Online Course: Basics of Archives

The newly revised Basics of Archives online course is designed to give organizations and individuals who are responsible for the care of historical records an introduction to the core aspects of managing and protecting historical records collections, using appropriate principles and best practices.

Register

Details:

May 22-June 23, 2017

15-20 hours to be completed anytime during the above dates

Cost: $85 members/$160 nonmembers

Register

Full Online Course Description:

The newly revised Basics of Archives online course is designed to give organizations and individuals who are responsible for the care of historical records an introduction to the core aspects of managing and protecting historical records collections, using appropriate principles and best practices.

The course consists of five lessons:

  • Archives and Archivists
  • Acquiring Your Collections
  • Processing Collections
  • Housing Your Collections
  • Access and Outreach

The course is web-based and takes 15-20 hours to complete. There are no required times to be online. You may finish the course anytime during the four-week course period.

Who Should Take This Course:

This course is a beginning level course designed for professional staff and volunteers of historical organizations and libraries with historical collections who have little to no experience with archival materials.

Register

About the Instructor: 

Charles Arp is the Enterprise Content Manager-IT at the Battelle Memorial Institute. Previously, he worked for the Ohio Historical Society for thirteen years, ultimately becoming Ohio's State Archivist. Charlie has a BA and MA in history from Ohio University.

Register

100,000 Scans Later: Reflections on a Two-Year Project

Picture a cramped, dusty basement covered wall-to-wall with wooden shelves and metal canisters holding 18th and 19th century documents. Now imagine climate-controlled stacks with metal shelves and documents housed in Hollinger boxes and acid-free folders. How do we as caretakers of history reconcile these two situations? West Virginia University’s Public History program and the Monongalia County Clerk together created graduate assistantships to provide the Courthouse with trained historians to implement a long term records management plan and offer students education funding and real-world experience.

Since 2013, WVU students have indexed the entire office’s collection of records across three locations, cleaned and rehoused countless materials, and created high-quality scans of 200 years’ worth of records. We joined the team in 2015 and began a new phase of digitization with the purchase of a Zeutschel flatbed book scanner. Initially, the prospect of scanning thousands of materials was daunting. We first did ‘book triage’ to determine which books had suffered the most damage and scanned them first in order to move them out of public access and into more permanent storage. Next, we scanned three series of records sequentially until we scanned through the year 1900. We have shifted priorities to a new set of books and special projects, but are continuing to scan, clean, and rehouse records.

As historians, we have grappled with balancing our knowledge of archival best practices and the unique needs of a county records room. We are stewards of both historical and contemporary public records and, consequently, we occupy a space between records manager and archivist. As part of the records management team, we oversee a record’s lifespan from its recording to, in some cases, its eventual destruction. In many instances, our records relate to each other in significant ways. The public, primarily lawyers, paralegals, or land abstractors, uses them differently than how historians use archival materials. Compared to a traditional archive, there is little barrier between the public’s access to documents in the record room. As public historians, we facilitate unique public interactions with historical records, while simultaneously ensuring their preservation.

 

Recently, we gave a talk about our work at the West Virginia Association of Museums Conference. This was an opportunity to reflect on four semesters of work and verbalize some lessons learned. We have found that substantial changes can be made to a collection with simple long term planning decisions regarding storage, digitization, and public access. To undertake a records management project such as this requires the long-term commitment of resources, but we’ve found that to be successful, we must adapt our desires as historians to the realities of our available labor, finances, and storage.

The WVAM Conference came as we wrapped up our graduate program and prepared to hand the project off to new students. Because this project requires performing repetitive tasks and strong attention to detail, it was often easy to miss how each task fits into our larger goals. Reflecting on the work we completed and looking toward the future helped us appreciate the progress we had made and affirmed the importance of our work.


Online Course: Basics of Archives

The newly revised Basics of Archives online course is designed to give organizations and individuals who are responsible for the care of historical records an introduction to the core aspects of managing and protecting historical records collections, using appropriate principles and best practices.

Register

Details:

February 13-March 17, 2017

15-20 hours to be completed anytime during the above dates

Cost: $85 members/$160 nonmembers

Register

Full Online Course Description:

The newly revised Basics of Archives online course is designed to give organizations and individuals who are responsible for the care of historical records an introduction to the core aspects of managing and protecting historical records collections, using appropriate principles and best practices.

