one has to be careful not to allow one’s mission to be decentralized or deterred. Because grants, while a beautiful source of funding, can also eat your organization if you’re not careful right so we continue to hold granting at somewhat arm’s length, we’re hoping over time, that we’ll develop that as a better arm for funding the organization, but we’ve also not wanted to have too many external influences when it comes to granting. And we’ve been lucky in that we’ve had a few private donors who’ve been extremely generous, that have allowed us to plot our path without having to owe too much to worry about where that money came from. So we’ve continued to be self directing and and self empowering, in that, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.
Rachael: Well Brian, is there anything that I didn’t ask you that I should have or anything that you would like to share with us before I let you go?
Brian: I would just like to share that, I think there is a genesis happening, there’s something new happening in an awareness of what we do. I think it’s an exciting time that we don’t actually have to spend 20 minutes now explaining to the average lay person, the technology that’s behind us. That itself has been amazingly liberating making this a really really exciting time to see how the culture and technology are intertwining to make our job easier and easier in some ways, and I will also say that thanks to people like you and thanks to organizations like SAA, we are finding it easier to get the word out there.e don’t have to fight so hard to have a sense of legitimacy in what we’re doing and I absolutely credit you and the archivist organization in being part of that. It’s getting easier and easier to sell what we do. And now we don’t have to worry so much about basic arguments of legitimacy.ow we can start working on creating synergy and creating ethics and protocols by which everyone should be abiding, to really, really make something stellar happen with the fusion of these technologies and these interests over the next five or 10 years. I think it’s going to be a super exciting time, and we have people and organizations like yours to thank for them.
Rachael: Thank you so much, Brian, I really appreciate your time and, and you sharing so much about our project with us, and we’ll go ahead and conclude the formal recording of this interview.
Brian: Very well, thank you so much for having us.
This is the latest post in our series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of archivists in society.
In this installment, Archivist and COPA Early Career Member, Kristi Chanda, interviews Mary Kidd. Mary Kidd currently works in the Preservation and Collections Processing Department at the New York Library as their Systems and Operations Manager. She also served as a Project Lead for a two year grant based project called Preserve This Podcast!, which worked to teach preservation skills to independent, individual producers.
KC: What is Preserve This Podcast! and how did it originate?
MK: Preserve This Podcast was a two year grant funded project. It ran for a finite period of time, from January 2018 to January 2020. Thankfully, it ended right before CoVid and lockdowns hit North America, so good timing on our part. Its primary purpose was to teach independent or “indie” podcasters (that is, podcasters working out of their home as opposed to for a radio station or a media corporation) about digital preservation, especially in terms of preserving digital podcast files and everything else that makes a podcast. So that, in short, was Preserve This Podcast.
In terms of how it originated, a few years ago, back in 2016, I was working at the New York Public Radio archives. I was part of a National Digital Stewardship Residency cohort that year, and I was paired with NYPR on a project where I was looking at all of their born-digital output and documenting the flow from the point at which someone created something to be broadcast up to the point where it was placed into long-term storage.
As part of my program, I was attending a bunch of conferences and one of them was the Radio Preservation Task Force conference. This was the first conference of its kind addressing radio preservation so it was pretty exciting for me to go. It was being held at the Library of Congress that year so I traveled out to Washington D.C. By chance, I met Dana Gerber-Margie who was one of the co-leads on Preserve This Podcast. She was working at the time at the Wisconsin Historical Society on an oral history project. We had a lot to talk about, since we each had a foot in archives and another in audio-visual preservation. Fast-forward a year later, she contacted me and a few other people and asked us if we wanted to be part of hosting a workshop at the Personal Digital Archiving Conference (PDA). It was being held that year at Stanford University in Palo Alto. She wanted to facilitate a workshop around podcast preservation. That was the first I’d ever heard of this concept of podcast preservation, so you could say PTP originated from Dana’s brilliant mind. I agreed to do it and it was a lot of fun. The workshop was geared towards indie podcasters, but we were primarily talking to archivists because this was an archivist’s conference. So we were preaching to the choir a little bit. Fast forward another year, I was contacted by Molly Schwartz, who was working as the studio manager at the New York Metropolitan Library Council, also known as METROfor short. She was working on a podcast called Library Bytegeist, which is a really great podcast about librarians and archivists working in New York City. So, a super fun podcast for people interested in that kind of stuff. She contacted me and said, hey, I heard that you hosted this workshop on podcasts preservation and I think that’s a really good idea. Why don’t we apply for a grant? So, Molly, Dana and myself started meeting over the summer of 2017 and eventually we were put in contact with the Mellon Foundation. They were really receptive to our idea. By January 2018 we launched the project and hit the ground running. So that’s the story of Preserve This Podcast.
KC: Why is this organization significant in the podcasting/archiving community?
MK: I think most podcasters, unless they work for a radio station or media company with an archive, are not always thinking about long-term preservation. The point of Preserve This Podcast was to produce a suite of free tools for people to get them thinking about it. One of those tools was a five part teaching podcast called the Preserve This Podcast podcast that spoke directly to indie podcasters to make them aware of the problems plaguing digital files, and here are the reasons why you should take time out of your day to take certain steps towards preserving your content. Indie podcasters’ digital content is at more risk than big box podcasts like This American Life. That is because indie podcasters are likely time and resource-strapped. They don’t have a lot of cash. They are working by themselves or on a small team kind of outside of a day job or raising families. They don’t necessarily have the resources to take on a preservation plan and as any person in our field knows, preservation always takes time and resources. So I think it was important that we put out this suite of tools for people to make it easier for them to learn a new skill. Our podcast is a really fun listen with high production quality. We worked with a team of people to produce this podcast, including an editor, and a soundtrack. We really wanted to speak to podcasters in the language that they’re most familiar with, in order to bring the message of preservation to them.
