“Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights:” How Progress Seen in Local Activism Impacts the National Narrative

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.

Debunking the Myths Surrounding the “Deserted” Village of Allaire

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?

A 7-page Deed from James P. Allaire giving property to his second wife Calicia.

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. 

“What are you willing to put on the line for what you believe in?”

Archival Innovators: Rebecca Hankins on the Rich LGTBQ+ Collections Housed in Cushing Memorial Library and Archives at Texas A & M University.

Rebecca Hankins with Academy Award-winning writer and director Dustin Lance Black, writer of Milk, when he spoke at A&M.

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?

A poster of LGBTQ+ buttons is part of the A&M collections.

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.

Archival Innovators: Rachael Cristine Woody on the Creation of the Archivist-in-Residence Program.

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.

What it comes down to is this: If we as professional archivists aren’t paying new archivists to do professional-level work, then we are not just perpetuating an unethical system, we are actively facilitating the devaluation of our work.

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.

To read more about reprioritizing the budget, please see Rachael’s post on Lucidea’s Think Clearly Blog: Unpaid Internships: A Reason to DEAI the Museum Budget.

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.

We have to be our own heroes here and save ourselves.

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:

Email: consulting@rachaelcristine.com

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

RCW: Yes, I’d like to take a moment and thank our co-sponsors for this project. We just signed on a second group of sponsors who I am particularly grateful to as I know COVID-19 has impacted everyone. Many of these sponsors are doing so for the second year in a row and their involvement in supporting this program signals to me that they are companies who have a great respect for our work as archivists. Those Gold-level sponsors are: Schellinger Research, Lucidea, Emporia State University School of Library and Information Management, Hollinger Metal Edge, and Permanent.org. With Gaylord Archival and the Northeast Document Conservation Center supporting this program at the Bronze-level.

Do you know an Archival Innovator who should be featured on ArchivesAWARE?  Send us your suggestions at archivesaware@archivists.org!


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 archivesaware@archivists.org!

Archival Innovators: Bridgett Kathryn Pride, the Reference Librarian of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division and Art and Artifacts Division within the New York Public Library.

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.

Bridgett Kathryn Pride, the Reference Librarian of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division and Art and Artifacts Division within the New York Public Library.

In this installation of Archival Innovators, SAA Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Rachael Woody interviews Bridgett Kathryn Pride, Reference Librarian of the Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division and the Art and Artifacts Division of the Schomburg Center for Research inBlack Culture, one of four research libraries within the New York Public Library system.

Bridgett is a part of the inaugural class of fellows Rare Book School for Cultural Heritage, focusing on Black collections and zine making. Bridgett received her MLIS, and a MA in History from Simmons University in 2018. She was a part of the Diversity, Equity, Race, Accessibility, and Identity in LIS (DERAIL) forum, and served as the 2018 project manager. Bridgett was awarded the 2018 Kenneth Shaffer Outstanding Student Award for student leadership. She studies American women and their intersectional identities with gender, race, and class in the 19th and 20th centuries.

RW: How did you get into archives, or why archives?

BKP: Actually Rachael, you inspired me quite a bit. I am not sure that I would have taken the path into library science, and then archives without your suggestion when I was in undergrad. Once you recommend I look into the field, everything just sort of fell into place. While I was earning my BA in Literature I was working in the university library and bookstore and loved it. I remember being really interested in learning about book preservation, especially from an “arts and crafts” perspective. I was romanced by the idea that rare books, and historical documents needed specific kinds of care to last in perpetuity, and had to know more.

After finishing my Literature degree I took some time off, then went back to school to earn a BA in History, my other love. Once I finished there, I went straight into library school for a double masters in LIS/Archives, and History. I was thankful to find a program at Simmons University that provided a pathway to complete both degrees together. It was in studying history that I realized people sharing my identity were hard to come by. I had to work extra hard to learn about queer Black women, and decided that the only way to make sure this problem is addressed is by doing the work myself. I began focusing my historical study in grad school on Black women artists and activists.

RW: How did you get your gig at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture?

BKP: The same way as anyone else! I applied when I found the job posting. I knew that this was my dream job! I get to help researchers navigate collections created by Black folks, and I get to work with art and other historical artifacts. I remember being brought to tears during the end of my interview when Tammi Lawson, the curator of the Art and Artifacts Division said her favorite part of working at the Schomburg was that you get to celebrate being Black every day. In our field, that is dominated by white supremacy, hearing that was like being given breath after being on the brink of drowning. 

RW: Please describe the work you do there.

BKP: As the reference librarian, I meet with researchers to discuss their projects, teach instruction sessions for visiting groups and classes, build research guides on specific topics, and manage the public services workflow for my divisions; including scheduling research appointments and monitoring the reading room.

RW: Please describe the collections or one of your favorite collections.

BKP: Our collections are created by and about people of African descent. The collection was first imagined by Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, a Puerto Rican born Black man who was told by one of his teachers that Black people did not have their own history, and did not create anything worthy of study. He then spent his life collecting “Vindicating Evidences” of the intelligence, creativity, and genius of Black people around the globe. 

I have SO MANY favorite collections, from the Black Panther Party Harlem Branch Files, to the Storme Delarverie Papers, to two short letters written by Nella Larsen discussing the “small get together”  she would throw before the Cullen-DuBois wedding (that ultimately none of her guests would attend). One thing that I love about our collections is how much they feed into one another. For example, we have both Lorraine Hansberry and Langston Hughes’ papers. Each collection includes a folder of correspondence that was written to the other. You can almost read them side-by-side to see their beautiful friendship. One of my favorite items is a play bill that Langston sent Lorraine from when he went to see A Raisin in the Sun, the title of which is from Langston’s poem “Harlem”. On the cover, he wrote that he saw the play and watched the entire audience “cry all around” him because it was so beautiful.

RW: You were selected as a Rare Books School Mellon Cultural Heritage Fellow. Can you tell us more about that, the process you went through to become a fellow, and the work you’ll be doing as a fellow?