The course consists of five lessons:

  • Archives and Archivists
  • Acquiring Your Collections
  • Processing Collections
  • Housing Your Collections
  • Access and Outreach

The course is web-based and takes 15-20 hours to complete. There are no required times to be online. You may finish the course anytime during the four-week course period.

Who Should Take This Course:

This course is a beginning level course designed for professional staff and volunteers of historical organizations and libraries with historical collections who have little to no experience with archival materials.

Register

About the Instructor: 

Charles Arp is the Enterprise Content Manager-IT at the Battelle Memorial Institute. Previously, he worked for the Ohio Historical Society for thirteen years, ultimately becoming Ohio's State Archivist. Charlie has a BA and MA in history from Ohio University.


Brand History and Authenticity: The Archive at Carhartt

Still from Carhartt's historically themed advertisement.
Still from Carhartt's historically themed advertisement.

“Making good is merely a matter of exerting sufficient energy.”

I often return to this 1924 quote by Carhartt company founder Hamilton Carhartt in my day-to-day work. With 127 years of company history to preserve and provide access to, I’ve surely exerted my fair share of energy over the roughly two and half years I’ve been working at Carhartt headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. And in that same period of time, I’ve surely heard my fair share of questions pertaining to the purpose of a corporate archive and why it’s important to support the development of one. Why indeed?

Without an archive, there is no gold standard for a brand’s history. This can lead to missed opportunities. A dedicated historical resource at Carhartt has dramatically increased access to archival materials, allowing for in-depth research that was previously impossible. The company’s marketing department recognized this and worked with the archive to spearhead Carhartt’s 2016 advertising campaign, titled “The Future is in Our Heritage.” The archive provided information on key touch points in company history, whether it was a historical event that Carhartt was involved in (such as providing World War I service trousers to the military) or the years that we introduced our most iconic garments. The archive collaborated with product design and Kentucky-based sewing associates to recreate authentic replicas of the brand's iconic products depicted in the commercials from 1889 to current day.

Click here and here to view Carhartt’s Spring/Fall 2016 marketing campaign chronicling 127 years of product advancement:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImA817cEhjQ

Authenticity is rapidly becoming a key factor in driving consumers toward particular brands. Exposure to a company’s history, especially one as long as Carhartt’s, engenders trust and loyalty. People want to be involved with products that have a meaningful narrative. For some of Carhartt’s garments, like the iconic Chore Coat, this narrative is very natural because the piece has been in the line since the early 1900s. However, Carhartt’s designers constantly draw on the inspiration of Hamilton (or “Ham”) Carhartt even in the development of new products, seeking consumer feedback just as Hamilton did over a century ago when he pioneered market research, seeking feedback from railroad workers to perfect the design and construction of the brand’s legendary overalls. The overarching focus on quality and durability remains the same, so the history really serves as both a touchpoint to the past and a guide for the future. Authenticity has been part of the corporate DNA for 127 years and it keeps customers returning. Continuing to focus on Hamilton Carhartt’s legacy is increasingly attracting new consumers who respect that commitment.

 

overalls-engineer-sack-coat
1920s catalog image of classic Carhartt denim overalls and the Engineer Sack Coat, today’s Chore Coat.

Center for Home Movies Searching for Public Holdings of Amateur Films

The Center for Home Movies is undertaking, thanks to support from the Library of Congress and CLIR, a survey of home movies and amateur films in archival collections in the United States. The goal is to create as comprehensive a directory as possible of amateur film holdings in American archives, libraries and museums. Over the next year we will be scouring catalogs and contacting organizations about their collections, but as a beginning point I would like to ask anyone with relevant materials in their collections to make yourself known. The Google Form below is a simple survey asking for contact information and very general information about your holdings. I will use this as a basis for more in-depth research later on.

https://goo.gl/forms/5IC1gNoDQngDh7ce2

Two notes: For this phase, we are only searching for items in publicly-available archives, not in private collections. In addition to home movies we are looking for amateur films produced by hobbyists and film club members.

Thanks in advance for any help you can offer. You may also contact me (as project director) at [email protected] with any information about collections that you may know of.


Should We Create the Same Digital Archives for Different Audiences?

RL front screen

As a part-time history Ph.D. student embarking on my dissertation (while working full-time at Ford’s Theatre—indeed, I don’t sleep much), few things thrill me more than searching for digitized primary sources.