In terms of PTP’s importance for archivists, potentially an archivist listening to our podcast or encountering our work may also be the first time for them to consider podcast preservation. Not a lot of institutions have a podcast collecting policy or focus on podcasts as part of what they acquire. Some institutions do, but by and large you just don’t hear about podcast collecting. I think, in part, it’s because it’s contemporary to us, it’s here now, and so there’s kind of this notion that it’s just like here and it’ll be around for a while. One example that we talked about at librarian and archivist conferences is concrete proof that some of the earliest podcasts produced 20 years ago have already disappeared. So this is something that you all should pay attention to and not take for granted the fact that this is a popular medium now, but you could say the same thing for VHS tapes thirty years ago. So that’s what we brought to the table for archivists and people working in preservation, nudging them and saying, this is something to look at and this is something important that you should consider for your collection development or preservation policies.
KC: What were the challenges that you had to overcome while working on the project?
MK: I think our greatest challenge was convincing people of the problem. We really did our due diligence in a lot of ways and did a lot of research to prove that podcasts have already disappeared or were at-risk. One of the first things that we did was we worked with a data analyst, Jacob Kramer-Duffield, who helped us to design a survey that we distributed out to podcasters. We took the results of that survey and we were able to qualify the fact that a lot of indie podcasters have not thought about preservation or put a preservation plan in place, compared to their non-indie peers. Through this survey we were able to support our hypothesis that indie podcasts are at risk. In addition to the survey, we also looked at a collection of some of the very first podcasts ever made, called 2005 Podcast Core Collection, hosted on the Internet Archive. The person who compiled this collection was Jason Scott, who works at the Internet Archive now and back in 2005 he wrote this script that crawled a directory of podcasts that existed at the time. For each podcast, the script would scrape the audio and any RSS XML data. This script ran for about two years. One of the things that we had podcasters do when they attended one of our workshops was to call up this collection, choose a podcast at random, and then try and see if they could find it listed in Apple Podcasts or by performing a web browser search. By and large, for most of these podcasts, you could not find them.This exercise was a concrete example showing that podcasts made only 20 years ago have disappeared. I’m sure a lot of these original creators never expected that their podcasts would just disappear. Giving podcasters this example really hit home, and I think it spoke to people on the urgency behind podcast preservation.
KC: What did you hope your audience will gain from attending the workshops and conferences?
MK: We really wanted people to walk our of workshops with some sort of plan. At the end of our workshops we would say, okay, given what you’ve learned about things like metadata, backup plans, and file and folder organization, what are some steps that you can take today? Even as that’s like, I have a no open container of coffee rule at my desk, that was fine. Then what can you do in the next week, month, six months, and try and see if you can also incorporate these steps into your podcast production workflow, because I think that was the key to making sure that people would go home and actually take these steps. If you don’t incorporate it into sort of your everyday workflow it will probably fall to the wayside. So one of the things that we wanted them to walk away from you know from our workshops is an idea of how they can incorporate preservation into producing a podcast. We tried to incentivize them. One of the things that Dana pointed out was that, more often than not, podcasters will get some sort of request. NPR will email a podcaster, and say, “Hey, we’re really interested in using this 30-second from your podcast episode from three years ago into our news segment, can you send us a file by the end of today?” If you have a file and folder organization plan in place — which is something we taught at our workshops — with , you are more likely to find the file really quickly. If you don’t, then you’re scrambling. The lesson here is that file and folder management is not just something you do for preservation, but it can also help monetize your podcast.
In terms of what we wanted archivists and librarians to learn from us, we wanted them to understand the technical aspects of podcasts that make them unique assets. We especially wanted to drive home the point that podcasts are not just digital audio files. There may be an mp3 file, as well as unedited raw audio, a soundtrack, transcription metadata, and release forms which can affect things like rights metadata. You may also have an accompanying website, which is also a rich trove of descriptive metadata or even artwork and branding. There is also the RSS XML metadata, which is like a really rich source of standardized metadata, which you can use to your advantage to automate incorporate into existing preservation workflows.
KC: Are there any plans/goals set for the future?
MK: Preserve This Podcast lives on in a number of ways. A few of us have been asked to guest lecture classes and teach workshops post-grant. An exciting and new development is an upcoming NEH grant-funded project, Open Sources: Training Communities of Practice for Complex Born-Digital Collections, which will be spearheaded by Myriad Consulting. This project will see the “development and implementation of curricula, resources, workshops, and community events tailored to smaller cultural heritage institutions focused on preservation of and access to born-digital materials”. The formation of this project took some inspiration from Preserve This Podcast, and will be using a teaching zine to teach digital preservation concepts. So although it’s not a project aimed specifically at preserving podcasts, it still captures the spirit of supporting staff and other individuals working for smaller or under-resourced cultural heritage institutions. I will be taking on a consultant role for this grant, and will be taking what I learned through the course of PTP to this project.
This is the latest post in our series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of archivists in society.