BKP: I am a part of the inaugural class of 15 fellows who work in multicultural collections in the US. I found out about the fellowship because the curator of the Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division Is a Rare Book School instructor. She had sent out the announcement that this fellowship had just been funded and if we were interested, we should apply. Because of my interest in Black zines, and how they have been used by the community to spread information, I was eager to apply. There was an application with several essays about why I was applying and how I intend to share what I learn in our field, then a few interviews. The object of the fellowship is for us to develop skills for documenting and interpreting visual and textural materials in special collections and archives, to raise awareness within professional communities about the significance of inclusive, multicultural collections, build connection with diverse communities and public through strategic programing, outreach and advocacy, and advance our careers by establishing new pathways and skills for personal growth. Since the Corona Virus hit, all of our in person classes, conferences, and meetings have been postponed, however we have been meeting monthly for guest speakers, and to discuss articles. Rare Book School has also been hosting other open events that many of the fellows have attended. 

Bridget Kathryn Pride pictured holding a pamphlet she created, entitled Reading & Creating Zines.

RW: You recently created Exploring Black LGBTQ Studies in the Schomburg Center’s Archive, a libguide. Can you please describe your work on this project? Where did the idea to create the libguide come from? What inspired it?

BKP: One of my main jobs as a reference librarian is to teach people how to navigate the collections at the Schomburg. One popular theme I address in both instruction sessions and research consultations is how to identify collections created by queer Black folks. Because I am a part of this community, I was more than thrilled to build a guide to help researchers access these collections. The year I started at the Schomburg Center, NYPL was celebrating Stone Wall 50, the 50th anniversary of the StoneWall Riots. They had received some grant money to process collections by and about queer folks, and made a big push to provide access to LGBT+ collection materials. However, I found that it was hard to locate Black people in these collections. Furthermore, it was really hard to locate Black women. My goal then became to highlight the collections at the Schomburg Center to address the violence done by excluding Black voices.

RW: What barriers or challenges did/do you face?

BKP: At first I thought I was wrong! I kept thinking that there was no way that they would have forgotten to include Black people. I kept thinking, maybe I just am bad at searching. But then realized that I was not the problem, the folks making the decisions on what archival materials to collect didn’t think outside of their own identities. Then, I also discovered that while there were collections that specifically discussed LGBT+ or queer studies, there were lots of collections at the Schomburg Center that were created by queer folks that could not be located using search terms dealing with queerness. For example, you will not find James Baldwin’s papers when searching “Black Gay Authors”, only “Black Authors.” I discovered that even at the Schomburg, parts of people’s identities had been erased.

I was also disappointed to learn about the general lack of collecting that focused on all members of the LGBTQ+ community. Specifically, trans folks are not represented, asexual folks, are missing, and so many others are not represented. Over all, while previous work to document LGBTQ+ stories were focused largely on cis gay White men, the Schomburg also appears to have a bias for cis gay Black men.

RW: 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?

BKP: I struggled with how to explain the issue that some well known queer folks would not be findable using the guide. (See James Bladwin example). After many revisions, I settled on just being explicit about what the “Queer Studies” subject heading meant, rather than explaining what it excluded. The other part I was surprised by was that non-Schomburg NYPL folks had lots of thoughts and feeling about using the word “queer”, which I heavily identify with. At the end of the day, I ended up changing the guide title, removing the word “queer” in most instances, and focusing on the fact that no mater if the word is queer, or LGBT+, this guide focusing on Black queer folks was now Out in the world.

RW: Where would you like to see the work continue?

BKP: I would like to see a review of our subject headings used on collections that have not been identified as “Queer studies”. Labeling someone as a “Gay Black Author” is important and valuable for a lot of our researchers.

RW: What tips do you have for budding innovators?

BKP: Find what you are passionate about and go from there! Our field is in a transition period. We need to be thinking outside of the box to share our collections in creative ways so that people can continue to see their value. Right now I am doing that with research guides and zines. I am sure there are many other ways to engage with users based on other interests.

A group of children from Beginning with Children Charter School in New York City pose at the Schomburg Center. These children worked with Bridgett to create a zine discussing the book One Crazy Summer and what they learned about the Black Panther Party during Bridgett’s class.

These are sample zine pages from a two volume series created by the students from Beginning with Children Charter School. You can view, download, and print zine volumes 1 & 2 here and here. These are designed to be printed double-sided, flip along the short edge.

RW: In your own words, how would you describe the importance of archival records?

BKP: Archives show us the important journeys of people living their lives. Through archives we see a snapshot of time and place in the materials that were kept. It is a unique experience for every person based upon what they valued. Archival records are as diverse as the people in the world. It is our job to make sure that we are allowing these stories to be available for future generations, and that this diversity is captured.

RW: What is your favorite part of the job?

BKP: I love teaching! I recently started leading zine workshops at the Schomburg to connect young users with the concept of the archive. It brings my heart so much joy to see the faces of Black and Brown learners see themselves reflected in history, not as enslaved people, but as innovators, creators, and activists. That is priceless!

RW: What’s next for you?

BKP: Lots of things! I am about to publish a new research guide on the history of Black protest as it is documented at the Schomburg. [The guide was published on September 21, 2020–after this interview–and is linked here.] I am working with my team on reopening plans, and learning the best ways to teach instruction sessions online. I am working on a few blog posts for NYPL, so I can start completing my own research again, and I am hoping to collaborate with my colleagues on a few other new projects. The wish list of projects and programs is never ending. I need more hours in the week to do everything I am interested in.

RW: How can people connect with you to learn more about your work?

BKP: Folks can find me on Linkedin, Instagram, and Twitter!

Do you know an Archival Innovator who should be featured on ArchivesAWARE?  Send us your suggestions at archivesaware@archivists.org!

Archival Innovators: Miyamoto Loretta Jensen, “The Polynesian Genealogist,” and Pacific Islands Records and Oral Genealogies Analyst of FamilySearch.

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 of Rachael Cristine Consulting LLC interviews Miyamoto Loretta Jensen, “The Polynesian Genealogist,” and Pacific Inslands Records and Oral Genealogies Analyst of FamilySearch. Jensen is a professional genealogist specializing in Polynesian and Oceania genealogy. She works as a Pacific Islands Records and Oral Genealogies Analyst at FamilySearch. Her ancestry includes Samoan, Tongan, Hawaiian, Japanese, German, French, and English.

Miyamoto Loretta Jensen, also known as “The Polynesian Genealogist”.

RW: Please describe the work you do as the Polynesian Genealogist.

MLJ: My work as the Polynesian Genealogist consists of connecting individuals and families to their Oceania ancestors. My social media platform is used to share Oceania history, culture, and research methodology. I do this work because I enjoy teaching and assisting people in finding their ancestors. Along with social media, I do contract research work for clients.