I tend to use loose search terms, as I know that many digitized collections have minimal metadata, and then sort through the results manually to find what I need.

Wearing either my academic or my museum professional hat, I’m the not-oft-stated but oft-implied audience for many collections databases. My many, many, many years of training (I’m in something like 23rd grade) have prepared me to separate the wheat from the chaff.

But what of users who haven’t gone through years of professional history and museum training, like K-12 teachers? Should we expect them to use an online archive in the same way?

Just as we wouldn’t run the same type of public program for academics as we would for K–12 teachers (I hope), we shouldn’t expect everyone else to use the same type of online platforms we create for use by academics and fellow museum professionals.

This was perhaps the biggest lesson that became clear to us at Ford’s Theatre as we planned our Remembering Lincoln Digital Collection, which launched in March 2015. After we identified four (in hindsight, overly broad) target audiences during the course of a planning meeting (teachers, students, enthusiasts and scholars), we began an audience evaluation process led by Conny Graft.

 

Both during the planning process and after launch, Ford’s Theatre conducted videoconference focus groups with teachers, enthusiasts and recent museum visitors.
Both during the planning process and after launch, Ford’s Theatre conducted videoconference focus groups with teachers, enthusiasts and recent museum visitors.

We conducted focus groups with teachers and enthusiasts, and surveys of teachers, enthusiasts and scholars.

Ultimately, we identified teachers and students as our most important long-term audiences. We realized that much of the interest from enthusiasts would coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Lincoln assassination, but teachers and students would have interest in this resource year in and year out.

Do busy teachers have the same interest that researchers like me do in sorting through reams of lightly-interpreted primary sources to find the right ones for their classes?

As they told us, and as research efforts by the Minnesota Historical Society have shown as well, not so much.

Rather, teachers understandably don’t have time to sift, and also indicated that they prefer for a subject expert to give recommendations.

So pursuant to this, we made sure that the website includes several features that add interpretation and context—something that took a lot of extra work, but that we would argue is worth the effort.

There is an interpretive section of the website, with a timeline (not always the best interpretive method, but in this case, a way to show events and related primary sources in time), a map that displays a selection of primary sources, and short biographies of featured people.

We have a set of thematic “curated collections” to give another entry point.

We worked with a group of teachers to create teaching modules—the teachers told us that they trusted lesson plans created by their fellow professionals, and not as much by museum staff.

We’ve also used a tagging system, which has sometimes broken down in spite of efforts to maintain a controlled vocabulary. We’re working with our web developer on replacing a free tagging system with check boxes.

We’ve also started working with classrooms on transcriptions, since many of the items in Remembering Lincoln are as yet un-transcribed.

We’ve also encouraged—not always successfully—our contributing institutions to add rich descriptions to their items. In a focus group after launch, teachers indicated a strong preference for items with more interpretation.

 

Diary of Sarah Gooll Putnam, a teenager living in Boston who drew the look on her face when her father told her of Lincoln’s assassination. As an adult, Putnam was a portrait painter. Massachusetts Historical Society.
Diary of Sarah Gooll Putnam, a teenager living in Boston who drew the look on her face when her father told her of Lincoln’s assassination. As an adult, Putnam was a portrait painter. Massachusetts Historical Society.

In the future, we’ll likely be going back to add richer metadata.

An important point about adding richer metadata: It takes a lot of time and counters the notion of “more product, less process” that is prevalent in archival work today. Instead of what others have told me is an average of 20-30 minutes per item, Jessica Ellison at the Minnesota Historical Society, who is preparing sets of richly-described primary sources for teachers, tells me she spends one to two hours per item, depending on how much research she needs to do.

But as Mike Lesperance, a principal at exhibition development firm The Design Minds (disclosure: where I formerly worked), put it to me in a recent conversation, interpreting collections items in this way is making them intellectually accessible to broader audiences. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do as educators?

In addition to curated sets of primary sources and rich metadata, our research and that of others also indicate that teachers are looking for variety.

This is one of the unresolved questions that we still have with Remembering Lincoln. In our collecting—not nearly finished (so if your institution has materials, please let me know!)—we have aimed, not always successfully, for geographic and ethnic diversity. Indeed, in the extensive audience research and interpretation process, building the collection was one of the aspects that suffered, although we have 693 items as of May 31.

Still, how do we reconcile the desire for a larger variety of items with the desire for a more curated focus? We haven’t quite cracked that nut. Any suggestions from others in the field are appreciated!