In this installment, Archivist and COPA Early Career Member, Kristi Chanda, interviews Stuart Hinds. Stuart Hinds is a Curator of Special Collections & Archives at University of Missouri-Kansas City. Hinds discusses the exhibit “Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights” that was built by students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s public history program. It documents the rise of gay and lesbian activist community groups before the Stonewall riots.
KC: What are the main aspects to your exhibit “Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights?” What was the process like creating it and who are the main figures involved?
SH: The exhibit tells the story of gay and lesbian activism, both in Kansas City and in the US, in the 1960s before Stonewall, during the Homophile Movement, as it was called. The main thrust of the exhibit is to uncover Kansas City’s surprisingly pivotal role in that movement. The first gathering of gay and lesbian civil rights leaders from across the country, took place in Kansas City in February of ‘66. Out of that meeting comes the formation of umbrella groups for all these different, discrete advocacy and activist organizations across the country. As a part of that umbrella group there is the formation of an information clearinghouse. It was based in Kansas City because the folks here had access to a printing press. So, they would print and distribute the newsletters, the promotional material from a lot of different groups across the country. The exhibit focuses on those efforts, and the formation and activities of Kansas City’s first advocacy group which happened a month after that national meeting. In March of ‘66 the Phoenix Society for Individual Freedom was founded, and they were really active locally. What kicked off the exhibit was the fact that I worked with a committee made up of community members to install a historic marker in downtown Kansas City commemorating the 50th anniversary of that civil rights meeting, and it was put in place across the street from where the hotel used to be. At the same time I worked with a public history faculty member here on campus and his Intro to Public History class developed the exhibit in conjunction with the installation of the marker to sort of flesh out the story that the exhibit tells or that the marker commemorates. It was a class-based exhibit that was a semester-long project, and then I worked with the faculty member and a graduate student who designed the final product. We sort of tightened up the writing and did transitions between panels and all that kind of stuff, and then we got some grant money to fabricate a local version of the exhibit and then a touring version. It went on display locally, in the spring of 2017. The touring version has gone across the Kansas City region and several places in Kansas since then. The process was interesting because it was a class exhibit and I know most of the students weren’t from the LGBTQ community, so they wanted to make sure that they got the story right from the perspective of that community. They interviewed a couple of different folks who were on the committee that worked on the marker. We had a panel discussion with the class, and then reviewed the drafts of their panels. The main figures that are involved in the narrative of the exhibit include prominent national activists, like Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon from The Daughters of Bilitis in San Francisco. The primary activist who started the Phoenix Society, who was really a driving force behind it, was Drew Shafer. He was president of the Phoenix for the first two or three years and, you know how some of these organizations work, there’s only one person who makes everything happen, and in this case that was true.
KC: How does the exhibit positively reflect the past and present of the LGBTQ+ community? In what ways can it help empower future LGBTQ+ activism?
SH: The exhibit contextualizes the situation both nationally and locally. The 60s were a particularly oppressive time for the gay and lesbian community. There were lots of efforts to really keep queer people at bay. The exhibit talks about the scene here in Kansas City and how it was surprisingly active. There was a very active social scene. Unlike in a lot of other cities, places where people congregated, essentially gay bars, weren’t typically raided by the police, which they were in lots of other cities in big cities like New York and Chicago and Los Angeles, San Francisco. You saw a lot of raids and a lot of harassment by law enforcement and that wasn’t the case here in Kansas City. The exhibit talks about that. It goes into detail about the activities of the Phoenix Society, which was responsible for that clearinghouse for the national group. They also had their own agenda and set of activities going on locally. They opened a community center in 1968, two years after they founded the group. There was just a lot going on. By the end of the decade they had really overstretched themselves, they were really burnt out, they had really taken on too much. I hope that’s a lesson that local activists take from the experience of members of the Phoenix, that as enthusiastic as you are, and as much as you want to achieve it, you must do it in a balanced way or otherwise you are going to burn yourself out very quickly. Everything’s going to come crashing down, which is exactly what happened with the Phoenix.
KC: What obstacles have you and your colleagues faced with creating this exhibit? What issues are you currently encountering?
SH: When the exhibit was first introduced and initiated, there really weren’t many obstacles. It was just a matter of the students doing the research and connecting with the resources that we have here, just doing the work of the class in conjunction with connecting with local community members. I will say we did get a little bit of pushback when we applied for grant funding. We received funding from the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, which straddles the border between Missouri and Kansas, which was a real hotbed during the Civil War; that was the emphasis of the Heritage Area when it got started, but they’ve since broadened the scope to really focus on different interpretations of freedom. So, we thought this would be a good group to apply to for some of this grant money.
There was some hesitation on the part of the institution’s leadership to take this to the review board because the concern was that they would just immediately push back on it because of the content.