RW: Where did the idea to be involved in Polynesian genealogy come from? What inspired it?

MLJ: I knew that I wanted to get involved with Polynesian genealogy when I tried to research my own family. With my rich Polynesian heritage, there was a lot of frustration and confusion as I tried to find my ancestors. I had no professional Polynesian genealogist in the field to turn to for help. Realizing this, I knew that this was my opportunity to really make a difference for my people. I am inspired everyday as I receive DMs from people all over the world saying that what I do has given them hope in their genealogy journeys. My son is also a major part of my inspiration because I want him to have a strong sense of his identity. What better way to achieve this than by knowing his family history?

RW: How does your work with oceanic records differ (or not?) from records found in the US, Western Europe, etc.? What are some challenges unique to the collections?

MLJ: The two most notable differences between Eurocentric and Oceania research are the cultural approaches to genealogy and the historical method of record keeping. Genealogies served as functions in Oceania societies. One’s ancestry determined the following:

  • Territorial organization
  • Land ownership
  • Inheritance
  • Marriage regulation
  • Social control
  • Political representation
  • Feud support
  • Ritual Observance

This is why genealogies were, and still are, viewed as sacred. They are heavily guarded and protected from anyone who may want to take advantage of ancestral lines for personal gain.

In Eurocentric cultures, facts and stories were mainly kept on paper. Oceania practiced and preserved their culture, heritage, and histories through the spoken word. Because of this, oral genealogies were passed down generation after generation until the arrival of foreigners to their homelands. This is when paper was introduced. Overtime, paper replaced oral traditions because of colonization. Now, oral genealogies are either completely lost or are generally not practiced as much in Oceania today.

RW: How does your work with Polynesian genealogy intersect with your work on ancestral trauma?

MLJ: My work has everything to do with ancestral trauma. Oceanians today are living and experiencing the effects of generational trauma. The very introduction of foreigners to Oceania brought forth diseases which destroyed much of the indigenous populations across the Pacific. Some peoples were completely eradicated because of it. Other cultures were forced to end their cultural practices; some were kidnapped and put into slavery in a foreign land; kingdoms were illegally overthrown; and now, the descendants of the trauma survivors are living with and feeling the heartache and pain experienced by their ancestors. This trauma, if left unchecked and unhealed, is passed down generation after generation. Family history is the means of identifying, addressing, and healing ours and our ancestors’ trauma.

RW: Can you tell us more about your work with ancestral trauma as a genealogist?

MLJ: I come across all kinds of families in my research. Some have many children, others don’t. Some have famous family members; others have common folk. No matter the background, I find traumatic experiences in every family. For me, it can be emotionally taxing to see and constantly be exposed to the horrific experiences of an ancestor – be it my own ancestors or another’s. Practicing my own self-care gives me strength to bare and endure my own emotional response to ancestral trauma. Ultimately, I feel like this work has transformed me into a better wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend.

RW: What barriers or challenges did/do you face?

MLJ: I think my biggest challenge is being a pioneer in this work. I only know of one other professional genealogist that is specialized in Hawaiian genealogy. I am working towards being a genealogy professional in every Oceania culture. I often feel lonely in my pursuits, but I know that I am never truly alone. I have so many people – both living and dead – coaching, cheering, and encouraging me on!

RW: 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?

MLJ: What has brought me great success in this work is my understanding of Oceania culture. For example, I recently learned how my Oceania ancestors reckoned with time and space. Out here in the West, we believe that the future is in front and the past is behind. This was the opposite for my ancestors – the past is in front of us and the future is behind. Because the past has already happened, we can see it clearly and therefore, it must be in front of us. This is the past. If we cannot see something, then it must be behind us. This is the future. As we navigate through our lives, our ancestors are in front of us to prepare us for what we cannot see – the future. In the present, we are the embodiment of all of our ancestors in a living, breathing body. My ancestors had their hearts turned to their ancestors since the day the were born. This mentality changed the way I viewed myself and my own family. It also allowed me the ability to see how my ancestors saw the circle of life. I now know they are there guiding me every single day and it is my job to study their histories and to learn their lessons in preparation for my future life.

RW: In your own words, how would you describe the importance of archival records?

MLJ: Archival records either oral or written are shreds of evidence that we existed. It is our job to leave bits and pieces of us behind so that our posterity can hear us as we guide them through our pasts to prepare them for their futures.

Miya as an intern at the Hawaii State Archives. Summer 2017.

RW: What is your favorite part of the job?

MLJ: I love the “high” I get when I find records, stories, facts, and when I break through brick walls. It is extremely satisfying. I could chase this gratification all day and all night!

More than my personal gain, I love being able to connect the dots in family trees for those who could not do it for themselves. I feel honored and privileged to be given the trust and responsibility find families.

RW: What tips do you have for budding innovators?

MLJ: I would say to any budding innovators, find your niche and RUN WITH IT! It doesn’t matter if there are others who have done what you want to do or if there is no one (like me) who has done what you want to do. Just do it! You can do it! If you are willing to pay the price, YOU CAN DO IT.

I am 1000% dedicated to this work. I eat, think, breathe, sleep, dream, walk the walk, and talk the talk when it comes to Polynesian and Oceania genealogy. It is all I do and want to do. I am constantly reading and researching credible sources, consistently networking with other professionals, pursuing more and more education, writing articles, teaching classes once a week on my Instagram Lives on various Polynesian genealogy topics, investing in myself by attending classes, conferences, workshops, etc. You name it! I am putting in the work to learn more and do better 24/7.

RW: What’s next for you?

MLJ: My next thing step is to become a certified genealogist. That’s in the works. I am almost ready to submit my portfolio for review!

In the next two years, I plan on attending law school. I did not expect to be doing this at all, but after many promptings, I feel that this is the next best thing to do.

I want to also learn more about genetic genealogy. I recently binge watched Cece Moore’s show “The Genetic Detective” and it has inspired me to want to do what she does! I want to gain experience in unknown parentage and genetic genealogy research like Cece, but for all Oceanian people. And the terrible stories of many murdered and missing indigenous women in the United States has strengthened my resolve to not just learn, but become a master at genetic genealogy. I want to help those women and their families.

RW: How can people connect with you to learn more about your work?

