The Spring 2018 Joint Meeting of the New England Archivists (NEA) and the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York (A.R.T.) was held in New Haven, Connecticut, from March 22 to March 24, 2018. Allison Blanning, Katherine Crowe, and Chris Tanguay of MIT’s Institute Archives and Special Collections (IASC) attended. Session reports for each panel will be published in the June edition of the NEA Newsletter. Tweets from the event can be found under the hashtag #NEAARTsp18.
All-Attendee Reception: A Quick Look
The All-Attendee Reception for the conference was held at Yale’s Beinecke Library. The Library is stunning and imposing. The center of the building is a glass box housing the library’s closed stacks, and the windowless walls feature thin stone slabs that let some light filter through. The Library has an MIT connection, too. It’s designer, Gordon Bunshaft received both the B.Arch, 1933, the M.Arch, 1935, from MIT.
— Chris Tanguay
NEA Impressions from a First-Time Attendee
I attended my first ever professional archives conference at the New England Archivists (NEA) Spring Meeting at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. The time I spent at NEA was extremely valuable due to the eye-opening sessions and the connections that I made with archival professionals from around New England. The theme of the conference was “Rise Up” and, as such, remarks from presentations and speakers centered on the emerging opportunities that exist for archivists to promote greater accessibility and diversity of collections. Each morning began with a plenary and keynote address that posed questions for conference goers to think about as they attended sessions throughout the day and chatted with professional colleagues.
Although there were many sessions I wanted to attend, I spent Friday listening to lectures that explored the steps archivists are taking to archive the web and ensure that doing so involves eco-friendly and economical practices. In one session, titled “Many Hands, Whose Hands? Archiving the Web,” the presenters explained the process of web archiving in easy to understand parts, and discussed how they utilize tools such as the Internet Archive and Web Crawler to preserve historically valuable pages on the Internet. Archivists also explored how collaborations between institutions for web archiving have been successful but admitted that doing so can create challenges such as equitable division of labor and a lack of agility among the digital preservation tools utilized. Another fascinating session examined the ecological impacts of digital preservation, particularly how data centers utilize suprisingly high amounts of water and electricity to deliver services to archives. Presenters provided recommendations and tools that archivists could use to minimize their environmental impact. Friday concluded with a reception inside Yale University’s renowned Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, where I mingled with other archivists amidst the towering stacks of the repository.
The sessions I attended on Saturday were more varied but still centered on the conference theme of utilizing archives to advance causes of social justice. A presentation titled “Radical Empathy” suggested ways in which both archival graduate programs and the archival workplace could become more sympathetic to the unique challenges that both visitors and archivists can face. I also sat in on a presentation that featured Kathy Wisser, my adviser at Simmons School of Library and Information Science. Along with her fellow presenters, Kathy examined ways in which EAD (Encoded Archival Description) standards could be altered to better accommodate demographic metadata.
— Allison Blanning
Sessions: What We Learned
Friday Plenary: Matthew Connelly, “Secrecy in the Archive, History and the Future”
Friday morning started with a plenary by Matthew Connelly, a professor of history from Columbia University, on the topic of secrets and government records. He began by discussing historical uses of classifications, clearances, and the leaking of government secrets. He moved on to discuss the difficulty of appraising electronic records, and that random sampling may lead to materials mistakenly being declassified or destroyed. As such, he said that we should preserve materials until we have better methods of evaluation.
- Less than 1% of money spent on secrecy is about declassifying materials.
- Keyword searching is only about 20% effective.
- Connolly believes that FAQs will replace finding aids for electronic records.
Many Hands/Whose Hands? Archiving the Web Collaboratively
This session began with a discussion by Karl Rainer-Blumenthal about the Internet Archive and its Archive-It partnerships. Next came a discussion of collecting that the University of Maryland, College Park, was undertaking to document the aftermath of a hate crime on campus. Archivists used Archive-It and Webrecorder to collect materials using certain hashtags or mentioning the crime. Questions regarding the use of these materials remain, as no consent was obtained by the groups whose communications were collected. The session ended with a discussion of the Ivy Plus Libraries Archive-It instance. The Ivy Plus Libraries, with the exception of MIT and Stanford, use it to collect websites in certain topical areas.
- The Internet Archive also collects software, including old games! (Play one of my favorites)
- Contacts regarding harvesting websites sometimes lead to donations of physical materials.
Advocacy and Sustainability: Current Issues in Digital Preservation
This session began with a case study of using sampling to review the 2 to 3 terabytes of material received by an academic archive each year from their in-house photographers. A Python script was used to select each 10th image, and photographs from the beginning and the end of the shoot. Database preservation and metadata for research data were also discussed. The panel ended with Brandeis and the MIT Energy Initiative (MITei) representatives discussing the carbon footprint of digital preservation and data centers.