We were able to convince them to be strident and move forward and they agreed, and we got the funding to do it.. The touring version of the exhibit has traveled across Missouri and across Kansas to several different places: to a small-town public library in southeast Kansas where there is a very active queer community, to public libraries here in the metropolitan area, and to museums and historical societies. There was never an issue in the eight or nine places it’s been. Then I was working with folks who are affiliated with the Missouri State Museum, which is in the state capitol in Jefferson City. We were having conversations about queer Missourians in advance of the state’s Bicentennial which is this year, as they were trying to do an exhibit on important Missourians in the history of the state, and they reached out and we talked about some of the the activists here in Kansas City. As part of that conversation, I mentioned this touring exhibit. They were excited about that, and reached out earlier this spring when we made the final arrangements to get the exhibit to them. It went up in what they call the History Hall, which is the hallway outside of the museum, inside the Missouri State Capitol. Some legislative aides, and a legislator reached out to the Museum and asked why this exhibit was on display. They got a very appropriate response from the Director of the Museum, and then they took it further. They took it to the leadership of the department that oversees the museum, which is the Department of Natural Resources.. The leadership of the Department of Natural Resources, four days after the exhibit went on display, decided to remove it from the state capitol. There was a big hue and cry that got a lot of media attention, locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. It was in the New York Times, it was in the Washington Post, it was in The Advocate, it was an all sorts of queer blogs. You really couldn’t escape it. As a result of the outcry, the Department of Natural Resources relocated the exhibit in one of their buildings, also located there in Jefferson City, a historic building about four blocks away from the state capitol, far less visible and far less accessible. That’s where the exhibit remains to this day, even though most of the national, regional, and local professional history organizations issued public letters to the governor demanding that the exhibit be relocated back to the state capitol, which didn’t happen and won’t happen at this point. So that’s been challenging on many different levels.It’s just interesting that we encountered this pushback in a building that is supposed to be for all Missouri citizens. First, that they would censor student work and second, that they would censor a specific community of Missourians is really disheartening and frustrating.
KC: Has there been any discussion about future organized plans to take this a step further?
SH: Well, the flip side of the coin is that now we have about seven institutions in line that want the exhibit. I was just talking with the folks at the Missouri State Museum today and it looks like it will come back to us after the holidays, and then we’ll get it first in line for the next showing. Along the way we received generous support from a radio personality in St. Louis who has funded fabrication of another edition of the touring exhibit, and it will go to St. Louis probably within the next few weeks and tour. He’s coordinating several different sites throughout St. Louis to have short term displays of the exhibit through the first six months of 2022. So, it will get out there. It’s just unfortunate it took this ugliness to make that happen.
KC: What do you hope the public would gain when visiting your exhibit?
SH: You talked about an awareness of stories that reflect the histories of the American LGBTQ communities that aren’t about big cities–that aren’t about New York, that aren’t about San Francisco, that aren’t about Los Angeles. That’s why we started this archive, because the stories that emanate from here help complete the picture. There are lots of Kansas City ties directly to the national narrative. That meeting is just one of those ways and we really hope to expand people’s understanding of the fact that there was activity going on here and similar sized cities and even smaller places while the more well-known stories we’re going on.
KC: Any plans in the making for future displays/events?
SH: We have a local undergraduate college of art and design here in Kansas City, the Kansas City Art Institute. I’m working with one of the faculty members there, and he has taught a class on queer archives the last couple of years. This year, he’s teaching it again in the spring, and he really wants to focus the students’ efforts on this topic and the controversy around the exhibit, and then make work in reaction to the controversy. One of the venues that expressed interest was the Kansas City Public Library, so I’m hoping we can finagle having the Making History exhibit and the students’ exhibit on display at the Public Library simultaneously because I think that would really be an interesting opportunity for some conversations and just more awareness. I’m excited about that opportunity. We’ll see what happens.
This is the latest post in our series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of archivists in society.
The Historic Village at Allaire is a living history museum named posthumously for its founder James P. Allaire. The museum interprets an iron-producing factory town during its peak year, 1836. The village offers a variety of craft demonstrations and activities such as blacksmithing, hearth cooking, and carpentry.
In this latest post, Archivist and COPA Early Career Member, Kristi Chanda, interviews Felicity Bennett. Felicity Bennett is the Museum Collections Coordinator. Her role is both an archivist and handling museum collections. For the first time in the museum’s 60 year history, there is a full-time paid staff position whose sole purpose is to look after the collection. The role was usually handled by volunteers or added to other positions in the past. In her new role, she is looking to further professionalize the museum and organize the collections.
KC: Who was James Allaire and what was his significance to Allaire Village?
FB: James P. Allaire is our founder for the Allaire Village, and during his lifetime it was actually called Howell Works. He was a steamship engine manufacturer, and he had an office in both New York City and Monmouth County, New Jersey, where we’re located. What we were doing was harvesting bog iron, which is a renewable source of iron, and smelting that down into workable iron. It was basically a forge used to manufacture all the parts for the engines that would get shipped to New York for boats.
KC: What types of materials are in his collection? What items are particularly interesting to you?
FB: So, in addition to the museum collection, our archival collection has more of his business documentation, such as his deeds. He did purchase a lot of land from local farmers and everything to build this kind of manufacturing town. We also have some of his personal papers, photographs and other things of that nature. I would say the most interesting to me is the personal papers of his son, Hal Allaire. He was just kind of an eccentric man and he lived here after the village forge shut down. He basically turned into a recluse and kind of let everything become deserted and in ruins. There were still people living here and he did entertain quite a bit in the house, but he was more interested in letting everything return to the forest.
KC: What are some misconceptions surrounding Allaire Village? What information from the collection helps free some of these misconceptions?
FB: So, there is the misconception that it was deserted or abandoned because the original title for our museum was the Deserted Village of Allaire. A lot of the forge and businesses shut down, but there still were people living here, and there’s never really a gap in ownership. So we do have in the collection, we have a lot of the deeds saying who owned it and when. We also have a lot of photographs showing people doing something similar to motor tours. Because during the turn of the century that was a really big public tourist activity. People would get in their little cars and drive on tracks because it was a new adventure at the time.