David McKenzie is Associate Director for Digital Resources in the Education Department at Ford’s Theatre. He also is currently a part-time History Ph.D. student at George Mason University, studying 19th-century U.S. and Latin American history, as well as digital history. Before coming to Ford’s in October 2013, he worked at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater WashingtonThe Design Minds, Inc. and the Alamo. Follow him on Twitter @dpmckenzie.


Online Course: Basics of Archives

The newly revised Basics of Archives online course is designed to give organizations and individuals who are responsible for the care of historical records an introduction to the core aspects of managing and protecting historical records collections, using appropriate principles and best practices.

The course consists of five lessons:

  • Archives and Archivists
  • Acquiring Your Collections
  • Processing Collections
  • Housing Your Collections
  • Access and Outreach
Learn more

Book Review: Lois Hamill's Archives for the Lay Person

(This review originally appeared in the February 2016 edition of Ohio Local History Alliance's The Local Historian.)

Lois Hamill’s Archives for the Lay Person: a Guide to Managing Cultural Collection is a useful manual for local history organizations wanting to do the right thing. Many small organizations and historical societies don’t have an archivist on staff, or for that matter, any staff. Archives for the Lay Person will be most useful to those institutions. Hamill, an archivist at Northern Kentucky University, has written a basic handbook that precisely describes the core archival principles and how they apply to your collection.

Archives+for+the+Lay+PersonHamill begins with a short chapter containing some background and defining basic concepts like archives, records, and manuscripts. The book then covers the entire process of taking care of an archival collection: from accepting, organizing and describing materials, to storing, caring for, and making them available for researchers and exhibits. With detailed, illustrated instructions, Hamill also shows how to use PastPerfect software to do this. While this information is extremely useful for organizations that have this software, readers who think this material isn’t relevant may skim over it. The diagrams and instructions in these chapters, by themselves, are invaluable in showing the most up-to-date, approved archival practices.

Even if you don’t have PastPerfect, Hamill provides a wealth of examples of best practices. The book has three indexes of sample policies and forms, as well as examples of finding aids, file structures, and much more. These samples come from real archives, so readers can see how other institutions use the concepts Hamill discusses. Filling out these forms helps you organize your archives and makes them easier to use, but, as Hamill emphasizes, many of them, such as a Deed of Gift properly denoting ownership, and copyright notices to researchers, are also important for legal reasons.

Archives for the Lay Person also covers best practices for storing, handling, and preserving collections. Two chapters discuss photographs and give advice on appropriate preservation materials. They also cover preparing for disasters, caring for less common objects, and knowing when to call in outside experts. Most sections in the book also include rich bibliographies and useful “further reading” lists. As a bonus, Hamill not only shows you how to find experts in specific preservation fields, she also provides an appendix of trusted vendors.

Hamill wrote this book specifically for those of us working in small archives, historical societies, and local history organizations who want to build and care for our collections properly. For those organizations, Archives for the Lay Person is an invaluable resource and reference book. With the basic principles Hamill outlines, you can adapt some of these practices to the particular needs of your institution's collection. If you want to make sure you're doing things “the right way,” this book should be on your shelf.

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This book is part of the AASLH Series at Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Members always get 20% off the AASLH Series. Click here to buy the book.

 


Online Course: Basics of Archives

The newly revised Basics of Archives online course is designed to give organizations and individuals who are responsible for the care of historical records an introduction to the core aspects of managing and protecting historical records collections, using appropriate principles and best practices.

The course consists of five lessons:

  • Archives and Archivists
  • Acquiring Your Collections
  • Processing Collections
  • Housing Your Collections
  • Access and Outreach
Learn more

Six AASLH Members Receive State Grants

The Tennessee State Library and Archives just announced it will grant funds to 29 organizations across the state to preserve historical records and improve record storage. These funds may be used for items such as shelving, cabinets, archival folders, boxes, dehumidifiers, and other tools used by archivists. TSLA grants can make a big difference when it comes to keeping records safe and protected, as well as ensuring their long-term survival and use. We were thrilled to see six AASLH members on the list of awardees, and we congratulate them on their hard work and commitment to preserving history!

If you want to learn more about how to write and receive grants at your organization, check out our March webinars!

Getting Ready for Grants March 2 @3 pm EST
Writing the Grant: What's the Process Like? March 9 @ 3 pm EST