MLJ: Y’all can find me at the following places:

When Miya isn’t researching, she is wishing she could be back home in Hawaii surfing the waves with her family!

Do you know an Archival Innovator who should be featured on ArchivesAWARE?  Send us your suggestions at archivesaware@archivists.org!

Archival Innovators: Dr. Meral Ekincioglu

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.

1. Dr Meral Ekincioglu

Dr Meral Ekincioglu (courtesy of Dr Meral Ekincioglu).

In this installation of Archival Innovators, SAA Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Rachel Seale interviews Dr. Meral Ekincioglu on her research project and its findings in regards to diversity and underrepresented architecture communities in archives at pioneering schools of architecture in the United States.

Please describe your innovative project.

As a scholar with Ph.D. degree in postwar architecture history and a member of Society of American Archivists (2019-2020), my current research project aims to investigate diversity and inclusion in current historical documentation practice at archives and collections established by pioneering schools of architecture in the country. As participants of my research project (archivists, curators and librarians in architecture) have indicated in their written responses, they don’t know such research study information so far. With the rising tension on  women, politics of gender and other identity-based issues happening in schools of architecture in recent times, such as “Convergence” organized by Harvard University-Graduate School of Design-Women in Design Group where I was one of the panelists,1 my purpose with this research project is to stimulate a critical awareness of current strategies, policies and methods of historical documentation practice in architecture education with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion, and to establish a dialogue between the field of archive and architecture to make progress together on this subject.

With this research problem and concern, I contacted leading schools of architecture whose graduate programs were ranked the top ten (2018-2019) according to survey conducted by Design Intelligence 2 and published by Architectural Record. 3 In particular, my focal point has been “schools of architecture” because education is the core of all other dimensions of architecture, such as academic career, teaching, the construction of (critical) architecture history-historiography, professional (design) practice, etc. Architecture record archivist at the Yale University-School of Architecture; special collection archivist at the Harvard University-Graduate School of Design; librarian at the Princeton University- School of Architecture; 4 curator at the architecture and design collections at the MIT Museum; architecture, urban planning, and visual resources librarian at University of Michigan; art, architecture & engineering library; head of special collections at University of Rice; and library manager at the Kappe Library-SCI-Arch have kindly participated to my research project. In addition, the director at Archives & Records at the American Institute of Architects (AIA), in Washington D.C., has shared how the AIA has advocated for some research and archiving to document women in architecture and underrepresented groups of architects to increase diversity in the profession, and the AIA’s organizational records within this context.

Where did you get your idea and what inspired you?

The starting point of my scholarly and architectural concern about lack of diversity and inclusion in historical documentation of multicultural United States architecture has been my advanced academic research project on immigrant, foreign-born women architects and politics of gender that I conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for two years. Secondly, following sentences (2016) by Professor Kenneth Frampton, architecture historian and critics at Columbia University have given a very significant impetus for my current research project: “….in trying to expand modern architectural critical history, the big issue is, what you include, and what you exclude…” 5 Thirdly, statements by Elizabeth Chu Richter (FAIA 2015 AIA President) has another motivation for me: “….There is plenty of anecdotal information that suggests there has been progress in building a more diverse and inclusive profession. Yet, the information is just that- anecdotal…..We need data, not anecdote…” 6 As the American Institute of Architecture-Diversity in the Profession of Architecture, Executive Summary (2016) also underlines, there is more work to be done to support and promote equity, diversity and inclusion in architecture, 7 and diverse and inclusive historical documentation in architecture is not an exception with this critical context.8 Finally, my architectural and personal roots come from Istanbul located in-between West and East cultures with its multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious history; and I worked as publishing coordinator and journalist in architecture. In other words, it is a natural desire for me to promote diversity in my expertise field due to my own roots, and effective communication among people, disciplines, fields and cultures has been always one of the important missions for me throughout my career in architecture.

What worked? What didn’t work? Were you surprised by the outcome or any part of your experience? 

First of all, I would like to say that most of archivists, librarians and curators with whom I have contacted for this research project responded to me in a positive and supportive way. I think that they are deeply aware of critical issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion in today’s multicultural U.S. architecture. When I had the opportunity to meet some of them at their programs, they were very open to establishing communication, to know my own scholarly research experience on immigrant women architects & politics of gender, to discuss recent critical issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion in architecture. Their supportive approach and openness in communication have been very motivating for me to continue this research.

2. Jessica Quagliaroli -Meral Ekincioglu-Yale University

Dr. Meral Ekincioglu and Jessica Quagliaroli, Architecture Record Archivist at Yale University, School of Architecture (courtesy of Dr. Meral Ekincioglu).

In terms of surprising facts and outcomes of this research experience, the systematic documenting and collecting of historical documents at the schools of architecture who have participated to my research project did not seem to have a long history, according to participants’ written responses: The end of the 1960s – 1970s seem to be a threshold to establish their architectural archive programs or collections. More surprisingly, one of the architectural archives programs at a leading school of architecture began around 2000.  If we remember, the historical background of the early architecture programs at major universities as first courses taught goes back in the country to the 1800s, and one of its characteristics is the role of immigrants from various cultures in its progress. With this historical background and characteristics, architecture education has been undergoing several challenging transformations in the early 21st century, like globalization. 9 Within this picture, the most well-known collections (including models, photographs, and architectural drawings, etc.) now in existence began to be developed since the 18th century in order to support teaching of architecture in the country as Alfred Willis points out in his essay. 10

In this respect, there seems to be a highly critical big gap in diverse and inclusive historical documentation practice at leading schools of architecture in the country, such as historical materials on pioneering profiles of foreign-born, underrepresented, minority students and professional -design- practitioners in their own history. Secondly, in spite of this critical picture, most of participants could not share a mission statement in effect to uncover, support and promote diversity in the content of archives and collections at their schools of architecture. Thirdly, although the architectural world has been using digital tools and apps extensively, and digital archives and collections enable everyone to search historical information and materials easier and faster, most of participants pointed out that their programs don’t have a digital archival project; one of them has a digitization project “underway”; one of them has “piloted” digital initiatives by scanning significant amounts of materials from their collections, etc.