KC: So, I remembered when I searched Allaire Village online, it was listed as a haunted historical site. I heard about you all receiving inquiries from paranormal investigators.
FB: Those websites are very inaccurate a lot of the time. As far as the history goes, I saw one saying how Hal was a child ghost, that he was a little boy, and he died when he was in his 50s. So, definitely not a child. I have seen stuff confusing his [James’] two wives. You have to be careful using websites because one, ghosts aren’t real, and a lot of the history isn’t correct.
KC: Is there additional information that you would like to add about the collection?
FB: We do continuously find more information by going through our archive. I think that’s really interesting how we can continue to learn just based on what we find, like reading someone’s old diary or something.
KC: Is there anything specific that you’ve learned like any of the materials?
FB: So we’re actually putting together an exhibit about the later years of the village. I had never known the name of who owned the village between Hal and Brisbane and who sold it to the state. I recently found out that it was a man named William Harrison, who was a friend of Hal, who purchased it and paid off taxes and then sold it.
KC: I remember when learning about Arthur Brisbane, there was a lot of misinformation surrounding his contributions.
FB: Brisbane was a huge newspaper editorialist and did a lot with Hearst newspapers and magazines, which are still around today. I forget off the top of my head which ones are still owned by them, but I know it’s a lot.
KC: What do you hope visitors would take away from their experience at Allaire Village?
FB: My hope is for visitors to be engaged with history and to see the relevance between life in the village and today. There are a lot of parallels in how people live then and now. This is really the start of the industrial revolution and a lot of the industry and businesses visitors see in the village had a direct impact on societal and economical changes that happened over the last century. I also want to see more people get involved in local history, because there’s always really interesting things to learn.
Archival Innovators: Rebecca Hankins on the Rich LGTBQ+ Collections Housed in Cushing Memorial Library and Archives at Texas A & M University.
This is the latest post in our series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of archivists in society.
In this installment, Kristianna Chanda interviewed Rebecca Hankins. Rebecca L. Hankins, FSAA, is the Africana Resources Librarian/Curator at the Cushing Library, Texas A&M University, where her portfolio also includes women’s and gender studies. In this interview, Rebecca reveals the Cushing Library’s extensive LGBTQ+ holdings and her role in working with the LGBTQ+ community to help them preserve their heritage.
KC: Please describe your collection. What are some highlights/interesting features to your collection?
RH: I think the collection is much more diverse than many collections that deal with LGBTQ communities. They are often white collections documenting people most visible in the media and the press. I try to include individuals who are often in the background. Even in the background, they make such an impact on communities.
Our larger collections include the Don Kelly collection and the Judge Phyllis Frye papers. Phyllis Frye, a former Texas A&M student, is the first appointed judge in the city of Houston. She was appointed by the first openly gay mayor of Houston, Annise Parker. Her collection is so rich because one of the unique things I like about Phyllis is that she was always open, honest, and presented herself as “this is who I am.” She married right after graduating A & M, then served in the military as a man. She always felt something was not right. So when she came out as transgender her wife stayed with her and was her biggest cheerleader and supporter. Phyllis was unapologetic, she was in your face, and her collection is the most used of our holdings.
We also preserve the collection of Don Kelly, who still lives in Houston. I have been an archivist for over thirty years and have dealt with a wide range of people, both researchers and celebrities. Don is one of the top, number one kindest, most generous donors that you can ever meet. He was a civil servant for years in Galveston and always lived as a gay man. He collected his entire life and went into overdrive after he retired. He sent out a message to the archives listserv discussing how he would like to donate and sell part of his collection to a repository because it was just getting too large for him. I talked to my colleagues and director at the time and they thought acquiring his collection was a great idea.
I brought in a number of subject faculty in film studies, sociology, history, and other disciplines and told them we need to get this collection! At that time, it may have been 6,000 items. Now it is almost 30,000 items and he continues to add to it. It is one of our largest collections by a single donor.
The thing about the collection that is really great is that it started out with a majority white male focus. However, through discussing with Don the interests of researchers, he will seek and donate materials in those areas. So he’s built a huge collection that, through his efforts, continues to grow and evolve and become more and more inclusive.
Other collections include the papers of Arden Eversmeyer, who started the Old Lesbian Oral History Project that documents lesbians over the ages of 50 or 60; the papers of Professor Harriette Andreadis, who was head of the Women and Gender Studies program at A & M; and documents pertaining to a lawsuit demanding that Texas A&M provide services to LGBTQ students. Students involved in the case received death threats and were treated terribly but would not back down. I tell students that you must understand that sometimes, if you ask nicely they will say yes, but the majority of times they won’t. What are you willing to put on the line for what you believe in? If it is a just cause, you will see some changes.
KC: What inspired you to work with this collection?
RH I’ve been doing this ever since I started my career at the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University in New Orleans. The Amistad case itself was put before the Supreme Court by the American Missionary Association, which evolved into the United Church for Homeland Ministries. It always supported and advocated for minority communities, including LGBTQ+ communities. So when the Amistad Research Center was founded, documenting the LGBTQ+ community was one collecting focus. Part of my job at Amistad was to connect with the LGBTQ+ community and encourage them to save their materials. When I moved to the University Arizona, I continued that work, and did so again when I moved to the Cushing Library. I am definitely an advocate for community archives and for people archiving their own history to ensure it is preserved. That’s why I do it: it is important that we all have our history documented.
KC: When working with this collection, what worked? What didn’t work? Were you surprised by the outcome or any part of your experience?
