Portland Food: The Culinary Capital of Maine

October 16th, 2014 by Laura Taylor

I’m excited to share with you that Kate McCarty will be at the Maine Women Writers Collection on Tuesday, October 21 at noon to talk to us about her new book Portland Food: The Culinary Capital of Maine. I love reading about food, whether it’s a new cookbook we’ve acquired or a book more like this one that talks about food – the restaurants, farms and chefs behind it all.

I think we can all agree that Portland has a tremendously popular food scene. It’s been mentioned everywhere from The New York Times to The Boston Globe. This brief, yet comprehensive, book discusses the history behind it and the current players, leaving me wishing I had more time and money to explore all the delicious dining options in our fair city.

McCarty’s book starts out with a quick overview of the Portland food scene, before moving on to talk about local chefs, farming, cheesemaking, and seafood. A recurring theme is the ever-changing issue of sustainable local food, which is something food producers and consumers think a lot about here. And with good reason – you don’t produce 90% of the world’s lobster supply by practicing unsustainable fishing!

McCarty then goes on to discuss our fantastic local farmers’ markets, food trucks, pop up dining events and co-ops. There are so many ways to acquire food in the Portland area, whether you’re in the market for raw ingredients to cook at home, need a quick bite while out on the town, or want to eat at one of Portland’s fantastic and varied restaurants. There’s even a chapter on food insecurity and the work that local organizations are doing to try to get food to our fellow Mainers in need.

Finally, the book finishes up, as all good meals do, with sweets and coffee. Portland has some delicious options for baked treats and chocolates and amazing, locally roasted coffee. Perhaps read this book while lounging in a coffee shop and snacking on a sweet treat?

I would.

Or come by the Maine Women Writers Collection next Tuesday, the 21st, at noon and meet the author!

Ruth Moore and the art of the letter

October 10th, 2014 by Cathleen Miller

Dear Readers,
I’ve been struggling to find the time to write a blog post for a month, and then once I found a subject, I couldn’t get my words to flow in a neat and orderly fashion. Each sentence I typed felt like a false start, a diversion from what I really wanted to say. I started paragraph after paragraph and then deleted each one in turn. It’s so easy now to erase your thoughts, to soft-pedal and not make what you say count. So here I am today, back at the keyboard, faced with a challenge that Ruth Moore posed to her friend Mary in a letter from 1948, “Well, maybe this one will get a peep out of [her].”


When I went looking for correspondence to highlight in a blog post, I settled on Ruth Moore because it is LGBTQ history month, and I wanted to expose some of our queer content.

In the letter above, Ruth Moore writes to her old friend Mary, a sorority sister from college, to catch up after over a decade. In that time, Moore met writer Eleanor Mayo; they moved to California together and then back to Maine, where they bought 18 acres of land and built a house. Here Moore describes Eleanor Mayo as her “friend,” but they lived together as companions until Mayo’s death in 1980.

Most of the materials we hold as part of the Ruth Moore papers are manuscripts for books, but there are a few folders of correspondence that offer a good view into Moore’s life and relationships. The first few letters I read made me laugh out loud–Moore’s sharp wit and clarity endeared her to me. If you want to read a great collection of her letters, check out Sanford Phippen’s High Clouds Soaring Storms Driving Low: the Letters of Ruth Moore.


The book contains a good selection of Moore’s letters, but the correspondence we hold is not included, so you’ll have to come here to read more gems like this one:

Mary Kamenoff’s responses are quite hilarious in their own right. The two carried on a lengthy correspondence (1948-1989) that covered subjects from literature to family life; one series of letters worth reading is a critique of Mary Ellen Chase’s review of Ruth Moore in the Saturday Evening Post.

One of my favorite openings to one of Mary’s letters mirrors my own state lately: “You will please understand that a failure to express my scintillating thoughts with freshness and vigor is due solely to the inhibitions impressed on me by the machine age.” (July 7, 1962)

Access: it’s our business!

August 29th, 2014 by Cathleen Miller

One of the exciting (and sometimes frustrating) parts of my position as curator is the opportunity to think through our policies and procedures so that we are providing the best service to patrons and offering the broadest access to our collections possible given our small staff.