Needless to say, increased access to historical materials for everyone has a remarkable potential to support and promote new findings and scholarly discussions on diversity, equity and inclusion in (multicultural US) architecture, its (critical) history and historiography. Among participants, the SCI-Arch library has a noteworthy project: Digitization SCI-Arch videotapes of public lectures which were approaching the end of their 40-year lifespan. Finally, we have been witnessing the appointments of women deans and head of departments in the US architecture in recent times, such as at MIT (J. Meejin Yoon as the head of the department of architecture, 2014-2018); Columbia (Amale Andraos as the dean of Columbia GSAPP, 2014-present); Yale (Deborah Berke as the dean of school of architecture, 2016-present); Princeton (Mónica Ponce de León as the dean of school of architecture, 2016-present); and Cornell (J. Meejin Yoon as the dean of Cornell University College of Architecture, Art and Planning, 2019-present).  They have remarkable contributions to architecture in various ways. On the other hand, in terms of my research problem, one of the crucial questions is what those successful women’s academic leaders have brought to support and promote more diverse, inclusive and equal historical documentation practice at their programs and institutions in architecture so far; and what is their near future vision for this endeavor?

What’s next? Either for this project or a new development?

For this project, I plan to contact and to ask the same research questions to the next ten archival programs and collections at schools of architecture according to the same survey; and it would be great to bring together relevant archivists and architects to discuss together how to take steps for new developments on this subject. I completely agree with a participant’s comment: “there is a certain degree of inter-disciplinarity that needs to understood.” Needless to say, development in more diverse and inclusive collective memory in architecture might have a very positive impact on from pedagogical agenda to hiring practices, more diverse and inclusive workforce and leadership profiles for economic productivity in the field, more inclusive built environment and architectural spaces for everyone in the society regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, etc. For this, I think that we (research community and practitioners in historical documentation in architecture) should collaborate with each other in a more effective way.

4. With Rafael Reif the MIT President

Dr. Ekincioglu with Professor Reif, the MIT President, after their conversation about her advanced academic research project on immigrant women architects, diversity and inclusion in –the US- architecture and historical documentation in the field (courtesy of Dr. Meral Ekincioglu).

What barriers or challenges did you face?

If I could reach out to some archivists and organizations relevant to my research topic, it would be great to comprehend this issue and to discuss what we can do together. 11 Open communication channels among various people and organizations, effective and long-term dialogue are very important to better understand the current problems, challenges and struggles for diverse, equal and inclusive architecture, and what can be done for historical documentation practice in light of these issues. In addition, according to the e-mail by Cornell University (on February 5, 2019), they did not have an archivist or a curator specifically attached to architectural and visual documents; so it was another challenge to find out their methods, strategy, policy etc. on diverse historical documentation for their own history. Finally, I could not find information if there is any recent data, survey etc. on the diversity in archivists and curators’ profile in architecture collections in the US.

How did you use archives /this project as a catalyst for getting different groups to talk to each other (cross-generational, cross-cultural, etc.)?

As a catalyst in-between archives and (critical) architecture history, in the coming months, I am very glad that my conference abstract has been accepted by “Midwest Archivists Conference (MAC) 2020 Annual Meeting” and hope to establish a productive bridge between two fields. In addition, two organizations have kindly invited me to present my project and discuss its findings with my concerns on diversity and inclusion. (Under current health issues, we have decided to re-schedule those presentations ). In addition, I have also contacted Boston Society of Architects, New England Society of Architecture Historians and the Archivist Round Table of Metropolitan New York Inc. to share my research studies on this topic. With those connections, I would like to bring into focus some questions and issues in-between two fields and professions; such as how can we raise awareness of each other’s work and research studies by considering recent critical discussions on diversity, equity and inclusion in (the US) architecture; what can we can do together (archivists and architects) to stimulate new architectural research on diversity, equity and inclusion, and for diversification of the archival records in architecture; what are long-held traditional practices, methods and policies in historical documentation of (multicultural US) architecture and how we can break down these traditions for more inclusive, diverse practice in this field; what are the changing role and responsibilities of archival programs and  their practitioners as a response to rising influence of globalization, migration and gender-based political arguments in today’s (US) architecture; what are the expectations by archivists from scholars, professors, students and practitioners in architecture for more effective collaboration to support diverse and inclusive historical documentation.

What was your institution/archives like before you started developing this project?  Does your institution have a history of supporting innovation in archives?

During my research studies at MIT, I have also created and developed a collection on pioneering Turkish women architects from the first (1930s-1960s) and second generations (1960s-present) for the Archnet that is  partnership between the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) and the Aga Khan Documentation Center, MIT Libraries. (AKDC@MIT). This collection also includes a few significant (immigrant) Turkish and Turkish-American women architects with their contributions to postwar American and Turkish architecture. Archnet is is an open access on architecture, urbanism, environmental and landscape design, visual culture, and conservation issues as related to Muslim and Muslim-majority societies, their past and present. I think that there was a big gap in their sources on leading women profiles and documentation practice from those architecture cultures and geographic locations. As one of the significant feminist cases from modern, secular and Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East, women architects in modern and contemporary Turkish architecture have been a timely step to get attention to diversity in women architects (It is in-progress to upload the entire collection and its editing). In addition, following my appointment with the curator at the MIT Museum (Architecture and Design Collections) for my current research project (April 2019), I am so glad to learn that it was organized “Women of MIT Wikipedia Hackathon as a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Department of Architecture” on August 6, 2019. 12 When I began my advanced academic research project on immigrant women architects in postwar US at MIT in 2014, one of my essential concerns was the lack of historical documentation on (diverse) women architects, and today, I am happy to witness such efforts at the Institute related to the history of its architecture program, one of the oldest one in its field.

3. Dr. Meral Ekincioglu presentation at the 71st Society of Architecture Historians International Conference April 2018

Academic presentation by Dr. Meral Ekincioglu based on her archival research on  pionnering Turkish and TurkishAmerican women architects in postwar US at the 71st Society of Architectural Historians, International Conference, St. Paul, MN, 2018 (courtesy of Dr. Meral Ekincioglu).

Thank you for this opportunity to reach out to your readers in archive and relevant fields to raise an awareness of diverse and inclusive architectural memory in today’s US.

Trained as an architect, Dr. Ekincioglu is a scholar in postwar architecture history and the subjects of her current academic study are politics of gender, multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion in her expertise field. Following her Ph.D. degree in Architecture, she conducted her advanced academic research project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-History, Theory and Criticism of Architecture Program for two years.  Her scholarly endeavor brings into focus a critical insight into the politics of gender in institutional policies, academia, the profession, education, history and history-writing, and examines cross-cultural relations and transnational (design) practice in postwar architecture.