RH: Because I am not a part of the community, it’s understandable that people might be suspicious. Have we been the best of allies? Have we been concerned? Is this a part of our history? I understand that it may take time for people to see me as an ally. I am willing to be patient and prove myself. That’s fine, I don’t have a problem with that. I understand being an archivist doing this work gives me a certain privilege. I have to acknowledge that and say “okay, I’m going to let you lead on this. I am going to let this be from your point of view. You tell me. We’ll see how that works.” I think that is important. It’s not my point of view that is important, mine is the least important.
You must be an ally, and you must understand that as an archivist, you are approaching this from a position of power, and you must be ready to remove your own power and pass it to the people you are trying to document.
KC: What would you do differently?
RH: I don’t think I would do things differently. I wish I had more money. Don Kelly has the most expertise when it comes to acquiring gay materials, so I give him part of my acquisitions budget to work with. I wish I could do that with all of my people.
KC: What tips do you have for archivists who want to promote inclusivity through their collections?
RH: Do it. If you want to do it, do it. Sometimes it is just about being brave. It shouldn’t be a matter about being brave. It should be about this is the right thing to do but sometimes in situations you just have to be brave enough to say this is where I am planting my flag.
I think more than anything, archivists need to be more forceful and brave in the work that we do. You won’t get accolades and you may get pushback but do the things that are important to you. I am going to do the work that I enjoy doing because I have to live with myself. So do it. Do what you think is the right thing. Most of the time it will work out and sometimes it won’t, but you will feel better about yourself.
KC: Did you get media attention? How did that happen?
RH: I understand the importance of publicity. I give presentations, I talk about my collections, I publish, and I try to get the message out any way I can. Last year something extraordinary happened when the Journal of African American History profiled my collections. I was like “Where did that come from?” The College of Liberal Arts did a profile on the Don Kelly collection, which was wonderful, and we also have a Don Kelly Fellowship. It’s about letting people know how amazing these collections are for research, learning, and education.
KC: Do you have collaborators? If so, how did you find them?
RH: Michael Jackson, an A&M cataloger, was my biggest collaborator. My good friend Dr. Miguel Juarez has written about our holdings. Dr. Francesca Marini is our outreach person and she and I have talked about the collection across the country. Francesca and I are partnering with the University of Houston on an LGBTQ exhibit.
KC: Did you have institutional, administrative, or financial support for your project? How did you go about securing that support?
RH: Yes we do. The College of Liberal Arts partners with us on the Don Kelly Fellowship. We have also started an endowment for the LGBTQ materials because we need to hire someone paid through this endowment to work with the collections.
KC: What’s next? Either for this project or a new development?
RH: We still have the Fellowship, but because of Covid we had to push it back. The 2020 Fellow will hopefully become the 2021 Fellow. Also, raising the funding for the endowment will be a priority.
KC: What barriers or challenges did you face?
RH: Most important is making people understand that I am an ally. I am here to let you take the lead.
This is the latest post in our new series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of the individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of the archivist in society.
In this installation of Archival Innovators, SAA Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Rachael Woody was interviewed for her role in founding and sponsoring the Archivist-in-Residence program at Northwest Archivists. Woody is known in professional circles for her advocacy work on behalf of archives and for her role in protecting and promoting the value of archivists. She’s also previously written on the value of archivists for ArchivesAWARE!, here, here, and here.
Rachael Cristine Woody is the owner of Rachael Cristine Consulting LLC, a firm that provides services to archives, museums, and cultural heritage organizations. She specializes in establishing collection programs, teaching grant acquisition strategy, and implementing digital collection management platforms. During her 15 year career she’s successfully revived the archives at the Freer|Sackler Museum of the Smithsonian Institution and launched the Oregon Wine History Archive at Linfield College. Woody is active in Northwest Archivists and the Society of American Archivists’ Committee on Public Awareness, the Ad-Hoc Salary Transparency Working Group, and the Independent Archivists group; and is an alumna of the Archives Leadership Institute.
Q: What is the Archivist-in-Residence program?
RCW: The Archivist-in-Residence program offers $5,000 stipend for one graduate student (or recent graduate within two years) to receive an Archivist-in-Residence opportunity. The purpose of this residency is three-fold: 1. To offer upcoming and new professionals with paid career development opportunities to apply knowledge in archives, libraries, museums, or a related field; 2. To teach new archivists how to accurately calculate the value of their education, experience, and overall value as an archivist; and 3. To provide an opportunity for archival organizations to work toward the long term goal of eliminating unpaid work within the field. This is a unique experience for a new professional to develop a project based on their career goals and work directly with an organization to determine the project’s scope and outcomes.
The Archivist-in-Residence application is now open with a deadline of March 1, 2021. You can read more and find instructions for application here.
Q: What was the impetus for the creation of the program?
RCW: For several years now I’ve researched and written on the value of archivists. Our profession is chronically underpaid and the numbers show (when accounting for inflation) that the salaries for archivists are going down, not going up, not even staying the same. The standard entry job position descriptions we see out there are requiring a masters degree, sometimes two, in addition to 1-3 years of experience. And the degree most commonly sought and “required” (according to most job positions) has a minimum 5-figure dollar amount attached–leading to even more crippling student loan debt. Due to two recessions in 12-years and other market factors, there are more entry-level archivists than there are jobs. All of these issues are contributing to a profession on the brink of collapse. So, how does this relate to why I created the Archivist-in-Residence program? Partly it’s because we have to start somewhere when it comes to untangling this problem. Unpaid internships are unethical. They take advantage of people by forcing new professionals into the untenable position of uncompensated labor that takes time away from their paying jobs. And on top of that, many of these unpaid interns are paying for the “opportunity” of unpaid work because school credit costs money.
