Diabolical

I wrote a new assessment for preservation exercise for my Preservation Management class this weekend, and played with it this morning for the first time.  It was a tough exercise, but so much fun, and the class had a great time figuring out the puzzle of preservation priorities and actions.  I liked it so much that I'd share it here.

 

Selection for Preservation Action Exercise

 

You are the librarian/archivist at a small town library with a mission to collect materials documenting the history of your town.  Decide on preservation priorities for the following collections or artifacts.  What action might you take on each item?

 

·      A heavily used collection of local history books that includes primarily books in print along with several books that are unavailable for purchase.

·      A box of brittle newspaper clippings documenting the history of a now-defunct theater in your town.

·      Approximately 5000 negatives from a local photo studio dating from 1920-1940.  There is an odor when you open the boxes.  This collection is unpublicized, but might have research value if it were better known.

·      A quilt from the 1850s that is faded and has extensive damage to the fabric.  The exact provenance is unknown, however the donor says that she was told it might have been made by a prominent local resident.

·      A selection of letters written during the Civil War, including several that describe the Battle of Gettysburg.  They are written in iron gall ink on yellowing paper.

·      Reel-to-reel audiotapes of recitals from a nearby college’s music department in the 1960s.  You do not own a reel-to-reel player.

·      20 scrapbooks documenting the annual activities of your town’s garden club from the 1950s to the 1970s.  Most of the scrapbooks are made by gluing photos and ephemera to paper, however the last two are in magnetic albums.  Some of the adhesive is failing in the older albums.

·      A shelf of 19th century publisher’s cloth bindings that were donated by the grandchild of the owner.  These are in poor condition and contain no valuable titles, however the owner was the wife of a mayor of your town.

·      200 genealogy titles relating to your county and state, including many self-published family histories.  Many are comb bound, and a few are housed in three ring binders.

·      A very valuable early edition of Tess of the d’Urbervilles in good condition.

·      A complete run of yearbooks from your local high school, starting from its founding in 1940.  The early yearbooks are in extremely poor condition.

·      Videotapes of town council meetings from 1980-2000.  There are approximately 1000 tapes in VHS and Betacam formats.

·      A collection of commercially produced stereo cards with a stereoscope in poor condition.

·      3 daguerreotypes of ancestors of prominent early citizens in your community.  The images are in good condition, but the leather cases are quite deteriorated.

·      100 volumes of historic land records that have been transferred to your archives from the city clerk’s office.  They are in large refillable ledger books with leather trim.  The leather trim is deteriorating, and the pages are tearing out of the books in some cases.

Inspirational

I'm driving to a new client today, and will pass right by my very first clients, nearly ten years ago. They have an amazing story, and I've been meaning to tell it for a while.  What they've done, and the possibilities for other institutions like them, is a large part of why I'm so passionate about preservation.

When I first met the folks from the Lavaca County Clerk's office, they had plenty of motivation and a big problem on their hands.  There were records stored all over their historic courthouse in poor conditions.  The biggest shock came a few days into my visit.  The night before they told me "Wear jeans tomorrow."  I've since learned that "wear jeans" is code for "this is pretty scary."  The clients drove me out of town to a field with an old boxcar sitting in it.  The boxcar was filled with historic records that had been sitting there for years and years.  This combination of poor environmental control, pest problems and lack of intellectual control put these records at grave risk of being lost forever.

I went home after my site visit, wrote a report recommending improvements in storage conditions and crossed my fingers hoping for the best.

What happened was beyond my wildest dreams.  Elizabeth Kouba, the Lavaca County Clerk, and Brenda Lincke Fisseler, chair of the Lavaca County Records Retention Volunteers dove in to the project.  Liz and Brenda persuaded the county commissioner's court to rent space to store the documents in the boxcar, and volunteers moved them out, and that was just the beginning.  

