Welcome to MARAC’s Outreach Blog

As mentioned in Heidi Abbey’s article “Calling All Bloggers” in the Winter 2012 issue of Mid-Atlantic Archivist, MARAC members are invited to submit short articles, notices, and news of the world of archives to the MARAC Outreach blog. We’re looking for everything from personal testimonials about challenging reference questions to advocacy issues to news about events for MARAC’s 40th anniversary in 2012 – anything and everything relevent to MARAC! The blog will afford the opportunity for all of MARAC’s voices to be heard. Please contribute!


Message from Lee White, National Coalition on History

Happy New Year to those of you I didn’t get to see in Chicago. I have an issue that has a very quick turnaround and I would urge you to send this to your memberships lists ASAP. It has a deadline of January 20.

In one sentence, there is a petition drive to the White House urging the president to appoint a commission to explore the scope, costs and benefits of digitizing ALL federal records holdings.  While there is obviously not any funding available now to accomplish this goal in the near future, the commission would establish a blueprint and do a cost/benefit analysis of such an effort.  We are always being asked about what we (NCH and our organizations) are doing to help create jobs and this would be a big step in that direction.

I just sent out a newsletter alert on this and it would be far quicker for you to read that than for me to write a long e-mail explaining it.

This issue affects all of our constituencies, historians, archivists, political scientists, teachers, academicians, researchers, etc. Please take the time to alert your members and urge them to sign the petition.  We need 25,000 signatures and right now only have about 1,700.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Lee White
Executive Director
National Coalition for History
202-544-2422 x-116

Reference: An International Endeavor!

Author: Barbara Beaucar

The thing I like best about reference is the flow and exchange of information, but not just between a researcher and my own institution. I value the interface between scholars, librarians, curators, and archivists as they provide answers and, at the same time, enhance each other’s knowledge regarding a particular subject or individual.
One of our favorite researchers emailed me some time ago about a gift of art work that my institution’s founder, Dr. Albert C. Barnes, made to the Blanden Art Museum in Fort Dodge, Iowa. It was the only gift that he is known to have made to a public institution and the scholar wondered if we had any more information about it. With the help of my co-worker, Adrienne Pruitt, I found some elderly collection catalogue cards in our archives indicating that, in 1951, a gift of art work was made to the “Ft. Dodge, Iowa, Museum (Robert Brady).” Meanwhile, the director of the Blanden Art Museum, emailed our researcher that Robert Brady, a native of Fort Dodge, had attended classes at the Barnes Foundation and at Temple University in Philadelphia and that, shortly before Dr. Barnes died in 1951, he met with Barnes to discuss a plan for creating a multi-cultural and stylistically diverse collection at the Blanden.
Dr. Barnes’s correspondence indicated that Brady had, in fact, been a student at the Foundation between 1950 and 1951, and a Google search revealed that he continued his career in Italy before settling in Mexico, where he bequeathed his home and art collection to the city of Cuernavaca. Imagine my delight when a researcher from that city contacted me with a reference request about Robert Brady! Lilia Urcino Viedma, a graduate student at Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos, had chosen Brady and his art collection as her dissertation topic. Already familiar with the Barnes/Brady correspondence, our catalogue cards, and the email from the Blanden’s director, I was able to confirm Brady’s affiliation with the Barnes, supporting the interesting connection between the three institutions’ eclectic collections. 
In the summer of 2010, Ms. Urcino visited the Barnes Foundation to see the art ensembles that had so influenced Brady. When she asked if I might find further documentation of Brady’s education at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, I contacted Carol Ann Harris in Temple Libraries’ Special Collections. While she could not confirm his attendance dates, she found a 1951 article in the Temple University News mentioning a prize that Robert Brady won at an alumni exhibition. I created a pdf of the article and sent it to Ms. Urcino in Mexico. She wrote, “The completeness of my research would have never been possible without your valuable support and help.” Ah. My raison d’etre. But, I must add, I couldn’t have helped her without the help of others, those who work in a variety of information and cultural professions. 
Last winter, I had the opportunity to travel to Mexico, to see Ms. Urcino in Cuernavaca, and experience her generous hospitality. Together we visited the Robert Brady Museum and met with the museum’s director, Sally Sloan, who noted that Brady’s wall ensembles not only mirrored Dr. Barnes’s sense of aesthetic organization but also the diversity of the objects that he collected. After returning home to Philadelphia, Ms. Sloan and I collaborated on an electronic exchange of our Robert Brady correspondence. 
The combined efforts of two scholars, two archivists, a special collections librarian, and two museum directors underscores of the value of not only building on past reference work but of sharing that vital information with other institutions.

Implementing Open Source Software

Author: Tammy L. Hamilton

Earlier this year, over 550 images from the Hershey Community Archives’ photograph collection were made available online. The images, along with catalog records for over 450 oral histories and 25 private papers collections, are available to researchers using the open source software Archon. Developed by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the software publishes collections descriptions and digital images to the web using a simple and intuitive web-based interface.

In 2009, the Archives decided to redesign its website and explore ways to make collection descriptions available online. One option was to purchase a web-publisher upgrade for our in-house database with its applicable annual hosting fee. While this option was considered, staff felt the user interface was difficult to use and non-intuitive. In contrast, Archon was free to acquire, offered a search function that researchers were familiar with, and had a growing user base within the archival community.

