Coming to terms with digital preservation

July 11th, 2014 by Cathleen Miller


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!

The Power of Words: Archival Advocacy and Storytelling

May 13th, 2014 by Cathleen Miller

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?

My internship and research at the MWWC

May 6th, 2014 by Tegan Talbot

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!

A poem a day

April 16th, 2014 by Cathleen Miller

When April comes around, two things are for sure: poetry and taxes (I’m advocating for this order of the universe).  We find ourselves inundated with poets we’ve never heard of, poems we might or might not like, and more readings than we can manage to attend in one day.  Just last week, here at the Collection, we hosted two talks on the same day!  We had a noon reading by Betsy Sholl from her wonderful new book Otherwise Unseeable followed by a generous discussion of poetry and Betsy’s poetic practice.  At 6pm, we hosted Dr. Alexandra Socarides, who wrote a book on Emily Dickinson’s poetic process entitled Dickinson Unbound.  If you know much about Dickinson, you will appreciate how hard it is to write something fresh–that’s just how smart a scholar Alexandra Socarides is.  Her talk on the research she conducted here in the summer of 2012 blew us away.  She discussed 19th century American women’s poetry and poetic conventions and how her work in our small archives led her to explore larger hypotheses about women’s poetry of that time.  Her newest book is one I will be very excited to read when it comes out.

Of course, swimming in poetic language these last few weeks has me thinking about the poets in our collection.  I have been tweeting lines from poems every day I can (follow me on twitter for a sampler of poems: @MEWomenWriters), which has had me dipping into books I have never before read.  Our book collection contains a wide range of poetic voices from the ordinary to the downright stunning, and represents the many types of writing that women have done over the past several centuries in Maine.  I started to wonder about common threads in Maine women’s writing and considered the question of place.  While no convention is applicable across the board, it does feel like place gets into our bodies and weaves itself into images and sounds in the poems we make.  I spent some time examining poems that speak from this place and capture a specific moment in time, and I thought I would share a sampling with you.

from Riverstones by Patricia White
(Seemed fitting for today, when we woke up to find snow on the ground after a lovely weekend.)
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from Prayers, Poems, and Pathways by Ssipsis
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from Where the Deer Were  by Kate Barnes
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from Hibernaculum & other North-Natured Poems by Patricia Smith Ranzoni
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from Four Corners of the Circle by Jean Webster
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from Corn Dance by Jeri Theriault
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The Ant Girls

March 17th, 2014 by Cathleen Miller

My day began on Friday with the pleasure of looking, following the lines and textures of ant-marks, and listening to stories of making.  Rebecca Goodale (one of the Ant Girls) brought tiny books, pamphlet and coptic-bound books, books that came tumbling out of their boxes, books with wings and pieces of leaves, books that spoke of the collaboration created by their colony of four.


The books and all of the other components of this two-year work-in-progress are on their way to the USM Atrium Gallery in Lewiston for the show “Ant Farm: At the Nexus of Art and Science” opening April 11.  The “Ant Girls” (Rebecca Goodale, Colleen Kinsella, Vivien Russe and Dorothy Schwartz) have been working as a group, passing paper and books between them, all members making marks on every piece of work.  The collaboration formed a strong bond among the four women, making the recent passing of Dorothy Schwartz all the more poignant as they prepared for the opening of their show and worked to finish pieces.  You can follow their process on their blog “Ant Girls”.

I am looking forward to the show on April 11, and am especially excited to see the installations of fungus farms and nuptial swarms.

One of the best parts of my job is getting to see fresh work that is still filled with the energy of the creators.  I enjoy hearing the stories of creation, too–the conceptualization of an idea that finds its fruition in something we can hold or look at close up.  It is a deep thrill for me, and an honor, to witness the creative process and its products.  I look forward to housing some of these beautiful creations in our collection to educate and excite students, researchers, and others interested in the intersection between art and science.