Additionally, unpaid internships serve to contradict and undermine any Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives the organization may claim to be committed to. Unpaid internships are a gatekeeping mechanism–only those who can afford to complete unpaid work will pass through to become an archivist. And at this point we should all be aware that the socioeconomics at play here have racial oppression corollaries.
Q: What challenges did you face in starting the program and how did you navigate them?
RCW: The most pervasive challenge I ran into were people on the NWA board who couldn’t conceive of how the program could work. I had to attend several NWA board meetings, write several explanative emails, and address multiple rounds of Q&A before I received the green light to start the pilot program. I’ve found the overall nature of archivists tends to be overcautious, and to be fair this type of program had never been done at a regional organization before. It was uncomfortable for them and they needed a lot of information (sometimes repetitively) to feel confident in saying: Yes. What it came down to for me was persistence and constant communication.
Q: Why do you think there aren’t more programs like this one available?
RCW: I think what I experienced (mentioned in the previous answer) is commonly found in many organizations. Also, this is a complicated problem. I know many archivists want to pay interns but the organization either doesn’t have money period, or chooses not to prioritize funds to appropriately fund internships. For example, a colleague shared with me that their historical society was offering an internship stipend below minimum wage. This caused them great concern and they took this concern to the director. The director was shocked. They simply hadn’t done the math and they increased the stipend the following year. What’s needed at many organizations is education on living wages and professional-level pay, advocacy from staff to force changes at the organization, and fundraising when more funds are needed. And that’s all going to take time.
Q. What is the ideal outcome you hope to achieve with this program?
RCW: My ideal outcomes are two-fold: 1. Teach archivists how to calculate their value and reenforce that value with an increase in appropriately paid opportunities; and 2. Show organizations that we can be part of the solution. And overall, I want new professionals to have a better experience than I’ve had in this profession. Recognizing and paying each other our worth is the ultimate sign of respect and I want more of that in our profession.
Q: What barriers or challenges did/do you face?
RCW: In addition to the above, the most frustrating opposition I receive is the old line of: “But these students need to have an internship in order to graduate and get a job. Do I just not hire them (as an unpaid intern)?” Look, it’s not all or nothing here. This is a complicated problem that requires multiple angles of attack and it’s going to take time to create permanent change. When I say unpaid internships are unethical, I’m not saying stop everything immediately. I know that’s unrealistic. But what I am doing is challenging *you* to make steps towards change. Prioritize finding funds to pay students and stop capitulating to the superficial resistance of the “But we’ve always done it this way.” crew.
The other challenge that we will continue to face is lack of available funding at our organizations. This has always been a problem, and will remain a problem as we watch COVID-19 continue to wreak havoc economically. Some of this is reprioritizing budget lines to prioritize staff and intern compensation (a direct DEI support mechanism), and fundraising funds from donors or grants–both of which LOVE to pay for student labor. Knowing that organizational funding can be such a challenge is part of why I chose to found and sponsor the Archivist-in-Residence opportunity.
Q: What worked? What didn’t work? Were there any surprises in the process of developing your work, or lessons learned that you can share with us?
RCW: Fundraising took work, but was ultimately a smooth process. It helped that my company funded 50% ($2,500) for the first residency, because that meant we had a solid foundation to move the residency forward as a possibility. The other pleasant surprise was the team I’ve had the pleasure of serving with. This residency model is common in the arts, but there was no model for us in the archives field at a regional organization. We had to figure out application, financial, and other logistics from scratch. After working with them closely on this program for going on 2-years, I can say this has been the best committee I have ever served on. They have each worked hard and have been incredibly dedicated to all aspects of the creation of this pilot program. They are:
Erin Stoddart, University of Oregon (Oregon) Kathryn Kramer, C.M. Russell Museum (Montana) Laura Cray, Oregon Historical Society (Oregon) Rachel Thomas, George Fox University (Oregon) Sara Piasecki, National Park Service (Alaska)
Q: Where would you like to see the work continue?
RCW: For the Archivist-in-Residence program at NWA, I would like to see our program moved from pilot to permanent and to increase fundraising so that we can fund more residency positions. More broadly, I would like to see other regional and national organizations adopt this type of program, in addition to doing their part to advocate for and protect the value of our collective labor.
Q: What tips do you have for budding innovators?
RCW: Creating something new is challenging and risky. A lot of people are going to say no, because that’s what they’re comfortable with. Failing is a possibility. However, trying new things, challenging the status quo, and creating new opportunities are the only way we’ll be able to move forward.
Q: What is your favorite part of this program?
RCW: Once our first resident got started and again when they completed their residency, I felt such pride. It took a lot of work to make the residency a possibility, especially during COVID-19, and I am so so proud of myself, my team, and Abbey for the incredible work we’ve done.
You can read more about Abbey (the first Archivist-in-Resident) and her project here and here.
Q:What’s next for you?
RCW: I have been pondering this myself. I would like to see the Archivist-in-Residence transition into a permanent program, and I think I will spend more time this next year on performing larger advocacy work for archives and museums as COVID-19 has had a devastating financial impact. To read more of my thoughts on this issue, please see the post I wrote for the Northwest Archivists’ blog: 5 Actions to Take Right Now to Combat COVID-19 Economic Fallout.