As we begin to think broadly about digital preservation (not just digitization), I am starting to look at all of our policies with an eye to access. All of our collecting is done with a two-fold goal: preservation and access, and our digital initiatives are taking a similar form. Because travel to Maine is not always possible, I hope to make more of our collections available online in the coming years, but to do that we have to implement appropriate preservation strategies for our digital objects. That is what has been occupying my mind for the past year, and will continue to be my major project in the year to come. We are beginning to identify our digital preservation needs and will then design an appropriate system to handle our data (both born-digital and digitized materials). It’s a big job, but it’s crucial to being able to make our digital materials accessible to researchers anywhere.

As I’ve begun to think through everything involved in creating a digital preservation program, I am following a lot of other threads related to archival policies and procedures. Lately this thread has been weaving through my mind: our own digitization procedures have historically been connected to access requests and there has been little that is systematic in our approach. As we digitize more material for use purposes, it is apparent that we need clear policies and procedures to govern file naming conventions, metadata, and storage. Then there is the whole question of copyright, which has been dropping into my consciousness through many channels. Essentially, we really don’t own the copyright to much of anything that we have in the collection, so we need to focus on digitizing material in the public domain to start and then move to more contemporary materials.

This past week, I got two articles delivered to my inbox on copyright and libraries/archives. The first was published on Library Journal called “Asserting Rights We Don’t Have,” which discusses the question of how researchers may cite/publish material they find in an archive or library and how many archives ask patrons to get permission to use materials when it is not our place to give permission. The second is a response by Nancy Sims called “Contracts & Copyright,” which goes into more detail about the questions Rick Anderson raised in his post. Both of these are worth reading if you are at all interested in copyright issues.

As a new archival administrator a few years ago, I worried that we should have some clear policy regarding publication of materials that came from our collection. I personally feel passionately that archives have a responsibility to provide unrestricted access whenever possible (i.e., not restricted by the donor or some other legal agreement to confidentiality), so when I was looking around at other institutions’ policies, I found myself unable to settle on something that felt okay to me. In the end, we just charge a nominal fee for our scanning and copying services and offer mostly unrestricted access to our collections, asking only that people who publish material they found here cite the collection as being in our holdings.

One of the other policies that I’ve been thinking a lot about is a digital camera policy for our reading room. This summer, I came across the OCLC report “Capture and Release,” which discusses cameras in the reading room and suggested best practices. I have happily allowed researchers to take photos during their visits primarily because it saves staff time and it is easier on the materials than scanning. I witnessed the relief experienced by researchers when they realized that they could capture much of the material they needed to review later when they were back at their home base.

I look forward to working on comprehensive policies and procedures for our digital collections and our digital surrogates while considering how these procedures and policies affect researchers’ ability to access our materials. I’m sure there will be much more to say on this matter soon.

An Early Mystery in Maine

August 12th, 2014 by Ann Morrissey

Would you like to write an historical novel, — or perhaps a mystery story based in Maine?  Well I have the basic material for you.  It is the Harriet A. McNeill collection at the MWWC here on the Portland campus.  It is a collection of seven letters from Mrs. McNeill during the years of 1852-1853, most to her niece Caroline.  Mrs. McNeill is from Alabama and is writing to Caroline in Lewiston, Maine.

For some unspecified reason, Mrs. McNeill thinks that Caroline should leave Maine as soon as possible.  She tells her niece to tell no one where she is going and to slip out of town and make her way to Alabama where she would room with her husband’s niece, and be Mrs. McNeill’s heir.  She would also have to do a little housework but nothing too onerous Mrs. McNeill assures her.

The sticking point comes with the $100 for travel money that McNeill keeps promising to send to Caroline.  It is dependent on the agent’s (Mr Libby) ability to sell Mrs McNeill’s northern property and to take $100 of the profit and send it to Caroline.  Meanwhile in the midst of McNeill’s letters that keep promising that the agent will send the money, she showers Caroline with requests for things that she should order and have sent to Alabama or things that she could carry with her.  The items include furniture, 100 yds of carpet, dinning room chairs, cruel canvases and a guitar.  But these requests (and the letters) stop when Caroline sends the banns of her marriage to Mr Libby, the agent.

Our letters pick up again in 1855 when Mrs McNeill writes to Mr Libby asking him to send her the proceeds from the sale of her northern property, and then she will send him the deed.  Apparently Mr Libby wants the deed first, and then he says that he will send the money from the sale.  And so the rangling continues.