Several years later, the county has renovated an old grocery store for county offices, and much of that is given to the county clerk's office for records storage.  The records retention volunteers meet regularly to clean the documents that were in the boxcar, store them in quality folders and boxes, and find the names of their relatives in the material they're cleaning.  In the past 10 years, the records of Lavaca County have gone from highly endangered to extremely well cared for.  It was a great lesson to me in how a committed community can make a real difference in how their history is preserved, and I've been lucky enough to present several trainings and generally offer advice and answer questions along the way.  

Now, on the rare times that I find myself questioning if my work is doing any good in the world, I think about Liz, Brenda, all of the lovely volunteers that I've met over the last ten years, and that scary boxcar, and how my contributions helped them map a path from boxcar to records retention center.  That's pretty cool, and exactly why I love what I do so much.

(Several years ago, Amigos wrote a PR piece about the project.  If you want to read more, you can point your browser here:  http://www.amigos.org/preservation/lavaca_case_study.pdf)

A New Adventure

For the last 10 years, I've been working primarily with Amigos Library Services, providing preservation consulting and training with all sorts of cultural heritage institutions, and I have loved it.  However times change, and at the end of the grant cycle, Amigos is eliminating their Imaging and Preservation Field Service.  I'm very sad about the ending of something that's been wonderful for me personally, but more important, for the libraries, museums and archives that have been helped by everyone who has worked for the Field Service.

I am taking this as a sign that it's time to become an independent consultant, hopefully providing many of the same services to the same types of clients.  I love my work and am passionate about helping people understand how to care for their collections.  As an independent consultant, I hope to continue to provide the same kinds of assistance, and expand the range of services that I can provide beyond what Amigos was able to do.

Between now and the end of June, I'll be transitioning from one job to the other.  I have plenty of clients to take care of before Amigos IPS closes its doors, and plenty of work to do to find new clients.  I'll be making the rounds on the conference circuit, and hope that I'll see you at the Texas Association of Museums, the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums, or the Society of Southwest Archivists.

If I can help you figure out how to best preserve your collection, please let me know.  I'd love to find solutions that are practical and achievable for your unique situation.

SAA Talk Preview

One of the things I did this week was write my lightning talk for the SAA Archival Educators Roundtable.  About 7 or 8 people are going to give 5 minute talks on archival education outside the class room.  I couldn't resist the opportunity to brag about how awesome I think my class is. 

If you want to read my talk, it's below:

I’ve been lucky enough to teach the Preservation Management class at the School of Information at UT-Austin for the past 3 years.  The class draws largely from students who are focusing on archives and libraries, who are interested in everything from audiovisual materials to rare books to corporate archives.

When I initially designed this class, I thought about what I use every day as a preservation field services officer dealing primarily with local history institutions that face lots of funding and training challenges.  I wasn’t interested in teaching a class that was purely theory.  Instead, I wanted to give the students a real world experience, in some VERY real world situations.  I also feel strongly that community service is important in our field and wanted that to be a core principle of the class.

From that, I came up with what I think is a pretty cool project based approach to preservation management.  The first class of the semester is my “Preservation 101” talk that gives everyone some common background in preservation, as many students have no prior preservation experience when they start.  Shortly thereafter, we have a class where I talk about how I do preservation assessments.  After that, the real fun starts.

In small groups, the students spend the first half of the semester doing a preservation assessment for an archive, library or museum that interests them, and for the second half, they research and prepare a grant application for a small project based upon that assessment.

I don’t have a lot of requirements for the institutions selected.  They have to hold collections, and they cannot be affiliated with the University.  I figure that UT’s collections have a lot of resources and I want my students to come up against basic real world problems that are common outside of an academic setting.  For a lot of our clients, just persuading them to use acid-free boxes is a huge step in the right direction.  I also try to steer students towards projects that I think will be tough, knowing that I’ll be there the whole way to provide lots of support and advice.  Some of my most adventurous students have wound up in pretty crazy situations.  My favorite was the community museum that had holes in the floor and its balcony shored up with a telephone pole.  Preservation Nightmare! 

While the students work independently, they’re not really on their own.  We have weekly check-ins in class, communicate frequently outside of class, and I even go on client visits with the students, if requested. After midterms, we have a series of classes on fundraising and grant writing to give the students the background they need to find an appropriate grant funder and write the grant for their client. We also do two drafts of each assignment, and I’m happy to look at more, if that’s what it takes to get things right.