- Working with offices can help create more useful organization before materials are received.
- Lower your carbon footprint by sourcing your storage, optimizing outreach, keeping good metadata, and knowing your files.
- Good, clean metadata prevents duplication of efforts and speeds up finding and accessing materials.
- The Internet is responsible for emitting 300 million tons of CO2 per year.
This tweet produced .02 grams of carbon dioxide. The internet is responsible for massive amounts of carbon emission. #neaartsp18—
Chris Tanguay (@chris_tanguay) March 23, 2018
Holding the Line: Self-Care as an Act of Resistance
This session discussed aspects of self care and self-advocacy in the profession. The panel began with a discussion of divisiveness, societal stresses, and potential self-care solutions. Major themes involved re-evaluating your default settings, saying “no” from time to time, recognizing that there is validity in small actions and successes, and doing nice things for yourself. Next came a discussion of consulting work and the types of advocacy and self-care lessons learned. A discussion of imposter syndrome focused on undervaluing your worth, and stressed the importance of paying and mentoring interns. The session ended with the audience breaking into groups to discuss solutions to certain issues such as work/life balance, office culture, and how to say “no.”
- Normalize talking about mental health.
- Stand on principle, but pick your battles.
- Impostor syndrome is experienced more often by women and people of color. It can manifest itself in taking on too much as a way of proving yourself.
- “Internships as free labor devalue the profession.”
- AAUW Work Smart Salary Negotiation Workshops are a useful tool in fighting the salary gap.
Saturday Plenary: Emily Drabinski, “Rise-Up How Tos: Practical Strategies for Changing Worlds”
On Saturday the day started off with a plenary talk byEmily Drabinski, the Coordinator of Library Instruction at Long Island University, Brooklyn. Emily is also the secretary of the faculty union, the Long Island University Faculty Federation. Emily’s talk focused on her experience during the lockout of faculty during contract negotiations last fall and her views/advice on labor organizing.
- Bargaining is always adversarial, but not necessarily hostile.
- When organizing people for a cause (whether in terms of labor and unions or other situations) the four questions you have to be able to answer are:
- Who are we?
- Who are we talking to?
- What do we want and how are we going to get it?
- What else can we do with the power that we are building?
- Another set of questions to consider are: How does power work in this organization, how does it work in this situation, and how is it working for us now?
Radical Empathy in Archival Practice
NEA Session Description | Mini-zine handout
Katherine Crowe (@katherine_crowe) March 24, 2018
This session served as a “forum for discussing the ways in which our profession can ‘center radical empathy and obligations of care.'” Radical empathy was defined in the session as an openness and willingness to be affected, to be shaped by another’s experiences without blurring lines between the self and the other. We discussed the different affective responsibilities of an archivist: between the archivist and the record creator, the subject of the records, the user, the community, and other archivists. A discussion by Molly Brown posited that concepts should be introduced in archival education, including anti-racist training, learning to deal with disappointing patrons in reference interactions, and considering the ethics of technology.
- Extend empathetic relationship to the people who don’t interact directly with the archives. This group can be easily forgotten about, but they can also be affected by the actions of the archives, the communications we are posting online, etc.
- Be mindful of the effects of presentation on interpretation.
- Think about the ethics of technology and description. What should we do about triggering materials online? “What do you rob when you don’t caption a photograph?”
- Archivists should be thought of as caregivers.
- “Our world is abundant, let’s work together to figure out ways to share that abundance.”
NEA Business Meeting
The results of NEA’s 2016 survey on contingent employment were presented during the business meeting. The presentation itself echoed many themes of the conference: the need for advocacy, the problem of maintaining self-care, and structural inequities. Raw data from the survey will be available in the future.
Enhancing Underrepresented Collections and Reaching New Users
In this session, speakers presented on their institution’s efforts to improve collection access for underrepresented communities and to highlight collections that document those communities. A case study from UMass Boston touched on issues of creator versus co-creator versus archivist. While description added by archives staff was noted by brackets, it is left up to the patron to distinguish the creator and co-creator’s marks. Staff of the Boston College archives discussed reprocessing a series of children’s stories of Anansi in the papers of Joseph Williams. They found that adding description helped to highlight the different regions of Jamaica where the stories were gathered, and documentation of the arrangement prior to re-processing is available for patrons. Finally, we heard about the Lawrence History Center, and how they reach out to immigrant communities by translating their outreach materials in order to engage new immigrants with the history of their city.
- Transparency is especially important, i.e., noting when the description of an object is from the record creator or from the archivist.
- “[The] strength of the archive is in the relationship you develop, maintain, and support”
- Sometimes “More Product, Less Process” is impossible or its use erases important context.
— Katherine Crowe, Chris Tanguay