Q: How can people connect with you to learn more about your work?
RCW: They can reach me or learn about me on the following accounts:
This is the latest post in our new series Archival Innovators, which aims to raise awareness of the individuals, institutions, and collaborations that are helping to boldly chart the future of the the archives profession and set new precedents for the role of the archivist in society.
In this installation of Archival Innovators, SAA Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Rachael Woody interviews Ariane Moser on Artive, a U.S. non-profit for the protection of cultural property through the use of technology.
Ariane Moser is COO of Artive Inc. and has gained a wealth of art world experience including risk management, research and due diligence while working for galleries in Switzerland and companies like the Art Recovery Group and ArtBanc International in London. Ariane is also Chief Art Officer at ArtRatio, where she further explores her interest in the relationship between the art world and technological innovations. She studied Art History and Sinology at Zurich University and holds an MA in Art Business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art.
Q: Please describe Artive’s innovation on the traditional database and how it works to identify, return, protect, and preserve cultural heritage items.
From the very beginning, Artive’s vision had been to build a database that would be highly scalable, flexible and adaptable to future technological advancements. The database has also incorporated a number of technological features that help identify claimed works of art and maintain the independence of the data held on behalf of registrants. In addition to your regular field searches and free text/keyword field searches, the Artive database also operates with integrated image recognition technology and blockchain anchored timestamps of data that has been provided for searches against the database.
Q: Where did the idea to create Artive come from? What inspired it?
Initially, the database was created to address the current modern-day risks that could impact the safe transaction and movement of works of art and cultural property. It was important to have a platform that independently collected and reported on claims that go beyond theft, plunder and missing object – legal disputes, unauthorized reproductions, loan agreements, illegal exports, financial liens are some examples of other risks that could go undetected if not checked prior to a transaction.
With time, we felt that our mandate grew beyond advising and providing tools for risk management. This was also about telling the stories that travel with the objects. So, it quickly also became about raising awareness of objects and their history and so much of our work is inspired by connecting and telling those stories.
Q. What barriers or challenges did you face?
As is a challenge for every non-profit, securing funding has always and will always be a challenge that comes with this “trade”. Other barriers that we faced were much subtler. A side effect of our main work – collecting and registering claimed works of art and cultural property – is a potentially more transparent marketplace. And perhaps that is where it may clash with the mentality and the dynamic of current art market procedures. Finding collaborations within the art market, which is also where the very objects that we are recording are circulating, has therefore not been easy at times. This is ultimately a challenge because we need those alliances to make a difference.
Using technology as a tool to do our work may also sometimes bear its own challenges in a market that has been known to be rather on the slower side of keeping up with technological developments. It is in our nature to be hopeful, though, so perhaps this year’s pandemic will have shown that there is great potential in utilizing technology, resulting in sensitizing users to the advantages of working with digital tools.
Q. Please share an example of how Artive has been used to identify, return, protect, and preserve cultural heritage.
This year, Artive received a request for a search of an object against the database prior to a sale. The buyer had requested a due diligence report be run on the object of interest. In the process, a match with an already claimed work of art was identified.
Not one case is the same as another and so how we proceed from a point of location and identification will always depend on who is involved, if the object is still part of an active investigation, in what countries the different parties are etc.
What happened in this case, was that Artive was able to bring the theft victim, the current holder and a trusted, independent recovery expert (Art Recovery International) to a round table, so that – through mediation – the object could be returned to its rightful owner.
Of course, the same scenario can apply to cultural artefacts being sold on the private and public market, where a nation or community has a claim on an object…if we manage to locate, identify and flag objects that shouldn’t be circulating and that shouldn’t be sold, then that ultimately contributes to their protection.
Q. How does Artive use archives and archival records to aid in Artive’s work?
In single instances, Artive uses archives and archival records as part of any in-depth provenance research projects. Artive is, in a way, like an archive in digital format itself. Artive’s goal is to seek partnerships and relationships with as many archives as possible in an effort to either link or digitize the archival material. The broader the audience and the access to relevant information, the higher the chances of locating and identifying objects become.
Q. In your own words, how would you describe the importance of archival records?
To me personally, archival records are like witnesses, giving testimony beyond the lifetime of what they’re recording. There is no research without archival records. Without this documentation, there is no understanding of our past and therefore, there is no conscious knowledge of our present and future. Archival records are gatekeepers to the different realities and truths that have existed before us and the evidence they hold is invaluable and irreplaceable.
Q. What tips do you have for budding innovators?
If you’re fortunate, you will have assembled a team that is diverse but that shares the same DNA. A strong team will make it possible to drive your mission forward and inspire other people to join you. It may feel like you’re sprinting the length of a marathon at times, but so long as you’re open to change course without losing sight of your vision then you will find it easier to keep going. And you don’t have to do it alone, either. Build networks and partnerships with like-minded peers, share resources etc. As much as we like to be independent and shake off our competitors, we are all interconnected and there is great value in collaboration.
Q: What’s next for Artive?
We are still focused on our two initiatives, the Open Access initiative and the Digital Outreach initiative. The vision really is to diversify both, the types of claims and the types of objects that are registered on the database and make it all accessible to the public. We would like to build as many bridges to other custodians of digital data so that the world can become a more connected world.
Do you know an Archival Innovator who should be featured on ArchivesAWARE? Send us your suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org!