The class has been hugely successful and gets consistently strong evaluations. Students have told me they love feeling like they’re doing something that helps small institutions in a very big way.  And they come away with a couple of strong writing pieces to put in their portfolios.  And, of course, everyone feels like having some grant writing knowledge will make them more hireable.  I totally agree.

For my part, I’m thrilled that the students are challenged, and learn to research complicated preservation issues and set preservation priorities, which are good real world skills. It’s gratifying to see them grow in confidence in their own abilities because most of them start the semester pretty freaked out.

I also love how much help we are able to provide to deserving institutions.  Up to now, we have performed assessments at nearly 25 places, that are as varied as the students’ interests.  A few clients include Austin Parks and Recreation Department, the American Genre Film Archives, the Texas Medical Association, a rural public library, and numerous community museums.  The vast majority of these collections could never afford any kind of preservation assessment on their own, and are profoundly grateful for the assistance my students provide.

The next challenge that I have is that none of our clients have received any funding so far.  The closest we’ve come is a client who got a Preservation Assistance Grant from the NEH 3 years after her assessment, largely based upon student work.  I suspect that much of this is because the clients aren’t actually submitting the grants, so this year I’m adding a component to the grant assignment so that the students have to create a checklist for the client of tasks they need to do to complete and submit the grant application. I’m also going to have the students help me design a Survey Monkey survey to send to the clients to see what the effects of the project are.

Classes start up again in September, and last time I checked, I already had 14 students registered for fall.  I expect to pick up another 3 or 4 more, which will be my largest group to date.  If you know of anybody in central Texas who needs a preservation assessment, I hope you’ll let me know so that we can try to help them out too!

Quiet now, but not for long

The past few weeks have been really quiet on the preservation front.  I updated my syllabus for next semester (changes include the ability to work on the big project solo if the student wants and a session in the book lab late in the semester to learn a few minor mends), and have otherwise been relaxing in preparation for the next few months, because it's going to be crazy. 

Next week, I go to Missouri to perform Amigos' first preservation assessment in the state.  That's sort of a landmark for us.  I'm excited.

The week after that, I'm going to the Society of American Archivists conference in New Orleans.  (Yeah, New Orleans in August.  I'm sweating just thinking about it.)  Looking forward to catching up with old friends, and hearing some exciting sessions.  I've also volunteered to talk for 5 minutes at the Archival Educator's Roundtable meeting about my Preservation Management class, and how I'm teaching students to perform preservation assessments.  I love how that class works, and am really interested to get some feedback from people who don't know me.   

After that, I'm home for a week, and then head off for 5 days in Oklahoma working on one of the most inspiring and fun projects I've had.  The Oklahoma Cultural Heritage Trust is doing some really cool things, including this project that's providing one day preservation assessments to institutions all over the state.  I'll be visiting 12 institutions over 3 weeks for this round of the project.  I love that for the most part the chosen libraries, museums and archives are small and rural with few resources but lots of love for their collections and their history.  Those are my favorite types of clients. 

September is just around the corner and will bring the start of the semester, and more travel, but now I'm focusing on August.  I'm hoping that all of these adventures will give me lots of interesting stories to tell and pictures to share. 

Quite a bit of the on-the-fly activity will likely happen via Facebook and Twitter, so be sure to like  and follow me there!

 

 

 

Starting Out

Welcome to my new website.  I'm glad you're here. 

I'm a cultural heritage preservation specialist based in Austin, TX.  I work with all sorts of institutions, from academic libraries to county clerks' offices to historical societies and museums.  I have a particular affinity for small institutions who do amazing things with very limited resources. 

On my blog, you'll see me writing about preservation resources that I've found, where I'm going and what I'm doing there, things that happen in my classes at the  UT iSchool and whatever else comes to mind.  Maybe I'll even post the occasional photo of my cats.

I hope you'll let me know what kinds of resources will be useful for you, too!  I'm excited to talk with you about one of great passions-- preservation.