After discussing our plan with colleagues in the IT department, they recommended hosting the Archon database on a web-server rather than an internal server. It was also determined that the Archives’ existing account with Siteground, which was being used for FTP transfers, would be able to host the database.

Installation was handled by the IT department. The archivist reviewed the content delivery templates that were installed with the software and worked with a staff web-developer to customize the templates for the Archives. The web-developer also modified the overall appearance of the database, using the same theme as our newly redesigned website, offering researchers a seamless transition from the website to the database.

A frequent concern with open source software is the unanticipated costs an institution can incur by implementing the software. For us, the cost is minimal. The Archives pays an annual hosting fee to Siteground, although this is substantially less than the fee would have been for the web-publisher upgrade for our in-house database. Information Technology is also a line item in the Archives’ budget, so although we did not outsource the installation and customization we do incur an IT support cost.

Archon has allowed the Archives to make collections descriptions available online quickly and efficiently. The web-interface is user friendly and data input is frequently completed by volunteers and interns with minimal instruction. The database content is crawled by search engines and usage statistics are available through Siteground so we can track number of unique users, number of pages viewed, downloaded content, and popular search queries. For our institution, implementing Archon has been very successful and has enabled us to provide a significant amount of content to long-distance researchers. The Archives will continue to explore the use of open source data management software for our needs in the future.

Innovative Access at the Roosevelt Library

Author: Sarah Malcolm

Like many archivists, one of the most dreaded questions I encounter on a daily basis is “is it online?” To combat this question and the ever growing need for digitized documents, my colleagues and I at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library found new ways to provide more for our users and expand the reach of our holdings. We have taken a three pronged approach: systematic digitization, special online projects, and social media.
As most people in the archival community know, digitization takes a lot of time and money. In an effort to expand our online holdings we have started to tap into resources that many institutions do have – microfilm and eager volunteers. Thanks to the support of our nonprofit partner, the Roosevelt Institute, we have undertaken a project to digitize 350,000 pages of documents from our microfilm collections. While having all of those images is great, we needed to find a way to make them useful. For this, we turned to Encoded Archival Description (EAD).
Taking the paper finding aids for our 400+ collections, most of which were written on typewriters, and turning them into EAD documents was going to be no small task; especially since we lacked the technology needed to write the code quickly and efficiently. However, what we lacked in resources we easily made up for in enthusiastic volunteers and interns. Using spreadsheets, our volunteers and interns have been able to take our legacy finding aids and turn them into clean data. Then our digital archivist and I can then take that clean data and transform it into an EAD finding aid. In the time span of 6 months our volunteers and interns have created clean data for 45 collections and counting. Thanks to their hard work we will be able to expand the reach of not only our digital holdings but that of our finding aids as well. This digitization project would not be possible without our partner Marist College, which provides our webhosting and helped us develop the content management system that will deliver the finding aids and digitized documents on our website. 
We have also been able to share more of our holdings with special online projects – most of which are featured right on our website. By creating web features on anniversaries and on special topics, we are able to highlight various documents from our collections and respond to current events. We are most excited about our newest project, the FDR Day by Day Project. This project is a fantastic new online resource for our users to see the daily activities of FDR. Along with providing FDR’s daily appointment diaries online for the first time, we are also able to provide documents and photographs in a timeline related to FDR’s presidency. This is another project that would not have been possible without years of work by interns and volunteers. 
Social media is another realm we have started to use to promote and share our collections. Using a variety of social media platforms, all of which are available for free, we are able to promote the Library and highlight our holdings in a way to reach new audiences. We talk about documents and museum objects on our blog, post historical photos on our Flickr account, and share videos from our collections on YouTube. Web 2.0 technologies are a great resource for institutions to use in order to promote and share the unique holdings they have. Access is an important part of outreach, and we at the Roosevelt Library are striving to increase access to our holdings in new, innovative ways.

Cape May and Painted Ladies

Author: Valerie Wingfield 

Next Spring, MARAC will meet in Cape May, New Jersey, April12-14, 2012. Located on the southernmost tip of New Jersey, this is a popular tourist destination known for its temperate climate during the summer months. 

One of the fascinating features’ of Cape May is the Victorian architecture “Painted Ladies.” According to Wiki “Painted Ladies” is a term used for Victorian and Edwardian houses and buildings painted in three or more colors that embellish or enhance their architectural details. The term was first used for San Francisco Victorian houses by writers Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen in their 1978 book entitled Painted Ladies – San Francisco’s Resplendent Victorians.” 

The follow up Daughters of Painted Ladies (1987) covers other parts of the United States including Cape May. An overview of Cape May is found in Cape May, County, New Jersey: the Making of an American Resort Community by Jeffrey M. Dowart (1992). 

While you are walking around admiring the Painted Ladies, surfing the internet indicates some interesting and tasty restaurants to chow down during your visit: Lucky Bones Backwater Grille, the Blue Pig Tavern (Congress Hall) and the Mad Batter(Carroll Villa Hotel). I don’t know if Hot Dog Tommy’s will be open but they serve a local favorite Potato Tornado, a mix of mashed potatoes and chili. Cape May! A place to enjoy the MARAC conference and breathe the sea air.