In her expertise field, she presented her research projects at the MIT-HTC Program, the International Women in Architecture Symposium at Virginia Tech., the MIT-Women’s and Gender Studies Program, the Women’s Studies Speaker Series at the CUNY-Graduate Center, Harvard University, the 71st Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) – Annual International Conference where she was awarded by a SAH fellowship. In addition, she was a panelist at “A Convergence at the Confluence of Power, Identity and Design” organized by the Women in Design Group at the Harvard University, Graduate School of Design, at “A Square and Half – The Colors, A Tribute by Ivaana Muse” at the MIT Museum, a speaker 51st NeMLA, Northeast Modern Language Association, Annual Convention at Boston University (Convention title: Shaping and Sharing Identities: Spaces, Places, Languages and Cultures), at WikiConference North America on reliability / credibility information at MIT, and “Media in Transition 5 and 6”, two international conferences organized by the MIT-Comparative Media Studies.

Her recent conference abstract, “Tracing Diversity in Historical Documentation of Architecture Education in the US” has been accepted by Midwest Archives Conference, 2020 Annual Meeting. Dr. Ekincioglu is also an author and a contributor of two international publication projects on women architects (forthcoming 2021).

Prior to MIT, she was a research fellow at the Harvard University, Aga Khan History of Art and Architecture, Ph.D. Program, and  research scholar at the Columbia University, Graduate School of Planning and Preservation, Ph.D. Program for her Ph.D. dissertation research. She created and developed the collection, “Women in Modern and Contemporary Territories of Turkish Architecture” at MIT to contribute to documentation of diverse women architects profiles, conducted short documentary film projects on immigrant and underrepresented figures in architecture, and has a certificate by Consortium for Graduate Studies, Gender, Culture, Women & Sexuality (GCWS) at MIT. Dr. Ekincioglu was a member of Society of American Archivists (2019-2020).

Notes and references:

  1. See, https://www.gsd.harvard.edu/event/a-convergence-at-the-confluence-of-power-identity-and-design/, last accessed on 1.20.2020.
  2. See for its survey, https://www.di-rankings.com/most-admired-schools-architecture/, last access on 1.18.2020; for research methodology of this survey, see, https://www.di-rankings.com/methodology/, the last accessed on 1.9.2020.
  3. See for its publication, Gilmore, D., 2018, Top Architecture Schools of 2019, Architectural Record, September 4; https://www.architecturalrecord.com/articles/13611-top-architecture-schools-of-2019; the last accessed on 12.10.2019.
  4. Based on their e-mail on February 22, 2019, the Princeton University, School of Architecture was without an archivist at that time.
  5. See for Kenneth Frampton conversation at the Harvard University, GSD, ChinaGSD Distinguished Lecture: Professor Kenneth Frampton, “Chinese Architecture”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8asbjkin-W0&t=3756s, (1:01:06), 10.29.2019.
  6. See for its reference, Diversity in the Profession of Architecture Executive Summary 2016, the American Institute of Architects, http://content.aia.org/sites/default/files/2016-05/Diversity-DiversityinArchitecture.pdf, p. 2, accessed on 10.15.2019.
  7. See, Equity, Diversity, And Inclusion Commission Executive Summary January 25, 2017, http://content.aia.org/sites/default/files/2017-01/Diversity-EquityDiversityInclusionCommission-FINAL.pdf, accessed on 10.15.2019.
  8. At that point, I would like to underline a recent data project related to architecture history: The Society of Architectural Historians has just launched the SAH Data Project to collect information on the status of architectural history in higher education in the US. As it is indicated on their official link, their surveys aim to determine where and in what ways the field of architectural history is expanding, receding, holding steady, and to consider the structural or cultural factors behind such trends. See, “Society of Architectural Historians Launches Surveys for Study of Architectural History in Higher Education” by SAH News | Feb 21, 2020, https://www.sah.org/about-sah/news/sah-news/news-detail/2020/02/21/society-of-architectural-historians-launches-surveys-for-study-of-architectural-history-in-higher-education, last accessed on 3.15.2020.
  9. For a well-detailed and in-depth discussion on the history of architecture education in the US, see Ockman, J. (ed.), Williams, R. (research editor), 2012, Architecture School: Three Centuries of Educating Architects in North America, published on the Centennial Anniversary of the Association of Collegiate School of Architecture, 1912-2012, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
  10. See, Willis, A., 1996, “The Place of Archives in the Universe of Architectural Documentation”, The American Archivist, Vol. 59, No. 2, Spring, pp. 192-196; its link: https://americanarchivist.org/doi/pdf/10.17723/aarc.59.2.l54510w443504578, last accessed on 1.20.2020.
  11. Such as the current curator of Drawings and Archives at Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library at Columbia University, the New England Archivists (NEA) and AIA New York’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
  12. See https://calendar.mit.edu/event/women_of_mit_wikipedia_hackathon?fbclid=IwAR0PEgbGMtQyNaQAUCpGmYhDRAgVYrzoBl9Ro cwJeSc0_AkiJYKzswYsZUw#.XgvjvUdKiM, https://mitmuseum.mit.edu/calendar/women-mit-wikipedia-hackathon; https://outreachdashboard.wmflabs.org/courses/MIT_Libraries_and_MIT_Museum/Women_at_MIT, (In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Department of Architecture), last accessed on 1.15.2020.

Do you know an Archival Innovator who should be featured on ArchivesAWARE?  Send us your suggestions at archivesaware@archivists.org!

Archival Innovators: Helen Selsdon, Archivist, American Foundation for the Blind

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.

Helen Selsdon. Photo courtesy of the American Foundation for the Blind.

In this installation of Archival Innovators, we bring you an interview with Helen Selsdon, Archivist at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), highlighting her work coordinating a National Endowment for the Humanities-funded project to digitize the AFB’s Helen Keller Archive and make the digital collection fully accessible to blind, deaf, hearing impaired, deafblind, sighted, and hearing audiences alike.  This groundbreaking project serves as a model for providing truly inclusive access to digitized collections.

AA: Where did you get your idea and what inspired you?