But what a good writer could do would be to surround the basic letters with answers as to why Caroline should sneak out of Lewiston?, how Caroline ever met Mr. Libby?, and how Mr. Elliot of Lewiston suspected that her Aunt’s promise of the never arriving $100 was an “uncertain matter.?”  There is much here for a Maine mystery writer to flush out.

adventures in cataloging

July 30th, 2014 by Laura Taylor

Today is a big day for the library! We’re upgrading our library software, which means that, for the time being, I can’t actually do part (most) of my job. Thus, I’m going to tell you about it!

Do you ever wonder where we get our materials? How many we get? What happens once they get here? How they’re cataloged? No? Well, I’m going to share anyway.

You might think, as a relatively narrowly-defined special collection, that we wouldn’t acquire a large amount of materials regularly. To a degree, this is true. There are only so many Maine women writers and they only wrote (or are writing) so many things.

Right?

Well, yes. And no.

We’re always finding new materials. Always. We find them in some ways you might expect – being introduced to a new writer, buying newly published books, acquiring somebody’s personal papers – but also in some ways you might not expect. Like, “Hey, what’s that box over there in the corner that’s been sitting there for so long nobody actually notices it anymore?” Oh! It’s full of books nobody’s ever cataloged! Or perhaps we’re processing a collection and find a whole bunch of periodicals in it that need to be added to our online catalog.

(I am extremely glad these things keep popping up since it’s a very large part of my job – to catalog our holdings and add them to our online catalog. What would I do if they didn’t keep coming?)

As it happens, I’ve received an unusually large amount of materials over the last few weeks. Of course, this immediately followed a moment in time where I started to think I might actually get caught up on all my cataloging! Silly me.

I thought it might be entertaining to share where these books and other items have come from and give you a little sneak peek at a few things that aren’t even in the catalog yet.

Quite a few of them are books we received from a collector. Most of the two stacks on the left in the photo above are books with covers designed by Sarah Wyman Whitman. She was an artist and illustrator and was responsible for a large number of book covers for Houghton Mifflin in the late 19th century. She lived in South Berwick, Maine for a time and was friends with Sarah Orne Jewett. Many of Jewett’s covers were designed by Whitman, employing her typically simple yet elegant design principles. The books in this batch encompass a large number of writers already in our collection: Margaret Deland, Lucy Larcom, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Blanche Willis Howard, Annie Fields, Julia Ward Howe and a handful of others, including Jewett. Thus, these are books that we will keep not only for their authors’ sake, but also because of the cover designs.

Also in the piles are some books that we’ve had sitting around for reference purposes and are finally now getting around to adding to our catalog. This is another category of materials we have here that perhaps you’ve been unaware of: books that may not be written by or about Maine women writers but which are nonetheless relevant to our collection. For example, in this current batch we have books on women and nature, feminism, and digital preservation. The first two are relevant in that they pertain to women, Mainers or not, and the last one is relevant to the actual act of collecting and preserving information – an act that we here think about every single day!

Additionally, not pictured, there are two large boxes of periodicals sitting beside my desk – various journals that started out in our manuscript collections and were found in processing. We add journals, magazines and newspapers to our online holdings so that our patrons will know exactly which issues of which periodicals we have! Often, though not always, we are also able to tell why we have a particular issue – for example, perhaps one of our writers published a short story in a particular issue of a particular publication. We do our best to make a note of these things, since the more information we include, the easier it will be for us (and you!) to find what we’re looking for.

We also have, not yet cataloged, some delightful one-of-a-kind artists’ books by the Ant Girls. Artists’ books appear on my desk not infrequently and are one of the most interesting, yet challenging, parts of my job. Many, though certainly not all, are one-of-a-kind. Even if they aren’t, there are maybe only a handful of others out there and those may or may not have been cataloged (or even purchased!) yet by another library. Normally, with a mass-produced book, someone, somewhere, has cataloged it before I do. This means that when I catalog it, I get to piggyback off of their information, using what I want to, deleting what I don’t, and adding a few things specific to our institution. But with these, that’s not possible, so I have to start from scratch. (And that would be why they aren’t done yet…)

There you have it! A small sampling of some of the things that come across the desk of a cataloger.