This afternoon, we had a great meeting with UNE’s social media strategist about managing all of our outlets. I thought I’d walk away with some ideas for enhancing what we do now; I didn’t think I would add another place to post.
But we remain flexible as things transform around us, so I’m pleased to introduce our new tumblr account.
Please check us out there: http://mewomenwriters.tumblr.com/
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].”
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.
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)
It has been nearly a month since I visited Smith College for a week-long digital preservation management workshop taught by Nancy McGovern and Kari Smith. I’ve been meaning to sit down and sift through my reflections since then, but it’s been a busy month.
The workshop’s schedule itself was incredibly packed–we arrived on Sunday evening to a nice reception and introductions/overview of the week. Monday morning, we wasted no time getting to the heart of the work–the 5 organizational stages of digital preservation. I found out quite quickly that we here at MWWC are just at the beginning of a long road of planning and preparation. Daunted, but not discouraged, I took in as much as I could, feeling optimistic about having so much information to work with to create a plan for our institution.
By Tuesday morning, I had already begun to see the enormity of the task at hand and worried that this would be like many other trainings I have attended–I would return home energized to do something and realize that I was a bit alone in my fervor for progress. It’s not that people here don’t care about digital preservation, but there is a certain kind of paralysis that comes up with technology-based initiatives. We don’t have the expertise, we don’t have the money, we’ll wait until other people have figured out a good solution… these are all excuses that I hear (and sometimes find coming out of my own mouth) to put off dealing with our born-digital content.
So, instead of returning back to Maine and slipping into a state of near-paralysis, I decided to be proactive. I’m going to give a presentation to key stakeholders in our unit and lay out the picture of where we are and where we need to be. I am going to be honest about how much time it will take and how much it will require of us. I’m convening working group meetings with my staff to figure out what we need to do step by step. And even if I am the only one who cares about it, I’ll still carry on as best I can because the time is now.
I can’t sit back and wait for anyone else to figure it out. I’m going to make myself read through the stacks of white papers and power point slides on my desk until I understand how to make this all happen with limited resources and limited staff. It’s my digital year, and I’m going to make it count, despite our firm place at stage one (see the full article here):
“Policy and planning: the preservation policy is often non-existent or may be implicit. Technological infrastructure: may be non-existent or, if it exists, is likely to be heterogeneous…and decentralized…. Content and use: the focus may be reactive to specific collections rather than encompassing the potential scope of materials that need to be preserved.”
We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I look forward to advancing us in our efforts, and to examining the ways that we can use collaboration to solve some of our problems. Onward!
Why do archives matter to you? What value do they have in your life?
If you have no idea how to answer these questions, you are not alone. Most people have no idea what an archivist does, let alone why what we do matters. Beyond the experience of seeing or handling “cool old stuff,” very few people could relay an example of how archival materials changed their lives. That is part of our problem as a profession.
These were some of the rallying points that Kathleen D. Roe, Vice President and President-Elect of the Society for American Archivists, made when she gave the plenary talk at the most recent Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference a few weeks ago on the theme of the future of the archival profession. Her talk got us all fired up (see the tweets for #marac).
It was 9am and I was staying off-site, so I made a conscious decision to go to the talk, despite my body’s desire to move slowly that morning. I’m so glad I got myself there. I felt my energy toward this profession change in the course of an hour. I got there just after the talk began, and was struck by the standing-room-only crowd. I found a seat close to the front, balancing my coffee cup and my smart phone so I could #livetweet. Kathleen Roe stood behind a podium draped with a Hunger Games poster to give her talk “Catching Fire: Moving the Profession Forward.”
Over and over, she urged us to have conversations with each other, with her, with our colleagues, with our stakeholders. She asked us to collect data about how our collections are used, about just why the materials we collect matter at all. She urged us to go beyond telling the stories of the cool stuff we have in our collections. “Who cares?” she asked. Instead, how is the stuff being used to make a difference?
She offered examples of how archives can actually save lives, make significant personal impacts, and change policy. (You can read a bit about this in an article Kathleen published in Provenance in 2010.) She challenged us to light a fire to change the profession for the better. She had helpers handing out matches at the door to anyone who was willing to talk about archives and advocate for their importance.
While it is difficult to think about stories of lives saved by literary archives, I certainly feel a passionate spark for advocacy emerge when I talk about how our archives preserve the voices of women who might otherwise have been forgotten. Through collections of women’s private and public writing, we are filling in major gaps in the historical record. Women’s experiences of everyday life tell very different stories than the published accounts we read in history books. These stories have the power to change people’s minds and to change the ways that we teach history.
I will be asking researchers from now on, “why do these records matter? how did these materials change something for you?”
So, now, let me ask you: Why do archives matter to you? What value do they have in your life?
Over the past semester I have had the opportunity to be a student intern for the Maine Women Writers Collection. When I first began my internship, I had a notion that I would be helping Cathleen in digitizing collections. My idea of an internship was that I would be working for the collection and doing anything that they needed. This idea quickly went out the window upon speaking with Cathleen for the first time this semester.
I had done a little research at the MWWC the previous year for my history research class, so I had met Cathleen before. She remembered that I was interested in women’s political movements in the U.S. and we began discussing some of the collections they had in the library that focused on just that. She went on to tell me that I would get the opportunity to conduct research of my choosing and would have access to all of their collections. She also told me that I would be able to create my own exhibit at the end of the semester.
This was a surprise to me and I immediately began to have a little anxiety. My overwhelming feeling only grew when Cathleen asked me what I wanted to research. I was probably very easy to read as she began to suggest their National Woman’s Party and Suffrage collections as something I might be interested in. I agreed to look through their NWP collection, but still was unsure what I wanted to focus on.
The next several weeks were dedicated to going through the enormous NWP collection, the bulk of which included newspaper clippings, laws and photographs on the women’s suffrage movement, from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. My focus constantly changed. I toyed with the idea of focusing on how women were treated differently than men, where the suffrage movement got it’s influence, and even a connection between the temperance and suffrage movement.
It wasn’t until about six weeks into my research that something really sparked my interest. My research would begin to follow the National Woman’s Party and their journey towards becoming one united party. My research began to look at the two factions of the women’s suffrage movement, The National American Woman Suffrage Association and the Congressional Union of Woman Suffrage. My biggest interest was in these two factions of women working towards the same goal but with extremely different approaches.
I was learning new information every time I looked at the collection. My biggest obstacle was that there was so much information to learn in such a short amount of time. Fourteen weeks was truly not enough to learn everything I wished to learn. The biggest shock came in the last two days of my internship. As I was reading information in the collections I discovered that the two factions of the women’s suffrage movement did not begin as two separate entities. They began as the National Woman Suffrage Association, started by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and then later broke off into two factions, due to differing views on achieving goals.
This meant I had to quickly change and research my information in order to display an accurate exhibit. This proved to be my biggest obstacle of the semester, other than actually deciding what I wanted to focus my research on.
My internship has been an amazing experience and I am so grateful that Cathleen Miller gave me this opportunity and for all her help and patience throughout this process. I have her, Catherine Fisher, and everyone else at the MWWC and UNE Library to thank for making my exhibit and research possible. I could not have ended my successful college career with out them.
The exhibit titled, “Two Kinds of Suffs” is currently on display in the Maine Women Writers Collection. Go check it out!
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