HS: The American Foundation for the Blind’s Helen Keller Archive is the world’s largest repository of materials relating to Keller’s life and work as a deafblind author and activist who dedicated much of her life to advocating for people with disabilities.  Keller served as an early leader of AFB, beginning in 1924 and continuing to work for the organization for over 40 years, and she has been the main inspiration for our project to digitize the Archive and make it fully accessible online to blind, deaf, hearing impaired, deafblind, sighted and hearing audiences alike.  The project has enabled us to bring Keller’s archive to the very audiences whom she tirelessly served throughout her life. Please visit: www.afb.org/HelenKellerArchive!

As for the original idea for the project itself, I certainly cannot claim credit for that!  The idea was a truly collaborative one developed throughout AFB over the course of several years, and is indeed a natural outgrowth of our mission to promote accessibility, equality, and opportunity for people who are blind or visually impaired.  As the project coordinator, I am simply grateful to be a part of this project and to help make Keller’s extraordinary archive universally accessible online.

AA: What kind of institutional, administrative, or financial support did you have for the project? How did you go about securing that support?

HS: First and foremost, this project would not have been possible without the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), which has provided principal funding for the project through a series of four grant awards. In March 2015, AFB received a Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant for Phase I of the project; two additional, smaller grants were awarded for Phase One of the project which ended in December 2017. In March 2018, an additional Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant was awarded for Phase II of the project which is projected to end in October 2020. Success is contagious! As the result of securing the NEH funds, other private funders, most notably American Express, have also joined this project to support it financially.

As I mentioned previously, AFB is also completely behind the project and has provided substantial institutional support and resources to see it through.  AFB’s administration understands how highly unusual it is for such an organization to have the opportunity to steward such an invaluable and historically significant collection as the Helen Keller Archive, and they see firsthand how Helen Keller continues to serve as a powerfully inspirational figure for the rising generation of disability advocates.  They are committed to ensuring global online access to the collection for the many audiences – from scholarly researchers to children – who contact us every day wanting to learn more about Helen Keller.

AA: What barriers or challenges did you face?

HS: The technical customization required to ensure full accessibility to the digital collection for the blind, deaf, hearing impaired and deafblind was, and continues to be, a challenge.  A great deal of the NEH funding has gone towards the development of customization tools that can take a standard finding aid hierarchy, which provides the structure for the digital collection, and configure the underlying code in such a way that enables access for people using assistive technologies.  Fortunately, we were able to engage a wonderful group of programmers from Veridian, a management software design company, to develop those tools for us.  It was definitely a learning process, even for the coding experts!  But it is my hope that more experts like Veridian learn how to enable access to digital collections for assistive technologies, this in turn will result in accessibility becoming a standard component of archival digitization projects.

Another challenge concerned optical character recognition (OCR) of digitized handwritten documents in the Helen Keller Archive. While standard OCR software can make written documents text-searchable, this utility is largely restricted to type-written documents.  The standard tools are much less effective when it comes to handwritten documents.  This challenge required us to come up with a solution, which we did! As the result of posting an advert requesting volunteer transcribers on Idealist.org we now have an amazing team of volunteers from around the country who work remotely to transcribe handwritten documents that can then be read by OCR. All these transcribers are trained by Toya Dubin, the president of Hudson Archival, the company entrusted with digitizing the collection. The first phase of this transcription work started in March of 2018, and the first public launch of the project was in June 2018.

AA: Do you have collaborators? If so, how did you find them?

HS: It’s no exaggeration to say that the entire project is one immense collaboration.  At the last count, we had 22 people from all different walks of life and expertise working on this project.

Choose your collaborators well! It’s a key step in making sure your project goes smoothly and is a success.  I reached out to the archival community using listservs to find recommendations for a digitization vendor, and I came upon Hudson Archival. I now consider Toya Dubin at Hudson Archival as my “partner-in-crime” on the project. She and her team are as invested in the work as we are. And of course, we work very closely with our software team Veridian, and our army of transcribers. I can’t stress enough how collaboration has been the be-all and end-all of this project!

AA: Have you received media attention for your project? If so, how did you make that happen?

HS: Fortunately, yes!  To promote the project, AFB’s public relations manager contacted Felicia Morton at Morton PR, who helped attract the interest of several media outlets, and we’ve received substantial media coverage of the project as a result.  One of my favorite moments from this entire project was when media outlets showed up at a celebration event we held for visually impaired fifth graders at the New York Institute for Special Education whom we had previously taught to navigate the Helen Keller Archive site using assistive technologies.

AA: Is there anything about the project you would do differently?

HS: To be honest, in the big picture, the entire project has gone exceedingly well, and overall I’m happy to say that I would run the project in much the same way again – with one major exception – metadata! If there’s something important we learned it’s that metadata takes a very long time to create – and certainly far longer than we anticipated. My advice to others is to schedule more time for this aspect of your digitization project and increase your budget accordingly.

AA: Do you have any tips for budding archival innovators?

HS: My first piece of advice, for those who are seeking external funding for their projects through an agency like the NEH, would be to never give up on pursuing grant awards!  I know how difficult it is; we went through ten years of unsuccessful proposals to the NEH before finally receiving our first grant for the project.  I’m convinced that we never would have secured funding if it wasn’t for NEH Program Officer Joel Wurl, who graciously and patiently worked with us to continually improve our proposal and encouraged us to keep applying.  Once we finally received funding, Joel continued to work with us every step of the way, and thanks to his help we were able to secure additional grants to help sustain the project.  None of this would have happened without Joel’s help.

My second piece of advice involves the technical process. Customization of the digital site was an important and complicated task. AFB does not have the staff nor time to undertake this aspect of the project on its own. AFB’s amazing technical team worked hand-in-glove with Veridian to get the job done. Securing the assistance of an outside software company proved essential and I advise others with limited staff and resources to do the same. Everybody wins!

Some other tips I would offer based on my experience are:

  • Don’t panic – know that you’ll need to take things one step at a time and problem-solve as you go. Everything takes a lot of time, usually longer than you think it will.
  • Be inclusive; bring in people who do not think like you.
  • Do a lot of usability testing with diverse user groups who bring different ways of thinking. We’ve had a wonderful group of users– people who are sighted, blind, low vision, deafblind, and who have paraplegia – from various backgrounds, including  scholars and academics, testing and providing feedback on our site throughout the project, and their input has been invaluable.
  • Never, never be afraid to ask for help. If you don’t ask for help, you’ll never get your project off the ground!

Helen Selsdon has served as the archivist for the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) since 2002. She manages the Helen Keller Archive, the Talking Book Archive, the AFB Archive, and the M. C. Migel Rare Book collection. She serves as a grant writer and spokesperson for AFB’s historical collections.

Most recently she was the project director for a National Endowment for the Humanities-funded initiative to digitize and make accessible a large portion of the Helen Keller Archive. Selsdon coordinated the work, including AFB’s efforts to pioneer an online digital archive that can be a model of accessibility for other repositories: the Helen Keller Archive. On the heels of completing this project in December 2017, AFB was awarded a second grant to digitize the press clippings and scrapbooks in Helen Keller’s Archive.

Prior to her work at AFB, Selsdon worked as an archival consultant and created archival collections for organizations as diverse as Pfizer pharmaceutical company, the Chapin School for Girls, and a private family collection in Manhattan. Selsdon first became interested in archival work in 1988 when she worked as an assistant to the archivist at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London in London, England.

Selsdon holds a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, Painting, from Camberwell School of Art, London, U.K., and a master’s degree in Medieval History and certificate in Archival Management from New York University.

Do you know an Archival Innovator who should be featured on ArchivesAWARE?  Send us your suggestions at archivesaware@archivists.org!

Archival Innovators: Valerie A. Metzler, Independent Archivist/Historian

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.

Valerie Metzler

In this installation of Archival Innovators, SAA Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) member Sami Norling interviews Valerie A. Metzler, independent Archivist/Historian. On hearing from Valerie that she believes herself to be the first full-time private practice archivist in the U.S., we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn more about her career, and to feature Valerie as an Archival Innovator!

SN: Valerie, could you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your path into the archives profession?

VM: I was halfway through college as a psychology major when I realized that, while the subject was interesting, I thought I might not like it as a career. I looked at what courses I liked best—English and History—and chose the latter and thought I might work in a museum. This was 1974 and I barely knew the word “archives.” But, when an internship at the State Archives of Pennsylvania became available my senior year, I hopped the train three days a week and worked there as a 3-credit course. I loved it!

My first job in the field was as an archives technician at the U. S. Army Military History Institute (MHI, now USAHEC, the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center). In this role, I worked with personal papers and oral history interviews of members of the Army and their families from Revolutionary War to the present. Because MHI was a public repository, I helped researchers from around the world. During this time, I maintained memberships in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) and SAA. After taking courses in paper and photo conservation, I then became the in-house conservator at MHI.

After seven years at MHI I sought to expand my expertise and went to MARAC and SAA conferences to make connections for jobs. The position I ended up in certainly fit the bill in providing new experiences to expand my knowledge of the field—it was a brand new archives with a well equipped in-house conservation lab, and a business archives. I wanted something different—and I got it!

After starting my new job, I missed the interaction with the public more than I realized I would, and I missed working with personal papers. The good news was that by living in Chicago, I had the benefit of joining the Chicago Area Archivists and the Chicago Area Conservation Group and by doing so, networked with professionals far more than were present back home in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

SN: Was there a specific project, event, or other development in your career or the archives profession that inspired you to strike out on your own as an independent archivist? What were the steps that you took early on to establish your independent practice?

VM: It was the networking in the Chicago area that led me to start my own business. I kept hearing about families, historical societies, and businesses large and small who wanted to preserve their history. And, while there were several employed archivists who moonlighted as consultants, they could never devote the time and hands-on assistance that these projects needed and still keep their day jobs. I decided to enter into full-time private practice as a freelance archivist, not just a consultant. I did do consulting work, but the majority of my work was (and remains) the hands-on establishment of archives and training of staff to maintain the archives after I have gone.

Early on, I realized that to remain completely independent, I should never devote full time to one project, i.e. instead of being a contract archivist always chasing the next gig, I took on any jobs that came my way and staggered my days or even hours among my various clients. That has remained my operating procedure these 34 years in private practice. Neither did I limit my work to just archives. Since 1985, I have also conducted oral history interviews and edited them and have done a variety of historical research for clients, including genealogy. I also teach in lecture and workshop settings.

One significant early step in establishing myself as an independent archivist was to find a name for my business. I never liked the “Metzler Associates” model, especially when you knew it was only one person! And, I wanted a name that clearly stated what the business was rather than some contrived invention. I figured that most folks were unfamiliar with the specifics of what an archivist does, so I had better not confuse them with a cutesy name. So, I followed the “Valere Metzler, Attorney-at-Law” model and came up with Valerie Metzler, Archivist/Historian (VMAH).

SN: Having worked as an independent archivist since 1985, you must have had the opportunity to contribute to some pretty interesting projects, and worked with a variety of archival materials and collections. What have been some of your favorite projects?

VM: My favorite projects are those which include all three aspects of my work. A good example of that is when a family business asks me to establish their archives, conduct oral histories with founders, and research their family history. Without naming the 500 clients of VMAH over these years, my favorites are those which take me into subject area new to me. Also, I love to travel, so the ones that take me far afield–especially to other countries–are definitely on the top of my list.

SN: The Committee on Public Awareness was formed in 2014 to assist SAA Council and SAA members in promoting the value of archives and archivists to a variety of communities and the broader public–something that the field as a whole has struggled with for some time. As an independent archivist, have you ever struggled in communicating this value to potential clients or project partners?

VM: I would have to say that I have not struggled much in communicating the value, since I can only think of two potential clients who contacted me in 34 years who did not move on to hire me.  Sadly, to my knowledge, those two never did get an archives started.

SN: Do you have any tips, or have you developed an elevator speech to communicate the value of your skills as a professional archivist?

VM: I have not perfected an elevator speech but always give the person who asks what I do (followed by the inevitable variations of, “What??”) all of my attention and answer to the questions they pose.  Also, this point is not exactly about my skills, personally, but I always urge folks to consider public repositories over keeping historically valuable items in their own homes where they may be lost to fire or the whims of future generations.

SN: Is there anything else that you’d like archivists and archival students to know, or tips that you’d like to share about building a career as an independent archivist?

VM: Join all of the professional member associations that you can afford and attend their conferences—and volunteer for positions within those organizations.

Do you know an Archival Innovator who should be featured on ArchivesAWARE?  Send us your suggestions at archivesaware@archivists.org!